Dr. Paul Connett on Zero Waste
[Talk given by Dr. Paul Connett at the launching of Target Zero Canada, Toronto, Canada, November 21, 2000]

I'm very excited to be here. After 16 years, zero waste is the most exciting development that I've experienced. Going through this battle, I've been largely involved with fighting landfills and incinerators and promoting recycling, but what Zero Waste does is to underline the importance of recycling, but also to underline the limitations of recycling. We have to go beyond dealing with this problem at the back-end.

To give you some perspective of what's happening worldwide; this is a very young issue, the first times we heard the words 'Zero Waste' was in Canberra, Australia. Canberra, the capital, adopted a Zero Waste strategy in 1996. Four years ago, they said no waste would go to the landfill by the year 2010, that is their objective, if you look at their landfill design is looks more like an airport than a traditional landfill. The government owns the infrastructure and the idea is to franchise this out to the different industrial interests that would use the resources; either simple mom and pop operations to reuse projects or to take as materials and recycle them, compost them.

Some of the key organizers from Canberra went to New Zealand thinking they could make New Zealand the first zero waste country. Now 38% of the municipalities will have adopted Zero Waste by the year 2015.

Californians are not going to be left out. Two counties in California, Del Norte and Santa Cruz, have adopted Zero Waste strategies. But even more exciting, from California we have companies like Hewlett Packard which are getting over 90% reduction in their own waste stream. Fetzer breweries are at 93% I think. So corporations have seen the bottom line here.

In terms of other countries: In London we have Canadian exiles, people who ran away from Ontario believe it or not, and settled in London; they have produced some very exciting plans -- people like Keith Collins and Robin Murray (who wrote Wealth from Waste). So they're even getting this exciting news in London about Zero Waste.

Also talking of Canadians abroad, other Canadian exiles have helped keep incinerators out of Ireland. Ireland has the lowest of dioxin levels in its cow's milk of any country in the world. And yet for some strange reason they want to build seven or eight trash incinerators there. The citizens have opposed this. The citizen groups fighting incinerators joined with citizens fighting landfills and coalesced around the concept of Zero Waste. It appeals to both, instead of fighting each other, they fight for Zero Waste; Zero Waste in Ireland.

In Canada I think the most exciting place is Nova Scotia. The whole province is over 50% diversion from landfill citing. One phone call I received from Nova Scotia told me that; "We are determined to be the first community in the world to actually achieve Zero Waste".

Recently, in August, we had a meeting of grassroots people from over 12 countries in Asia, who formed a group called Waste Not Asia, and one of its principles is Zero Waste. This is the grass roots effort there, again largely stimulated by fighting incinerators in Asia. Next we go to South Africa where we will be forming a worldwide group called GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and again one of the planks will be Zero Waste. This is the grassroots.

We are looking at the transition of the three R's of waste management to the three E's of resource management. We all know what the three R's are - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The three E's are Efficiency, Economics, and Ethics.

Efficiency -- waste is the visible face of inefficiency. Economics says that if you make less waste you're more efficient, and if you're more efficient you save money, you save materials, you save energy and of course you create jobs. You need jobs because you need better designers and better organizers. Waste is not a high tech problem it is a low-tech problem. It's not magic machines; it is better design, better organization, better education, both at the municipality level and the industrial level. And finally the Ethics, basically what we're seeing here is an attempt to harmonize business interests with community interests, whether we view those community interests as local or global, it is a harmonization. Not only do people need to belong to a community, but industries, companies, and corporations need to belong. They need to take roots in the ecology of commerce and that is the ethics issue.

As far as the grassroots is concerned, basically the Blue Box program and all its limitations show that people are not the problem. We will take the responsibility. Give us a box we will do what is needed, we will separate. We were told in America we wouldn't do it, and we've done it. More people recycle in America than vote. Well, that probably says more about our political systemů.

But basically there's a limit to what we can do at the back-end of the problem and what more and more communities are saying is if we can't reuse it if we can't recycle it, if we can't compost it, you guys shouldn't be making it. We need a better industrial design compatible with the 21st century.

This paradigm shift is a challenge, it's a challenge to industry to say, "Give me your creative people, give me your people that can come up with elegant solutions, give me your geniuses, give me your people who are prepared to work on this issue at the front end." And, as Einstein said, "A clever person solves a problem, a wise person avoids it." That's what we're talking about.