Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Article Written by Zane Lerwill
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” The goal of a zero waste initiative is to eliminate the amount of waste going to landfills and to push the economy to reduce waste production. Zero waste practices involve the whole lifecycle of a product — not just its end. Going zero waste creates a positive, substantial, and tangible impact on the environment while fully availing oneself of products. Zero waste initiatives also promote healthier relationships between the environment and consumers which has been key in the movement's growing popularity.
A zero waste lifestyle can be guided by the following set of principles and guidelines: producer responsibility, political responsibility, and community responsibility. Going zero waste is not only a consumer responsibility but rather a responsibility that weighs on the global socioeconomic system. Although it is important for individuals to take up zero waste practices, it is even more important for the lifestyle to be adopted by the masses as sustainability is pivotal for positive socioeconomic advancement.
One of the main practices that zero waste initiatives focus on is the concept of reuse as a means of diverting waste. Reusing products is key in interrupting the cycle of immediately discarding products after use. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “around 30% of the US waste stream is recycled and around 140 million tons of waste is sent to landfill each year. When it comes to single-use plastics only around 9% are recycled.” Sustainable practices such as recycling, shopping at thrift stores, composting, and eating a plant-based diet, can significantly cut down an individual’s waste and carbon footprint. Larger scale actions can include but are not limited to involvement in sustainable community projects, advocating for environmental policies and greater zero waste practices.
Zero waste initiatives are not limited to individuals and are being adopted rapidly by cities and communities. In 2003, San Francisco created a goal to reduce its waste output, with an ultimate goal of achieving zero waste by 2020. The city implemented policies that made recycling and composting mandatory, as well as creating methods that streamlined and incentivized the process. Although this goal has been pushed to 2030, the city currently possesses the highest waste diversion rate in the United States at 80%. Other cities have since been inspired to partake in a zero waste goal, with notable examples being New York City and Austin.
Zero waste initiatives center climate change, the environment, and sustainability in their practices. In times of increasing environmental justice issues, zero waste practices are more important than ever as our waste often ends up in landfills, incinerators, and various natural spaces, further exacerbating the detriments of our environmental impact. Zero waste initiatives are one of the many ways to combat climate change, and are critical in increasing sustainability on a larger scale.
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