In nature nothing is wasted —one being’s waste becomes another being’s food. Consider a tree: The seed hull breaks away from the sprout and becomes food for other organisms in a process that returns it to soil. The fresh sprout gently sends roots into the earth in search of nutrients and water to be carried up through the stem to nourish new fibers and unfurling leaves —the little solar collectors that turn sunlight into chlorophyll. The tree “breathes in” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and “exhales” the oxygen we breathe in. Each fall, old leaves are cast off and fertilize the soil, and each spring, lush new growth springs forth. The tree in reciprocity, provides food and shelter to myriad flora and fauna —each performing its unique part in the endless cycles of nature. At the end of the tree’s life, it comes crashing to the ground, shattering to bits and returns to the soil it drew life from as its fibers are fed upon by other organisms. It’s a cyclical process and leads to perpetual renewal. Think of it as a circle with no beginning and no end.
What a contrast to our practices! The pattern of modern man is to harshly extract materials from the earth (take), create an often unnecessary product while creating waste during the process (make), then toss that creation into a landfill at the end of “useful” life (waste). Often, the disposed of product does not bio-degrade and/or contains persistent toxics that negatively affect the environment. It’s a linear process and leads one way to the end. Think of it as a line with a beginning and end.
We are only slowly catching-on to the efficiencies of the cyclical processes of nature, and that’s where the wisdom of “Zero Waste” ideology steps in with a visionary goal of:
- Zero Waste of Resources —100% efficiency of energy, materials and human resources.
- Zero Solid Waste
- Zero Hazardous Waste
- Zero Emission —to air, water or soil
- Zero Waste in Production Activities
- Zero Waste in Administrative Activities
- Zero Waste in product Life Cycle
- Zero Toxics
Industry and community service organizations have perked their ears to this concept and are implementing various interpretations of “Zero Waste” tailored to individual operations. Currently, the main motivation for doing so is to save money and build name value by demonstrating responsible stewardship of resources, but the process is not ideal — generated waste continues, but now, instead of being shipped to a landfill, it is reused in-house, recycled and sold, or incinerated. At least it’s a beginning. For more information, please see the California Resource Recovery Association, who’s 35th annual conference is being held July 31 through August 3, 2011 in San Diego.
I think there’s another, and more powerful way to achieve the essence of “Zero Waste,” than through the reformed waste policies of select organizations and industry, and that’s next —stay tuned.
Change comes from within —we find a better way as we learn to live wisely.