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Is Zero Waste Really Zero Waste?

By on July 26th, 2011

Interesting article I came across on how in some ways the idea of “zero waste” is a bit of greenwashing. That is, companies who are adopting a “zero waste” policy see that as synonymous with “zero waste to landfill.” So, rather than sending stuff to the dump, they burn it instead. Hey, that’s better, isn’t it? Well, not really, no. First of all, as the linked article points out, is destroys resources that may very well be recyclable and thus reduce the need to consume more “virgin” resources. Also, incinerating waste produces greenhouse gases, air pollution, and uses energy.

So what is a true “zero waste” policy? Says the article:

Some businesses are embracing true Zero Waste as a guiding principle and doing great work. For example, Xerox has been redesigning products for years to reduce the number of parts so models can be more interchangeable. BMW has reduced the number of different types of plastics it uses so more of the car can be recycled more quickly. And Amazon.com’s frustration-free packaging program moves manufacturers from plastic clamshells and wire ties over to recyclable cardboard, saving resources and fostering better customer satisfaction.

The cleanest and safest way forward on dealing with this “residue” is to follow the three-step German approach: sort out any remaining recyclables, “biostabilize” the residue in an anaerobic digester to capture the biogas and use it for energy, and landfill the remaining inert material in a dry tomb landfill. Even better would be to follow the Italian lead and sort out all the nonrecyclable items in the residue, identify who made and marketed them, and then pressure these companies to redesign for Zero Waste.



  1. 2 Responses to “Is Zero Waste Really Zero Waste?”

  2. By BrookeBF on Jul 27, 2011 | Reply

    I spoke about this to a room full of fortune 100 companies last year at Sustainable Brands. Zero waste is a useful term for rallying their organizations around this new concept, so it isn’t all bad. But the deeper goal is 100% resource utilization rather than zero waste. Watch the video here:

    @BrookeBF from @RecycleMatch

  3. By Benique on Aug 2, 2011 | Reply

    This would be perfect, but it will certainly complicate the production processes. The idea of recycling to zero waste has been considered by many factories in europe and the US, but it is actually difficult to give it a go. What many “green” companies do is they recycle the products they produced to rebuild new, more advanced ones. So the eventual goal is utilisation.