The Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter supports a Zero Waste approach to not only reduce the amount of waste being generated and sent to landfills but also as an early action step to reducing the effects of climate change and a strategy for reducing litter in our waterways and oceans.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is a design principle and planning approach for the environmental management of resources. It aims to prevent waste by design rather than manage it after the fact. Sierra Club’s Zero Waste policy addresses not only the quantity of waste we generate, but also its toxicity, its contribution to climate change, and the important links between waste reduction and corporate responsibility.

Sierra Club National Zero Waste Policies

How does Waste relate to Climate Change and the Environment?

1.     Production: Making any product requires the use of our land, natural resources, and energy. The energy put into raw materials like trees and all the energy used to mine, harvest, process and package raw materials into finished goods and packaging is what we call ‘embodied energy’.  When we throw away our items, we lose all that was placed into making them, both the energy and raw materials. Many times, we cannot get back these valuable resourses such as trees from rainforests cut down to make paper products and packaging.

2.     Distribution: After the production process, items must be transported to reach consumers. This process (air travel, trucking, and shipping) is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, which contribute to greenhouse gases.  This is another source of embodied energy.  This source of energy consumption expands the farther manufacturing is from the final consumer.  Additionally, transport packaging used to move products over long distances contributes to more  garbage entering our waste streams.

3.     Use: Our society supports a “throw-away” culture, where many of the items we use have lifetimes of several seconds to minutes (think of a soda can, water bottle, plastic bag). Even our cell phones have become disposable and are becoming obsolete in ever shorter product cycles.  Once we are done with these items, we toss them, which contributes to our waste stream, increasing overall energy consumption, and related creation of greenhouse gases.  This process continues to repeat as we buy more disposable and short-lived products.

4.     Disposal: Not only is our waste system heavily reliant on fossil fuels (think about the garbage trucks, facilities, and machines needed to run a waste operation), but landfills produce landfill gas (a combination of methane, CO2 and other volatile organic gases (VOCs)), which contribute heavily to greenhouse gases and climate change. Methane escaping from landfills is the largest man made source of VOCs, and methane has 33 to 105 times the warming impact of CO2[1].  Many products are not recycled or even thrown away; instead they become litter, messing up streets and yards, but also open spaces that include rivers, lakes and oceans, disturbing and destroying habitats and wildlife.

Zero Waste Videos

  1. Simon Frasier University goes zero waste!  A fun video showing how they separate their waste streams.
  2. Click here to see a zero waste family in California that made several household changes to reduce waste! 

[1]  Per NASA estimates based on data from 2009 surveys