Zero Waste Skepticism
All other things being equal, it is a good idea to reduce waste production. But all other things are never equal.
We think there was many places, processes, and supply chains in society where waste can be reduced, and where it makes economic, ecological, and humanistic sense to do so. But getting to zero waste is a quixotic goal, and is not always a desirable goal when all factors are considered.
Zero Waste advocates concentrate on waste prevention more than end-of-pipe waste management. And in fact, not producing waste is often the best way to go - waste management pros have known that for decades.
The EPA says they are pushing Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) - holistic management of materials across their entire life cycle, including energy and input materials, and waste heat and material.
Is recycling always a good thing? If you are concerned about the environment and sustainability, should you think that recycling absolves you of your sins? No. For one thing, even if you follow the rules and put in only items designated acceptable for recycle into the stream, some material will end up in a landfill. Further, processing the recycle consumes energy and materials and has an impact on the environment.
Cradle to Cradle?
Again, all other things being equal Cradle to Cradle design intent is a good thing. Of course, trade-offs present themsselves when you go to a Cradle-to-Cradle process. It is in many ways more difficult to recycle than it used to be. In recent decades we have started using an increasing number of elements in our products, which makes them harder to recycle. Some products come with built-in obsolescence, and few manufacturers think about what will happen to the product after the buyer is done with it.
To live the ideal, the builder of the product must shift their thinking to design considering effects on economic, ecological and social health.
Many love the idea of Cradle-to-Cradle design because it offers a compromise, or at least a more optimum placement on the trade-off frontier: economic growth with some concern for the environment.