California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Zero Waste

What is "zero waste"? To some, it means reducing the amount of waste that is sent to the landfill to zero. In other words “zero means zero.” To others, zero waste is a process and a philosophy that involves a redesign of products and a redesign of consumption, so that all material goods can be reused or recycled—or not needed at all.

We may or may not ever reach zero waste, but we continually work toward the goal. Today, a 90 percent reduction of waste being sent to landfills and incinerators is considered an achievable goal by such groups as the Zero Waste International Alliance and the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. However, each succeeding increment toward zero requires systematic changes and improvements, and a significant, collaborative effort.

Zero waste is an important environmental concept. Here are some common definitions:

  • Zero Waste International Alliance. Zero waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, and efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing zero waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal, or plant health. The United States Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) has adopted this same definition (as the only peer-reviewed, internationally accepted definition of zero waste).
  • Wikipedia. Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused.
  • Institute for Local Self Reliance. Zero waste is a philosophy and a design principle for the 21st Century; it is not simply about putting an end to landfilling. Aiming for zero waste is not an end-of-pipe solution. That is why it heralds fundamental change. Aiming for zero waste means designing products and packaging with reuse and recycling in mind. It means ending subsidies for wasting. It means closing the gap between landfill prices and their true costs. It means making manufacturers take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products and packaging. Zero waste efforts, just like recycling efforts before, will change the face of solid waste management in the future. Instead of managing wastes, we will manage resources and strive to eliminate waste. (from the EcoCycle website)

One component that is common with most definitions is extended producer responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship. Over the years, CalRecycle and its predecessors, the California Integrated Waste Management Board and the Division of Recycling, have engaged in a variety of program activities concerning products and their impact on the environment. These efforts continue as CalRecycle seeks a comprehensive approach for advancing EPR.

Last updated: March 10, 2015
Zero Waste,
Benjamin Johnson, (916) 323-1795