Site icon The Carbon Crisis

14.6 Waste: Zero Waste

Author: Havana Rodriguez Castro

ABSTRACT: Zero waste is the conservation of all resources by all possible means, this includes in the production, consumption, and reuse of products and their packaging (Zero Waste Alliance, 2018). The Goal is ethical and economic efficiency. So, no it is not just recycling. It is a conscious change in lifestyle that supports a natural sustainable cycle. Zero waste calls for a systematic shift in the way we design. One that considers managing products and processes to eliminate high volumes of discharged materials from the land we walk and the air we breathe.


Zero waste is a broad term that can mean various things in accordance to how it is being applied. The research conducted focuses directly on architecture, lifestyle and fashion. Architecture can embody zero waste tactics to strive towards developing greener buildings through three main approaches: Rethink, Reduce, and Reuse (Souza, 2019). Rethinking allows for making informed decisions when erecting structures. This can be seen as utilizing an innovative approach to design, working with local materials, and minoring opulence or luxury in design. Reducing enables a refinement in the make-up of urban spaces. Meaning, decreasing the amount of concrete being utilized thus decreasing the amount of carbon waste emitted in its production. Aging is also considered in reducing so that buildings can maximize efficiency for the longest period of time possible without necessity for refurbishments or reconstruction. Reusing allows for the utilization of pre-existing structures. It enhances what already exists rather than utilizing new materials, this also allows for buildings to obtain flexibility in use over the duration of time. By minimizing waste in architecture, one can now reflect upon the way we inhibit these structures through our lifestyle.

Systemically altering design to obtain a sustainable approach is not limited to the tangible objects, but rather widespread to the reality in which our social systems work. The current global generation of plastic and other solid waste a day is approximately 3.5 million tons (Movers, 2021). We can recognize that the current system favours political leaders and big corporations that utilize unsustainable practices. This leads them to be slow to encourage zero waste practices on a large scale, since it will inevitably affect cost/profit margins. So, what does this mean? Essentially consumer demand is needed to sway economists into developing products that exhibit zero waste practices. Lifestyle change must start with social recognition that the current operating system is in fact responsible for the large amounts of waste being disposed of on a daily basis. From this recognition and demand we can push for change. This can be seen in consumers refusing unnecessary packaging of goods, increased household compost, and green transportation.

Fashion as an industry is one of the world’s worst polluters. It creates 10% of all humanities carbon emissions and obtains the second-largest consumption of the world’s water supply (McFall Johnson, 2020). Not only is the production of fashion products so detrimental to our resources, but product use and washing garments releases tons of millions of microscopic fibers into the water each year. This is the equivalent to 5o billion plastic bottles. This industry is a tricky one to approach with zero waste. The process of creating garments itself begins with the harvesting of natural resources. This list includes things like cotton farming, petroleum mining, leather harvesting for a wide variety of products. With the push for fast fashion cycles clothing that no longer fits the trends of the time are disregarded and pile up in landfills. So not only are we excessively stripping the earth of its natural resources, but we are also not utilizing these resources to their full potential.

The good news however is that approximately 66% of U.S consumers now consider sustainability as a key factor in retail shopping. There are tactics in place to help combat waste in production such as full garment knitting, 3d printing, and zero waste cutting for production; but one has to keep in mind that only 20% of textile waste is created in production, the remaining 80% is disposed post consumption (Scott, 2020). The consideration of fashion products life cycle needs to be considered, and the industry must push towards a closed circle economy, where textile waste is regarded as a resource. Zero waste has many benefits, although it is impossible to be 100% zero waste, these practices will still help lower our carbon footprint and push towards a sustainable future. Some of the benefits of zero waste practices include it being able to stimulate the economy by creating new jobs for new approaches in managing waste, and recycling materials takes 20x less energy to produce (Toronto environmental organization, 2021). Additionally, production and use of goods accumulate 42% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, zero waste practices can assist in lowering these emissions through energy conservation (Toronto environmental organization, 2021). In summary zero waste is a tactical approach in understanding that less is more when it comes to sustainability.


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Havana is a third year Fashion Design student living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She aims to incorporate sustainability into garment construction, and to address the fashions industries major pollution problems through her designs.

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