As cities across the country, from Los Angeles to New York City, take “zero waste” pledges, it is clear that “zero waste” is transforming from a trend into a movement. From a sustainability perspective, the central goal of most “zero waste” initiatives — achieving 90 percent diversion — is a clear winner.

But from a communications perspective, “zero waste” is still unclear and potentially confusing. Not only does the term “zero waste” not necessarily mean what it says, but it can be polarizing. How can we most effectively communicate the waste reduction message encapsulated in the term “zero waste”? Do we need the term “zero waste” to guide our consumption and waste behaviors, or are we better off without it?