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What is UW Zero Waste?

UW Zero Waste

UW Zero Waste is a strategic initiative for sustainable materials management at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It is a comprehensive endeavor aimed at achieving a variety of institutional performance targets to achieve the University’s zero waste goal. The initiative utilizes cross-functional collaboration that is designed to minimize waste generation, promote sustainable purchasing, save financial resources, yield social benefits, and create a culture of environmental responsibility across the university.

What is zero waste?

Zero waste is a popular and often misunderstood term. The Zero Waste International Alliance defines it as: “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” The Zero Waste Hierarchy describes policies and strategies to support a zero waste system, from highest to lowest use of materials.

Learn more about zero waste principles


What is sustainable materials management?

Sustainable materials management is a term synonymous to zero waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines it as: “a systematic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycles.” It represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By examining how materials are used throughout their life cycle, this approach seeks to:

  • Use materials in the most productive way with an emphasis on using less
  • Reduce toxic chemicals and environmental impacts
  • Assure that there are resources to meet today’s needs and those of the future

Learn more about sustainable materials management

What is a circular economy?

Implementing zero waste practices supports a circular economy.  The Ellen Macarthur Foundation defines a circular economy as “a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature.”

Learn more about the circular economy