TransformSustainability agenda › Zero waste

De-inventing waste

In trucks, trains, ships, and pipelines, an immense river of materials flows through Northeast Ohio. The supply chain of our lives now stretches around the world. When we take out the trash we are amazed and ashamed at the mountain on the curb. But we are rethinking our relationship to all this stuff, questioning our habits of production and consumption. We are moving from linear processes—take, make, waste—to closed-loop processes that make the concept of waste obsolete. We are redesigning products with full consideration of life-cycle costs. We can imagine the day when the resource flows of the human economy fit sustainably within the living systems of the Earth.

Big sort<br />The Waste Management Material Recovery Facility in Oakwood Village is one of the region's major recyclables sorting facilities.Organic waste as a resource<br />A large portion of the wastestream is organic material that can be sent to a composting facility such as Rosby to be turned into soil amendments. Deconstruction<br />Crews from Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity remove oak flooring and other valuable materials from homes that are slated for demolition, allowing the materials to be reused instead of being dumped in a landfill.

Goals for zero waste

As an ambitious goal, “zero waste” doesn’t need a lot of elaboration. But the means of achieving it need a lot more thought in Northeast Ohio. There really hasn’t been a serious effort to map out the transition steps.

We have only hints of what a zero-waste world could be like. For instance, there are companies like Great Lakes Brewing Co. that use waste products from the brewing process to grow produce for its restaurant, or companies like Honda that have eliminated waste from factories in Ohio and elsewhere. The Zero Landfill project is reducing the waste from the design industry by distributing outdated specification samples, such as carpet tiles and fabric swatches, to local artists. New composting services, such as Rosby Resource Recycling, are keeping organic wastes out of landfills. A Piece of Cleveland is figuring out how to deconstruct abandoned buildings so the valuable materials can be reused. Quasar Energy in Cleveland has developed an anaerobic digestion process that turns organic wastes into energy.

How to help

Getting to zero will require many more efforts like these, as well as new public policies and education to raise awareness about the environmental and economic benefits of treating waste as a resource. We’ll use this space on the site to cultivate a conversation about the necessary steps. Send your ideas here.

Also, for practical ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, check out the Stuff section of the site.

Updated 10/15/12

If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.
— Berkeley Ecology Center

Post-waste society is the social, political, and economic form demanded of a world that would mimic the biosphere rather than destroying it. I believe that we are on the brink of having to develop a post-waste world, since our wasteful one is destroying the conditions of life. A post-waste society is the perfect, poetically just task for Cleveland.
— Jeremy Bendik-Keymer

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