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Zero-Waste Era

Defining and pursuing zero waste.

Given the wobbly state of the economy over the last few years, it was perhaps no surprise that, according to recently released EPA data, the United States generated less municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2009 than it did one year earlier. To be precise, the country generated 243 million tons of MSW in 2009, a decline of 8 million tons, or 3.2 percent, from the amount it generated in 2008. In 2008, the United States produced 4 million tons less of MSW than it did in 2007.

What exactly is going on here? Surely, the economy has had some effect but as Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, notes in his monthly Circular File column, "The Waste We Were," there may be something more fundamental at work here as well. Noting the continuing decline in per capita waste generation, a trend that has spanned economies both good and bad, Miller writes, "What we are witnessing is a revolution in materials management." The waste stream consists of much less paper than it did in the past, and the use of lighterweight plastics has replaced other, heavier packaging materials, he notes.

Throw in corporate America's growing embrace of the "zero waste" movement, and, as Miller hints in his closing comments, the future of waste management could look quite different.

In "The Taste of Zero Waste," Bryan Staley, president of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, looks at how the sustainability/zero waste movement could impact the solid waste industry.

As the sustainability movement grows, the recycling of organics is bound to become more mainstream. In this month's cover story, "A Growing Appetite," Tim Cesarek, the managing director of organic recycling solutions for Waste Management, provides an overview of what organic recycling technologies are most common now — and which ones may take more of a hold in the future and give the industry a chance to provide some very high-value end products.

As the sustainability movement grows and different types of waste management techniques take hold, Waste Age is committed to providing the most comprehensive coverage of the changing solid waste business landscape. We welcome your feedback and suggestions as we seek to thoroughly cover the industry in these most interesting times. Please e-mail me at [email protected] or call me at (770) 618-0201 to pass along any suggestions or comments.