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565 Broome Street, Renzo Piano, zero-waste building, zero-waste NYC Rendering of 565 Broome by Noe & Associates with The Boundary
New York City is about to unveil its first zero-waste building. With guidance from Think Zero, the developers of 565 Broome hope to build a 30-story tower where at least 90 percent of future waste will be diverted from landfills. If this sounds impossible, it’s not. In some cities such as Paris, there are already several zero-waste buildings. But in New York, where take-out food containers and Amazon boxes are ubiquitous, is a zero, or nearly zero, waste lifestyle even possible?

How is zero waste defined?

 

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), zero waste is first and foremost a goal—one that is “ethical, economical, efficient and visionary” and designed to “guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”

 

Notably, ZWIA recognizes that achieving is not only about changing people’s habits but rethinking the design of everything from our buildings to the supply chain we rely upon to access food and other essential goods. As stated on the ZWIA website, “Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.” Because this is evidently a lofty goal, ZWIA recognizes zero-waste communities and businesses as those that successfully divert at least 90 percent of their waste from landfills, incinerators, and the environment.

Photo via Wiki Commons

New York urgently needs to adopt zero waste standards

 

If any city needs to think seriously about adopting a zero-waste strategy, it's New York City. Each day, an estimated 24,000 tons of trash leave the city. This not only means there are a lot of trash trucks congesting the city’s streets but also that these trucks are impacting air pollution and climate change in the process. Of course, processing and disposing of these materials also causes problems and tends to disproportionately impact disadvantaged neighborhoods. But where does most of that 24,000 tons of trash go each day? While a small portion is recycled (some on Staten Island), most of the city’s trash is shipped away by truck or rail and, on average, it travels 300 miles. This costs the city and its taxpayers approximately $350 million annually. Fortunately, there are interventions that could reduce much of this waste.

Zero-waste design

 

While recycling is important, as ZWIA emphasizes, waste management is ultimately a much bigger design challenge. To look for answers, ZWIA recommends looking to nature since the zero waste concept itself is, “inspired by nature, whose materials are recycled in circular loops, in elegant and intricate designs that optimize resources.” In principle, if buildings and entire cities are designed to promote zero waste (e.g., the easy separation of cans and food scraps), many of the problems we currently face would disappear.

Zero-waste platforms

 

Zero-waste design isn’t simply about creating buildings and entire communities that encourage recycling. Whatever we do to design buildings that encourage recycling, if we are forced to continue purchasing products in plastic, glass, Styrofoam, and paper containers that can’t be easily recycled, there is little hope of ever achieving zero-waste status. To accelerate the goal of becoming zero waste, we also need to start buying products in containers that don’t need to be tossed away. One company that is on the cutting-edge of this revolution is Loop.

 

Loop launched in Paris and New York this year. Run by the recycling company TerraCycle, Loop replaces single-use packages with reusable ones. To date, Loop is already partnering with a number of large consumer companies (e.g., Proctor & Gamble and Nestlé). When a company partners with Loop, their products—let’s say a stick of Dove deodorant or container of Nestlé chocolate sauce—is delivered but in a reusable stainless steel container that can be used again at least 100 times. When you’re done with the stainless steel container, you just drop it in your Loop tote, and it is picked up by a UPS delivery person.

 

While the Loop concept is intriguing, with only 300 initial products (the platform plans to scale quickly), it’s still a bit limited. Also, since many of the people most concerned about the environment are the very type of people who don’t use products from companies like Proctor & Gamble or Nestlé, one might wonder who will use the platform at all? Still, Loop appears to already be making headway. It also recently signed on its first real estate partner. Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan will become a Loop partner and so will the residential development, One Blue Slip at Greenpoint Landing in Brooklyn.

Ready to take NYC’s zero-waste pledge?

 

Are you now truly convinced that zero waste is our only future? If so, you can take the NYC Zero Waste Pledge, and don’t worry—the city has made the pledge part easy. If you’re ready, just visit the New York City Department of Sanitation website. All you need to do is click and sign. Best of all, if you take the pledge, the Department of Sanitation will even send you a free gift—you can choose from a flexible cutting board, tote bag, or if you don’t want to collect anything you might throw away in the future, opt for no gift at all.


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Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.
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