Waste Management

How might we create a circular loop that transforms “waste” into useful resources?


It’s no secret that Americans create a lot of waste. In fact, Americans create over 200 million tons of waste per year, and only about 25% of that actually gets recycled. Even though we all know the waste we create is an issue, it’s difficult to pinpoint how we contribute to those huge numbers, or what we can do about it. While “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” might seem like a ubiquitous phrase today, it originated as an educational tool out of the 1970’s environmental movements; it was a way of making the public aware that there were alternatives to the landfill. The three R’s, however, need an update. Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling are often thought of as one set of actions when in reality, Recycling should be the last resort. We need to reshape the public’s understanding of how to tackle the contamination of our planet and shift thinking away from recycling – which has become even more ineffective in recent years – and towards reducing the waste that we create in the first place. In San Diego, there are a number of zero-waste movements. For example, the City of San Diego plans to divert all solid waste from going into the landfill through their Zero Waste Plan. They are are also now capturing the gases from decomposition and turning them into energy. A Resource Recovery Center and “one-stop shop” at Miramar Landfill will maximize waste diversion. The City will also increase curbside recycling and curbside greenery collection. Another example is UC San Diego, which is committed to achieving zero waste by 2020.

Specific angles to explore

While large organizations are moving towards zero-waste, individuals and communities can find innovative ways to reduce waste as well. The average American produces over 1,700 pounds of garbage per year. One way to reduce waste is to look into creating circular loops (ex. the circular economy) that transforms “waste” into useful resources. There is significant room for the development of new products and community-centered services that repurpose waste products in everyday life. For example, one shoe company is turning old tires into the soles of new shoes!

Repurposing Single-Use Objects: How might we repurpose common, single-use products into new products that are useful and durable?

3R Skillset: How might we share personal insights we learn about reduce, reuse, and recycling with other members of the community?

Financial Incentives: How might we create new financial incentives to encourage people to effectively recycle used goods?

Improving Recycling: How might we analyze existing recycling systems in order to find new opportunities to maximize the number of materials that can be recycled?