The Effect of Zero Waste Design - Part 1

Zero waste is often viewed as a method of eliminating the need to put your rubbish out at the gate. The cliché adopter of the zero waste lifestyle is a minority. They are the greenies who have dedicated their lives to leave the world a better place than they found it. But it shouldn’t have to be.

To begin this argument, I must first define zero waste. Zero waste is using all parts of a resource so that nothing goes to waste. The term ‘zero waste’ dates back to the mid-1970s when chemist Paul Palmer investigated alternatives for repurposing excess waste chemicals from the electronics industry (Rissanen & McQuillan, 2016; Zaman, 2015). Palmer re modelled his business to taking advantage of waste and ended up making millions while selling unwanted resources back to those who needed it. Today, the zero waste movement has been adopted by progressive thinking communities worldwide, who share a common interest in resource conservation (Connett, 2006; SF Environment, 2011).

Designing with zero waste in mind can reduce costs, time and energy, resulting in more output for less input.

Zero waste design is a visionary philosophy of eliminating waste at the first phase of production (Zaman, 2015). Preventing waste in the creation of a product is one of the fundamental aspects of achieving a zero waste goal, as it eliminates unnecessary waste creation and resource consumption. Zero waste design also considers how input resources can be part of a desired output (Anastas & Zimmerman, 2003; McDonough & Braungart, 2002).

Eliminating waste in the fabrication and life cycles of products removes the difficulty for the individual.

Zero waste should not be a burden on the individual as it currently is. For example, Plastic bags are abundant in our society. We pick up a few every time we go to the supermarket, they can be reused, but will eventually be thrown away when a hole is torn in the bottom or is spoiled. Many don’t get a second use aside from becoming a bin liner destined for the landfill. Popping up around New Zealand are soft plastic recycling bins to deposit these bags for melting down and forming into new products (link below). But the system is flawed.

The individuals who use plastic bags at the supermarket are not prepared to bring them back and deposit them into the bins. If they did, they would already be using the reusable cloth bags each time they go. Although I commend the soft plastic recycling initiative, possibly the bins are in the wrong place? On the contrary, we are far more likely to recycle at our gate because it is free! We are already putting rubbish out at the gate, not it takes not more effort to put the recycling out which is free to get collected. If only plastic bags were more readily recycled…

Plastic Bags

Anastas, P. T., & Zimmerman, J. B. (2003). Design Through the 12 Principles of Green Engineering. ACS Publications. Retrieved from

Connett, P. (2006). Zero Waste Wins. Alternatives Journal (A\J) - Canada’s Environmental Voice, 32(1), 14–15.

McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle-to-cradle: remaking the way we make things (1st ed). New York: North Point Press.

Rissanen, T., & McQuillan, H. (2016). Zero waste fashion design. London; New York: Fairchild Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc.

SF Environment. (2011, October 15). legislation-related-to-waste-prevention. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Zaman, A. U. (2015). A comprehensive review of the development of zero waste management: lessons learned and guidelines. Journal of Cleaner Production, 91, 12–25. jclepro.2014.12.013

Glenn CatchpoleComment