What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste is a visionary goal and a plan of action. The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) defines it as follows :

Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

ZWIA recognizes that this can’t be achieved by simply changing waste management practices; changes must occur upstream, too:

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

The goal is to stop all negative impacts of waste disposal to all living things:

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.

Aware of the ambitious nature of this goal, ZWIA recognizes zero waste communities and businesses as those that divert 90% of their waste from landfills, incinerators and the environment.  ZWIA claims that zero waste programs are the fastest and most cost effective way for local governments to promote sustainability, reduce environmental impacts, protect health and create green jobs.

ZWIA recognizes that change must come on multiple levels: in industrial production and design; consumption, discard use and disposal within a community; and the political will to accomplish these goals.  In the Zero Waste Design Guidelines, we focus on the role design can play in the second level— altering patterns of consumption, discard use and disposal.

Many cities in the United States and around the world have set zero waste goals, among them New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Buenos Aires, London, Milan, Paris and Tokyo. The plans may differ, but the overarching goal is to stop the relentless transformation of natural resources into garbage. Achieving this goal would go far in eliminating the many negative local and global consequences stemming from the current mismanagement of our life-sustaining material flows.

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