The "Who" and "What" of Zero Waste

 Here at the SWRC, our vision is a ‘waste-free Saskatchewan.’ Many other people, in many other places, share a similar vision. We’re all part of what has become known as the ‘Zero Waste’ movement.

 Those who strive for zero waste recognize that we live in a world with finite resources, and using materials in a one-way stream just doesn’t make sense. Waste is seen as either a sign of inefficiency or an untapped resource. In theory all waste can be avoided in the first place through better design, reuse or recycling.

Who goes Zero Waste?

Anybody can commit to reducing their waste down to zilch. Communities adopt it as part of their long-term waste planning, businesses make it part of their operation plans or individuals can change their own habits. For example:

  • The City of Markham, Ontario adopted the philosophy in 2008. Since then they have worked to make their facilities zero waste (think cafeteria and office waste), as well as any public events that they run. Curious to see a list of other communities that have are doing the same? See here.
  • Because efficiency is a key part of zero waste it appeals to many businesses. Interface (a company that makes carpet tiles) was one of the first manufacturers to commit to zero waste. See the chronology of their environmental steps on the company website.
  • Two individuals, Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin of Vancouver, share their personal journey of going zero waste in their documentary the Clean Bin Project.

What do you mean...ZERO?

It is a bit mind-boggling to think about NO waste. Zip, zilch, none. It should be possible eventually, but how many of these people and organizations are actually getting to zero right now? The answer is not many - but they’re darn close.

Interest groups, like the Zero Waste International Alliance, do attempt to define this grey area. Their definition states that if you are diverting over 90% of waste, you can claim zero. Depending on how much waste you started out with, that remaining ten percent could still be pretty significant...and is likely the hardest stuff to find a way to deal with.

Here’s where it gets sticky. In the rush to get to zero waste (and the bragging rights that come with saying you did it first, or that you’re doing it at all), many turn to incineration to deal with the last few percent. In this case they will often claim ‘zero waste to landfill.’ Since incineration is not landfilling, they aren’t lying.

Many of the special interest groups that have sprung up to promote the concept of zero waste eschew incineration. Burning is an end-of-pipe’s not avoiding waste. The Zero Waste International Alliance has even gone so far as to specify 200F as the temperature cut-off that divides natural waste reduction processes, such as composting, from incineration.

These last few percent are certainly what the movement is beginning to ‘zero’ in on, and new solutions are being sought.

All in all, we are pretty pleased with the way the vision has caught on, and hope that as time goes on, we will all achieve true ZERO waste.

[Source: August 2013 WasteWatch ]