What is Zero Waste?

GAIA recognizes the Zero Waste International Alliance definition of Zero Waste “Zero Waste is 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.” (ZWIA, 2018)  

Beyond the definition, Zero Waste is as much as conserving resources as a goal towards environmental and social justice and regeneration, equity and respect for nature. 

When designing and implementing Zero Waste plans at local level, municipalities must respect and engage all actors that form the waste ecosystem, including communities, formal and informal workers.  

In practical terms, Zero Waste has 5 overarching strategies: 

  1. The goal to end waste disposal in dumps, landfills and incinerators
  2. Industrial responsibility and redesign of products 
  3. Taking consumption patterns within ecological limits 
  4. Developing systems and infrastructure to recover resources at their highest and best use
  5. Ensuring social and environmental justice, respecting and engaging all sectors that form the resources ecosystem

What is not Zero Waste?

Because of its compelling appeal, the term “Zero Waste” has been misused by some  proponents of conventional waste management approaches as a form of greenwashing. For example, some incinerator companies claim that their technology produces “zero waste,” even though waste incineration generates large quantities of hazardous solid waste (bottom and fly ash) and toxic air emissions.. This claim is commonly made about some of the more exotic technology variants on incineration, such as pyrolysis, gasification, plasma arc, and plastic-to-fuel. Some companies and cities adopt “Zero Waste to landfill” goals while relying heavily on incineration. Other municipalities have announced “Zero Waste” programs that focus on reducing litter on the streets or cleaning up parks or beaches. Multinational consumer goods companies have launched “Zero Waste” programs, yet keep flooding our environment with single use plastics.