John Harder was the keynote speaker at the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) and EdVenture's Pau Hana sustainability presentation for Maui businesses on Thursday, Oct. 27, at the University of Hawai'i Maui College (UHMC).
The meeting held at the Class Act restaurant in the Pa'ina Building on campus focused on zero waste possibilities for Maui.
Harder was Kaua'i's first solid waste coordinator and helped set up the State of Hawai'i's first solid waste program. He is the founder of Zero Waste Kaua'i and is currently the Waste Diversion Program analyst for Kaua'i County. He has been designing recycling, composting and solid waste systems for the Hawaiian Islands for the past 25 years.
John Harder of Zero Waste Kaua‘i discusses the need to reduce the amount of waste business creates. He said the largest manmade structure in the world is the former Fresh Kills landfill in the Staten Island borough of New York City. At 2,200 acres, Harder said it covers an area larger than the pyramids.
In his presentation, "Waste Reduction and Resource Recovery for Business," Harder offered Maui businesses opportunities to save money by developing sustainable methods for reducing their waste and turning it into a resource.
According to Harder, zero waste is the new paradigm with the primary focus on prevention.
"We must start designing with the environment and reuse in mind," he told an audience of more than 45 attendees.
"Zero waste looks at garbage as bad design," Harder said, arguing that the life cycle of Maui's landfills could be extended by years if it did not receive so much of the reusable garbage we generate.
Harder's message to Maui businesses is, "Don't let your bottom line go to waste."
In Harder's view, a zero waste strategy "is a sound business tool and can lead to innovative ways to reduce waste of all kinds, support the environment and produce jobs."
Those involved in the zero waste movement believe that it is not about getting to zero, but rather being on the path to zero.
To move along that path, it is important to have a strategy that will move the needle to empty or zero when it comes the waste business generates in its production, distribution and marketing processes.
For a business interested in a creating a zero waste strategy, Harder recommends the following steps: Start with recycling, then select a recycling coordinator and gain the support of management. Next, develop a formal plan, including an education strategy, and kick off the new program. Conduct regular reviews of the program and make improvements and changes as needed.
Following that, the next step in implementing a zero waste initiative is to focus on waste reduction, re-purpose, recycling and composting, and energy recovery.
Harder advocates innovative approaches to zero waste that include expanded producer responsibility, a policy that holds producers responsible for the use of a product and what occurs at end of its life.
He is in favor of reducing product packaging and seeking ways to create incentives for producers to take such steps. Currently, society as a whole takes on the job of cleaning up the waste created by a product during or at the end of its useful life.
If manufacturers were held accountable for what happens to their products-and there was a financial cost to them-they might move to reduce that cost with better and more efficient designs.
Food offers another zero waste opportunity. In the past, food waste targeted large food users. Now there is more of a focus on post-consumer food waste and on increasing the use of paper products that can be turned into compost.
Another zero waste innovation is deconstruction, a strategy that is being utilized by innovative contractors who are becoming more aware of the cost of the disposal of construction materials in landfills.
Deconstruction recovers re-useable building materials before they are sent to a landfill.
What does zero waste mean for the average family? Harder's terse answer was in keeping with his overall message.
"It means reducing consumption, buying in bulk, not buying the things you don't need, and when you do buy, don't always buy the least expensive- by what lasts," he said.