What is Zero Waste?
The Zero Waste philosophy encompasses a set of ideas that propose the possibility of rethinking industries and their supply chains, which were traditionally set up as a unidirectional line that went from manufacturing to consumption and disposal; this philosophy is about turning those lines into circular systems where it is possible to eliminate the generation of waste that will end up in landfills or incinerators.
Above all, zero waste seeks to prevent waste. To this end, priority is given to reuse systems over disposable ones. Similarly, closed-loop recyclable materials are preferred to those that exhibit some form of decline in quality with each recycling cycle. This implies a radical restructuring of the way all goods and services are produced and distributed so that, from the earliest stage of design, reuse is taken into account, as is maximum efficiency in the eventual separation and recycling of all the materials used.
What are the benefits of a zero-waste industry?
Materials that can be reused and recycled in a closed loop offer a considerable reduction in the extraction of new raw materials. Furthermore, biodegradable materials can lead to other sustainable consumption cycles where waste does not exist; instead, there is usable matter that can go toward the production of fertilizer or fuel.
The economic efforts around extraction can be redirected to the costs associated with the reuse and optimization of the production and consumption circuit. The reduction in the constant extraction of raw material entails recovery of the environments that are often impacted by human activity. In general, ecosystems offer many environmental services (like water regeneration) that have unquantifiable value for the human economy and for the quality of life on Earth.
What difficulties does zero waste entail?
Achieving a zero waste economy is an ambitious, challenging goal that must address several problems, such as:
- Diversity of materials: the waste generated today is highly varied, and it can contain a wide range of materials, some of which are difficult to recycle or reuse, while others are non-recyclable or polluting.
- Complexity in the supply chain: the implementation of a zero-waste approach involves collaboration and participation from various actors along the supply chain, from manufacturers and retailers to consumers. Coordinating and aligning the efforts of all those actors can be highly complicated.
- Recycling infrastructure: to achieve a zero waste economy, recycling infrastructure and suitable waste treatment are necessary. In many places, that capacity is limited or even non-existent.
- Change in habits and mindset: adopting zero waste practices requires a change in mindset and habits, both individually and collectively. Educating the population and raising awareness of the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling, as well as active participation in recycling programs and sustainable practices, is key.
- Costs and economic viability: implementing efficient waste management systems can entail significant costs, especially in terms of infrastructure, collection, sorting, and recycling. The necessary investments may not always be economically viable, especially in communities or regions with limited resources.
What examples of zero waste are there currently?
- Composting is an effective way to reduce food waste and turn it into plant fertilizer.
- Returnable packaging (rather than disposable varieties) is an everyday example of zero waste.
- Bulk groceries, which are sold in certain establishments where buyers can bring their own packaging, are an alternative to individually packaged products.