The philosophy of zero waste is an intriguing prospect that has caught the eye of environmentalists and industrialists alike. The idea that we could produce the goods and services we need without any improvident by-products is enough motivation to spur many into action. However, the definition of zero waste is not exactly agreed upon by everyone, nor are we sure that any such system is even possible. Research of the topic tends to lead one toward more questions than answers.
History of Zero Waste
Modern zero waste ideology emerged in the 1970s. Started as a basic business plan, the philosophy of zero waste soon morphed into much more. Entrepreneurs and conservationists looked to nature to examine how its various subsystems sustained themselves. A prime example of nature’s efficiency was ascribed to a blossoming fruit tree. The primary use of this organism’s showy flowers is to further its genetic prominence. However, once this act of reproduction is finished the petals are not wasted. These organic materials fall to the ground beneath the tree and decompose into soil that can be used by the still-living organism. In this sense, the tree produces zero waste.
Inspired by this resourceful paradigm, individuals set out to weave such ideas into human society. At first it began with the extensive recycling of materials already in use. People then started to reexamine entire manufacturing processes to find ways to eliminate waste. Everything from the packaging in which raw materials were delivered to the plant, to the tires of the trucks which delivered the finished goods, was scrutinized. Many ingenious methods were developed to reuse seemingly useless wastes but still ineffectual materials persisted.
Present State of Affairs
During the years since the advent of zero waste philosophy many efficient industrial processes have been developed. Some companies have come very close to producing zero waste products as described by the traditional ideology. However, recently a schism has appeared between the minds behind zero waste. While some are satisfied with the practical recycling of products and wastes in anthropogenic systems, others argue that the additional energy and manpower required for this recycling is in itself waste. The latter of these types of thinkers feel that since most human products are so unnatural, nature’s original idea of biodegradability cannot be effectively translated to all industry. For instance, plastics have a relatively high energy cost associated with their production. While some are happy that advanced plastics can be easily biodegraded, others find the constant production of such a resource-taxing product to be troublesome.
The Future of Zero Waste
One of the most uncertain aspects of the zero waste movement is its future. Whether designers will push towards increased recycling within industry or pure reusability remains to be seen. One thing, however, is for sure. The zero waste philosophy is only gaining in popularity. Some automobile manufacturing giants already have plants they have pledged to be “zero landfill.” In addition, many governmental and societal programs are aiming their sites at zero waste targets with a variety of initiatives and incentives.
Reality or Reverie?
Can a zero waste system be implemented by man? This depends heavily upon what one considers waste. Many processes are well on the way to eliminating physical by-products altogether. On the other hand, many of these practices still require a multitude of energy and manpower. To those who consider such expenditures waste, it is hard imagine a system that can ever be truly waste free. However, if practices can be implemented that produce truly renewable energy or significantly reduce the manpower needed humans will move a little closer to what some consider a zero waste society.
This was an article written by Jet Russell. In his spare time, Jet likes to write articles on subjects with everything ranging from business, to Internet, to travel, and much more.