Zero waste

Zero waste is "a practical theory of how to wring maximum efficiency from the use of resources".[1] It addresses "...the difficult problem of how to redesign all of society's goods and processes so that nothing is designed for an early obsolescence followed by discard but, instead, is designed in many straightforward ways to be reused perpetually on many levels".[2]

History[edit | edit source]

Paul Palmer created Zero Waste Systems Inc in 1974,[2] and Palmer states that the term zero waste "had never been used publicly" before he started using it in the early 1970s.[3]

Core concepts[edit | edit source]

Responsibility[edit | edit source]

"The essence of Zero Waste is responsibility for whatever you use, buy or control." - Paul Palmer[4]

"Design for an entire lifecycle or ecology or an entire industry or an entire commerce or society." - The Zero Waste Institute[5]

Produce no waste[edit | edit source]

"Zero waste demands that all products be redesigned so that they produce no waste at all and furthermore, that the production processes (a kind of product in themselves because they too are carefully designed) also produce no waste." - Paul Palmer[6]

"Zero Waste says to find a use for every byproduct before starting any process. " - The Zero Waste Institute[7]

Design for reuse[edit | edit source]

Design things to be durable and reused for as long as possible.

The intention is to reuse the function of a product, not just the materials (e.g. recycling).

"Zero Waste states that the best way to avoid waste is to reuse everything over and over – perpetually. And that this can only be done if reuse is designed into all products, right from the start." - The Zero Waste Institute [1]

More information:

Design for remanufacturing[edit | edit source]

From the Remanufacturing Industries Council:

"Remanufacturing is a comprehensive and rigorous industrial process by which a previously sold, worn, or non-functional product or component is returned to a "like-new" or "better-than-new" condition and warranted in performance level and quality."

"Remanufacturing is not the same as "recycling" or "repairing"."

From Remanufacturing: The next great opportunity for boosting US productivity by Ron Giuntini and Kevin Gaudette:

"Remanufactured products incur costs that are typically 40 to 65 percent less than those incurred in the delivery of new products. This is because most of the raw materials already exist in their final form and thus require only a fraction of the material processing required of new products. In terms of energy consumption, remanufacturing a product requires only about 15 percent of the energy used to make the product from scratch."

More information:

Design for deconstruction[edit | edit source]

From Deconstruction and materials reuse in the United States by Abdol Chini and Stuart F. Bruening:

"The reuse of building components reduces the demand for newly manufactured materials. This reduction in manufacturing would in turn lead to less energy consumption in the manufacturing process and a reduction in the extraction of raw materials from the earth. Less material extraction and manufacturing means less associated pollution. For example, the reuse of a large old-growth timber means that that quantity of raw material need not be extracted from the earth, transported to a manufacturing plant, cut, milled, treated, packaged, and transported to a storage facility. The associated energy consumption and pollution would thus be eliminated."


"DfD and modularity are two design and construction systems that were created to sustain environmental health without compromising human comfort. The design and construction roadblocks for DfD center on connections and labor, whereas modularity focuses on efficiency at the expense of complete design freedom.

DfD and modular construction are incremental improvements when implemented separately. The advantages of DfD include the responsible use of natural resources, improved economic performance, and the potential for job creation. The benefits of modular construction range from streamlining the construction process for financial success and decreasing emissions resulting from construction activity. When used together in a hybrid system, DfD affords more opportunities for customization while modularity increases efficiency; in this way, the main drawbacks of each system are reduced or avoided."

More information:

Modularization[edit | edit source]

"Modularization means that different functions are present in different components which then are plugged into each other or work together." - The Zero Waste Institute [5]

Standardization[edit | edit source]

"...standardization can easily be applied to fasteners, which hold things together and which now come in a bewildering variety that is mostly unnecessary. But it applies to electronic and mechanical components of every kind and may even apply to some chemical formulations, such as by standardizing surfactants or oxidizers across some group of products." - The Zero Waste Institute [5]

Permaculture[edit | edit source]

"Permaculture... represents an educational process that can lead us away from irresponsible thinking." -Bill Mollison[8]

One of the principles of permaculture is "produce no waste".[9]

Precycling[edit | edit source]

Precycling is minimizing consumer waste "through selective purchasing, as by buying goods in bulk, avoiding disposable items, and carrying purchases in reusable bags."[10]

Recycling[edit | edit source]

Recycling is only related to zero waste in the sense that even the most durable products break or wear out eventually. The goal is to design things so that we have significantly less to recycle than we do now.

From The Death of Recycling by Paul Palmer:

"The basic problem that has always plagued recycling is that it accepts garbage creation as fundamental."

"In the current jargon, recycling is an end-of-pipe theory. Zero waste is a redesign theory."

From The Zero Waste Institute:

"Zero Waste cannot be achieved with more recycling. Recycling is used to process discards! Only the intelligent redesign of industrial and commercial practices to eliminate discard holds out the promise of a Zero Waste society."

Applicable to[edit | edit source]

Related[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 FAQ by Paul Palmer, via The Zero Waste Institute
  3. History by Paul Palmer, via The Zero Waste Institute
  4. COMPOSTING AND SAVED ENERGY - The Zero Waste Institute
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 How to design for Zero Waste solutions to problems. Basic Principles
  6. The Death of Recycling by Paul Palmer
  7. The Zero Waste Institute - Main page
  8. An Interview with the Ultimate Revolutionary – Bill Mollison
  9. Permaculture Design Principle 6: Produce no waste
  10. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

External links[edit | edit source]

FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Authors Facilitator, Chris Watkins
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
Related 0 subpages, 12 pages link here
Aliases Zero-waste
Impact 2,033 page views
Created October 25, 2009 by Chris Watkins
Modified March 27, 2024 by Irene Delgado
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