What Does Zero Waste Mean?

March 24, 2021 4 min read

What Does Zero Waste Mean?

Zeroing In: A quick background on #zerowaste

Alongside trending green hashtags like #climatechange and #ecowarrior, #zerowaste has been an increasingly popular addition to the sustainable lingo. But what does zero waste actually mean?

"The simple answer", says Kathryn from Going Zero Waste, is to "send nothing to the landfill. We reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send little to be recycled, and compost what we cannot."

She adds: "The less simple answer: It's really about redefining the system. We currently live in a linear economy where we take resources from the earth and then dump them in a giant hole in the ground. The goal of zero waste is to move to a circular economy (aka 'close the loop') where we write trash out of existence. Instead of discarding resources, we create a system where all resources can be resumed fully back into the system.

A group of reusable products from ChiooBag

ChicoBag Zero Waste Goals

At ChicoBag, we strive to leave the planet better than we found it, and we're committed to continually creating efficiencies to eliminate waste across our business. We're not here to be perfect, or expect you to be, but we are doing our best to make small changes in our lives and businesses that will add up over time. We hope you'll join us!

Our Zero Waste Goals span a variety of programs, from employee recycling, repurposing, compost and landfill bins, to repurposing our materials into rugs for women's shelters, to our Zero Waste Pay It Forward Program. The goal of this program is to redistribute misprinted bags to fixed and low income families ready to start a reusable bag habit, or recycle tired bags and fabrics into new, useful products through partnerships with artists, crafters, and non-profit organizations.

"Nothing goes into the landfill," says Megan, ChicoBag Zero Wastes Program Coordinator. "Just because these bags may have an imperfection, doesn't mean these bags aren't functional. We make sure to find a second purpose for them to close the loop."


Zero Waste Pay It Forward Partnership: Clever Octopus

Earlier this year, one such second purpose came in the form of Clever Octopus, a nonprofit creative reuse center in South Salt Lake, Utah. In February 2021, ChicoBag shipped over 2000 misprint or retired bags and masks to the Clever Octopus team.

“This collaboration provides us an opportunity to work with our community on how they transport items. We will expand this collaboration to include additional nonprofit organizations throughout our community,” said Jen Lopez, program director and co-founder.

Once they’re sorted and organized, Clever Octopus will distribute the bags and masks for use in their distribution center, across low-income families, local schools, refugee facilities, homeless shelters, and other organizations and people in need throughout the community.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Clever Octopus fosters creativity and environmental awareness through art, science, technology, engineering, and math. Their “multi-tentacled” 🐙 approach includes the the Octopus mobile outreach vehicle and the Clever Octopus Creative Reuse Center, a retail space with discounted art supplies for educators, teachers, nonprofits, artists, youth, and community member. The goal is a financially accessible, safe and inviting space to create as well as learn new skills, support, and encourage--all with repurposed materials, including the “shopping bags” used to bag items after a purchase in their thrift store.

“One of our goals when starting this space,” said Jen, “was to ever going to buy bags from the store.” Everything they sell, reuse and take in is reclaimed, sourced from forgotten closets, giveaway piles, or donated from companies with excess product. Sturdy bags in particular were an immense need for those traveling on public transportation.

ChicoBag had donated and misprinted bags to pay forward and keep out of the landfill; Clever Octopus needed bags.

It was a match made in sustainable heaven.

For Megan, who runs ChicoBag’s Zero Waste Program, Clever Octopus was an ideal partner. “We love and appreciate supporting businesses and nonprofits that are the ‘boots on the ground’ for their local community and are a leader in driving sustainability within their local networks,” she said. “This creates a ripple effect in creating sustainable habits, conversations, and conscious lifestyles for everyone.”

What's next? Setting a Zero Waste Example for other Companies


As a leader in Extended Producer Responsibility, ChicoBag makes it a priority to think about how a product will be disregarded if it’s misprinted or tired after many years of use. We hope our Zero Waste Program inspires other organizations working toward sustainability goals, especially in light of how important a pay it forward program can be.


“I really hope it’s an example,” Clever Octopus Program Coordinator Melanie Espinal agreed. “A lot of small businesses may not know how to contribute to waste diversion goals, and it can feel overwhelming. This partnership between ChicoBag and Clever Octopus is a great example of the second life an item can live.“

Everything can be repurposed text

Stay tuned for more updates on our
Zero Waste Goals and Pay It Forward partnerships!

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