The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA): A Chronology


Richard Anthony
Richard Anthony Associates

In 2002, I found myself on the scientific committee for a series of Resource conferences (called the R-series) organized by EMPA.6 When I was reviewing papers submitted for an upcoming conference to be held in Geneva (R-02), I found far too many papers devoted to incineration and not enough tackling the issue at the front end. The director asked me what I would like to see instead and I said a workshop devoted to Zero Waste. I told him that if EMPA could come up with accommodation and waived registration fees I would put a team of experts together and find a way to get them to Geneva. To my delight the director agreed and I then set out to get a team together to talk about all the different aspects of Zero Waste.  My team (I should say my dream team) consisted of:

Dr. Bill Sheehan; Dr. Jeff Morris, expert on cradle-to-cradle and cost benefit analysis; Dr. Dan Knapp, President of Urban Ore a for profit Reuse Resale enterprise; Dr. Paul Connett (the lead author of this text), Chemistry Professor and noted international advocate for Zero Waste and sustainability; Bill Worrell, Manager of the San Luis Obispo Solid Waste Authority; Joan Edwards former head of New York City and Los Angeles City Recycling programs and myself, Richard Anthony Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN) Board member and Zero Waste advocate.

Having got agreement from the team I then had to go about getting the funds to get them all to Switzerland. When I approached Bill Sheehan the director of the Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN) he said that he would only help if this action was going to be more than an academic exercise. He insisted that we found a way to help community groups working on waste at the grass roots level.

With the help of some activist groups in the UK (Greenpeace UK; Communities Against Toxics (CATS5)) we managed to set up a forum at Sussex University, in Brighton, Sussex to take place  two days after the R-02 meeting in Geneva.

Many attendees were a little surprised to hear the details of the Zero Waste movement as presented by our team. For many this approach was quite novel to them. They were still largely bogged down in the safety and efficiency of landfills and incinerators. If they saw a role for recycling it was very much in terms of “integrated waste management” running alongside its big industrial partners.

After the Geneva conference most of the team traveled to the UK for the Brighton conference. This meeting attracted many grass roots activists fighting incinerators and landfills and others promoting recycling. Moreover, once the news got around, it attracted many decision makers from towns and counties from across the UK struggling with the waste issue. Over 100 people attended a very successful conference.

The next day in a nearby hotel, activists, most of our team of experts and several others from the UK, held a meeting chaired by Professor Robin Murray. Professor Murray teaches  at the London School of Economics and  has written two books on Zero Waste.46,47 Together we helped to form a Zero Waste coalition for the UK, and also set the wheels in motion for formation of the Zero Waste International Alliance. This meeting was what we later called retrospectively the first Zero Waste dialog.

In 2003, the second Zero Waste dialog occurred at a conference held by the Global Anti Incineration Alliance (GAIA) in Penang, Malaysia. There was a moment when we heard the news that the U.S. had started bombing Iraq that we stopped our discussions. After a prolonged and emotional pause people at the meeting expressed the need for a positive approach to stopping all pollution and wars over resources. Most of us agreed that zero waste was a good really good place to start. This really was the first truly international dialog (the Sussex University meeting had been more of an Anglo-American affair).

The first official meeting of the ZWIA/ZWI Planning Group was at The Bulkeley Hotel, Beaumauris, Wales on the 19th October 2003. At this meeting we tried to put an international group together. We were able to agree on the principals and goals of the ZWIA but how to make the group representative and still registered as a charity became an issue still unresolved today. After this meeting, some of us went on to speak at the Welsh Recycling Conference in Llandudno, Wales and held dialogs in Cardiff, Wales; Cork, Ireland; Doncaster, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.

A third Dialog took place in San Francisco in 2004.  This Dialog tied in with the recycling tours being organized by the U.S. National Recycling Congress and gave attendees a chance to see the San Francisco approach to zero waste.  The meeting was held at the California State Office Building August 25, 2004. Nearly three hundred representatives from around the world came to the event to report on their progress and share the current strategies and available technologies. An agreement was reached that ZWIA should create an international planning board; a web site and a list serve.

A fourth dialog was attempted at the R07 Conference in Davos, Switzerland September 2007. A handful of us (a group from Lucca, Italy; five Americans and two Romanians) had a great face-to-face dialog, which was broadcast to the world via the web.  We had people logged in from England, Hungary, Philippines, the U.S. and Australia.  At the end of our dialogue there was a motion and a second to approve the following resolution.

  1. Support REVOLVE (a reuse operation in Canberra, Australia being squeezed out of business) and other local struggles for zero waste;
  2. Support efforts to keep organics out of landfill;
  3. Support efforts to pressure manufacturers and retailers to take responsibility for their products and packaging;
  4. Support efforts to persuade local authorities to adopt source separation; and
  5. Support efforts to persuade local universities to set up resource management training.

This motion was passed by those who had joined us on the web and then later ratified via the ZWIA list serve. We reported the result to the R07 conference at its wrap up session.

The Fifth Dialog was held in Naples, Italy,  in February of 2009.  The choice of Naples to host this event came as a direct result of the waste catastrophes Naples experienced in 2008, which gave the city the name of ‘The City of Fires’.   The international delegation brought a global focus to the waste problem in this area of Campania. More than 100 Italian activists (the majority from Naples itself) came to listen to presentations from around the world, including the U.S. (San Francisco and Washington, DC), Philippines, Canada, Bulgaria, England, Scotland and Catalonia. The aim of the conference was to share knowledge and skills, to create positive action and support for communities fighting incinerators and landfills and promoting Zero Waste in the Campania area as well as the rest of Italy.

Delegates also heard directly from Italian community representatives on their experiences of waste problems in the surrounding areas. The International delegation also took part in a demonstration and march through the city center of Naples. At the end of the march, Italian and international delegates met with the local authorities to demand a rethink on their plan to build four massive incinerators to solve the Naples crisis.

After intensive discussions between the Italian attendees and international delegation, the conference adopted a ‘Naples Manifesto’ on Zero Waste and the ‘Global Principals for Zero Waste Communities.

It was with enormous joy that ZWIA heard that on Oct 3, 2011, the newly elected mayor and vice-mayor of Naples have adopted a zero waste strategy for the city. This was an extremely courageous step on their part because it involves taking on the central Italian government, the regional government and the Camorra – all of which are intent on building more landfills and incinerators in the area.

In 2009, The Sixth Dialog was held in November at the Asturias Hotel, Puerto Princesa, Philippines. This conference focused on the political issues of sustainability in both developed and developing economies. In particular, conference attendees examined the issue of waste management in terms of global warming.  ZWIA speakers came from Europe, America, Africa, Asia, and India, and represented the latest thinking on sustainability without pollution during this world financial and environmental crisis.   Present at the meeting were a number of people planning to attend the upcoming global climate conference in Copenhagen and much of the discussion was on refining the message that these delegates would take to this conference. The ZWIA board adopted the slogan that “the soil is the solution” as a way of tying together the triple goals of zero waste, zero warming and zero toxics and the need to address these goals in the global efforts to “cool the climate.” The engagement of the global south in articulating the issue of climate change and management of world resources was a critical focus.

In October 2010, the seventh International Dialog on Zero Waste was held in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil.  This meeting brought together several hundred educators and students to dialog about the new Brazilian Resource Management law and Zero waste.

The planning group met and concurred that GRRN  should take the lead on financial management of ZWIA efforts, as they had done in the past. It was requested that meeting attendees join the ZWIA Listserv as this has become the primary means of discussing both local and global efforts in the movement towards Zero Waste.

An Eighth Dialog is  planned for 2013 in San Francisco California USA  Key Issues for ZWIA today include Zero Waste Branding for Corporations and Government facilities; Adopting of Zero waste plans at the community and business level and COOL (keeping “compostable organics out of landfill”). Details of these programs and more can be found at the ZWIA and GRRN websites  and

ZWIA continues to grow as more and more people are realizing the need to shift from waste management to resource management as part of the transition towards a sustainable future. There can be little doubt that a sustainable society must be a zero waste society.


  1. CRRA stands for theCalifornian Resource Recovery Association. The CRRA was founded in 1974, and is the oldest and one of the largest non-profit recycling organizations in the U.S. For information about CRRA go to
  2. GRRN stands for the GrassRoots and Recycling Network. For information about GRRN go to
  3. ZWIA stands for the Zero Waste International Alliance. For more information about this alliance got to
  4. Zero Waste San Diego. For more information about Zero Waste San Diego go to
  5. Connett, P. (2000). Zero Waste: Idealistic Dream or Realistic Goal? Video produced by the Grass Roots Recycling Network (GRRN) and Grass Root and Global Video, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Length 59 mins. Viewable online at
  6. EMPA. According to Wikipedia, EMPA is the German acronym for “Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt”. In English this translates to the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. EMPA is an interdisciplinary Swiss research and service institution for applied materials sciences and technology. As part of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Domain (“ETH-Bereich”) it is an institution of the Swiss federation. For the longest time since its foundation in 1880, it concentrated on classical materials testing. Since the late 1980s it has developed into a modern research and development institute.
  7.  Murray, R. Creating Wealth From Waste. Demos, London. 1999. A pdf copy of this book is available at
  8. Murray, R. Zero Waste. Greenpeace, London, 2002. More information about this book can be accessed online at