The term refers to the policy or practice of minimising, even eliminating to the extent possible, the amount of waste that is disposed. Some see zero waste narrowly as a commitment to send no waste to landfills. Somewhat more broadly it is a commitment to not send waste to landfills or incinerators (also gasification).
But the more comprehensive approach to zero waste is based on the underlying concept that waste is not something to be disposed by burning or landfilling but something to be treated as a resource to be re-used. The EU has adopted a long-term objective of establishing a circular economy, which requires technological, behavioral and organizational changes and rests on a waste hierarchy that prioritises waste prevention, followed by reuse, recycling, other recovery, and finally disposal or landfilling as the least desirable option.
Besides reducing the pollution that results from landfilling and incineration, zero waste saves the costs, and GHG emissions, that would be otherwise incurred in producing materials to replace what is thrown away, or disposed.
Some further ideas to explore on Zero Waste:
Collect a week of materials that you throw away in the trash, at home or in school.
Examine the material and determine what you can prevent. Some papers such as bills can be converted to electronic payment, some junk mail can be stopped. What else can be prevented?
Examine the material and determine what you can reuse. Are there any batteries that are rechargeable?
Examine the material and determine what you can recycle. Which plastics are recyclable and why aren’t the rest?
Examine the material and determine what you can recover.
Now eliminate from the trash everything that you can prevent, reuse, recycle, and recover.
European Environment Agency, European Briefings: Waste (Nov 2016). www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/europe/waste
See the Interview with Judi Logue and Jim Keys, of Zero Waste North West, in the Podcast section of the current, December 2016, issue of www.irishenvironment.com
Zero Waste North West (Ireland). derryair.eu/
Zero Waste Alliance Ireland. zerowasteireland.com/about-zero-waste-alliance-ireland/
OneNYC, Sustainability, Zero Waste www1.nyc.gov/html/onenyc/visions/sustainability/goal-2-sustain.html