Heroes are Zero (Waste)
One of the most recognizable environmental symbols is a
green triangle made of arrows representing recycling. You know the one:
The symbol is so familiar that it’s often used as a stand-in
for green behavior. But recycling is not the best we can do. Consider companies
that send old computers and phones for recycling to countries with lax
enforcement of environmental laws, where children
pick through toxic metals. Or the fact that even some recycled plastics can
ultimately end up in a landfill or incinerator, since they become degraded or
unusable after just one recycling.
What if we changed our mindset from recycling single-use products to replacing these products with
those that can be reused or upcycled over and over again, before
biodegrading harmlessly in the environment? In other words, what if we moved to
a zero waste economy?
Companies are already catching on. Some of the most
recognizable brands have embraced the notion of zero waste. In Atlanta, the Hyatt
Regency upcycles its food scraps, helping to cut its garbage bill by
$169,000 one year and creating useful compost as a result. An Epson factory in
the UK ensures that 95% of its products
don’t reach the landfill through an aggressive take-back program.
At Burt’s Bees, employees empty out their trash cans on
“Dumpster Dive Day” to examine their waste stream and explore ways to reduce
And communities are going zero waste too. New Paltz, NY is
one of 13 towns in the US with a zero waste action plan. Their unique “ReUse Center” takes
donations of all kinds of materials from lumber to electronics and hosts regular
educational programs on ways to reduce waste.
A zero waste mindset has to happen at the design end of the
production cycle too. It starts by asking questions like: “What is this
packaging made of?”, “Why do I need to replace my entire computer when it
Remember the milk man from days
of yore, who would hand deliver fresh dairy products directly to people’s
doorsteps? Manhattan Milk certainly
does. The New York-based company decided
to provide milk to their customers the old fashioned way: in reusable glass
bottles that they pick up afterward. Many Canadians and Germans still get beer
in reusable containers too.
Do you want to help your community or company go zero waste?
Check out the EPA’s website and follow these steps:
EPA's 10 Steps to
- Work with EPA's WasteWise.
- Form a team.
- Perform a waste assessment.
- Set a baseline and set goals.
- Launch and implement your program.
- Educate employees.
- Track and measure progress.
- Report accomplishments.
- Promote success and maintain momentum.
- Analyze progress and re-evaluate programs.
And stay tuned for Green America’s People &
Business Award winners announcement on February 1st to find out
which companies are at the top of the heap when it comes to zero waste.
issue on zero waste, Green America
is Money Down the Drain – Efficiency Boosts Bottom Line, Natural Resources
Waste Committee, Sierra Club