Achieving zero waste means focusing on destination, not diversion

In striving to create a waste-free world, it is important that we articulate not only our goals but the ways we plan to go about bringing them to fruition. I believe our objectives would be much better served in this regard with a simple word substitution. Rather than focusing on diversion rates as the way we measure recycling success, what we really need to be talking about are “destination rates.”

So what's the difference between “diversion” and “destination” when used in this context? To begin with, the idea of material simply being “diverted” is one that reflects a conventional waste-industry mindset. In other words, the mere fact that a consumer deposited it in a recycle bin and the material recovery facility baled it and put it in a container for export to an unknown destination -- which is for the most part the definition of “diversion” -- is far short of what it takes to achieve a zero waste objective.

In a zero waste world, every material relegated for recycling would have a specific destination, just as those liter-size Pepsi bottles are reprocessed into PET (a solid version of polyester) and then converted into new bottles. Another example: Johnson Controls thermostats that have the perfect color and blend of plastics would be continually returned to the company and reused. Likewise, key electronic components would all go back to their manufacturers – the Apples, Dells, and HPs – where they could be incorporated into the next generation of products. Even cars would be broken down by components, which would then be returned to auto plants. A focus on destination rather than diversion is the first step in the methodology of zero waste. But to accomplish this, there are certain specific things that need to be done.

Photo of hand placing bottle in recycling bin provided by Mikhail Zahranichny via Shutterstock

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