UK Pushes for Zero Waste: But What About the US?

I was happy to hear that the British government is making serious strides toward zero waste. Indeed, our friends across the pond, specifically the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), have launched a broad-based review of waste policies in order to pursue a zero waste goal. Excellent! But, with hands on my hips, I ask, “What about us?” I mean really, where is the push for zero waste in America?

While there does not seem to be a real federal government push for zero waste, EPA site visitors can find some information on the voluntary WasteWise program (which includes a database for partners to report on their municipal solid waste). Those interested can also learn more about the federally supported Recycle on the Go program, which is meant to encourage recycling efforts by individuals and organizations. The Recycle on the Go program is part of the larger Resource Conservation Challenge, which has a stated goal of helping the nation achieve a recycling rate of 40 percent by 2011. Unfortunately the program is not well publicized. And of course, recycling is just one part of the zero waste equation.

The real energy behind zero waste in the US seems to stem from private non-profit or NGO groups. For instance, the Zero Waste Alliance, a program of the International Sustainable Development Foundation, promotes an approach that includes awareness education, strategy development, implementation and review. Members are provided with services including training on life cycle assessments, full cost accounting, green chemistry and much more.

On the less orthodox side of things we find Zero Waste America (ZWA), an Internet based research organization specializing in communicating waste information primarily through the web. Lynn Landes is the brains behind the operation, but she acknowledges support from various partners and friends. ZWA offers no memberships and has no business or government affiliations, but what it does have is information and tons of it!

According to the EPA, as of 2008, 33.2 % of our trash (or 250 million tons) was composted and recycled. While reading the report, I got the impression that the EPA was rather proud of these figures. I was not so impressed. We have a LONG way to before zero waste is even a remote possibility and with the efforts by our national government weak at best, the goal seems daunting. But, there is hope. Grassroot and some corporate efforts are stepping in to fill gaps in government programs. Personal choice and independent efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle may still be our best offense.

Leslie is a Sustainable MBA student at Green Mountain College. Study interests include sustainability, social responsibility and the power of corporate and non-profit partnerships to bring about positive change. Other areas of interest include social media, fundraising and public policy. She holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and is certified in the Global Reporting initiative for Sustainability Reporting. Additionally, she holds an MA in Organizational Management and a BS in Leisure Management. On the rare occasions when she is not studying, she enjoys writing, reading, running, nature walks and yoga. She hopes to use her skills, talents and education to make a positive impact with an environmentally and socially conscious organization. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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