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The zero waste hierarchy from Zero Waste International Alliance is currently my favorite representation of the methods we can use to get from our current wasteful, linear economy to one where materials are being rethought upstream and intercepted downstream to keep them in use. In the model, we start at the top of the funnel by rethinking and redesigning our products to increase their potential for circularity. Next, and very important, we reduce our consumption. After those are all of the downstream activities that can keep materials in use longer. If all else fails, the hierarchy is instructive on how to dispose of products and materials in the best way possible. Representing upstream activities in the same hierarchy as downstream activities is one reason I’m drawn to this model.
The second layer of the hierarchy, reduction, is where I want to focus my attention today. I think reduction is both the most difficult and most important intervention that companies can participate in.