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By Michelle Leonard, Solid Waste Planning and Recycling; Sustainability
The term describes the desired end-state and a call-to-action rethinking what we regard as trash as potentially valuable resources. The overall goal of zero waste planning is to establish the goal of diverting at least 90 percent of the waste generated by all sources from a landfill.
Zero Waste is to:
Communities across North America have embraced the concept of Zero Waste, some by adopting a Zero Waste goal or policy, and others by completing a Zero Waste Plan. The plan includes implementing zero waste programs and infrastructure in a manner most sustainable for the community. Many communities establish a long-term goal of Zero Waste by setting interim goals to achieve and benchmark measuring progress. Goals may be quantified over years, by percentages, or by environmental factors relevant to your community.
There are several factors critical to sustainable Zero Waste programs.
Phasing in programs encourages acceptance of new policies, programs, and facilities, and the behavior modifications that come with them. Instead of continuing to focus on results at the end of the process, we find ways to fulfill the equation “waste = resource” within our industrial and societal systems. This mindset change helps to lead us to more systems that eliminate wastes to the environment, avoiding systematic deterioration of the environment. These systems are modeled by nature as the most efficient, less costly, and most profitable ways to move toward Zero Waste.
Programs that contribute to Zero Waste include upstream policies and programs. Over 71% of the waste generated happens before products and materials enter our homes, offices, schools and institutions. Upstream policies and programs aim to reduce the volume and toxicity of discarded products and materials and promote low-impact or reduced consumption lifestyles.
Producer Responsibility is an upstream activity, including advocacy at the state level and implementation of local ordinances for hard to handle materials, such as pharmaceuticals, sharps, batteries, CFLs. Local jurisdictions can support state legislation for Extended Producer Responsibility for materials such as carpet paint, etc.
Downstream programs aim to ensure the highest and best use of products and packaging at the end of their useful lives. They establish a hierarchy of:
Managing these materials will most likely require a combination of facilities which may include:
The issue of how Waste to Energy fits into a Zero Waste system has been a hotly debated topic at many Zero Waste conferences, workshops, and planning sessions. The Zero Waste International Alliance includes in its definition “no burning or burying”. However, even the most aggressive, advanced Zero Waste system will still have some residual materials, and these materials will need to be managed. Some cities that have adopted Zero Waste plans and/or policies include waste to energy in their strategic plans. These cities recognize that Zero Waste policies and programs will achieve a high diversion rate, but they also acknowledge that a portion of the waste stream residuals will need to be disposed or processed. For these cities, waste to energy, or another alternative technology facility will fill that need, and will further reduce the use of landfill disposal.
Learn more about Sustainable Materials Management