What is zero waste and is it really possible?

What is zero waste?  Is it really possible to eliminate waste from our lives and in our businesses? The short answer is no, we can’t entirely eliminate waste. What we can do is reduce our waste as much as possible. 

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, it means “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.” So, zero waste applies to both consumers and producers. 

Going zero waste

Going Zero Waste is a blog by Kathryn Kellog aimed at helping households reduce their waste. According to Kathryn, in a nutshell the principle ethos is (emphasis mine) “We aim to send nothing to a landfill. We reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send little to be recycled, and compost what we cannot.” 

She says the goal is to move from a linear system where we take resources, use them and then trash them to a circular economy where we reuse as much as possible. In other words, we buy or consume less, we are more conscious about what we buy so that it lasts longer and is less disposable, we preserve resources, and we recycle or reuse as much as possible. The principle sounds ideal, but is it really possible? 

Is having no waste really possible?

That’s the question asked on Zero Waste, an e-commerce store and consultancy started by Natalia Trevino Amaro. She says zero waste is aspirational rather than being “a restrictive set of rules that aim for perfection”. She suggests we may need to change the concept of waste and be willing to address our habits as consumers. She mentions the zero waste lifestyle, a popular social media movement, which is all about how individual households can use the 5 x Rs – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Rot (Bea Johnson, Zero Waste Home). 

How to become a zero waste business

So far, we have talked about households and consumers, but it is possible for businesses to aim for waste elimination too. Where does a company start when they decide they want to become a zero waste business? Rick LeBlanc writes in The Balance Small Business that the first step in eliminating waste as a business is doing an audit of current material use and waste management. 

He recommends aiming for ‘low hanging fruit’, smaller changes that are easily achieved and can make an immediate difference to waste reduction. Quick results will help to get employees on board, which is essential to success. He then suggests setting specific monthly and annual waste reduction goals that can be monitored and measured. Finally, he advises developing waste prevention strategies like energy use or redesigning products or services to make better use of sustainable sourcing. 

The same principles apply in business as in our households. Businesses need to buy less to reduce any excess, they need to source carefully and use materials that are long lasting rather than disposable, they need to use resources efficiently, and finally they need to consider recycling or finding companies that can use any waste products.

Our members are passionate about reducing waste, reusing and recycling materials and sourcing sustainable materials, as well as offsetting carbon emissions to help balance necessary use. They aptly demonstrate that businesses of any size can make a start and take steps towards the target of zero waste. 

Do you want to reduce waste in your household?  View our directory of sustainable businesses.

Taking the first steps to becoming a zero waste business?  Join our membership

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.