While actually achieving zero waste in the physical sense is impossible, as an ideal it is a worthy goal to shoot for. The degree to which we use (and reuse) the items we buy is the degree to which they hold value for us. Whenever we buy an item, but do not explore all options for extracting value from it, we waste some of the money and time spent acquiring it. Multiply that by the millions of people worldwide who are doing the same, and you have a significant problem with global economics.
Resources aren't scarce, we just waste them left and right. In fact, we have been educated to do just that. Any ongoing business model requires ongoing saleable products. The faster the market saturates, the sooner the business is out of business. So businesses have two options: continuously generate new and exciting products that people want or need, or use marketing to convince people that they want or need to re-purchase old products. The second is easier to accomplish, especially for a business that has enough money to launch a mass media marketing campaign.
To be successful in marketing required an increase in the volume of products to be sold, which on turn, required an increasing demand. However, numerous products were becoming mass-produced that were really not consumable—and so consumers were becoming satisfied. How many TVs does one family need? So mainstream marketing slowly evolved into a tool for re-educating the masses.
Media was used to create a culture where the newest and best was emotionally important to people, so they learned to disregard the rational idea of conserving waste ("I don't need a new one, yet.") and replace it with the irrational idea of status ("My stuff is my worth.")
All of this was fine as long as the economy was in a state of growth, but as soon as the problem with waste reached a critical mass and wages began to suffer, there simply was not enough money to continue on that path. Unfortunately, the consumer credit industry stepped in, allowing us to differ fate for more time and make the problem bigger.
The solution, of course, begins with a strategy to approach zero waste in our households, businesses, and communities. And I don't mean just recycling, but actually using every ounce of value from a product before it goes anywhere—even if it has to go to the dump—or using the waste to create something else of value. This goal presents many opportunities to enterprising individuals.
One of my favorite small businesses sells a product called "Turnadaisy." These lazy-susan style tabletops are made from repurposed power line spools, and are designed to be used in a number of applications, from greenhouse hydroponics to convenient serving trays. They keep trash out of the landfills, provide a useful product, and an income to their creators. I'd bet they could even pay the salaries of a few marketers as well!
Now that's what we need to found companies on.
[Republished from Jan 14, 2011]