The US generates more waste per person than any country in the world. According to the EPA, 4.4 pounds per person per day are generated in US households alone, 1.2 billion tons or 24 trillion pounds of waste are generated annually. This doesn't include industrial, commercial or construction waste. Within that category are recyclables, compostables, non-recoverables and hazardous waste. Even with recycling, the US recovers less than 20% of this waste and with consumption and population on the rise, we are being buried in garbage.
A "Zerowaste" movement is growing around the world. It is based on the concept that we can no longer afford to generate and discard increasing material while depleting the worlds resources and filling up valuable land with landfills. This philosophy is based on a system approach to waste production through reducing, reusing, recycling and composting waste. Zerowaste is taking waste beyond recycling.
The concept of zerowaste reduces: greenhouse gas production, burden on virgin resources, overall consumption, toxic products and bi-products produced through manufacturing. Zerowaste involves every aspect production and consumption. The ultimate goal of zerowaste is to create a sustainable healthy world that is free of waste and where waste products are utilized as a resource, bringing waste back to the marketplace and nature through reuse and recycling.
A part of this philosophy is EPR-extended producer responsibility. As companies produce items that have planned obsolescence (with no true consequences for waste and pollution generated in manufacturing), life cycle accounting and purchasing practices are expanding to include the original manufacturer of a product. In Germany, there is the German Packaging Law that has forced companies to reduce waste at the on-set and be responsible for waste generated from products. This cutting edge practice is called Extended Producer Responsibility. Germany has strict laws on how products are produced including making them easy to dissemble and mandating companies take their items back for recycling. With this demand from Germany, companies have done amazing work such as creating computers out of recycled materials and making it such that when they are no longer fixable, computers can be readily dismantled and sent back to manufacturer for recycling. This case study of successful zerowaste and extended producer responsibility, lays the foundation for companies to be modelling this practice world wide. Unfortunately, these type of products are only available in Germany.
College campuses are jumping on this bandwagon as all waste generated on college campuses is brought into campus through campus procurement and personal purchasing. Colleges spend millions of dollars annually on purchasing and waste mangement (garbage, hazardous waste, recycling). Traditional procurement practices have ignored the huge cost colleges incur to manage waste left through contracts and products purchasing. This cost is increasing as are laws to manage diverse waste streams. With electronics hitting the marketplace at lightspeed (with an alarming 2 year life expectanacy), college campuses are being faced with unprecedented disposal issues, including hazardous waste fees. Though computers are generated in large volumes and weight, additional costs and challenges are being faced due to the toxic components in electronics. In the face of these rising costs and increase in waste generated, college procurement practices are evolving to incorporate zerowaste practices through take-back contracts.
Campus Recycling Programs are taking this concept further through waste reduction and diversion efforts (material exchanges), bans on unrecyclable plastics for beverage containers and through events and food service compostables recovery. Colleges, as a microcosm of the world community, are modelling successful opportunities for zerowaste and are taking waste recovery beyond recycling.
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