When China stopped taking American waste for recycling last January, it threw Boise and other western U.S. cities into a tizzy. Boise added the orange energy bag and a confusing set of rules for home recyclers.
Now a movement is taking shape to push beyond recycling, and get past the complexities of programs like Boise’s, by working toward a sweeping goal: eliminating the need to recycle or discard waste.
“Zero waste” is the mantra. No more No. 1 plastic water bottles. No more stiff clamshell packages for apples at Costco, each apple snug and protected in its own molded dome.
One woman at the movement’s forefront locally is Jillien Eijckelhof, a mother and environmentalist. She founded the nonprofit Zero Waste Boise Institute in June to reframe the discussion.
“We support recycling, but it’s an imperfect solution,” she said. “I’m concerned about what goes into the landfill, but I’m more concerned about what we’re manufacturing and buying every day.”
The zero waste movement started in Europe in the late 1990s, but it has been gaining momentum in the past few years. The Treasure Valley may get its first zero-waste grocery later this year when Roots Market plans to open in Garden City. With the store’s weigh-and pay-model, you’ll bring your own bags, mason jars and other containers and be able to fill them with grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, beauty products and more.
“Zero” is a goal, not a call for people to stop using wasteful packaging immediately, Eijckelhof said.
“It’s about adopting solutions that are realistic and achievable for the average consumer,” she said. “It’s about incremental change, toward an eventual goal of zero waste — or as close as possible — through the choices we make every day.”
A new Boise company, Stewards of Sustainability, or SOS, consults with small businesses and producers to create low-impact festivals and other events.
“My priority is to avoid the waste stream all together,” founder David Broderick said. “Right now we’re just trying to accommodate our current lifestyle. We need to work on changing how we do things.”