With the world producing more and more goods, many environmental organizations promote recycling programs as a solution. Some cities, such as San Francisco, have even instituted mandatory recycling and compost initiatives to reduce their waste production.
While environmentalists generally applaud recycling programs, many worry that simply tossing one’s waste into the blue bin will ultimately not be enough to save the planet. Even though recycling is a practical alternative to dumping in landfills, it still takes energy to convert recycled scraps into new products.
The term Zero Waste was first used in the 1970s by chemist Paul Palmer who created the company Zero Waste Systems Inc (ZWS) with the mission of finding a new purpose for chemicals no longer needed by the electronics industry. Soon after this, the Zero Waste Institute was founded to encourage companies to produce their merchandise with as little excess material as possible and to help find ways to repurpose items instead of recycling them.
Cradle-to-Cradle vs. Cradle-to-Grave
The linear course that goods in our society most often follow is called “cradle-to-grave” because items start their lives with a purpose and once they have served that purpose are disposed of. Alternatively, supporters of the Zero Waste Movement promote the “cradle-to-cradle” cycle. Merchandise that follows this cycle is repurposed after serving its first intended function. Cradle-to-cradle mimics the natural world’s system where one organism’s waste becomes valuable nutrients for another.
France took an innovative cradle-to-cradle route when several of their wineries started allowing people to bring back their old wine bottles to refill rather than buy new ones each time. And many craft breweries in the U.S. and otherwise allow you to fill and refill large bottles of beer, called growlers, instead of buying single serving bottles that are later thrown away or recycled. While it is possible to recycle glass bottles, it is even better for the Earth to reuse them.
Germany even more actively reuses containers and is known in Western Europe as the country with the best policies around waste reduction. Nearly all their breweries sell beer in bottles that the customer is expected to return to the store. Original Unverpackt, a German grocery store, went further than just bottles in their effort to reduce waste. They use no packaging whatsoever and instead sell their merchandise in bulk bins. The customer is then required to bring their own reusable containers when they go grocery shopping.
Companies in the United States are also taking alternative approaches. One U.S. carpet company, DesignTex Fabric, is taking the cradle-to-cradle route with the material they use. Conventionally, rugs are made with non-recyclable material and are therefore sent straight to the dump once they are no longer needed. DesignTex, however, makes their carpets with Climatex Lifecycle, a non-toxic, pesticide-free fabric that can be used in gardens since it’s made from an organic material.
Converting to a cradle-to-cradle economy where businesses like DesignTex and Unverpackt work to make all goods reusable is a step society could benefit from and one that could help to ensure that the world’s natural resources will remain abundant for future generations.
What You Can Do
To strive toward Zero Waste on an individual level you can choose products with less packaging and only buy food you know you will eat in order to avoid leftovers ending up in the trash. Bringing your own mug for coffee, a reusable bag at stores, and bulk shopping are also ways to take the zero waste approach. And when you do have waste, try to find ways to repurpose it, rather than put it in a (recycling or trash) bin.
To learn more about the shift in consciousness the planet needs now, interact with like-minded people, and rediscover what’s possible for the future of our planet, you can participate in The Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. The Symposium is a 4-hour interactive workshop to discover what’s needed at this critical time in history. Find one near you or stream it online.