Zero Waste


The Planning Group of the Zero waste International Alliance defines zero waste as: “Zero waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for other use.”

I recently posted this question on Linkedin: Why do companies claim zero waste when they continue to send their hazardous waste to a landfill causing incalculable future liabilities to their companies and their stakeholders?

I received quite a number of intelligent comments from individuals all over the world, many of whom are in the waste business or deal with waste in their jobs.

The consensus was that zero waste claimed by companies is hype or rhetoric used to make the companies look greener and some thought that there is no such thing as zero waste.

Most were in agreement that all people should constantly and vigorously strive to reuse, reduce and recycle (3Rs) or make the generator of the waste responsible for its waste. These aforementioned approaches to dealing with waste must become a way of life for all. There is also a consensus: If it can’t be recycled, don’t make it – good point!

It is estimated that $11.4 Billion in recyclable materials are landfilled in the U.S. every year. Not only is this a waste (pardon the pun) of the landfill space, but also a flagrant waste of valuable materials that are made from natural resources.

More and more manufacturers are recycling materials used to manufacture their products back into  newly manufactured products, by salvaging and reusing the leftovers. This is why they claim zero waste. This recycling approach supports a solid bottom line and supports good environmental sustainability, but this is only one form of zero waste.

The employs of the manufacturing facilities, or any employee for that fact, can recycle all the paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, food, if there is a composting station on site, etc. leaving zero waste when they leave work. They also should and can do the same at home, as we all should.

The truth is not everyone has a car, not everyone has a TV, and not everyone has a computer, but everyone creates waste of one kind or another.

Landfills were named landfills, because they were usually holes in the ground that could be filled, but landfill space is a scarcity. Today they are mountains of garbage, taking in millions of tons more garbage each year and releasing tons of noxious gasses. It is estimated that 1.3 billion tons of municipal solid waste will become 2.6 billion tons of municipal solid waste in the next decade. Where are we going to put this waste?

Old landfills that are not Superfund sites needing to be cleaned up have a use: capturing of methane gas for use in power plants and vehicles, provide space for the construction of Wind Power Turbines, and provide space for the construction of Solar Panels.

Landfill mining, the digging up of a landfill to recapture and remove recyclables from the landfill, therefore increasing the landfill space, is becoming a trend, as well as dumping a garbage truck at the gate before it enters the landfill to separate out of the recyclables.

Towns, cities and states are requiring mandatory recycling or no garbage pickup.

The purpose of striving towards the 3Rs and zero waste is a matter of our sustainability through the elimination of Landfilling waste as much as possible. The reality is that we are running out of landfill space and no one wants new landfills in their backyard, nor do they want incineration, even if it is waste to energy, although waste to energy will become more of a reality in our future.

The aforementioned has addressed the two zero waste initiatives that we are and should continually strive for, business recycling and personal recycling. Although we are starting to make some progress in the war against waste, we must keep a diligent and constant awareness every time we plan to discard something — anything: we should think about the future and our children, asking ourselves: do I want land to be used for garbage or do I want land to be used for farming?

The third most daunting and hardest to address is hazardous, toxic and regulated waste disposal.  How do we accomplish zero hazardous, toxic and regulated waste?

If we are running out of space for everyday garbage, what are we doing about hazardous, toxic and regulated wastes landfilling? Asbestos, which is imbedded in 5,000 matrices, permeates our environment and when removed is extremely space consuming when landfilled, provides perpetual liability to its owner and can be of no benefit to after landfill reuse. One cannot build over the asbestos cell in a landfill in fear of disturbing the asbestos and contaminating the neighborhood.

Because most of these hazardous, toxic and regulated wastes are in industry’s facilities, it is up to industry to seek out, find, and invest in research to create new technologies to solve the hazardous waste problem or use existing technologies to rid their facility and our environment of these hazardous wastes. We cannot keep sending them to the landfill where they will create unstable and unusable land, incalculable liability for present and future stockholders, and could continue to poison us.

To rid our environment of these hazardous waste is a major challenge to industry that can only be solved with investment in technologies that provide sustainability to our environment. In order to do this, industry must first admit that they have these hazardous materials in their facilities. Then address the problems in the most environmentally friendly and sustainable way.

Industry is in business to create jobs and turn a profit. Industry is also in business for the long haul and the long haul must be profitable.

Land preservation, recycling, eliminating landfilling of hazardous wastes all lead to sustainability, which is our future. Sustainability leads to the long haul by allowing profits to continue well into the future, creating jobs and making better lives. The use of and investment in technologies that eliminates and reduces waste and hazards in our environment are of utmost importance to develop and achieve as close to zero waste as possible. Without waste treatment technologies that provide sustainability, there will be no environment in our future.