The Hierarchy of Zero Waste
There are 4 steps to Zero Waste (rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle) and these steps follow a very deliberate pecking order (or hierarchy), starting with the most important step (rethink) and ending with the “least important” step (recycle). This is how the hierarchy works:
- The best idea is not to create any waste in the first place (rethink).
- If you do create waste, try to make as little as possible (reduce).
- Then try to find other uses for this waste when you want to get it out of your home or workplace (reuse).
- If you can’t find ways to reuse the waste, then make sure you preserve the value of the resources that are contained in that waste (recycle).
Zero Waste = Simple Math
Every day, we buy things that we may not really need, and throw out stuff that still has a lot of value. There are huge financial and environmental benefits to breaking this pattern. This is what Zero Waste is all about. Eliminating waste as much as possible from your home, work or school:
- Saves money
- Saves resources
- Saves energy
- Saves the environment
- Creates new jobs
You can calculate the exact cost of waste in your life by using these Zero Waste calculator tools.
Saves money: When you don’t buy things you don’t need, and make smarter shopping choices like buying a product that lasts a long time, you have more money in your pocket at the end of the day. When companies design and manufacture products that use resources (water, energy, raw minerals) more efficiently, they also save money. And, we all save money when we reuse and recycle products and materials, because we don’t have to buy as much, and because our waste management costs (such as trucking waste to landfills) are reduced.
Saves resources and the environment: With careful planning and design, just about anything (cars, houses, appliances, electronics) can be made with recycled and non-toxic materials, and/or made to be 100% recyclable. This sustainable approach to manufacturing means we need to dig up fewer raw materials from the earth, create less pollution and toxic chemicals, and use less water and energy to make things. Also, fewer greenhouse gases are generated along the way.
Saves energy: Any time that we can use recycled materials instead of processing new materials, we save significant amounts of energy. Recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to produce aluminum cans from raw materials. Metal can be recycled over and over and over again. So can glass, and using recycled glass uses 40% less energy because recycled glass melts at a lower temperature than the raw materials used to make new glass (sand, soda ash, and limestone). Recycling paper uses about 65% less energy than cutting down new trees and using wood pulp.
Creates new jobs: Finding new ways to reuse materials means more jobs and a stronger local economy. For example, recycling 10,000 tonnes of waste creates 6 times more jobs than landfilling that same amount of waste.
- 20% of the food we buy goes in the garbage instead of being eaten.
- An average family of four people throws out about $590 per year in meat, fruit, vegetables and grain products.
- Recycling 1,000 kg of aluminum saves enough energy to heat typical home for 10 years.
- Over a period of one day, a slow dripping tap could fill a bathtub.
- The commercial sector uses almost 70% of all electricity produced.
- Each child that takes a disposable lunch to school creates roughly 65 lbs. of garbage per school year.
- 11 litres of water can be saved by turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or wash your face.
- Composting can reduce your household waste by as much as 50%.
- Underinflated tires will cost you $103 more in gas each year.
- We throw out 600 times our weight in garbage in a lifetime (that’s 40 tonnes or 10 elephants).
- 38% of Canada’s total methane emissions come from landfill sites.
- Recycling 10,000 tonnes of waste creates 6 times more jobs than landfilling.
- Making 20 aluminum cans from recycled materials takes the same energy as making 1 from new materials.
- Single-use snack packages and bags cost 45% more and produce 89% more waste.
- 1 beer bottle is refilled an average of 15 times.
- Glass takes 1 million years to break down naturally, and 8 weeks to be recycled and returned to the store shelf.
- 1 coffee mug in a truckload of glass is enough to contaminate the load and cause it to be rejected from recycling.
- The average Canadian generates roughly 6 pounds of garbage each day.
- Recycling 1 tonne of newspaper saves 179 trees.
- Recycling 1 tonne of newspaper saves 29,000 litres of water.
- For every tonne of garbage we throw out, manufacturers throw out 5.
- For every tonne of garbage we throw out, primary industries (e.g. mining, logging) throw out 20.
- The average family uses 1,000 plastic bags each year.
- 5 recycled PET bottles makes enough fibrefill to stuff a ski jacket.
- Recycled milk, water and juice bottles are used to make drainage pipe, benches, pens, picnic tables, and fencing.
- The energy it takes to recycle is nothing compared to the energy it saves.
- 36 two-litre PET bottles can be recycled to make 1 square yard of carpeting.
- 33% of our garbage is made up of packaging that we throw away immediately.
- Each year we throw out 15 lbs. of textile waste (clothes, bedding, curtains) that could be reused in hundreds of ways.
- Paint accounts for more than 40% of household hazardous waste.
- Turning off your computer at night and on weekends will save you an average of $100 annually.
- If a faucet drips once every second, 10,000 liters of water are wasted in one year.
- 25% of the energy used to manufacture cardboard is saved when cardboard is recycled.
- 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine.
- The average employee generates about a tonne of loose garbage every year.
- A 600-watt photocopier left on standby for 24 hours a day uses about $750 of electricity in a year. If this machine was turned on only during normal working hours, 66% of this electricity and money would be saved.
- By recycling about 120 pounds of newspapers, you can save one tree from being cut down.
The True Cost of Waste at Work
The true cost of waste in the workplace includes:
- Lost raw materials
- Expensive waste disposal services
- Wasted labour and production costs
- Liability and workers’ compensation insurance
- Regulatory compliance costs
The benefits of reducing waste include:
- Reduced purchasing costs for materials
- Reduced waste disposal costs
- Reduced liability and associated costs
- “Green” marketing advantages
- Improved workplace safety
- Positive community relations
The best way to reduce or eliminate these costs is to avoid generating waste in the first place. You can calculate the exact cost of waste in your workplace by using these Zero Waste calculator tools.
Reducing Hazardous Waste at Work
- Good housekeeping pays off. Cleaning up spills takes time away from manufacturing products. Fix leaks promptly. Repair or replace malfunctioning equipment.
- Prevent product loss. Be aware of product shelf life and only buy what you will use.
- Keep chemical containers closed in order to preserve product quality and reduce evaporation.
- Get more use out of what you buy. Reuse and/or use up products.
- Invest in efficient equipment. Upgrade or automate continuous, long running processes.
- Train your employees. Train operators in the latest, most efficient techniques, and teach everyone good housekeeping practices.
- Choose less toxic, safer products. Compare product labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to learn what is in the products you buy and what hazards you might face.
- Plant operations
- Solvent cleaning
- Vehicle maintenance and repair
- Auto body repair
- Industrial painting
- Do you evaluate all product samples for environmental, health and safety concerns before the products are brought into your business?
- Do you follow the “first in, first out” practice to maintain fresh product inventory and avoid costly disposal?
- Do you repair machines that leak oil to reduce cleanup and disposal of oil contaminated wastes?
- Are losses resulting from inadequate cleaning, unacceptable products or ruined baths routinely evaluated to reduce or eliminate these wastes?
- Do you keep solvent cleaning baths or tanks closed to minimize solvent losses when not in use?
- Have you investigated filtration or distillation as a means to reuse solvent?
- Do you have standardized parts cleaning procedures that ensure your solvent is completely spent before disposal?
- Is solvent cleaning necessary or would water-based cleaning work just as well?
- Are oil contamination and metal chips routinely removed from your coolant?
- Is a maintenance program in place to extend the useful life of your coolant?
- Do you repair machine oil leaks to reduce oil contamination of your coolant?
- Are you using equipment designed to prevent spills? Consider adjustable roll-about oil drainers, large dedicated drain pans for antifreeze, flexible funnels, and adjustable brake cleaner sinks.
- Do technicians routinely recover spills using tools such as squeegees and dust pans before resorting to rags or absorbents?
- Is your inventory clearly labeled? Are bulk materials dispensed with dedicated fill containers to eliminate unnecessary cleanup and needless disposal of unused product?
- Do you purchase liquids in bulk? Consider using refillable aerosol or pump spray containers that cost less, reduce pollution and avoid troublesome aerosol can disposal?
- Are painters trained to properly set up spray equipment according to product recommendations, and then make adjustments for paint, booth conditions and part configurations?
- Is attention paid to fan pattern, lead and lag triggering to reduce overspray, spray distance and overlap while spraying?
- Is paint first drained from lines or removed from cups and canisters in order to minimize the amount of solvent used for cleaning?
- Is a gun washer used to minimize waste while cleaning spray guns?
- Is a tracking system in place that allows you to size batches of paint to individual jobs, thus reducing the amount of unused paint that may need disposal as a hazardous waste?
- Have you investigated the possibility of using water-based paint or powder coating?
- Are your paint spraying operations optimized to reduce overspray, taking into account such factors as pressure, use of the proper gun tip, distance from parts and gun angle.
News Lives for Old Products
Here are ideas for ways to reuse some very common household products:
- Make gift-wrapping out of old scarves, handkerchiefs or bandanas. Use old posters and maps, and the comics section of newspapers.
- Cut up old towels or linens for use as household rags or baby wipes.
- Re-gift items that you won’t use (just remember who gave it to you in the first place!)
- Use old toothbrushes for cleaning hard-to-reach places.
- Use an old shower curtain as a drop cloth for painting, a ground sheet for camping, or as a slip and slide for the kids.
- Use old clothing and linen for fun sewing projects (to make decorations, pet toys, giftwrap, napkins, etc.).
- Decorate old shoe boxes or other lidded boxes to turn them into decorative storage boxes or gift boxes.
- Repurpose empty baby wipe containers to organize socks, scarves, hair accessories or jewelry, or store action figures or puzzle pieces.
- Reuse glass and plastic jars as storage containers. They can be decorated with glass paint or labels.
- Sew used plastic net produce bags together to become a handy scrubber for your cleaning needs.
Have your own clever reuse tip to share? Submit it here.
The Benefits of Recycling
The benefits of recycling go way beyond reducing piles of garbage.
- Vital habitat protection
- Huge energy savings
- Less use of water, trees and other resources
- Lower greenhouse gas emissions
- Recycling protects habitat and biodiversity. Electronics, household cleaners, fluorescent light bulbs, solvents, cleaning solutions and other things we use every day contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that can leak into the water and contaminate the food supply. Also, the environment is disrupted and can become polluted from mining and other forms of raw mineral extraction.
- Recycling saves huge amounts of energy. Any time that we can use recycled materials instead of processing new materials, we save significant amounts of energy. Recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to produce aluminum cans from raw materials. Metal can be recycled over and over and over again. So can glass, and using recycled glass requires 40% less energy because recycled glass melts at a lower temperature than the raw materials used to make new glass (sand, soda ash, and limestone). Recycling paper uses about 65% less energy than cutting down new trees and using wood pulp.
- Recycling uses less water, trees and other resources. By recycling 1 tonne of paper you save:
- 17 trees
- 6,953 gallons of water
- 463 gallons of oil
- 587 pounds of air pollution
- 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space
- 4,077 kilowatt hours of energy
- Recycling cuts greenhouse gas emissions (methane, carbon dioxide) and air pollution that is created by manufacturing processes and in landfills and incinerators. As garbage decomposes in landfills it produces methane gas, which contributes to climate change. When we recycle more, we need less energy to manufacturing things, which means fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted. More paper recycling means more trees left standing in the forest. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood, in a process called “carbon sequestration.”
What Happens to the Stuff we Recycle?
Aluminum cans – Aluminum cans are shredded, cleaned, melted, and mixed with a pure aluminum base, then recast into new aluminum products.
- Aluminum foil/trays – Foil packaging can be made into wrapping foil, semi-rigid packaging such as pie plates and food trays, and flexible packaging such as gum or candy wrappers.
- Boxes (cereal, cracker, pasta, cake boxes) – These boxes are generally used to make new boxes, puzzles, and things such as egg cartons.
- Cardboard – Cardboard can be recycled into new cardboard; cereal, cake, chip and cracker boxes; and puzzles and games.
- Glass bottles and jars – Old food and beverage containers are crushed into a material called cullet and made into new food and beverage containers. The clear glass is used for clear containers, green glass for green containers and brown glass for brown containers. In the Yukon, glass is used here locally for ground cover, road sand and artistic creations. It is not sent out of the territory for recycling due to prohibitive costs
- Magazines, catalogs and phone books – These materials are recycled into items such as food or gift boxes (boxboard), tissue paper, game boards, and greeting cards.
- Mail, office and school paper – These papers can be used to make new cereal boxes, facial and toilet paper, greeting cards, gift wrap, and writing paper.
- Newspapers – Newspaper and its inserts are mixed in with other grades of paper and used to make new newspapers, paperboard, puzzles, wallboard, gift/food boxes, cellulose insulation, and animal bedding.
- Plastic containers – PETE #1 is recycled into carpet, clothing, strapping, tennis balls and other bottles. HPDE#2 is recycled into new containers, drainage pipe, film, pallets and plastic lumber for picnic tables and decks.
- Steel food cans – Most steel cans are used to make new cans for food products, paint, aerosol and other materials.
Recycling Toxic Chemicals
The best way to handle toxic chemicals is not to bring them in to your home in the first place. See tips in the reduce section to learn how to eliminate toxics from your life, and also read about the true costs of waste.
But if you do have things like paints, solvents, pesticides, motor oil, aerosol cans, and single-use batteries in your home, don’t flush them, don’t pour them on the ground or in the sewer grate, and don’t throw them away, because there is no such place as “away.” Hazardous materials are dangerous to you, your family and to our environment, especially if not used up or disposed of properly.
You can drop off these items free of charge at a community Recycling Depot or at the City of Whitehorse Landfill on Hazardous Waste days. For a complete list of hazardous materials that we accept, read about the hazardous waste Product Care Program.
Got a new prescription? Talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist about taking only a small amount home to see how your body reacts before going for a full supply. At no charge, you can return your unused medications, “sharps” (aka syringes), vitamins and herbal supplements to the pharmacy where they were purchased. Another resource is this Safe Needle Disposal Toolkit.