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What is Zero Waste to Landfill?

By Bertie Lourens 11th March 2020 Waste Management

These days it seems like everyone - even your Ouma - has something to say about zero waste and how to achieve it. But before we join the debate at the Sunday lunch table, let’s be sure we actually know what zero waste means.

What is zero waste?

On some level, it’s not rocket science (after all, the name kind of gives it away), but it’s also not obvious. Here’s how the experts define it:

“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”

In other words: no more need for the landfill. 

Zero waste means that everything has the potential to become something brand new. Nothing gets left behind; everything is reused or repurposed. So in the commitment to ‘leave no toxic footprint behind’, the cycle of sustainability gains a glorious momentum.

When did zero waste start?

In the 1970s, chemist Paul Palmer put the concept on the map. A decade later, his theory was put to practice with the launch of Zero Waste Solutions: a company that re-routed landfill-bound laboratory chemicals and resold them on the market to scientists and companies. But the term gained real momentum in 2013, when Bea Johnson’s best-seller book Zero Waste Home shifted the onus of zero waste from a company goal to an everyday, adoptable lifestyle. Suddenly zero waste was not just an industrial term, but a public aspiration.

How do you get to zero waste?

The first step begins with a vision and articulated purpose, which then translates into an all-in commitment across company lines to manage their waste in a sustainable, responsible way. People need to be empowered with purpose and reasons to back the company vision of good environmental stewardship, particularly when it comes to waste management. 

When it comes to practical steps towards eliminating waste, with a firm commitment and corporate strategy in place, there’s a lot that companies and individuals can do to eliminate waste and benefit their bottom line. 

In this post we cover a number of options when it comes to cleaner, cheaper waste management solutions that could help move the needle to zero waste.

Solutions like:

  1. Separating your waste at the source, in turn diverting up to 90% of your waste streams from landfill. 

  2. Converting your organic waste into valuable commodities, like energy, organic products or compost for resale purposes. 

  3. Pyrolysis, a low carbon thermochemical treatment that makes all kinds of useful products from organic, carbon-based materials.

  4. Waste2brick - a highly innovative technology that we can expect to see launched in SA towards the latter part of 2020.

Are there current success stories of zero waste in cities around the world?

Indeed there are.

  • San Francisco is the golden child of zero waste, an extraordinary example of what’s possible when there is political will to back change. The city is currently aiming this year for 100% waste to landfill diversion.

  • Through aggressive standards and waste reduction incentives, the Flanders region of Belgium currently diverts 73% of their waste to landfill.

  • Due to an anti-incinerator protest amongst residents of Spain’s Gipuzkoa, the province has adopted a door-to-door waste collection service that has reduced waste to landfill by 80%.

And the list goes on. Each of these success stories has the same things in common: intensive prevention, source separation programmes, and a healthy partnership between the public and private sector.

Are there companies doing zero waste?


  • Subaru is leading the charge on zero waste. Currently 96% of their vehicle components can be recycled or reused.

  • Toyota is a founding member of the U.S. Zero Waste Building Council. In their North American branch alone, Toyota has reduced, reused, and recycled its way to a 96% decrease in total non-regulated waste production.

  • Google, not surprisingly, is aiming for zero waste to landfill. In line with their ‘moonshot campaign’ to repurpose or reuse every company asset, 6 out of 14 of their data centres have already achieved zero waste status.

  • And how about the brewing company, Sierra Nevada, which recycles or repurposes 99.8% to 100% of their waste out of landfills?

What are the financial benefits to zero waste?

Huge, if you ask Sierra Nevada. They have seen a savings of $5 million per annum since adopting this aggressive waste reduction campaign. After Subaru’s US plant went zero waste, they claimed a savings of $1-2 million every year. Across the board, the benefits of waste reduction, along with the resale value-add of recycling your waste streams, makes zero waste a highly profitable, long term solution for sustainable business. 

How can the right waste management company help you achieve zero waste?

The job of a good waste management company is to optimise your waste streams, and save you money in the process. WastePlan’s mission is to unlock value at every corner - identifying the recyclability and renewability of your current waste products, and to help you form better waste habits that will reduce your waste to landfill. Through credible relationships and with ongoing feedback, we’re the experts and can help you navigate your company’s journey to zero waste

Let’s remember, zero waste is something to aim for. As author Kathyrn Kellogg puts it: “It's not about perfection; it's about making better choices.” Let us help you make those choices and see real, tangible benefits to your bottom line together, while working for a sustainable future.

Hitting the goal of 90% recycling is actually achievable.

To sum it all up, achieving zero waste (or as close to as possible) is not as far off from reality as many might think. However, it is also important to remember that it is not something that is easily achievable if you don’t have a professional waste management service provider by your side. 

Achieving zero waste takes time, dedication and careful preparation to optimise your waste streams, but once all the work has been done, the results will speak for themselves, and your company, as well as the environment, will reap the many rewards.

Here are a few of our clients who have reached the goal of 90% recycling and we are working flat out to help them achieve Zero Waste status soon :

For more on the conversation, subscribe to our blog. Or take the waste audit to see where your company currently stands when it comes to green, sustainable business.

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Bertie Lourens

Author Bertie Lourens

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