The concept of “Zero Waste” is something that has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Both in professional communities and organizations people have developed ways to reduce and reuse waste, however there seems to be a little confusion of what exactly defines “Zero” waste.
According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, there is now a consensus definition of what the term zero waste means, which includes “ethical, economical, efficient and visionary [way to] guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”
Sounds reasonable, no? After all, every waste (besides maybe hazardous/toxic waste) can be used as a raw material in some form or another. The most fundamental form of this is composting plant and solid waste for fertilizer and soil, but this also spreads to the recycling of materials such as paper, plastic, glass and metal.
So what significance does this newfound definition have? First, it was adopted by the National Recycling Coalition, (a non-profit advocacy group which works to spread wide adoption of recycling and other sustainability practices), as well as other similar groups around the world. Secondly, its the only definition of the concept of zero waste that is peer reviewed.
Another special part of this definition that differs from other interpretations of the concept is that it does not include “waste to energy” as an acceptable use of waste. This would include incineration (i.e. burning trash). Trash incineration will not be categorized as “waste diversion”, but rather as another form of waste disposal.
Adopting such a clear and aspirational definition of the concept will allow communities, organizations and other advocates to strive for the most ambitious goals of recycling and waste diversion. It is certainly a tide that is starting to turn, with many throughout the country continuing to adopt the definition and make strides towards a more perfect waste management community (include dumpster services).