What is zero waste? Is the concept a realistic one, and can the world achieve it? These questions always pop up in our minds when we hear the term zero waste. According to Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), it is the responsible production, consumption, and recovery of products. Zero waste is a set of guidelines to eliminate waste at all stages. There are two approaches for the products being used, Cradle-to-grave and Cradle-to-Cradle. Cradle to grave is a traditional approach where resources are taken from nature and dumped into the environment -air, water, and land. Zero waste focuses on the cradle-to-cradle approach where products do not throw away in landfills. Rather a close-loop is formed to promote sustainability through reduce, reuse, and recycle. Example of cradle to cradle approach is biodegradable bags, disposable cup, and composting of rotten food. This way, materials enter into the environment not as a waste but as a resource. Therefore, emissions cut down significantly.
For achieving zero waste, the net carbon emissions must be zero. According to the World Bank, global waste will grow by 70% in the year 2050. So do the emissions. Global warming is a serious issue the world has encountered after the industrial revolution. The level of GHGs -Carbon dioxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulphur, and water vapours- in the environment is increasing day by day. A natural level of global warming is necessary to maintain life on Earth. However, warming due to anthropogenic emissions is harmful to life on Earth.
Zero waste is a set of guidelines to eliminate waste at all stages.
The production of goods increases greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and in general, degrades our environment. Responsible consumption and management of products could reduce 42% of GHGs in the U.S. alone. But the question is how zero waste can slow down global warming and helps the global climate to retain? For this, we have to understand the link between waste generation and global warming.
Waste Generation and Global Warming:
The extraction of resources emits GHGs and a large number of particles in the atmosphere. Moreover, agricultural activities release gases into the air. Transportation of raw material to industries, manufacturing and packaging process, and their supply to retailer emit pollutants. The managing practices -incineration and open dumping- add the poisonous gases into the atmosphere. These all activities are potential reasons for global warming.
Lastly, consumers throw their products either in landfills or water bodies that release GHGs. These gases trap the sunlight and resultantly warm the Earth’s atmosphere. Warming affects every aspect of human life by changing weather patterns, severe climatic conditions, glacier melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, floods, and drought. The recent wildfires in Siberia, Algeria, and Turkey are the results of climate change.
- Recovery of materials.
Zero Waste –The BEST Solution
ZERO WASTE is so far the best solution to all these problems. It is not merely the minimization of waste after consumption. But responsible consumption of material from resource extraction till it is thrown away by consumers. The hierarchical system of zero waste is: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recovery of materials.
This is the first approach for minimizing our waste. Before purchasing any product, ask yourself a question if you need it. Moreover, this approach would help the masses to shift towards environmentally friendly products.
This approach helps to reduce waste production by just some mindful activities. Buying in bulk is a simple action that reduces waste and minimizes the burden on landfills.
Kaizen model -waste of one industry can be used as a resource by another industry- can help to reduce the waste generation by connecting the loops. So, this step contributes to achieving the target of zero waste by utilizing the waste.
Reuse is an excellent action that helps to reduce waste production. It reduces global warming by decreasing GHGs emissions. Although reusing products has become common, people still throw away their single-used materials. Reusing 100 cotton T-shirts causes a decrease of 14% in global warming. That’s how reusing helps to achieve zero waste as well as reduce global warming.
Recycling requires less energy as compared to making a product from scratch. So, recycling reduces the emission of GHGs by reducing energy consumption. Reduction and recycling of waste material in the U.S. will reduce the GHGs by 5%. Imagine if every country of the world takes this initiative; how much emissions will reduce that help to slows down global warming. That sounds AMAZING, isn’t it?
Recovery of materials:
Recovery of materials aims at the best use of the social, environmental, and economic cost of products before they are dumped into landfills. The recovery of valuable metals -gold and copper- from electronic waste is an example of it.
Why Zero Waste?
The waste generation level is increasing with the increase of the world’s population. The throwaway culture creates mountains of waste that will increase the problems. Soon, the landfills of the world will no longer be able to hold our waste. So, if we want to reduce the destructive impacts of climate change, we should move towards the circular economy and zero waste strategies. According to the IPCC report, for limiting the warming to 1.5*C, the net CO2 emissions must be zero. According to IPCC report 2006, the projected emissions of methane -a potential GHG- from landfills in the year 2030 will be 1500MtCO2. In comparison, the emission of CO2 from incineration activities would be 70Mt CO2, minimizing waste production by changing our lifestyles would help us to survive on this planet. Otherwise, the outcomes of our current activities would be drastic. So, the answer to the earlier mentioned question is YES; zero waste could help to reduce global warming.
By taking responsibility for our waste production, we can make the world a better place to live. Furthermore, awareness among the masses around the issue would help to achieve the target of zero waste. A change in lifestyle -zero waste stores, agriculture, and fashion- helps more people to strive for the zero waste principles. For achieving zero-waste, countries should adopt the following guidelines of ZWIA:
- Establish timelines to achieve zero waste agenda
- Engage the communities
- Focus on the conservation of all resources and their management rather than just waste management
- Perform zero waste assessment
- Educate the public