Each year in the United States we generate garbage that weighs 254 million tons. The zero waste movement aims to bring this number as close to zero as possible. This may seem like wishful thinking at first glance, but a change in perspective could get us very close.
We currently think of our process of making and using things as a linear assembly line. We gather resources from the land, water, or air, make the product, and deliver it. Then someone purchases the product, uses it, and disposes what’s left of it back into the land, water, or air.
According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, “In contrast to this [linear system], zero waste is a circular system, where waste products from one part of the loop become resources for another part, and how a product will be disposed of is given as much weight as how a product is made.”
In the zero waste model, waste is a mistake, explains Gary Liss, a Zero Waste consultant (see video below). It means that something in the system—a product or a process— isn’t allowing the system to be truly regenerative. But this is a mistake we can learn from.
When all materials that can be reused, repaired, and recycled are removed from the waste stream, what is left—the items that will need to be burned or buried—can be seen as a design opportunity. We can use nature as a model and apply the principles of regenerative design to these products, recreating them to fit within the closed system.
Zero waste is a useful framework for people at every stage of the production-consumption cycle. Many cities and communities are using it as a framework to address mounting garbage disposal issues. More and more businesses that are interested in the triple bottom line—profit, people, and planet—are aiming for zero waste and are supported in their efforts by organizations like the U.S Zero Waste Business Council.
If you want to do more to minimize your own waste, YouTube offers vlogs of people sharing their efforts to live a zero-waste lifestyle at home. Zero-waste proponents Bea Johnson, Lauren Singer, Rob Greenfield, and Kathryn Kellog, among others, offer inspiration, tips, and honest details about how to fit all of your garbage for the year into a single jar. Get started with these simple tips today.
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies