Many people who are old enough to remember the early days of the recycling movement remember the adage “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” That old campaign is still featured prominently in many government environmental campaigns and can be found in a host of places online. From that simple but effective strategy, a new and even more daring innovation has emerged: zero-waste. It’s a lifestyle goal that you should be aware of, since chances are that this new philosophy is headed to your community sometime in the near future.
Zero-waste takes all of the best aspects of the old 3-Rs, and adds even greater depth to the concept. When the focus was on reducing waste, reusing products, and recycling as much as you could, the only responsibilities most consumers found themselves managing was the need to limit consumption, and properly separate recyclables. With zero-waste, there is an entirely new level of consumer involvement.
At its core, zero-waste represents a new level of resistance to garbage dumps. No one has ever wanted to have landfills located near his or her home, but this movement is designed to go even further than merely resisting the rate at which landfills expand. This strategy for dealing with used items seeks to eliminate all waste and reduce the need for landfills altogether.
Zero-waste has grabbed the attention of schools, restaurants, and even homeowners. Many no longer throw away even a morsel of food. Instead, they simply toss discarded food into a bin used for compost collection. They no longer choose products like Styrofoam, opting instead for containers that are biodegradable. And they recycle everything they come into contact with.
There are even communities that are adopting ordinances to mandate recycling at this extreme level, all in attempt to deal with impending landfill crises. The positive news is that communities like Nantucket – where there is little space on the island for expanded landfills – have already proven that this can work, provided that enough attention is paid to educating the citizenry. In fact, the townspeople are zero-waste leaders, as they have managed to reduce their trash by an extreme amount. Today, only 8 percent of Nantucket’s collective trash ends up in its landfill.
It is the private sector that has picked up the baton nationwide and started to more aggressively court communities to make the switch. That is a positive development as well, since these types of efforts can all too easily be sidetracked by government intervention – especially when politics enters the equation. A number of cities in California are currently considering the move to zero-waste policies.
If you can imagine a world in which every bit of waste you create ends up being sorted into appropriate bins rather than being callously cast aside, then you have the basic understanding of this strategy that you’ll need when it comes to your area. At the Earth Company, we applaud efforts like this for their potential effects on preventing further landfill growth, and we celebrate these new types of concepts that offer us help in achieving a sustainable future.