In my September 21 post, I explained that in response to an invitation to participate in a roundtable composed of waste and recycling editors at the Resource Recycling Conference at the San Antonio Marriott, October 26–27, I’ve decided to present some of the questions we will be addressing, along with my first-flush responses, followed with suggestions (occasionally scolding) from others from whom I’ve sought help. Round II followed a week later, so now after a week’s hiatus while I was in New Orleans at WEFTEC, here’s Round III
Question 3. An area of much interest is zero waste. In a similar vein, what’s your view? Does the zero waste concept have legs?
My Response: Certainly if we take great care in studying the pitfalls as well as the opportunities in order to develop rational strategies. As with producer responsibility, it’s up to regulators to set the requirements and then let the marketplace determine how best to meet them. The minute the regulators meddle with the processes, the situation is bound to become mired in conflicting agendas. I think it’s important to recognize that the ultimate drivers are economic. NASA, stuck with the challenge of recovering value from as much material as possible for its proposed Mars mission, has been able to exceed a 90% recovery rate, but at a cost curve that has gone almost vertical at the top end of the scale.
Response #1. Zero Waste has Voice at this stage. Success depends upon the customer’s “willingness to pay and obey the rules” to approach zero waste.
Response #2. The “triple bottom line,” often cited as the behavioral motivation for change, includes environmental concerns, social responsibility, and economics.
Response #3. It’s important that we do look at it from a systems perspective. We can’t reach zero waste but create an equal or worse environmental impact in another area through the process. For example, what’s worse: landfilling some recyclables or running another fleet of trucks all over the place to pick up those recyclables? At what point do we outweigh the groundwater protection with all of the environmental consequences of additional fossil fuel use?
Response #4. I have always been jaded about the concept of “zero waste”—just like “world peas,” the concept is a far-distant goal that I’ll never see in my lifetime & just isn’t “real” (it’s the label that gets me). Call me an engineer, but I’d rather have an ambitious diversion goal of 50% or 75% that is tangible and measurable
Response #5. From a scientific and engineering perspective (second law of thermodynamics) zero waste is an impossibility. I'm an old-fashioned waste minimization guy. My concern is that the zero waste movement is philosophically opposed to WTE systems. At the same time they are amenable to anaerobic digestion systems, which convert wastes to a biogas. Finally, I don't know of a single zero waste system in the US. Therefore, we will have to wait another 20 years for this concept to grow legs. We have to get the zero waste crowd to accept thermal conversion as an alternative for processing non-recyclable waste—at least while the zero waste concept is being fleshed out and proved. Non-recycled waste should be defined as waste that cannot be economically recycled.
Response #6. I suggest you tackle the question on zero waste a little more forcefully in the sense that zero waste, in a practical sense, is a very, very long-term goal. I don't believe we will ever see true zero waste, for cultural reasons if nothing else, so I hope a realistic discussion can be fostered about what zero waste materials management means to our society. Perhaps the point could be made that zero waste is a distant target, not an achievable system that is just around the corner if only we would grasp it. All flows in all systems, even in Mother Nature, have wastes associated with each step in that system. Your NASA example demonstrates that even in a system where fostering minimal waste is a life-or-death necessity, zero waste is not achievable. We must be realistic, not idealistic, to actually achieve a better materials management system.
Response #7. What about the broader “waste (verb) zero ” as opposed to “zero waste (connotations is solid waste)? Take into account wasting water and power, life cycle, etc.
OK, so what are your thoughts on Zero Waste? Please post a comment below or drop me an e-mail at email@example.com.