Kick the Can for Zero Waste

Thanks to Atlanta’s Zero Waste Zone, more than 3,000 tons of food and organic scraps so far have been transformed into energy and nutrient-rich soil rather than rotting in landfills next to nonbiodegradable or slow-to-decay trash.

The movement—started to divert waste and attract conferences seeking green venues to the city—now has some serious momentum. And just in time. “Our soil is in dire straits,” says Holly Elmore, ZWZ Atlanta founder. “That waste is actually an asset that can be used to rejuvenate our soil and our water supply.”

To succeed, the initiative needed support—and scraps—from Atlanta’s food-industry bigwigs. Elmore tagged higher-ups at the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena, the Westin Peachtree Plaza and Hyatt Regency hotels, the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and Ted’s Montana Grill (owned by Ted Turner). “If every one of these large facilities does it,” she says, “we make a huge difference.”

More than half of the participating facilities already recycled, but the ZWZ mission goes further, keeping food residuals and spent grease out of landfills, too, as well as conserving energy and creating toxin-free environments. Learning the finer points of composting took training, Elmore says. Take, for instance, twist ties. They seem like a harmless way to secure bags, but if they get into compost that’s spread on fields, they might harm cattle that ingest them.

No-waste zones are catching on around downtown Atlanta, and cities across the country are abuzz about the concept. Restaurants, food courts, caterers, and colleges are also adopting the practice. The message is clear—spread the word, not the waste.

This article originally appeared in our March-April special food issue. For more stories on cleanup, click here (or the image above). For other features, click here.

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