Zero Waste: The Choice for a Sustainable Community
by Marti Matsch, Eco-Cycle Communications Director
We can all do our part for the planet. But will that be enough?
Are you an Eco-Cycler? Here’s how you can tell. Do you recycle and compost as much as you can? Do you say things like: “No thanks, I brought my own bag (or mug or water bottle)?" Have you ever rescued a recyclable out of the trash can and not cared who’s looking?
If you answered yes to any or all of these, congrats—you’re an Eco-Cycler! Thank you for all you do to recover and protect our natural resources.
But is it enough? Are the collective efforts of all of us Eco-Cyclers enough to create a sustainable society?
The hard truth is, probably not. Here’s why: Even as you do your best to reduce your waste and reuse, recycle and compost as much as possible, the waste you see in your trash can is only a fraction of the problem—187 to be exact.
For every can of garbage at the curb, there are 87 cans worth of materials that come from the extraction industries—such as timber, agricultural, mining and petroleum—that manufacture natural resources into finished products. Source: World Resources Institute.
So even if we could make everyone an Eco-Cycler like you, that doesn’t address those 87 cans of waste that happened before we even see a product on the shelf.
It’s not all up to you. We need to change the systems around us to prevent waste and protect our natural resources.
The Linear Production-Consumption-Disposal System: An Outdated 20th Century Approach
Currently, our production system goes one way—from the earth to the dump:
1) We extract natural resources like trees, precious metals and petroleum.
2) We manufacture them, often through polluting, toxic and wasteful practices, into products designed for the dump.
3) We distribute them, often shipping them long distances, from manufacturing to sale.
4) Here's where you come in, with few choices and opportunities to do the green thing.
5) After we buy and use them, we pitch our products into a hole in the ground (aka landfill) or an incinerator and destroy the value of those resources. When we need new products, we just head back to the natural resources like they’re in infinite supply.
If everyone on the globe followed this system and consumed resources at the rate we do in the U.S., we’d need 5 planets to keep up.
This system is BROKEN, and here’s why:
7+ Billion People (and untold numbers of other species): In the past 40 years, our population has doubled and it continues to grow. We’re all dependent upon a limited number of natural resources for survival.
Climate Change: A rapidly changing climate will fundamentally affect the life of every global citizen (and species) including our water and food supplies, our health and beyond. The way we produce, consume and dispose of our products and our food accounts for 42% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Resource Wars: As quantities of resources like petroleum, minerals, even fresh water shrink, wars are being waged to grab control of the last of them.
Future Generations: The resources we’re squandering don’t belong to us. If we can’t feed, clothe and house people peacefully today, how will future generations do so on far fewer resources?
Zero Waste System: Meeting the Needs of the 21st Century and Beyond
The Choice for Sustainable Cities
A Zero Waste System is cyclical, like in nature, and does two fundamental things: It redesigns our systems and resource use—from product design to disposal—to prevent wasteful and polluting practices that lead to those 87 cans of waste. It then captures discards and uses them, instead of natural resources, to make new products, creating far less pollution and feeding the local economy.
A Zero Waste System has:
New rules and policies that take a responsible approach to using and conserving dwindling natural resources.
New manufacturing processes and smarter design where manufacturers are held responsible for the full lifecycle of their products, giving them the incentive to design for the environment, NOT the dump.
New programs in every sector of our society to shift our culture away from wasting and toward a sense of responsibility for our planet and its future.
Resource recovery infrastructure to replace landfills and incinerators and recover 90% or more of our discards.
Empowered citizenslike you who now live in a system that supports your efforts, while you continue to call for Zero Waste progress in your community.
How does our community go for Zero Waste? With your help!
Zero Waste Systems are being created in bits and pieces all over the world. In fact, Eco-Cycle is creating a ten-year plan for communities locally, nationally and internationally to recover 90% or more of their waste. Our goal: Make Boulder County the global model.
The key is Eco-Cyclers like you.
Use This Guide
In this two-part guide you’ll learn more about how we can work together to redesign our local community and get some tips and tools for living sustainably within it.
How is Boulder County doing on the road to Zero Waste?
We’re on our way! Two communities have created Zero Waste plans:
Boulder County’s Zero Waste Action Plan is one of the first of its kind in the nation. It is a guide for all the municipalities in the county, particularly those that have no plan, to follow and use for collaboration.
The City of Boulder’s Zero Waste Master Plan would help the City reach 85% recovery by 2017 and regain its role nationally as a community leading the way toward Zero Waste. In 2010 Boulder recycled and composted about 46% of its waste, so there’s still quite a bit of work ahead. We’ll tell you more about it inside this guide and how your voice as a community member is needed NOW.
Take Action! Tell your city council you support the Boulder or Boulder County Zero Waste Action Plan.
Next article —
The Gray Zone in Our Green Future: We have lots of rules in our society to protect the common good. Shouldn’t protecting resources for this and future generations be one of them?
© 2012 Eco-Cycle, Inc. All Rights Reserved. No content published by Eco-Cycle may be copied or printed for any use without the expressed written consent of Eco-Cycle. Want to reprint or redistribute our content? Please contact us.