Zero Waste: In 2021, approximately 2 billion tons of all types of waste were thrown out in the world. To understand the scale, let’s give a comparison: if this waste were placed on trucks, then they would have encircled our planet 24 times, this is almost 1 million kilometers of trucks full of waste, lined up in a row.
The Zero-waste principle, or “Zero waste”, promotes a gradual departure from an aggressive culture of consumption, adherence to a number of principles that help to reduce waste to almost zero, which is what the name of this concept implies.
Reducing the amount of waste can only be achieved through reasonable consumption, recycling, reusable use, changing the main postulate of the market economy and the culture of consumption “The more we consume, the better we live.”
Last Updated: January 20, 2022 (A few hours ago…)
What is Zero waste and why it matters
The goal of the Zero waste concept is to ensure that waste is not sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean. In the period from 2015 to 2021 in the world, only 9% of plastic is recycled. In a Zero Waste system, material will be reused until optimal consumption is achieved. International Zero Waste Alliance defined the Zero waste principle:
“Conservation of all resources through responsible production, consumption, reuse and disposal of all products, packaging and materials without incineration and without emissions into land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
The main tenet of the Zero Waste concept is waste prevention. It is a holistic systems approach that seeks to massively change the way materials move through society, resulting in zero waste.
Zero waste encompasses more than eliminating waste through reduction, reuse, and recycling, it focuses on restructuring production and distribution systems to reduce waste and live without it.
Zero Waste advocates argue that government regulation is needed to influence industrial choices in product and packaging design, manufacturing processes, and material selection.
Eliminating waste will reduce environmental pollution as well as lower costs due to reduced demand for raw materials.
The origin of the Zero waste movement
The movement gained widespread publicity and peaked in 1998-2002, and has since moved on to practice Zero waste, focusing on how the Zero waste community is organized and operated. The website of the International Zero Waste Alliance has a list of communities that have developed a state policy to promote the practice of “Zero Waste”. The Grassroots Waste Recycling Network organizes seminars and conferences on activities to promote the Zero waste principle.
California Council on Integrated Waste Management set a Zero Waste goal in 2001. The City and County of San Francisco, the Department of the Environment set a zero-waste target in 2002, which led to the mandatory recycling and composting ordinance in 2009. San Francisco received an excellent rating in the waste category in the Siemens Green City Index for the USA and Canada, which named San Francisco as the greenest city in North America.
2009: the emergence of the Zero waste movement
In 2008, the term “Zero Waste” was used to describe industrial and municipal waste management practices.
Bea Johnson, a French American living in California, decided to apply it to her family of 4. In 2009, she began sharing her journey on the popular blog Home Zero Waste, and in 2010 she was published in The New York Times.
The article, which focused on the concept of zero waste, received a lot of criticism from people who confused it with a bohemian lifestyle. These criticisms began to change after photographs of the family and their lives spread widely in the global media.
In 2013, Johnson published a book, Home Zero Waste: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Waste, titled The Bible For Those Aiming To Zero Waste from Book Riot. The book contains an easy-to-use 5R methodology with detailed, practical advice on how to eliminate household waste.
Translated into 27 languages (as of 2019), an international bestseller has helped spread the concept around the planet.
Some of Bea’s followers and readers have started their own blogs:
- Loren Singer, a New York-based environmental activist whose social media channels spread the concept to millennials opened bulk stores.
- Marie Delapierre, who opened the first unpacked store in Germany (based on Unpackaged model, the first unpackaged concept in our modern era) is being launched by non-profit organizations.
- Natalie Bino, Founding Member of Zero Waste Switzerland.
Over the years, the Zero Waste lifestyle has grown significantly in following. Thousands of social media channels, blogs, unpacked stores appeared, shops and organizations with the principle of reusable. The rapidly expanding grassroots movement has created demand for corporate giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble to develop reusable alternatives to disposable products.
Zero waste concept in the XXI century
In our time, the principle of “Zero Waste” is more relevant than ever, the planet and its inhabitants experience all the “delights” of overproduction, overconsumption, littering of the ocean, rivers and lakes. There is a large country-sized garbage patch floating in the Pacific Ocean, and microplastics have already spread wherever they can.
But this is only a small part of the problem, the industrial production of electronics, machinery, mining, etc. has not gone anywhere – and all this is to increase the production of billions and trillions of different things that will again be thrown away in the first months or years of use.
Moderate consumption by people, government control and the development of environmentally friendly production and consumption mechanisms are the only way out of the current crisis.
The planet Earth has a limited resource for self-healing, and now this resource is on the verge of depletion.
Goals and problems that Zero waste solves
The development of the rate of industrialization gives rise to an increase in waste production. Back in 2012, the World Bank said that the urban population generated 1.3 billion tons of municipal waste, and it is estimated that by 2025 this amount will reach 2.2 billion tons. The increase in solid waste production increases the need for landfills.
With the growth of urbanization, landfills are located closer to settlements. Landfills are often located in areas of low socioeconomic status because landfill permits are easier to obtain. This arrangement negatively affects not only the environment, but also human health.
To reduce the problem of limited resources, it is more important to prevent wasteful consumption. To achieve zero waste, the waste stream organization must move from a linear system to a cyclical system so that materials, products and raw materials are used as efficiently as possible. Materials must be selected in such a way that they can either safely return to the natural cycle or remain viable in the industrial cycle.
The Zero Waste strategy advocates not only for reuse and recycling, but more importantly for prevention and product development that takes into account the entire life cycle of things.
Zero waste principles:
- reducing the use of materials;
- use of recycled materials;
- use of safe materials;
- increase in the service life of products;
- maintainability and ease of dismantling at the end of the service life.
Illustration by: Dina Koscheeva
The Zero Waste paradigm strongly supports sustainability by protecting the environment, reducing costs and creating additional jobs in waste management and management in the industrial cycle.
Benefits of implementing a Zero Waste strategy:
- waste is a sign of inefficiency, reducing waste reduces costs;
- improving production processes and preventing environmental pollution;
- maintaining three generally accepted development goals: economic well-being, environmental protection, social well-being;
- using much less new raw materials and not dumping waste in landfills, any material waste will either be returned as reusable or recycled materials or be suitable for composting.
Cradle to Cradle Principle
In modern production and consumption, the basic principle of the life cycle of a product is “from cradle to grave”. It is a linear model that starts with resource extraction, goes to production, and ends with a “grave” where the product is disposed of in a landfill.
The concept of “Zero Waste” has the opposite principle, it can be called the reincarnation of things or “from cradle to cradle”, that is, things at the end of their service life are recycled into new things so that in the end there is no waste.
The Cradle to Cradle Principle focuses on designing industrial systems so that raw materials move in a closed loop, which means waste is minimized and waste can be recycled and reused. This fundamental principle prevents the waste problem, rather than trying to deal with the consequences, that is, it creates preventive measures so that the problem does not arise at all.
In the industrial sector, this creates a new understanding of materials and material flows. Just like in the natural world, in which the “waste” of one organism circulates through the ecosystem, providing food for other living things, materials “from cradle to cradle” circulate in a closed loop, providing nutrients for nature or industry.
That is, the principle itself is not new, but taken from nature, where everything is harmonious and capable of existing for almost unlimited time.
The impact of waste on human health: scientific evidence
A serious problem associated with landfills is hydrogen sulfide, which is released during the natural decomposition of waste. Studies have shown an association between increases in lung cancer mortality rates and increases in morbidity and mortality associated with respiratory disease due to exposure to hydrogen sulfide. These studies also showed that exposure to hydrogen sulfide increases as you get closer to the landfill.
Household chemicals and medicines are increasingly found in large quantities inside filters from landfills. This raises concerns about the potential for these chemicals and drugs to enter groundwater and the environment.
Zero waste promotes the recycling of raw materials, which allows things to be reused over and over again, reducing the need for landfill space
Health problems associated with landfills:
- birth defects and low birth weight due to proximity to landfills and exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide;
- respiratory diseases and lung cancer due to the release of hydrogen sulfide;
Promoting a product’s cycle life with zero waste will eliminate the need to create and fill landfills, resulting in improved health for people suffering from waste. The Zero Waste strategy will also preserve the local environment and drinking water sources by preventing pollutants from entering the ecosystem.
Disposal and recycling of waste
Recycling is different from the zero west philosophy. The most common recycling practice is placing bottles, cans, paper and packaging in separate waste bins. A more advanced version of waste recycling is more complex and requires significantly more elements of funding and government support. For example, a 2007 US EPA report states that the US recycles at a national rate of 33.4% and includes compostable materials in that figure. In addition, transnational raw material companies have been set up to process materials.
At the same time, claims of recycling rates have sometimes been exaggerated, for example by including soil and organic matter used daily to cover landfills in the “recycled” category. In US states with recycling incentives,
Recycling has been decoupled from the Zero Waste concept. An example is the computer industry, where worldwide millions of personal computers are discarded as e-waste every year, 44.7 million tonnes were produced in 2016 e-waste, of which only 20% has been documented and recycled. Some computer manufacturers repair rented computers for resale. Community organizations have also entered this space by upgrading old computers through donation campaigns to distribute to underserved communities.
Conservation of natural resources
When extracting natural resources, pollution of the earth, groundwater, air, ecosystems occurs.
The more poisonous the extracted natural resource, the more harm to the environment. The Zero Waste Principle will undoubtedly reduce the need to extract such a large amount of minerals in the future. Since even at the stage of product development, engineers must think about how to make this product more durable and how it can be completely processed or extended its service life.
In principle, “Zero Weist” is not a final waste, only an endless cycle of processing and use of raw materials.
Reusing raw materials reduces the need for new minerals to be extracted. Ideally, minimize the production of new resources in the future and mostly use only recyclable materials or use plant materials, the damage from which is much less, and less resources are spent on production, plus land resources are finite, and crop production is a renewable source of raw materials.
Zero Waste Principles: 5 R
In 2008, Bea Johnson and her family moved to a zero waste lifestyle, ditching the big house and hyper-consuming family life for a lifestyle based on simplicity and sustainability. Since then, a family of four can fit the annual volume of their combined waste into one Mason jar, which is about 750 ml in volume.
Junk Cans have become synonymous with the Zero Waste movement, which symbolizes a radical, minimalist lifestyle. Zero Waste activists, including Lauren Singer and Katherine Kellogg, showcase their years of waste in Mason jars, powerful symbols of the Zero Waste movement. The sight of these cans alone has inspired thousands of people to join the movement.
How does a person reduce their annual household waste to the contents of one can? Johnson pioneered the 5 R system to achieve this goal.
The formula works in this order:
- rejection of the unnecessary;
- decrease in consumption;
- reuse and repair;
Refuse (refusal of unnecessary things)
The first step to a garbage-free life is to stop them from entering your home.
This step means eliminating waste in the form of disposable items such as:
- as well as from junk mail, advertising free services and other fast-living necessities that have a one-way ticket – a trash can.
Illustration by: Dina Koscheeva
Saying no to waste can be as difficult as saying no to people or situations that get in our way. It shouldn’t come across as harsh, a firm and friendly “no thanks” will be enough. Thoughtful explanation can be a catalyst for real change in the people you interact with.
The ability to say no is also a valuable life skill. This step serves as a vehicle for exploring our personal boundaries, how to respect them, and how to step outside our comfort zone as we enter new territory on our Zero West journey.
Remember, most of this step is about saying yes to green products and services. Say yes to bulk products at wholesale stores and farmers markets, free refills in your reusable bottle, cafes that accept reusable coffee cups, and restaurants and shops that sell food in your reusable containers.
Activating the second step means clarifying what you need and reducing what is not. Reducing consumption in the context of Zero waste means giving up household items that are no longer in use, donating or selling them, thereby reducing clutter and creating free space in the home.
Reducing consumption also means focused shopping and focusing on the purchases you need, as opposed to the occasional waste of things you don’t really need. Too often, these items end up quickly in a dumpster, on pantry shelves, or packed in disposable packaging.
Conscious consumption is an opportunity to examine consumption habits and assess whether they serve our best interests or the interests of the earth, and change those habits, if necessary.
Reuse + Repair (reuse and repair)
Step 3 – Replace disposable items with reusable items. A glass or stainless steel water bottle is a way to never use plastic bottles. Reusable fabric bags will help you carry unwrapped food.
Use jars with screw lids for storage. You can store anything in them: bulk products, small things, drinks, etc.
Replace plastic disposable drinking straws with stainless ones that will last for many years. Replace paper towels with regular rags, use reusable towels.
It is better to repair broken items whenever possible than to throw out and immediately buy new ones.
Step 4 focuses on figuring out the true place of recycling in the waste management hierarchy. There may be some mental reprogramming involved. People are programmed to believe that recycling is a good way to reduce waste. This is a misconception.
Recycling infrastructure is currently limited and actually consists of recycling recycled materials into substandard disposable goods that end up in regular waste. In addition, the recycling infrastructure cannot keep up with the sheer volume of single-use consumables being consumed and disposed of by humans at record rates.
Recyclable materials that cannot be successfully recycled into new products are thrown into landfills or incinerated in incinerators. It is also important to consider that the recycling process itself is very energy intensive.
For these reasons, recycling is viewed by the Zero Waste Movement as a last resort that will only be used after the stages: 1 Avoid unnecessary items, 2 “Reduce consumption” and 3 “Reuse” are exhausted.
If you live in a house on the ground or have a summer cottage, then this step will be the easiest to take. Dig a hole meter by meter, maybe a little more, and separate the garbage into organic and inorganic, throw all organic matter into the compost pit. When the hole is full, this will happen on average in 2-3 years, depending on the number of people in the family and the size of the hole, dig another hole of the same size.
Then you fill it too, while you were filling the second hole, the waste in the first hole has already decomposed by half its volume, the second half by this time can be scattered around the garden – there will be good fertilizer.
This closed loop is simple and effective.
For urban conditions, technological solutions:
- Disposer is a shredder of organic waste, shredded waste can be thrown into the sewer, there will be no harm.
- Vermifarm – an installation made of boxes with a certain type of worms, does not emit an unpleasant odor and processes garbage into vermicompost, which can be used to feed plants or scatter on the nearest lawn as fertilizer.
Zero waste: where to start
You need to start, as in any business, with yourself and your lifestyle, your established habits, and this is the most difficult thing.
Over many decades of the consumer world, people have been taught only one cycle of life of goods and things:
- Viewing product advertisements on TV, in the cinema, etc.
- Formation of desire to purchase goods.
- Making money or taking a loan.
- Viewing advertisements for a new product model.
- Purchase of a new product model.
- And so on in a circle.
Illustration by: Dina Koscheeva
This scheme is commercially successful, since it is beneficial for momentary profit when a product quickly goes out of fashion, quickly deteriorates, is short-lived, unrepairable and is quickly and again bought, thereby increasing profits.
But we live in a world where it is not money that gives us the opportunity to live, but nature and its limited resources, therefore, over a short distance, the overconsumption scheme is beneficial, and in the longer term, such a scheme is akin to a cancerous tumor in the human body with all the ensuing consequences, such as uncontrolled growth, absorption of the body’s resources, eventually death.
And we see the consequences of such a way of life today, but what will happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow depends on each of us.
Realize the harmfulness of excessive consumption and realize the power of each person in the ability to influence global processes.
Buy durable and useful products
Durable goods are quite rare nowadays, but they can be found. They are usually more expensive, the fashion for them, as a rule, does not work, since fashion is invented for accelerated overproduction and overconsumption, so that people change things when they go out of fashion and a new model comes out, and not when the thing will wear out and you will have to change it.
The psychology of consumption itself needs serious adjustment, then changes will gradually take place, for example, brands of various goods have been created that position themselves as durable and in the style of “Zero Waste”.
Don’t buy things you can do without
The concepts of asceticism, minimalism and the Swedish “lagom” are very close to the philosophy of “Zero waste” and organically complement it.
Minimalism is a way of life in which a person voluntarily gives up unnecessary and unnecessary things, unnecessarily luxurious living conditions, cars, expensive brands and other things that can take away extra time and energy from him to realize his main goals in life, such as family, purpose , life’s work, communication with nature, self-knowledge, etc.
Lagom is a related concept that means ‘the right amount’ in Swedish. The Scandinavian countries also approached this concept in practice and live with dignity, even by the standards of a consumer society. This gives results: people are less chasing or do not chase at all for far-fetched material prestige, a huge amount of money and a luxurious life, preferring a relatively modest life, but worthy from the point of view of fullness.
Therefore, according to the rating of happiness, the Scandinavian countries are almost always in the top ten.
Minimalism and lag in the broadest sense of these words, combined with the Zero Wayst principle at the current stage of human development, may become the only way out of the ecological catastrophe into which we have plunged over the past 100 years.
Don’t take what is given for free
In yoga, there is the concept of “aparigraha” – non-appropriation of gifts, which means rejection of meaningless gifts that only take away the energy of both the person who bought the gift and the person doing it. This does not mean that you do not need to give anything, of course, there are useful gifts when we know for sure that a person needs it.
But in our time it is often customary to give money. Let’s try to think about this scheme: we are given money for some holiday, then after a while we give this money back to the same person, is there any sense in this? The question is rhetorical.
Reduce the use of plastic
Plastic is one of the main environmental problems, the whole world has already been filled up with plastic, even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, about 11 km deep, plastic waste was found. Microplastic creates a special problem, marine life eats it and dies by millions of individuals. Microplastic is formed by the decomposition of plastic waste in sunlight into fine dust, which in turn is divided into even finer dust. For more information on the topic of plastic in the ocean, see the film: “Plastic Ocean” 2016.
The main disadvantage of plastic is a long decomposition period in the natural environment, certain types of plastic decompose for up to 500 years. Therefore, it is so important to replace packaging and goods with other materials or to use degradable plastic in production.
Disposable Plastic Facts:
- in 2050, 20% of all oil produced will have to be spent on plastic production alone;
- every 60 seconds, 1 full truck with plastic falls into the ocean;
- because of disposable plastic, 100 thousand mammals in the sea and about 1 million sea birds die per year;
- about 40% of plastics in Europe are packaging;
- one Russian throws out 181 plastic bags a year;
- 127 countries around the world are involved in the regulation of the circulation of single-use plastic;
- 4000 chemical compounds are used to create plastic, 148 of them are dangerous to all living things;
- 90% of the plastic produced throughout history has remained in nature, and has not yet been recycled, this is about 8 billion tons.
Replace disposable items with reusable items
This is one of the basic tenets of the Zero Waste philosophy. Disposability of things is one of the main reasons for such a large amount of garbage.
We use a plastic cup for a few seconds, and it will decompose for hundreds of years, there are already almost 8 billion people on the planet., and the majority of the population’s thinking is formed for one-time consumption and thoughtless use.
For such a life, three planets equal to the Earth are not enough, but we have only one. It’s time to stop and think about how you live, and where it will lead.
Waste sorting is the main method for high-quality recycling and use of things. Without sorting, it will be impossible to efficiently recycle and reuse any thing, just incinerate it in incinerators or throw it into a landfill, which happens all the time.
In economically developed countries, they are already beginning to abandon incinerators in favor of waste processing plants, since incineration also pollutes nature and is extremely inefficient compared to recycling by recycling things.
It is already possible to sort garbage today, even in the conditions of Russia. The recyclemap.ru website has an interactive map of all operating points that accept many types of recyclable materials, you can find the nearest ones and start sorting your garbage to make our planet a little cleaner for yourself and future generations.
Avoid rash impulse purchases
To avoid impulsive actions, you need awareness, that is, every moment you need to be aware of your actions, words and thoughts. This directly controls our lives, affects the lives of others.
To do this, engage in any practice of mastering mind control: yoga, affirmations, mantras, prayers, meditations, etc.
It is very important that you watch every day: try to exclude advertising, clips, meaningless serials from the information “diet”, where there is always an advertisement that unobtrusively but persistently forces you to buy unnecessary, while you will be sure that this is your desire.
In order not to replace the true values of life with an excess of things, you first need to understand what these values are and how to find them.
Give preference to natural products
Natural products and materials return to nature without causing damage. Because that which came out of nature, into nature and will return to its original state.
Therefore, it is better to choose natural materials. What a person has produced by a synthetic method will inevitably cause damage to all living things, since poisonous chemicals will be used in one amount or another.
Nowadays, almost everything can be replaced with natural materials, sometimes it costs more, sometimes the price is about the same, but one way or another, we are responsible for what we buy, what we use and where we throw it away.
Keep track of water consumption
Water occupies the same place in our life as air, fire or earth, it is one of the main elements. In 2021, more than 2 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and 3 billion people do not have the opportunity to wash their hands with soap every day – this is about 40% of the world’s population, that is, almost every second.
The thought may come to mind that this does not concern us, we live in decent conditions, there is water and food, and we have nothing to do with it. But this does not happen, everything in the world is interconnected.
If we do not value the water and food that we have, waste these resources, then in the future, according to the law of karma (cause and effect), we may find ourselves in less comfortable conditions, among that half of the population where people cannot even wash hands every day.
Try a plant-based diet, as it takes 4 to 15 tons of water to produce 1 kg of meat, depending on the type of meat.
For more on the environmental impacts of industrial livestock production, see the 2014 film The Cattle Conspiracy .
Change your daily habits
This is a very important moment in any positive changes in a person’s life. And in the context of the Zero West principle, this is even more important, since it affects not only the life of one individual, but the life of all living things on the planet.
Changing habits is difficult, but perhaps do it gradually and in stages, remember that changes do not happen in one second, some behaviors take weeks and months to implement, and some years. It will take decades to change the habits of entire countries.
The Earth is on the verge of the sixth mass extinction of species, in the absence of changes in our way of life, the consequences for humans and all life on the planet will be even worse than they are now.
That is, there is no time to think about how to prevent this. It’s time to act, only by the actions of each of us we change the situation for the better.
Everyone should show awareness and reasonable choice, then it will work, and we will be able to gradually overcome this serious ecological crisis with minimal losses.