Don’t bury it or burn it

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Eric Lombardi, Executive Director, Eco-Cycle, Inc.

Conference explains zero waste concept, offers tips for successful programs

Originally published March 2007

The average American generates almost 4.5 pounds of trash a day, and almost all of the goods purchased in the United States end up in a landfill in six months. Landfills leak toxins, and taxpayers pay to clean them up and monitor them. So, keeping waste out of landfills makes economic and environmental sense, but how can we eliminate that trash?

That’s the question that is drawing so many people to the zero waste movement, according to Eric Lombardi, the Executive Director of Eco-Cycle, Inc. ( and Board President of the GrassRoots Recycling Network ( Lombardi spoke about zero waste to representatives from the country’s college campuses at the Rocky Mountain Sustainability Summit in Boulder, Colorado, on Feb. 23. [Read more about the RM Sustainability Summit on the Green Magazine blog]

Jack DeBell, director of the University of Colorado recycling program since 1985, shared tips on creating a successful zero waste program.

Zero waste is not about getting to zero

It’s about being on the path to zero, much like industry campaigns for zero accidents or zero defects, explains Lombardi.

The zero waste movement sprang from the success of recycling and the need to do more. Modern recycling hasn’t been around very long—most people credit the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, with the birth of recycling. Today’s zero waste movement re-defines the goals of recycling. It aims to not just recycle or manage waste, but to eliminate it.

College campuses are jumping on the zero waste bandwagon, not only with recycling and educational programs, but also with their purchasing policies. Businesses as diverse as Xerox, Fetzer Wine and BMW have found that zero waste makes business sense.

Lombardi says zero waste includes re-designing products and packaging, ending taxpayer subsidies for a ‘wasting economy,’ and shifting those subsidies from the extraction industry to zero waste. The key, he says, is shifting the waste problem to a resource opportunity. The zero waste movement looks at a pile of ‘trash’ and sees jobs, financial opportunity, and raw material for new products.

Lombardi advocates four actions to get on the road to zero waste: investing in resource recovery infrastructure; making it possible for ‘the clean’ to make the profits; requiring local producer responsibility for creating more efficient, less toxic products; and using the power of zero waste purchasing.

A small company dedicates itself to zero waste

Even small companies can find profits in zero waste. Boulder Ice Cream says it is dedicated to the concept. The company is part of Boulder-based Eco-Cycle’s Zero Waste program, where the goal is that 90% of all solid waste is diverted from landfills. Boulder Ice Cream currently diverts 70% through recycling, reuse and composting.

It separates all plant and office waste into various categories for recycling–paper, co-mingled glass, metal and plastic–and for composting. When sampling product at festivals, BIC uses fully compostable, corn-based serving cups and spoons.

BIC works with its local distributors, delivery drivers and retailers to re-use and recycle its packaging, including the return and re-use of cardboard boxes that hold the cartons and reusable plastic tubs used for scoop shops and in food service.

Infrastructure necessities

(from Jack DeBell, director of the University of Colorado recycling program since 1985)
  • Consumer containers
  • Transportation (try using the same trucks for trash as for recycling)
  • Drop-offs
  • Reusable Office Supply Exchange (ROSES)
  • IPFs/MRFs to centralize materials*
  • Composting
  • Surplus/Reuse/Upcycling facilities (e.g., make minor repairs to furniture, melt vinyl records into bowls, fix-up and re-use old bicycles)
  • Construction and Destruction yards
  • Environmental Health & Safety

DeBell’s three essentials for successful recycling containers

  1. Put them next to trash containers
  2. Use vertical facing signage so people know what to do before they get to the containers
  3. Use restricted-opening lids

*INTERMEDIATE PROCESSING FACILITY (IPF) separates, cleans and bails or packages materials for sale to manufacturers or brokers.

*MATERIALS RECOVERY FACILITY (MRF ) sorts and processes collected mixed recyclables into individual streams for market. Also known as an intermediate processing facility.

To see a list of zero waste communities around the globe visit

Read more about zero waste at:

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education at

Story and photos by Kay Turnbaugh, Managing Editor, Green Magazine
Posted by on Saturday, February 13th, 2010. Filed under The Global Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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