Zero Waste: What It Is, Practices, Examples, & More

In the guide below, we discuss different aspects of ‘Zero Waste’.

We outline what it is (a definition), what both the zero waste movement and zero waste lifestyle is, practices, examples, and other relevant information.


What Is Meant By ‘Zero Waste’? (Definitions)

Zero waste is defined in different ways by different groups or organisations.

Even different cities, towns and companies might have different definitions of, and goals relating to zero waste.

Different definitions might include different sets of principles relating to the key areas and goals of waste prevention, waste reduction, and waste (or resource) reuse.

Generally, principles might prioritise waste elimination or waste prevention, rather than focussing on waste management after the waste has already been created.

Sustainable resource management, resource conservation and closed loop cycles might be important principles in zero waste too.

Ranging from the most simple definition of zero waste available, to a conglomeration of potential criteria in more detailed definitions, those definitions may read something like the following:


A Simple Definition

One way to define zero waste might be that no waste ends up in landfill.


More Detailed Definitions

Other definitions can be more detailed, such as the one provided by

More detailed definitions (including some criteria, but also other criteria from other groups and organisations) can involve:

– Considering the entire lifecycle of waste, such as design, production, consumption, reuse and recovery of materials, products, items and substances 

–  The lifecycle of products, materials and waste being modified so that they can be recovered and re-used to their maximum value, instead of simply being discharged and/or discarded

– That waste is neither sent to landfill nor burnt (at incineration plants)

– That certain forms of waste pollution and forms of environmental pollution are reduced or prevented

– That toxicity for the environment, wildlife and humans is prevented

– That waste leading to threats or risk to human health is prevented

– Plus, other criteria


What Is The Zero Waste Concept?

The zero waste concept is really just an explanation of the definition of zero waste, plus the collection of principles, criteria and goals that have developed over time that make up the zero waste lifestyles and strategies overall.


What Is The Zero Waste Movement?

The zero waste movement is the collection of groups and communities, and individuals practicing or supporting zero waste practices and systems in some way.

wikipedia indicates that the movement gained some publicity around 1998 to 2002, and then the concept along with the movement gained a notable mainstream introduction around 2010 when Bea Johnson (a woman who had a popular zero waste blog where she shared her zero waste journey) was featured in a ‘The New York Times’ article, and she shared the concept of waste-free living

In 2013, she released a book (Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste) where she provided ‘methodology of the 5R’s’ with practical tips on how to eliminate waste in a household

Since then, there’s been various developments in the concept and movement, with a few examples being cities adopting facets of zero waste, ‘zero waste’ stores, and various organisations operating that promote zero waste as a concept and strategy, in addition to doing other things such as organizing zero waste events and initiatives.

Local communities and online communities have also formed, and they discuss zero waste information, practices, lifestyles, and systems.


What Is The Zero Waste Lifestyle?

The zero waste lifestyle is a style an individual can live to various extents (some more committed than others) where they practice principles from the zero waste concept.

It may involve things such as preventing or reducing waste in the first place by using reusuable products over single use disposable products, just as one example.


Zero Waste vs A Circular Economy – What’s The Difference?

These two concepts are similar in that they both might support closed loop cycles for materials and waste

However, a circular economy might aim to keep resources in use, and extract maximum value from them

Zero waste on the other hand, whilst it might also aim to recover and re-use resources and waste, it might place more of a focus on eliminating and preventing waste in the first instance


Zero Waste vs Recycling – What’s The Difference?

Recycling specifically involves recycling materials and items that become waste.

Similar to what we explained in the above section though, zero waste on the other hand focusses on eliminating and preventing waste in the first instance, with recycling only becoming one of the options or priorities once the waste is created.

Zero waste may also take into account a wider range of materials and waste than recycling, which is really only concerned with materials and waste that are recyclable.


Zero Waste Practices

Broad Practices

Zero waste might involve a range of broad practices, including but not limited to:

– Redesigning and modifying

Of materials, and products at the sourcing and production (manufacturing) stages


– Improving resource usage

May involve reducing resource usage, or being more efficient with resource usage at the sourcing and production stages


– Reducing

The materials that can become waste at all stages of the product lifecycle


– Recovering, reclaiming, repurposing and/or recycling

Of resources, materials and waste


– Composting

Specifically organic materials


Specific Practices For Consumers

– Buying products that contain less single use plastic packaging, and less packaging overall

– Instead of using disposable or single use products and items, use re-usuable products and items where possible, such as re-usuable bags, re-usuable drink bottles, reusuable cutlery, reusuable jars and containers (like mason jars), and so on

– Compost food scraps and organic scraps where possible instead of send them to landfill


Specific Practices For Producers, Suppliers & Businesses

– Re-designing or modifying products and materials, to select better materials (or substitute materials, to use recycled materials, to reduce waste footprint, to be easier to repair or refurbish, to have a longer lifespan and be more durable, to be easier or more efficient to recover materials from (making products easier to disassemble, or to be more modular, might help with this)

– Being more efficient with usage of resources and producing less total waste at the sourcing, and manufacturing stages

– Treating water before discharging, or, treating and reusing waste water where possible. Water recycling and reclamation is an example of this

– Treating and/or re-using other waste substances or chemicals where possible 

– Minimizing or eliminating product packaging where possible, and potentially re-designing packaging

– Recycling, upcycling, downcycling, or repurposing materials and products at the end of their primary use lifespan (closed loop recycling may be specific practice that some companies use)

– Opening ‘zero waste’ stores


How To Live Zero Waste

Living zero waste can be achieved on a society wide level, and also on an individual level.

The practices above may lead to certain zero waste outcomes.

Apart from those practices, other things that may help both cities, towns and companies, and also individuals, might include but aren’t limited to:

For Society

– Provide a clear definition of what zero waste means to that group or community

– Set targets and goals, and identify desired outcomes

– Provide funding and policy support where required

– The listed resource lists States and cities that have defined zero waste in their jurisdiction, and also implemented specific steps to achieve goals and outcomes, with some examples of steps being preventing waste, reducing and reusing waste, and recycling and composting

– The listed resource also identifies a tool, the ‘Zero Waste Hierarchy, which describes ‘… a progression of policies and strategies to support the zero-waste system, from highest and best to lowest use of materials’. Reduce, reuse and recycle is an example of some hierarchical steps, with a fourth ‘R’ sometimes being added – ‘Recovery’


For Individuals

– Following the 5 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

– There’s also books on Zero Waste available (such as a well known book by Bea Johnson), online groups and communities, and other places where individuals can learn more about living a zero waste lifestyle


Zero Waste Examples 

San Francisco is an example of a city that has implemented some zero waste stategy and principles.

San Francisco reached an 80% waste diversion rate of waste away from landfills, to recycling and composting

Zero Waste Scotland is another example of zero waste principles in action – they are a non for profit organisation that has seen results with some zero waste practices.


What Are Zero Waste Stores?

Zero waste stores implement zero waste practices in their business operations.

A few common practices might include reducing packaging, and also encouraging ‘bring your own’ container and bottle policies where refills (and sometimes cleaning) are available.

An online search can identify zero waste stores in your area.


Potential Pros & Cons Of Zero Waste

We’ve listed some of the potential pros and cons of zero waste in this guide.




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides






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