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It is now widely accepted that humankind’s current interaction with the environment cannot be sustained. Natural systems are cyclical and produce no waste. In our industrial society waste results from the inefficient use of any resource and includes activities and products that generate by-products with no clear use, no market value, or hazardous properties and by-products that decrease their potential value. Waste takes many different forms: from solid and hazardous waste to wastes in energy and material use; wastes in manufacturing and administrative activities and wastes of human resources.
The visionary goal of Zero Waste expresses the need for a closed-loop industrial/societal system as waste is a sign of inefficiency. The use of the term Zero Waste includes "Zero Solid Waste", "Zero Hazardous Waste", "Zero Toxics" and "Zero Emissions". Zero waste suggests that the entire concept of waste should be eliminated. Instead, waste should be thought of as a “residual product” or simply a “potential resource” to counter our basic acceptance of waste as a normal course of events. Opportunities such as reduced costs, increased profits, and reduced environmental impacts are found when returning these “residual products” or “resources” as food to either natural or industrial systems. This may involve redesigning both products and processes in order to eliminate hazardous properties that make them unusable and unmanageable in quantities that overburden both industry and the environment.
Zero Waste strategies consider the entire life-cycle of our products, processes and systems in the context of a comprehensive systems understanding of our interactions with nature and search for inefficiencies at all stages. With this understanding, wastes can be prevented through designs based on full life-cycle thinking. Indeed, we should work to "design" our wastes, if any, so that they have future applications.
The comprehensive nature of a Zero Waste Strategy is shown in the following input-output diagram:
Since waste is a sign of inefficiency, the reduction of waste usually reduces costs. For example, Hewlett Packard in Roseville, CA reduced its waste by 95% and saved $870,564 in 1998. Epson in Portland, OR has reduced its waste to zero and has saved $300,000. Interface, Inc. in Atlanta, GA has eliminated over $90M in waste. Xerox Corp., Rochester, NY has had a Waste-Free Factory environmental performance goal since the early 1990s. The criteria include reductions in solid and hazardous waste, emissions, energy consumption, and increased recycling. Savings were $45M in 1998.
Further, A Zero Waste strategy supports all three of the generally accepted goals of sustainability - economic well being, environmental protection, and social well being:
Economic well-being is improved by enabling organizations to identify inefficiencies in processes, products and services and thereby to find cost-saving solutions to them.
Environmental protection is enhanced by reducing (ideally to zero) hazardous and solid wastes to nature and by reducing the need for energy generation and hydrocarbon extraction.
Social well being is enhanced through efficiency improvements that allow more resources to be available for all. In addition, more complete use of "wastes" will create jobs in return logistics and reprocessing activities.
A Zero Waste strategy leads us to look for inefficiencies in the use of materials, energy and human resources. To achieve a sustainable future, extreme efficiency in the use of all resources will be required in order to meet the needs of all of the earth’s inhabitants. A Zero Waste strategy directly supports this requirement.
Currently we have a growing population faced with limits of resources from the environment. We understand that our society and industrial systems must begin to mimic nature and move from being primarily linear to being cyclical. Each material must be used as efficiently as possible and must be chosen so that it may either return safely to a cycle within the environment or remain viable in the industrial cycle.
The vision of Zero Waste can be seen as a solution to these needs and a key to our grandchildren's future. Zero solid waste, zero hazardous waste, zero toxic emissions, zero material waste, zero energy waste and zero waste of human resources will protect the environment and lead to a much more productive, efficient, and sustainable future. The use of an endpoint goal of "zero" recognizes that simply making small steps without a goal may not achieve a sustainable future while use of a clear defined goal will lead to more rapid innovative improvements.
Zero Waste promotes not only reuse and recycling, but also, and more importantly, promotes prevention - designs that consider the entire product life cycle. These new designs will strive for reduced materials use, use of recycled materials, use of more benign materials, longer product lives, “repair-ability”, and ease of disassembly at end of life.
A Zero Waste strategy is a sound business tool that, when integrated into business processes, provides an easy to understand stretch goal that can lead to innovative ways to identify, prevent and reduce wastes of all kinds. It strongly supports sustainability by protecting the environment, reducing costs and producing additional jobs in the management and handling of wastes back into the industrial cycle. Further, a Zero Waste strategy may be applied to businesses, communities, industrial sectors, schools and homes.
Consequently, the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce recommends that the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada:
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