Towards zero waste

Some facts and figures relating to:

- Best practice in government and industry

- Popular participation

- Economics of Green waste management

- Job-creation benefits


A Green Party press office briefing

13 December 2002

Contact Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, 0161 225 4863

Grace Gedge, 020 7561 0282






Will governments ever take Zero Waste seriously?


New Zealand launched its Zero Waste Trust in 1999. Designed for the participation of 10 local councils, by mid-2000 the project had 25, each funded with a NZ$25,000 grant. One district, Opotiki, cut landfilling from 10,000 tons to 3,500 per year, and expected to recover 80% of municipal waste.

Western Australia aims to be zero-waste by 2020.

Canberra, Australia (population 313,000) aims to be waste-free by 2010. It has made rapid progress, increasing its recycling rate by 92% by 2000-01 compared with 1995-96.

Seattle adopted zero waste as a guiding principle in its solid waste plan in 1998. Two California counties soon followed, as did Carrboro, North Carolina.

In 1995 Seattle recycled 44% of its total waste. Residential ratepayers saved $12 million between 1988 and 1994 because it was cheaper to recycle than landfill. The aim is to recycle 60% of all waste generated in Seattle by 2008.

The province of Nova Scotia, Canada (population 940,000) set a legal target of 50% diversion of solid waste from landfill within 5 years. It decided to cut the number of waste disposal sites from 40 in 1995 to less than 10 in 2005. As a short-term measure Nova Scotia banned disposal of drinks containers, corrugated cardboard, newsprint, lead-acid batteries, tyres, used oil and leaf and yard waste, and over the longer term waste paint, antifreeze, some plastics, steel/tin and glass food containers and compostable material from industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sources, along with a range of other measures.

Edmonton, Canada (population 938,000) has diverted 70% of its residential waste from landfill. In 2001 about 15% of its residential waste was recycled, 55% composted and 30% landfilled, compared with 86% landfilled in 1999. That is, in just 2 years Edmonton cut the proportion of its waste landfilled by two-thirds, without building new incinerators.

Christchurch, New Zealand (population 309,000) achieved a compositng/rcycling rate of 24% in 2001, and has a target to reduce landfill by 65% by 2020.

In England one local authority has already adopted a zero waste policy, namely Bath and North East Somerset.

Massachusetts aims to reduce municipal solid waste by 70% by 2010.

Rapid progress towards zero waste can be made. In Canadian zero-waste city Edmonton, before 1998 all waste was landfilled. In 2000 only about 35% was landfilled.

Germany adopted its Packaging Ordinance of 1991, which shifted the costs of collecting, sorting and recycling used packaging from municipal government to private industry. In its first four years it cut packaging consumption in by a million tons. By 1998, packaging overall had become lighter and smaller, and lower-fee cardboard was replacing higher-fee plastic and glass. In 2000, German consumers carried home 17% less packaging than in 1991. In 2000, the system recovered 93% of its plastics and 91% of its glass.

Variations of the German "Green Dot" system are in place all over the world, including programmes in Poland, Hungary, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. More than two dozen countries now require companies to take back their packaging, including Belgium, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

In Finland, a law passed in 1997 aimed to reuse or recycle 82% of packaging waste within the first four years, and prevent another six% from being created in the first place.

Massachusetts has banned the landfilling of TV and computer cathode ray tubes - the largest source of lead in the municipal waste stream.

In Holland, a law effected in 1999 requires computers, appliances and other equipment to be taken back by their manufacturers. Italy has required refrigerator takeback since 1997.

Some 23 US states ban some or all yard waste from their dumps, 32 states refuse to accept tyres, and 16 states ban large appliances. California's San Diego County bans all materials it deems recyclable.

Ten US states have a legal deposit on bottles and cans. In those states an average of 80% of beverage bottles and cans are recycled; in other states, 40%. Drinks containers alone constitute 5% of the waste stream.

Government departments can work towards zero-waste status. New York State Department of Corrections began its composting project in 1990. In 1997, 47 sites were composting 90% of their food discards. Other initiatives include using cotton from used mattresses as a bulking agent in the compost and recycling corrugated cardboard, office and computer paper, newsprint, bi-metal cans, plastic containers and Styrofoam. Participating facilities now recycle or compost, 80% of their solid waste.

The EU end-of-life vehicles directive sets an 80% recycling rate for 2005.

The EU biowaste directive states that member states should set up separate collection schemes for biodegradable waste (biowaste), such as kitchen waste, for all towns with a population over 100,000 (to be achieved within 3 years of legislation being introduced). Villages will a population over 2,000 should achieve this within 5 years. The directive is expected to be signed in 2004, so the first deadline will be 2007 (for population over 100,000) and the second deadline will be 2009.



Will people ever be bothered to actively reduce waste?


Australian zero-waste city Canberra enjoys a participation rate greater than 98% in its kerbside recycling.

Some US communities, like Seattle and San Jose, have achieved 65% reductions in waste.

Approximately 27% of homeowners (around 42,000 families) in Edmonton, Canada, are composting in their backyards, diverting 10,224 tonnes of organic waste from landfill each year.

In Christchurch, New Zealand 70% of households recycle each week and about 60% compost at home or take green waste to the council's composting plant.

Almost 100% of Nova Scotians have access to kerbside recycling and over 70% have access to kerbside organic collection.



Isn't waste reduction uneconomical?


A typical energy-from-waste incinerator of the kind favoured by the Labour government will generate 30 million during the course of its 25-year lifetime. Paper recyclers Alyesford Print will generate 2.2 billion in that time.

In the UK it costs 30 - 50 to landfill a tonne of mixed waste, 90 - 190 to incinerate a tonne of mixed waste, and just 19 -30 to compost kitchen waste in a vertical composting unit.

A recycling scheme based in Kaitaia, New Zealand found it was operationally cheaper to recycle than to landfill. The recycling system cost NZ$7.37 per cubic metre, compared with waste disposal system costs of NZ$12.28 per cubic metre (not including savings in landfill costs which further reduced recycling system costs to $3.36 per cubic metre). That is, at a conservative estimate, recycling cost just 60% of landfill costs.



What about jobs?

One US report concludes that sorting and processing recyclables sustains 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incinerating waste.

Ohio's $22.5 billion recycling industry represents 3.7% of the state's gross product and supports 4.3 % of its jobs. The average wage paid by Ohio's recycling industry is $36,600 - $8,000 more than the state's average wage.

Nova Scotia's new waste-minimisation strategy will directly create 600 new jobs in a province of 940,000 people.

A 1994 study of 10 North Eastern US states calculated that recycling had added $7.2 billion in value to recovered materials through processing and manufacturing activities. 103,000 people were employed in recycling-related industries in the region in 1991, 25% of them in processing and 75% in manufacturing, with paper being the most important.

A recent US study found that the US. reuse and recycling industry supports more than 56,000 establishments, employs over 1.1 million people, and grosses over $236 billion in annual revenues.

A 1998 survey of 64 recycling businesses in Auckland, New Zealand, showed that the gross turnover of recycling businesses surveyed was at least $132,000,000 in 1995/96. About 1,700 employees were directly involved in recycling in the Auckland, a figure comparable to that of its forestry, fishing and
agriculture sector. A quarter of these jobs had been created since 1993, and employment was expected to increase by 18% within a few years as waste-reduction policies developed.

A 1998 study found that for every 10,000 tonnes of material diverted from disposal by recycling there was a net gain of 21-39 jobs, not including any remanufacturing and related employment. The study argued that London could create 7,000 recycling related jobs by 2002, and 14,000 jobs by 2007. Because each 7000 jobs would inject an estimated 100 million pounds into the London
economy, this would stimulate further job-creation.



Won't business stand in the way?

Not necessarily...

In the USA the waste/recycling industry is bigger than the car industry. In Germany, the waste/recycling industry is bigger than either the steel industry or the telecommunications industry.

Xerox has a waste reduction initiative it calls "Xero Waste." In 1998 it achieved a worldwide recycling rate of 88%, saving the company $45 million.

Toyota and Honda both have a zero waste target.

Collins & Aikman, carpet makers of Dalton, Georgia, achieved zero landfill waste in 1998 while the company was increasing production by 300% (without increasing energy use).

Sony Electronics agreed to fund a 5-year programme in Minnesota that would take back for recycling all Sony products currently dispensed with by consumers. Minnesota recycled nearly 600 tons of used electronics in one year.

Sony's president and chief operating officer, Fujio Nishida, said: "Taking back and recycling products helps Sony design future devices that cost less to manufacture and help save our precious natural resources. It's a win-win situation."

Businesses can make rapid progress towards zero-waste status. The Virco Manufacturing Corporation of Arkansas achieved an 88% waste reduction in 8 years. Recovered materials include corrugated cardboard, ferrous and on-ferrous metals, hydraulic oil, mixed office paper, three types of plastics, foam rubber, tires, batteries and wood scraps. The company purchases recycled content items whenever possible and sponsors recycling programs with area schools.

Kimberley Clark has adopted a zero-waste target and has already achieved 80% diversion in their domestic plants.

Oregon-based computer printer maker Epson recycles 90% of its materials.

The Amdahl Corporation, a computer software business in California, achieved a 90% waste diversion within a decade of introducing its waste-minimisation programme in 1990.

Mad River Brewery, in Blue Lake, California, diverts 98% of its waste from landfills, which leaves only enough garbage to fill two 90-gallon cans a week. In 1998, the brewery's waste reduction efforts saved it more than $35,000. The company takes back six-pack containers and donates plastic grain packaging for remanufacture into reusable shopping bags.

California winemakers Fetzer reduced their company's waste outflow by 93% between 1993 and 1999, and aims for zero waste by 2009.

Pillsbury's baking operations in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, divert 96% of their waste, and the company is aiming for zero waste. The company recycled or reused enough paper in 1999 to save 200,000 trees, 82 million gallons of water and 48 million kilowatts of electricity. Pillsbury uses rented or recycled shipping pallets, and recently increased the recycled content of its folding cartons to 50%. Pillsbury seeks to improve its waste efficiency by 10% each year and has saved over $500,000 per year through their waste-reduction efforts.

Hewlett-Packard in California is diverting 92 to 95 % of its solid waste, saving almost $1 million a year in waste disposal costs by recycling cardboard, foam, plastic peanuts, low-density polyethylene plastics, Instapak, polystyrene plastics and reuses and recycles pallets.

Namibian Breweries in Africa opened their sorghum brewery in 1997 with the vision: "good beer, no chemicals, no pollution, more sales and more jobs." The brewery is a fully integrated biosystem with 40 different biochemical processes to reuse everything (heat, water, wastes and CO2) and produces seven times more products compared to conventional beer producers.

Del Mar Fairgrounds of California, which hosts more than 200 events a year, has reduced waste production by 86% through aggressive recycling and composting programs including increased use of electronic mail, refilling printer toner cartridges, double-sided copying, and reusing shipping and storing supplies. It saved $863,976 in disposal fees and revenue from material sales.

San Diego Wild Animal Park in California has implemented a waste-reduction programme which saved over over $1 million annually in tipping and hauling fees. The park now landfills only 4% of its waste.

In Nova Scotia, milk producers provide funding and in-kind advertisement to municipalities to recycle milk cartons.

California has a number of "resource recovery parks" - each a central location for recycling, composting and reuse facilities, together with manufacturing. One a former steel pipe manufacturer was transformed into a 2.2-acre reuse demonstration project called Urban Ore, featuring departments that retail building materials, hardware, arts and media equipment, as well as a general store. Its director claims: "We could produce 100 times the products with the same resources if we were looking at the total system on a holistic basis. And it doesn't have to be altruistic."

Some small businesses have found it possible to quickly achieve zero-waste status. In the second half of 2000, six stores in Auckland, New Zealand achieved zero waste status and no longer have dumpsters on their premises.

Saint Joseph Medical Centre, Fort Wayne, Indiana, has achieved an 80% reduction in waste through source reduction and recycling. This was achieved by eliminating single-use food service items, instituting electronic procedures, and recycling materials including cardboard, plastics, glass, aluminum, bi-metal cans, paper and x-ray film.

Larry's Markets in Bellevue, Washington, instituted a composting programme in 1996 as part of their plan to run environmentally responsible stores. The company's five stores recovered 90% of their food discards and realised net savings of about $41,000 a year.

In Canada, Ottawa-Carleton (population of 710,000) more than 300 retailers participate in a "Take it Back!" programme which allows residents to return for re-use, recycling or proper disposal more than 60 household products and hazardous materials such as automotive and electronics products, medication and used needles that should not be deposited in bins or recycling boxes.

Green waste management will become more economically attractive to business as the net costs of composting and recycling fall over time and economies of scale are achieved. The larger the number of products collected, the lower the average cost per product.

Some businesses, including major companies, are lobbying for stronger regulations relating to recycling. A letter in The Guardian, 3.1.02, signed by the managing director of Sony UK on behalf of the American Electronics Association, Electrolux, Gillette, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Japanese Business Council Europe, and Philips accused the UK government of being "in danger of missing a golden opportunity to encourage the best environmental standards." It said that "the UK government appears to be moving away from the recognised principle of 'the polluter pays'," and of pursuing a policy which "would not encourage companies to adopt greener designs in the future and would leave the market open to rogue companies to act as free riders bearing no responsibility for the waste they are creating."

Business attitudes to Green waste management are changing. The UK waste industry now accepts a recycling/composting rate of 60% as being achievable - a significant change from their stance 10 years ago.