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Industry Insight

Is Zero Waste Really Zero Waste?

Interesting article I came across on how in some ways the idea of “zero waste” is a bit of greenwashing.

By Richard Romano
Published: July 26, 2011

Interesting article I came across on how in some ways the idea of “zero waste” is a bit of greenwashing. That is, companies who are adopting a “zero waste” policy see that as synonymous with “zero waste to landfill.” So, rather than sending stuff to the dump, they burn it instead. Hey, that’s better, isn’t it? Well, not really, no. First of all, as the linked article points out, is destroys resources that may very well be recyclable and thus reduce the need to consume more “virgin” resources. Also, incinerating waste produces greenhouse gases, air pollution, and uses energy. So what is a true “zero waste” policy? Says the article:
Some businesses are embracing true Zero Waste as a guiding principle and doing great work. For example, Xerox has been redesigning products for years to reduce the number of parts so models can be more interchangeable. BMW has reduced the number of different types of plastics it uses so more of the car can be recycled more quickly. And Amazon.com’s frustration-free packaging program moves manufacturers from plastic clamshells and wire ties over to recyclable cardboard, saving resources and fostering better customer satisfaction. ... The cleanest and safest way forward on dealing with this “residue” is to follow the three-step German approach: sort out any remaining recyclables, “biostabilize” the residue in an anaerobic digester to capture the biogas and use it for energy, and landfill the remaining inert material in a dry tomb landfill. Even better would be to follow the Italian lead and sort out all the nonrecyclable items in the residue, identify who made and marketed them, and then pressure these companies to redesign for Zero Waste.

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.



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