Zero Waste- Is it possible? Is Zero to Landfill the Answer?

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Does zero waste mean no waste goes to landfills, or does it mean eliminating all waste byproducts?

For the longest time, businesses have found that sending waste to landfills is the best way to handle whatever waste they have. However, some have shifted from this method and instead elected to start burning waste so they can convert it into energy or simply reduce the waste sent to landfills.

The definition of zero waste according to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is as follows:

Zero waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Incineration
Waste-to-energy plants burn municipal solid waste (MSW), often called garbage or trash, to produce steam in a boiler that is used to generate electricity.

According to US Energy Information Administration, for every 100 pounds of MSW in the United States, about 85 pounds can be burned as fuel to generate electricity. Waste-to-energy plants reduce 2,000 pounds of garbage to ash, weighing about 300 pounds to 600 pounds, and they reduce the volume of waste by about 87%.

WTE plants produce large amounts of ash that must be landfilled, so in reality, there is no such thing as zero waste to landfill even if you burned 100 percent of your discards. This constitutes greenwashing and misuse of the term zero waste.

The True Goal of Zero Waste
The true goal of Zero Waste is not just zero waste to landfill or zero waste to energy, but to redesign how we use and consume our resources, so nothing is wasted at any point along the way. The focus is to prevent the waste in the beginning instead of the end-of-the pipe waste management. The concept of zero waste goes beyond recycling and composting at the end of the product’s lifecycle,

Zero Landfill is Not Zero Waste
Zero Waste to Landfill is a clear drive to reduce the amount of waste in landfills. For most companies, this is an achievable target that is clearly defined. The danger is that a singular focus on landfill implies that burning/incinerating trash is ok.
On the other hand, Zero Waste takes a more profound commitment to evaluate how the waste is created in the first place and how businesses can prevent it from their purchases. Instead of dealing with managing the waste, the focus is choosing products with less environmental impact to begin with.

ZWIA strongly urges organizations and individuals to stop using the term “Zero Waste to Landfill” without noting how much material stays on the landfill and how much material is going to thermal processes/incinerated to avoid misrepresenting to consumers and concealing the amount of waste is generated or how much is really diverted.

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