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Letter to the Editor of MSW Management supporting the zero waste movement

| Written by ILSR Admin | No Comments | Updated on Apr 11, 2002 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

April 11, 2002

MSW Management

Forester Communications, Inc P.O. Box 3100 Santa Barbara, CA 93130 Telephone: (805) 681-1300 Via Fax: (805) 681-1312 Via E-mail: Street Address 5638 Hollister, #301 Santa Barbara, CA 93117

Dear Editor,

MSW Management’s March/April 2002 editorial criticizes the zero waste movement for not “defining exactly what they mean, proposing how they intend to get there, providing some estimate of what the costs might be, or suggesting what benefits from those expenditures we should anticipate.” Not true.

The GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN, has an extensive web site on zero waste and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s report for GRRN, Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000, concludes with an agenda for action for moving toward zero waste. 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.

John Trotti’s editorial indicated that government waste managers have no responsibility for waste generation but rather have the simple duty to “take charge of the public’s waste and see to its proper disposition.” Herein lies one crux of the matter. Wasting is an unfunded mandate on local government. Neither municipalities nor the general public have much ability to control the design of products and packaging to enhance reusability or recyclability. Waste managers are not typically trained as educators, material market developers, nor policymakers – skills needed to bring a zero waste economy a little closer. But waste managers can be open to innovation and change. They can support waste reduction efforts, thereby extending the life of existing landfills and minimizing the number of new landfills needed in the future.

Fifteen years ago, most solid waste professionals thought 25 percent recycling was not attainable. Today, the national recycling level has surpassed this level and many communities have reached 50 percent and beyond. Now is the time to avoid a narrow focus on “waste management” and on achieving a certain recycling level. Our goal cannot simply be to achieve 25 percent or 50 percent recycling, but rather to reduce pollution and build sustainable communities. Resource conservation, materials efficiency, waste prevention, reuse, and recycling are all integral components of a sustainable economy. Just as recyclers changed the markets to favor recycling, so will the zero waste movement introduce new rules that will change current market fees of disposal.



Neil Seldman, Ph.D., President Brenda Platt Director, Materials Recovery

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