I started my zero waste journey over a year ago. In my final year of my Master in Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada I was faced with the ultimate student dilemma. What should I spend the next year of my life researching? I always loved urban environments. I was an environmentalist that wanted to save the forests and the oceans but live in the depths of the city. San Francisco seemed like a good place to start. I checked out the city’s environmental department, SF Environment, and was immediately taken with their goal to achieve ‘zero waste by 2020.’
This sounded absolutely amazing to me! What better way to save the planet than eliminating waste in cities?! I imagined a world where everything was recycled and composted instead of landfilled or incinerated and it seemed ambitious and incredibly possible. I also learned that my city of Toronto had also set a zero waste goal but had since dropped the ambition, sometime before 2009. So I set out to determine what made San Francisco so successful and why Toronto had failed.
Starting with the obvious I began to research where the term zero waste came from. I soon realized that zero waste in practice and zero waste in theory are two very different things. This transitioned my research and it transformed my life. I now disagree with virtually all the waste solutions I once religiously preached.
Zero waste in theory is an incredibly holistic concept which I define as a set of seven basic elements:
- Waste is anything unusable, unwanted and unrecyclable
- Zero waste is a visionary goal
- Waste must be avoided, not minimized or reduced
- Waste is evidence of poor design
- Utilize the precautionary principle to eliminate potential toxins
- Adhere to the principle of highest and best use
- Recognize and address institutional and ideological barriers
In practice, zero waste means sending as little waste to landfill or incineration as possible. The tactics most often used to achieve this are increasing recycling and composting programs within municipalities. As I found out, quite often these programs result in and facilitate the production of waste.
Through this blog I hope to spread my zero waste knowledge by analysing current environmental trends and products to see how they adhere to zero waste theory. Along the way I’ll be sure to share some of the fascinating things I learned about the production of waste.