Is “Zero Waste” In Our Future?

Is “Zero Waste” In Our Future?

By Terry Tamminen

The USC Schwarzenegger Institute hosted a conference today on the topic of getting to “zero waste.” Yes, 200 leaders from government, business, academia, community groups, and investors gathered to imagine a day when the concept of waste would disappear from our vocabulary.

The consensus was amazing - - Pegasus Capital Advisors, sponsors of the event, showed that such an idea is not so radical and, in fact, there is real profit for both investors and the planet by looking for ways to reduce waste. Saving energy, water, food, and converting solid waste back into natural resources for “cradle-to-cradle” product designs are in fact just a few ways to make our economies more sustainable over the long term, while improving our environment and public health almost immediately. The “how to” with plenty of details can be downloaded at

But perhaps the best evidence that zero waste is not a pipedream came from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Giving remarks to close the conference, he recalled his childhood in Austria where nothing was wasted, where water hauled from a well was used by the entire family to bathe, and where his mother used the same expanding net shopping bag for a decade (no single-use disposable bags for her!). These lessons from the past remind us that it wasn’t so long ago when we created comfortable, healthy lives while using far fewer resources. Of course he also reminded us that everyone must be involved for this to succeed - - a crusade where everyone gets into the act and adopts the technology and practices that reduce waste in the first place; that reuse materials more than once; and that recycle what’s left for re-purposing into new products before we dig up more minerals or cut down more trees.

Shakespeare said “Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend – and so, when Nature calls thee to be gone, what acceptable legacy canst thou leave?” By setting zero waste as a goal for our generation, we can all leave a legacy of which even William Shakespeare would be proud!