All / What is Zero Waste

Philosophy and Waste

In November 2011, I presented my zero waste research at a Philosophy and Waste conference at the University of Southern Illinois. Although much philosophical thinking is beyond my comprehension, considering waste within this discipline reveals some interesting points.

Using the ever so trusty Wikipedia, philosophy is defined as, “the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.”

If philosophy is a study of general and fundamental problems then waste is really a perfect fit. Systems of waste create the fundamental problems of over utilizing renewable and non-renewable resources to the point of irreversible degradation and destruction. Furthermore, waste often causes harm to the environment and human health.

Many will argue that waste is a part of existence – that the production of waste is an unavoidable reality. However, zero waste challenges these ideas and insists that waste is not natural and is not inevitable. Waste, as defined within my version of zero waste is anything unusable, unwanted and unrecyclable. Within nature waste it not produced. Every element that exists is a natural and necessary part of another. As George Washington Carver wrote in 1893, “The earnest student has already learned that nature does not expend its forces upon waste material, but that each created thing is an indispensable factor of the great whole” (as cited in Ferrell, 2002). In other words, all natural discards are usable, wanted and recyclable within the ecosystem – there is no waste.

And if philosophy is a rational and critical way to address problems than zero waste is surely the best answer. Waste that is not created cannot cause any problems. Yet the avoidance of waste is a tactic to ‘waste management’ that is rarely, if ever considered.

Although it’s a bit out of my realm of understanding one of the other presenters at the conference, Timothy Morton, professor at University of Berkeley commented on my research here:

I’m not sure what the concept of 000 is and how it relates to zero waste but perhaps that’ll be the topic of another post!