First and foremost all efforts must be towards avoiding the generation of all things unusable, unwanted and unrecyclable. But for those items that have been discarded, zero waste theory adopts the principle of highest and best use to determine how they should be utilized. The principle is formatted as a hierarchy and distinguishes between organic and non-organic matter.
With 17.2 million households in America deemed to be “food insecure” the best use for food is to be consumed (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2011). For organic matter that cannot be consumed by human or animal, the highest and best use is composting for the purpose of sustaining soils and avoiding use of chemical fertilizers. As a last option, organic materials should be composted or mulched to reduce erosion and retain moisture (ZWIA, n.d).
For inorganic wastes that are no longer wanted and have been discarded, the first effort should be towards reusing or repairing the item for its original purpose. If this is not possible, the principle of highest and best use follows as: reuse for an alternate purpose; reuse of its parts; reuse of the materials; sustainable recycling of materials in closed loop systems; sustainable recycling of materials in single-use applications (ZWIA, n.d).
Landfilling with energy recovery is the ultimate last option for inorganic waste. Landfilling is preferable to incineration since the latter destroys the highest value, the function of objects and leaves nothing but unusable sludge and ash (Palmer, 2004). Furthermore, very few materials are actually capable of burning and those that are, are valuable items such as paper and plastic that can be recycled (McDonough & Braungart, 2002; Palmer, 2004).
Zero waste elements
1. Waste is anything unusable, unwanted and unrecyclable
2. Zero waste is a visionary goal
3. Waste must be avoided, not minimized or reduced
4. Waste is evidence of poor design
5. Utilize the precautionary principle to eliminate potential toxins
6. Adhere to the principle of highest and best use
7. Recognize and address institutional and ideological barriers
Coleman-Jensen, Alisha. Nord, Mark. Andrews, Margaret & Carlson, Steven. (2011, September). Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. ERR-125, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/err125/
Zero Waste International Alliance. (n.d). ZW Business Principles. Retrieved from http://zwia.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8&Itemid=7
McDonough, William & Branugart, Michael. (2002). Cradle to Cradle. North Point Press. New York.
Palmer, Paul. (2004). Getting to Zero Waste. California: Purple Sky Press.