Zero Waste Heirarchy - an inverted pyramid of elements showing elements of the heirarchy

Thinking About Zero Waste

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ZERO WASTE = The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.  

We’ve gathered some resources to guide you in understanding how we can build Zero Waste communities here in Delco, starting with the Zero Waste International Alliance.

The most important step is the one you take to find others in your community to begin the conversation. Contact us for assistance.

What is the Zero Waste System

Zero Waste System is cyclical and does two fundamental things: It redesigns our systems and resource use—from product design to disposal—to prevent wasteful and polluting practices. It then captures discards and uses them, instead of natural resources, to make new products, creating far less pollution and feeding the local economy.

Zero Waste is the logical and sustainable solution to address our waste crisis. As we look towards long-term solutions that will decrease the harmful health effects of our current waste disposal practices, Zero Waste programs are the opportunity create a cleaner, sustainable system that also increases jobs, and reduces costs to individuals and communities struggling to manage the escalating trash problem.

The Road to Zero Waste

The road to Zero Waste is A PROCESS – while the term itself seems intimidating and seemingly impossible in a world surrounded by disposables and plastics, the Zero Waste program is feasible and already adopted by over 7,000 communities in the U.S with great success.  

The road to Zero Waste is an intervention for our addiction to trash – it’s painful, uncomfortable and seems nearly impossible to envision an alternative to the habits we’ve been conditioned to know. 

It is the process of reworking existing systems and developing new processes that create a cleaner and healthier future. The sooner we recognize and act as a community to address the problem of trash, the sooner we reduce the air pollution and health hazards associated with our current disposal practices and the closer we come to achieving a Zero Waste society.

To build up momentum, the “Road to Zero Waste” is made up of steps and simultaneous initiatives in the local community. An overview of these different steps locally are detailed below. The Zero Waste hierarchy explains how materials are processed each step of the way. 


  • Design and purchase products from reused, recycled or sustainably-harvested renewable, non-toxic materials to be durable, repairable, reusable, fully recyclable or compostable, and easily disassembled
  • Shift funds and financial incentives to support a Circular Economy** over the harvesting and use of virgin natural resources
  • Enact new incentives for cyclical use of materials, and disincentives for wasting
  • Facilitate change in how end users’ needs are met from “ownership” of goods to “shared” goods and provision of services
  • Support and expand systems where product manufacturing considers the full life-cycle of their product in a way that follows the Zero Waste Hierarchy and moves towards more sustainable products and processes. Producers take back their products and packaging in a system that follows the Zero Waste Hierarchy.
  • Identify and phase out materials that cause problems for Closed Loop Systems*
  • Facilitate and implement policies and systems to encourage and support Local Economies*


  • Re-consider purchasing needs and look for alternatives to product ownership
  • Provide information to allow for informed decision-making
  • Be aware of and discourage systems that drive needless consumption
  • Plan consumption and purchase of perishables to minimize discards due to spoilage and nonconsumption
  • Implement Sustainable Purchasing** that supports social and environmental objectives as well as local markets where possible
  • Minimize quantity and toxicity of materials used
  • Minimize ecological footprint required for product, product use, and service provision
  • Choose products that maximize the usable lifespan and opportunities for continuous reuse
  • Choose products that are made from materials that can be easily and continuously recycled
  • Prioritize the use of edible food for people
  • Prioritize the use of edible food for animals


  • Maximize reuse of materials and products
  • Maintain, repair or refurbish to retain Value**, usefulness and function
  • Remanufacture with disassembled parts; dismantle and conserve “spare” parts for repairing and maintaining products still in use
  • Repurpose products for alternative uses
  • Support and expand systems to keep materials in their original product loop and to protect the full usefulness of the materials


  • Maintain diversion systems that allow for the highest and best use of materials, including organics
  • Recycle and use materials for as high a purpose as possible
  • Develop resilient local markets and uses for collected materials wherever possible
  • Provide incentives to create clean flows of compost and recycling feedstock
  • Support and expand composting as close to the generator as possible (prioritizing home or on site or local composting wherever possible)
  • Whenever home/decentralized composting is not possible, consider industrial composting, or if local conditions require/allow, anaerobic digestion

Material Recovery

  • Maximize materials recovery from mixed discards and research purposes after extensive source separation
  • Examine materials that remain and use this information to refine the systems to rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle in order to prevent further discards

Residuals Management

  • If conditions allow, recover energy using only systems that operate at Biological Temperature and Pressure**
  • Ensure minimization of impacts by means of biological stabilization of fermentable materials.
  • Encourage the preservation of resources and discourage their Destructive Disposal or dispersal
  • Plan systems and infrastructure to be adjusted as discards are reduced and its composition changes
  • Minimize Gas Production and Release** and maximize gas collection
  • Use existing landfill capacity and maximize its lifespan. Ensure it is Responsibly Managed.**
  • Contain and control toxic residuals for responsible management

Advocate for Policy Change

  • Don’t support policies and systems that encourage the Destructive Disposal of organics and/or the destruction of recyclables
  • Don’t support energy and Destructive Disposal systems that are dependent upon the continued production of discards
  • Don’t allow the Incineration** of discards
  • Don’t allow toxic residuals into consumer products or building materials

* hierarchy information provided by Zero Waste International Alliance