"Although unheard of a decade ago, there is considerable recent
interest in designing industrial production processes that produce zero
waste…the goal is a worthy motivator."
Kenneth Geiser, Materials
causes great loss of value and resources.
Humans are the only species that create waste.
We can learn to identify all types of waste and through their
elimination, save money and achieve a more sustainable world.
The visionary goal of Zero Waste expresses the need for a closed-loop industrial/societal system as suggested in Figure 1. Waste is a sign of inefficiency. Our use of the term Zero Waste includes "Zero Solid Waste", "Zero Hazardous Waste", "Zero Toxics" and "Zero Emissions".
waste suggests that the entire concept of waste should be
Instead, waste should be thought of as a “residual product”
or simply a “potential resource” to counter our basic
acceptance of waste as a normal course of events.
Opportunities such as reduced costs, increased profits, and reduced
environmental impacts are found when returning these “residual
products” or “resources” as food to either natural and industrial
This may involve redesigning both products and processes in
order to eliminate hazardous properties that make them unusable and
unmanageable in quantities that overburden both industry and the
Waste strategies consider the entire life-cycle
of our products, processes and systems in the context of a comprehensive systems
understanding of our interactions with nature and search for
inefficiencies at all stages. With
this understanding, wastes can be prevented through designs based on full
life-cycle thinking. Indeed,
we should work to "design" our wastes, if any, so that they have
Zero Waste strategy leads us to look for inefficiencies in the use of
materials, energy and human resources.
To achieve a sustainable future, extreme efficiency in the use of
all resources will be required in order to meet the needs of all of the
earth’s inhabitants. A Zero
Waste strategy directly supports this requirement.
benefits of a Zero Waste strategy can be achieved in nearly any kind of
organization. Some examples are:
It is widely accepted that humankind’s current interaction with the environment cannot be sustained. Natural systems are cyclical and produce no waste. In our industrial society waste results from the inefficient use of any resource and includes activities and products that generate by-products with no clear use, no market value, or hazardous properties and by-products that decrease their potential value. Waste takes many different forms: from solid and hazardous waste to wastes in energy and material use; wastes in manufacturing and administrative activities and wastes of human resources.
waste is a sign of inefficiency, the reduction of waste usually reduces
costs. For example, Hewlett
Packard in Roseville, CA reduced its waste by 95% and saved $870,564 in
1998. Epson in Portland, OR
has reduced its waste to zero and has saved $300,000.
Interface, Inc. in Atlanta, GA has eliminated over $90M in waste.
Xerox Corp., Rochester, NY has had a Waste-Free Factory
environmental performance goal since the early 1990s. The criteria include
reductions in solid and hazardous waste, emissions, energy consumption,
and increased recycling. Savings
were $45M in 1998.
Zero Waste strategy improves upon "cleaner production" and
"pollution prevention" strategies by providing a visionary
endpoint that leads us to take larger, more innovative steps.
of its visionary endpoint, Zero Waste strategies lead to breakthrough
improvements as opposed to small step-by-step actions.
This not only results in significant cost savings, greater
competitiveness and reduced environmental impacts, but also will move us
more quickly toward sustainability.
Zero Waste strategy supports all three of the generally accepted goals of
sustainability - economic well being, environmental protection, and social
is improved by enabling organizations to identify inefficiencies in
processes, products and services and thereby to find cost-saving solutions
is enhanced by reducing (ideally to zero) hazardous and solid wastes to
nature and by reducing the need for energy generation and hydrocarbon
is enhanced through efficiency improvements that allow more resources to
be available for all. In
addition, more complete use of "wastes" will create jobs in
return logistics and reprocessing activities.
system uses large amounts of new raw materials as shown in the following
diagram. In addition, large
amounts of materials are sent to landfills or incinerated.
A Zero Waste society would use far fewer new raw materials and send no waste materials to landfills. As shown in Figure 5, below, all materials would either return as reusable or recycled materials or would be suitable for use as compost.
we have a growing population faced with limits of resources from the
environment. We understand
that our society and industrial systems must begin to mimic nature and
move from being primarily linear to being cyclical.
Each material must be used as efficiently as possible and must be
chosen so that it may either return safely to a cycle within the
environment or remain viable in the industrial cycle.
vision of Zero Waste can be seen as a solution to these needs and a key to
our grandchildren's future. Zero
solid waste, zero hazardous waste, zero toxic emissions, zero material
waste, zero energy waste and zero waste of human resources will protect
the environment and lead to a much more productive, efficient, and
sustainable future. The use
of an endpoint goal of "zero" recognizes that simple making
small steps without a goal may not achieve a sustainable future while use
of a clear defined goal will lead to more rapid innovative improvements.
Waste promotes not only reuse and recycling, but also, and more
importantly, promotes prevention - designs that consider the entire
product life cycle. These new
designs will strive for reduced materials use, use of recycled materials,
use of more benign materials, longer product lives, repairability, and
ease of disassembly at end of life.
A Zero Waste strategy is a sound business tool that, when integrated into business processes, provides an easy to understand stretch goal that can lead to innovative ways to identify, prevent and reduce wastes of all kinds. It strongly supports sustainability by protecting the environment, reducing costs and producing additional jobs in the management and handling of wastes back into the industrial cycle. A Zero Waste strategy may be applied to businesses, communities, industrial sectors, schools and homes.