History of ZWIA

In 2002, Richard Anthony found himself on the scientific committee for a series of Resource conferences (called the R-series) organized by EMPA. When reviewing papers submitted for an upcoming conference to be held in Geneva (R-02), he found far too many papers devoted to incineration and not enough tackling the issue at the front end. The director asked Richard what he would like to see instead and he said a workshop devoted to Zero Waste. Richard proposed that if EMPA could sponsor accommodation and waived registration fees, he would put a team of experts together and get them to Geneva.

The resulting (dream) team consisted of:

  • Dr. Bill Sheehan, Director of the Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN)
  • 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, 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
  • Richard AnthonyGrassroots Recycling Network (GRRN) Board member and Zero Waste advocatehttp://archive.grrn.org/

With this agreement, Richard then had to find the funds to get them all to Switzerland. When he approached Dr. Bill Sheehan, Director of the Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN), Bill said that he would help under the condition that this action was going to be more than an academic exercise, insisting that they 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 (GreenpeaceCommunities Against Toxics) they managed to set up a forum at Sussex University, in Brighton, Sussex to take place  two days after the R-02 meeting in Geneva.

After the Geneva conference most of the newly created Zero Waste 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 First Zero Waste Dialog

The next day in a nearby hotel, activists, most of them part of the ZWIA team as well as experts from several other organizations, held a meeting chaired by Professor Robin Murray, teacher at the London School of Economics and  author of two books on Zero Waste (Zero Waste and Creating Wealth From Waste). Together the team 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 (ZWIA). This meeting was what the ZWIA team later retrospectively called the first Zero Waste dialog.

The Second 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. It was the day of the announcement that the U.S. had started bombing Iraq. In light of this news, all attendees at the meeting expressed the need for a positive approach to stopping all pollution and wars over resources and agreed that Zero Waste was a really good place to start. This was the first truly international dialog.

The First Official ZWIA Meeting

The first official meeting of the ZWIA/ZWI Planning Group was at The Bulkeley Hotel, Beaumauris, Wales on the 19th October 2003. Goal of  this ZWIA meeting was to establish an internationally recognized group of Zero Waste experts. The underlying principals and goals of ZWIA were quickly established, but how to make the group representative and still registered as a charity became an issue still unresolved today.

The Third Zero Waste Dialog

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 on August 25, 2004. Nearly 300 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 website, and a list serve.

The Fourth Zero Waste Dialog

A fourth dialog was attempted at the R-07 Conference in Davos, Switzerland in September 2007. A handful of the ZWIA team (a group from Italy, five Americans and two Romanians) had a successful face-to-face dialog, which was broadcast globally online.  Attendees logged in from England, Hungary, Philippines, the U.S., and Australia.  At the end of this dialogue there was a motion 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 landfills
  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, ratified via the ZWIA list serve, and reported the result to the R-07 conference.

The Fifth Zero Waste Dialog

The fifth dialog was held in Naples (Italy)  in February 2009.  The choice of Naples to host this event came as a direct result of the waste catastrophes Naples had experienced in 2008, which gave the city the nick 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., Philippines, Canada, Bulgaria, England, Scotland, and Spain. 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 October 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.

The Sixth Zero Waste Dialog

In November 2009, the sixth dialog was held at the Asturias Hotel Puerto Princesa in the 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 individuals 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 as well as 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.

The Seventh Zero Waste Dialog

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 Grass Roots and Recycling Network (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.

The Eighth Zero Waste Dialog

An eighth dialog was held in 2013 in San Francisco (USA). Key Issues to discuss included 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”). One outcome of this dialogue was the definite focus on “zero waste” standing for “no burn, no bury.”

The Ninth Zero Waste Dialog

From October 2-4, 2014, the 9th Zero Waste Dialog was held in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada in conjunction with Zero Waste Canada. With over 300 innovators and influencers attending, this conference focused on management practices and technologies, aiming to connect industry leaders with zero waste enthusiasts and professionals.

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.

The Tenth Zero Waste Dialog

The 10th International Dialog was hosted by Mother Earth Foundation and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives during Zero Waste Month in the Philippines – January 25-27, 2017.

300 participants joined the Zero Waste International Conference on January 25th in Quezon City. The event included regional updates from Asia, Europe, North and South America. Senator Loren Legarda, author of Republic Act 9003 urged young Filipinos to help strive for a zero waste economy. Zero Waste Youth Philippines turned in the Youth Petition for a National Plastic Bag Regulation.

250 youth leaders and university professors participated in the Zero Waste Youth Convergence on January 26th, hosted by the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. Participants heard about Cities in the Frontline: Stories from around the World, Why we can’t burn our way into the future, and solutions for organics and plastic pollution.

300 local government officials attended the Zero Waste Cities Forum on January 27th, hosted by the City of San Fernando. The forum included a workshop on “What is a Zero Waste City and what are the challenges in achieving it?’

The Eleventh Zero Waste Dialog

Alianza Zero Waste Costa Rica hosted the 11th International Dialog December 4-7. 2022 in San José, Costa Rica. Sunday, December 4th included a triathlon, beach clean up and Zero Waste Audit. CRDC hosted a tour of the Resin8 plant on Monday, December 5th. The international dialog was held on Tuesday, December 6th and Wednesday, December 7th and focused on “Global Challenges and Best Practices from Around the World.”

Proceedings from the ZWIA International Dialogue

The Twelfth Zero Waste Dialog

The 12th International Dialogue took place in conjunction with the Race to Zero Waste 2024 Zero Waste Forum in San Francisco April 2nd-6th, on the heels of the recently proclaimed International Day of Zero Waste. The Forum hosted esteemed international speakers affiliated with the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), national groups, and local Bay Area zero waste businesses and organizations. Keynote speakers Zeynep Çelikel, Adviser at the United Nations; Crystal Dreisbach, CEO at Upstream; Denaya Shorter, Senior Director of GAIA for the US & Canada; and Katie Patrick, environmental engineer and author joined the Zero Waste Forum with addresses on reimagining systems for a just and circular future. We were also pleased to have Gregg Castro from the Association of Ramaytush-Ohlone share an opening song, and ZWIA President, Richard Anthony, provide the opening address. The Forum hosted over 100 registrations and a variety of activities including visiting Simple, a local zero waste shop; a tour of the San Francisco Recology facility; and Zero Waste Fest! Visit the Race to Zero Waste YouTube page for a selection of speaker recordings from the Forum, and follow @racetozerowaste on Instagram to learn more about the 2025 Zero Waste Forum, taking place in Ft Lauderdale, FL!