In recent times, Americans have witnessed a revolution in how trash gets managed.  To sustain this, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has continued this with new municipal solid waste landfill criteria, ensuring that waste gets managed in the most environmentally responsible manner possible. 

Interestingly, those guidelines have worked well, and the American people are now proud that the days of open burning dumps and unlined landfills are over. Indeed, America has recorded a victory in the public health battle with waste disposal.

Simultaneously, America has leveraged the tremendous resource and energy conservation advantages of recycling. Today, multi-material residential curbside programs have become the norm. Waste and recycling companies are now a resource management industry without losing the necessity of protecting public health.

However, despite this success and commitment, our society still generates a significant amount of waste that requires management.  Americans produced almost 267.8 million tons in 2017 alone. And we still dispose of a good deal of that trash at landfills or waste to energy facilities.

As a result of our success in taming the waste stream’s size, more and more attention is being turned to the concept of “zero waste.”

The objective of zero waste is to significantly reduce waste to the point at which no commercially realizable economic value exists for the remaining residue of the waste reduction process.

Hence, to consumers, the concept of zero waste would mean maximizing efforts at recycling and reducing trash.  Then, to recycling service and waste collection providers, this would mean finding then using the environmentally sound and cost-effective methods for the collection, processing, selling, and disposal of garbage.

To manufacturers and producers, zero waste would also mean a total review of their manufacturing processes to identify and locate ways to minimize waste and ensure their products are easily recyclable.  For the government, this would be a goal or plan for the future that will require realistic investment and planning.

In achieving this, manufacturers and retailers continue to lead the way in adopting programs to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost as much of their waste stream as possible.  They are converting waste into a resource because they see sustainable bottom-line benefits.

Transition to Zero Waste

In transitioning to zero waste, the waste and recycling industry leads the way to improve waste disposal and collection efficiency. For the material currently sent for disposal, methane gas gets extracted from landfills and converted into clean, renewable energy to generate electricity for beneficial reuse in schools and public buildings.

In doing this and to ensure compliance with the regulatory framework, waste stream reduction occurs at licensed and permitted facilities. Shortcuts in recycling and composting are not allowed. This is because they can lead to an increased carbon footprint and potentially cause environmental damage.

Also, we must approach zero waste as a series of steps, all of which must be thoroughly understood to optimize system efficiencies fully.  Additionally, zero waste economics must be understood and considered when deciding how and what to eliminate from the waste stream.  And finally, the infrastructure needs to be developed to assist in the achievement of zero waste.