Humans are the only species on the planet that don't live by zero waste principles. Zero waste is a 'call to action' that aims to bring an end to the current 'take, make and waste' mentality of human society.
Zero waste is the pinnacle of the hierarchy of waste management. When there is no waste, we will have moved well beyond the 'end-of-the-pipe' (compliance) and even 'front-of-the-pipe' (eco-efficiency) in our approaches to environmental management. Instead, we will have what William McDonough calls a 'no-pipe approach.' Zero waste means swimming upstream to the sources of waste generation, rather than merely reducing the downstream impacts of waste.
Zero waste is a way to create significant employment and economic development opportunities. Reducing, redesigning, revitalizing, reusing, refilling, regenerating, recycling, repairing, reclaiming, refurbishing, restoring, recharging, remanufacturing, reselling, deconstruction, and composting are the constituents of zero waste -- and all generate productive employment. Zero waste envisages the complete redesign of the industrial system. We can no longer view nature as an endless supply of materials for us to use and discard to landfills or incinerators. All sectors of society: government, communities, and businesses, must re-envisage their purpose, so that they no longer base their viability on wasting the Earth's resources.
Zero waste is the next logical step beyond the short-term goals established for recycling. It is the cornerstone of a sustainable materials economy. Instead of managing waste, zero waste teaches us to manage resources and eliminate waste.
Zero waste is a policy, a path, a target. It is a process, a new way of thinking. Most of all it is a vision. It represents a new planning approach for the 21st Century encompassing the principles of conserving resources, minimizing pollution, maximizing employment opportunities, and providing the greatest degree of economic self-reliance.
Zero waste is no longer a theoretical exercise. Most of the processes already exist and we have more than enough case studies of community-based waste reduction, reuse, and recycling projects achieving spectacular results. There has been a dramatic shift in awareness; people no longer need convincing of the need to divert resources from the landfill. Society wants the 'how-to' so their communities can progress from environmental contamination and high disposal costs to job creation and economic development. Zero waste is an integral part of a green economy.
Zero waste is a quality concept. Quality means the elimination of waste. And the elimination of waste is the essence of the meaning of the word economy. Quality is also a key to competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Zero waste is excellence: to aim for quality rather than quantity.
--Michael Jessen, from ::Discarding the Idea of Waste: The Need for a Zero Waste Policy Now