Zero Waste

by Hester Petty

Zero Waste-to-Landfill (or incinerator), also known as no bury or burn, is a goal that some cities have adopted as one way to reduce their contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. It is also an ethical and economical answer to the problems of landfills and incinerators, both of which cause health and environmental problems. And because of racism and prejudice against the poor, governments often locate landfills in low income and minority neighborhoods.

Zero Waste means finding ways to divert a minimum of 90% of all discarded materials from landfills, incinerators and the environment. How? The 5 R’s. Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Rot. Individuals and businesses need to avoid creating waste and cities need to re-evaluate the methods they use to handle that waste. In the U.S. we consume more than our fair share of the natural resources on our planet: bigger houses; bigger cars; more furniture, clothes and packaged goods. So much stuff that we’ve created the booming business of storage facilities! It’s time to ask ourselves just how much of this stuff do I really need! And instead of throwing something away, is there some other use for it.

REFUSE don’t buy anything you don’t need
REDUCE buy and use less of what you do need
REUSE if you can’t refuse or reduce, find another use for your old or unneeded stuff
RECYCLE everything that can’t be reduced or reused
ROT compost the rest

Zero Waste-to-Landfill (ZWTL) is doable as many cities have learned. Here in North Carolina it’s been Carrboro’s goal since 1998. Other cities got started after 2006: Oakland, CA; Seattle, WA; and Austin, TX. Latecomers to Zero Waste like Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Dallas, New York City, Fort Collins in Colorado, and San Diego and Los Angeles in California have all set ZWTL goals and are working to reduce the waste and pollution that comes from our consumption habits. San Francisco joined the Zero Waste movement in 2014 and is already diverting 80% of its solid waste away from landfills!

Businesses too have adopted the Zero Waste goal by changing the design and use of consumables to a sustainable “Cradle To Cradle” model. For example, EcoWorx commercial carpet tile uses manufacturing techniques that use fewer natural resources, emit less pollution, and once the life of the tiles has come to an end, they are retrieved and recycled. Brad Pitt’s foundation, Make It Right housing, builds affordable, solar powered homes for people in need. Following the Cradle To Cradle model, these homes meet the highest standard of green building.

Landfills are quickly reaching full capacity around the country. The methane they release into the atmosphere contributes to global warming, smog, and health problems such as asthma. The leachate at the bottom of landfills, also called garbage juice, is highly toxic and while there are methods of reducing that toxicity, they are costly. It’s much cheaper to reduce the amount of waste we create in the first place. Food waste from homes, restaurants and the food industry can take up to 20% of the total landfill space and once buried it doesn’t get enough air to decompose properly. Not only does composting ease the burden on landfills, but it results in a useful and much needed resource: a soil amendment known as “Black Gold.”

Adoption of the concept of Zero Waste will eliminate harmful additions to our air, water and land. Each of us can make a difference by consuming less, reusing and recycling 90% of what we would normally throw away, and composting our leftovers.

For more information: (Zero Waste International Alliance); (or Bea Johnson’s book “Zero Waste Home.”)