The overarching goal of Zero-Waste is about eliminating the accumulation of waste in landfills. It is about re-evaluating the structure of our current economy and lifestyles, with hopes to evolve into a more circular one. A circular economy is primarily focused on creating fuel out of waste and essentially mirroring a world where there is simply no trash. In a less formal definition, it goes back to the three R’s of waste management; reduce, reuse, and recycle. It is the act of reducing our demand, reusing what we consume, limiting what is sent to be recycled, and composting everything else. For a long time, the term Zero-Waste has become an extremely hot topic, that turned into a Movement, with all intentions to protect our environment.
Here are just a few eye-opening examples of why Zero-Waste is crucial:
- We generate 21.5 million tons of food waste each year. If we composted that food, it would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road.
- 3 R’s: Reducing, Reusing, & Recycling creates 10x more jobs than disposal.
- It takes 20x less energy to create an aluminum can from recycled materials than raw materials.
- If we recycled all newspapers, we could save up to 250 million trees each year.
- New York accumulates more trash than any other city by far, producing 33 million tons of garbage per year, of which 663,600 tons are recovered for recycling.
What We Don’t Know… Can Hurt Us!
So, where is our waste going? A lot of people would have a hard time answering that question precisely. Not knowing what happens to our waste once we dispose of it is like saying “out of sight, out of mind” or “what you don’t know, can’t hurt you”. This mentality can be damaging to the efforts of avoiding landfills. The landfill, or “dump”, is the most common journey’s end for all waste. There are over 3,000 active landfills in the U.S. alone, and about 52% of our trash will end up there. Landfills accumulate waste where it is built into the ground or placed on top, but is not broken down. On a brighter side, about 35% of our waste goes to recycling or composting facilities. These facilities center their attention on reusing waste by turning it into products.
In order to participate in this Zero-Waste Movement, we must envision our day to day lives where we do not dispose of any trash. This can be a scary concept to most people due to the fact that the average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash daily- it sounds too difficult to achieve. Although this may be true, there are influencers in this Movement that prove it to be achievable every day, even with just the simplest of tasks. Any attempt to reduce waste, whether big or small, is a step towards a brighter future, and a large segment of these Zero-Waste leaders are part of the Millennial generation.
Millennials tend to have a different approach and outlook when it comes to the environment and “going green”. They feel as if it is up to them to set the route for Zero-Waste because it is an opportunity to change their foreseeable future of pollution and limited resources. They believe in it and want more for themselves and upcoming generations.
Here are some changes most millennials have been making to their lives toward reducing waste:
- Reusable water bottles – Eliminate the use of plastic water bottles
- Reusable straws - Eliminate the use of plastic straws
- Glass Containers - Instead of storing food in plastic Tupperware or plastic bags, use glass containers.
If we acted on these initiatives, think about the impact it would have! And those are only three out of so many more.
Millennials are not only a large segment of this move towards Zero-Waste, but they are the future of a lot of waste management businesses. Most of the “Mom and Pop” haulers around the country and across the globe are small, family owned and primarily focused on the service they provide their customer base. Most of the time these businesses are passed down from generation to generation, so we can assume that millennials will be operating those businesses in the near futures. With millennials having their sights set on Zero-Waste living, we know that they care about recycling rates, waste diversion, and greenhouse gas emissions. We must expect that they will take tools like technology and digitization into consideration to help make that happen.
Technology is a Key Tool in Achieving Zero-Waste
Not only is it up to us to change our behavior towards recycling, but technology will also have to play a major role. Our world is changing every day due to evolving technology. Advances in this technology have positively impacted the environment and waste management is innovating because of it. Why not let technology help us reach our goals? Implementing technology to support Zero-Waste efforts also increases customer satisfaction within your business due to an overall better delivery; a true win-win situation.
Route optimization is a piece of technology that drives efficiency within the industry. With the number of routes that drivers have daily, it is important to optimize these routes and have them planned out in advance to successfully guide waste collecting trucks. Advances in route efficiency will improve the overall collections of waste and recycling materials and reduce energy usage. Having all the routes properly sequenced reduces total driving distance as well as improving driver performance. It will result in a reduction in driving time, mileage, the actual number of vehicles you would need on the road, resulting in less CO2 gas emissions. Improving route efficiency will have a beneficial impact on the environment, as well as waste and recycling businesses!
In addition to route optimization, new disposal and collection technology are also becoming more present in this industry. This includes sensors that let waste management companies know when their bins are full and ready to be picked up. New kinds of screening technologies will sort through the recyclable materials much quicker and more efficiently than if it was being done by a consumer. This leads to much higher recycling rates, as well as faster service. With higher recycling rates we will reserve more energy, reduce air and water pollution, and conserve natural resources.
Waste businesses are also turning away from traditional paper transactions and moving to digital alternatives. Customers can sign up for service, manage their scheduled pickup, pay online, and even report a customer service issue. Not only is the reduction in paper contributing to Zero-Waste efforts, but customers will no longer deal with the time and hassle associated with paper billing. Digitizing waste management operations not only improves your business but helps the overall efforts of becoming a cleaner world.
The City of Berkeley intends to apply technology to achieve their own Zero Waste goals. Berkeley has an aggressive target of completely eliminating landfills from their waste stream. In order to accomplish this lofty goal, Berkeley expects to modernize their Waste and Recycling Operations. With these improvements the City hopes to track all their waste streams, while adding efficiency to their own fleet. Reducing Green House Gasses and eliminating inefficient routes from their collection efforts are key to pursuing their Zero Waste initiatives.
Local Initiatives in Boston (AMCS' North America HQ)
This past June, the City of Boston announced their first ever Zero-Waste plan. They have come up with a secure list of initiatives and goals they want to implement throughout Boston to move toward a Zero-Waste City. Boston will act to this through planning, policy, and community engagement. Achieving Zero-Waste will not happen all at once and certainly not overnight, but it will take a group effort of commitment in order to make progress. Boston’s plan for a sustainable, greener city consists of 30 strategies that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the consumption of natural resources. Expanding Boston’s composting program, increasing recycling opportunities, and starting a city-wide education campaign on recycling are the key initiatives that will create results.
Annually, Boston’s businesses and residents produce about 1.2 million tons of material. Since most of that waste is sent to landfills and not properly recycled, the 30 strategies are focused around four main sections; increase composting, recycle more and recycle right, reduce and reuse, and inspire innovation. With this Zero-Waste plan, Boston expects to reduce trash and increase recycling and composting by 638,000 tons per year. This will increase Boston’s recycling rate, currently at 25 percent, to 80 percent by 2035. Exercising and emphasizing the three R’s of waste management will be the supporting factor to Boston reducing the emissions identified with waste and get closer to the goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2050.
The City of Boston seems to think there is no reason why they cannot achieve becoming a Zero-Waste city with these initiatives and strategies in place. The city’s departments will work together to stay on the same page and identify the right paths to take toward their goals. Boston cares about the future generations and what is to come. The city has identified that part of achieving this plan will depend upon help from technology and innovation. This plan will open the door for more opportunities for an overall healthier environment and neighborhood, as well as increase Zero-Waste activity amongst other cities across the globe.
Reducing waste in today’s day in age can be done in various ways. All it takes is a little effort and consideration for the future of our planet. If we want to live in a clean, green, and sustainable environment, Zero-Waste Initiatives are how we will get there. It is important to acknowledge the benefits of Zero-Waste and work together, while recognizing the key tools that are available to steer us in the right direction. If we reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfills, the consumption of natural resources, and increase recycling rates, our world will evolve and benefit dramatically.