What is Zero Waste?

By Maggie Caldwell | April 14, 2014

“Zero waste” sounds like a self-explaining concept, a somewhat utopian-sounding garbage-free goal. But in reality, zero waste is a philosophy. It’s a top-down approach to eliminating as much refuse as possible through design. Taking landfills and incinerators out of the picture and re-inventing processes and products that mimic nature’s ecosystems – systems that are naturally closed-loop and waste-free.

Does Zero Waste Allow for Trash?

Yes – it may come as a surprise, but some amount of waste is expected even in a “zero waste” environment. Municipalities, corporations, and households alike setting out to move toward a zero waste environment analyze their waste streams and set a landfill diversion, or zero waste, target. How much varies. For example, in 2011 Seattle set a zero waste goal of 70% by 2025. General Motors achieved a 97% landfill diversion rate in daily operation activities at 83 of its manufacturing facilities. (They do not factor construction or remediation waste into this data.) Many companies follow guidelines set by the Zero Waste International Association; they certify companies that have achieved a minimum landfill diversion rate of 90% as as zero waste businesses.

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