Zero Waste Does Not Mean Zero Landfill

A simplistic zero landfill strategy will not lead to zero waste. It will lead to zero control and zero responsibility.


  • Zero Waste Does Not Mean Zero Landfill
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Years ago, a college hired a famous architect to build a beautiful new building on campus. The finished structure became the crown jewel of the quad, an inspiring space for learning and academic inquiry. And yet, one detail was overlooked: At some point, the building’s waste room and loading dock were removed from the design, under the rationale that this was to be a “zero waste building.”

The aspiration was noble, but the outcome was a building with no space to separate recyclables, no place to stage reusables, and no way to actually achieve that bold zero waste goal. To this day, the building has one of the highest disposal rates on campus.

Zero waste is a compelling and necessary goal, but it will not happen by accident or omission. After decades of the disposability mindset, zero waste must be consciously re-designed back into our society: our products, our processes, our infrastructure, and our culture.

At Casella, we work every day to drive this re-design at thousands of customer sites. Our Resource Solutions team engages directly with our most progressive customers to redirect the flow of waste and recyclables in their buildings, forge connections to enable reuse, alter purchasing practices to eliminate wastefulness, and rethink product design to eradicate waste. We and our customers understand that the transition to zero waste is a complex, multi-step process that cannot be achieved by simply shutting off the trash service.

Troublingly, in our region, some states and communities are poised to make the same mistake as the college at the beginning of this post. They believe that they will achieve their zero waste goals by simply closing down landfills. They direct nominal resources toward waste reduction, recycling, and reuse, but the results of these programs are measured in hundreds or thousands of tons, whereas the eliminated landfill capacity is measured in millions of tons.

The northeast is at a critical precipice. Decision-makers look hopefully across the chasm to a waste-free land in which renewable resources flow continuously and nothing requires disposal. But the bridge to that new world is at best partially-built. And without that bridge, our actual destination will be a steady flow of trailers and rail-cars exporting millions of tons of waste across state lines to distant disposal facilities.

A simplistic zero landfill strategy will not lead to zero waste. It will lead to zero control and zero responsibility, in which waste is simply exported out of sight and out of mind at maximum cost and environmental impact. Once again, zero waste will not be achieved by accident or omission. For the sake of the environment, our communities, and our economy, we must hold our decision-makers accountable to design a realistic and workable strategy for achieving zero waste.

Let’s continue the conversation. Call us at 888-485-1469 and ask for a Resource Solutions representative.