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Beyond Recycling: On the Road to Zero Waste

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  • MD Kini
    ** Beyond Recycling: On the Road to Zero Waste By Beverly Bell Zero waste is both a goal and a plan of action. The goal is to protect and recover scarce
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3 9:27 AM
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      Beyond Recycling: On the Road to Zero Waste

      By Beverly Bell

      Zero waste is both a goal and a plan of action. The goal is to protect and
      recover scarce natural resources by ending waste disposal in incinerators,
      dumps, and landfills. The plan encompasses waste reduction, composting,
      recycling and reuse, changes in consumption habits, and industrial
      redesign. The premise is that if a product cannot be reused, composted, or
      recycled, it just should not be produced in the first place.

      Just as importantly, zero waste is a revolution in the relationship between
      waste and people. It is a new way of thinking about safeguarding the health
      and improving the lives of everyone who produces, handles, works with, or
      is affected by waste -- in other words, all of us.

      Zero waste strategies help societies to produce and consume goods while
      respecting ecological limits and the rights of communities. The strategies
      ensure that all discarded materials are safely and sustainably returned to
      nature or to manufacturing in place of raw materials. In a zero waste
      approach, waste management is not left only to politicians and technical
      experts; rather, everyone impacted -- from residents of wealthy
      neighborhoods to the public, private, and informal sector workers who
      handle waste -- has a voice.

      Practicing zero waste means moving toward a world in which all materials
      are used to their utmost potential, in a system that simultaneously
      prioritizes the needs of workers, communities, and the environment. It is
      much like establishing zero defect goals for manufacturing, or zero injury
      goals in the workplace.

      Zero waste is ambitious, but it is not impossible. Nor is it part of some
      far-off future. Today, in small towns and big cities, in areas rich and
      poor, in the global North and South, innovative communities are making real
      progress toward the goal of zero waste. Every community is different, so no
      two zero waste programs are identical, but the various approaches are
      together creating something bigger than the sum of their parts: protection
      of the earth and the natural riches which lie under, on, and over it. Here
      are a few examples of what is working:

      * Through incentives and extensive public outreach, San Francisco has
      reduced its waste to landfill by 77 percent -- the highest diversion rate
      in the United States -- and is on track to reach 90 percent by 2020;

      * A door-to-door collection service operated by a cooperative of almost
      2,000 grassroots recyclers in Pune, India -- now part of the city's waste
      management system -- diverts enough waste to avoid 640,000 tons of
      greenhouse gas emissions annually;

      * Aggressive standards and incentives for both individuals and businesses
      in the Flanders region of Belgium have achieved 73 percent diversion of
      residential waste, the highest regional rate in Europe;

      * In Taiwan, community opposition to incineration pushed the government to
      adopt goals and programs for waste prevention and recycling. The programs
      were so successful that the quantity of waste decreased significantly, even
      as the population increased and the economy grew;

      * An anti-incinerator movement in the Spanish province of Gipuzkoa led to
      the adoption of door-to-door waste collection services in several small
      cities, which have since reduced the amount of waste going to landfills by
      80 percent;

      * In the Philippines, a participatory, bottom-up approach has proven that
      communities have the ability to solve their own waste management problems;

      * A focus on organics in Mumbai, India and La Pintana, Chile has produced
      real value from the cities' largest and most problematic portion of
      municipal waste;

      * In Buenos Aires, Argentina, grassroots recyclers focused on cooperatives
      and took collective political action. As a result, the city began
      separating waste at the source, an essential step toward its goal of 75
      percent diversion by 2017.

      While few locations are bringing together all the elements of a
      comprehensive zero waste plan, many have in common a philosophy driven by
      four core strategies:

      1. *Moving away from waste disposal*: Zero waste moves societies away from
      waste disposal by setting goals and target dates to reduce waste going to
      landfills, abolishing waste incineration, establishing or raising landfill
      fees, shifting subsidies away from waste disposal, banning disposable
      products, and other actions. Government policies that promote these
      interventions are strongest when they incentivize community participation
      and incorporate the interests of waste workers.

      2. *Supporting comprehensive reuse, recycling, and organics treatment
      programs*: Zero waste is about creating a closed cycle for all the
      materials we use -- paper, glass, metals, plastic, and food among them.
      Such a system operates through separating waste at its source in order to
      reuse, repair, and recycle inorganic materials, and compost or digest
      organic materials. Separate organics collection ensures a stream of clean,
      high-quality material which in turn enables the creation of useful products
      (compost and biogas) from the largest portion of municipal waste.

      3. *Engaging communities*: Zero waste relies on democracy and strong
      community action in shaping waste management. A lengthy initial
      consultation process can pay off with better design and higher
      participation rates. Residents must actively participate in the programs by
      consuming sustainably, minimizing waste, separating discards, and
      composting at home.

      A successful zero waste program must also be an inclusive one. Inclusive
      zero waste systems make sure that resource recovery programs include and
      respect all those involved in resource conservation, especially informal
      recyclers whose livelihoods depend on discarded materials. The workers who
      handle waste should be fully integrated into the design, implementation,
      and monitoring processes, as they ultimately make the system function. In
      some communities, where waste workers come from historically excluded
      populations, this may require ending long-standing discriminatory practices.

      4. *Designing for the future*: Zero waste emphasizes efficient use of
      resources; safe manufacturing and recycling processes to protect workers;
      product durability; and design for disassembly, repair, and recycling. Once
      communities begin to put zero waste practices in place, the residual
      fraction -- that which is left over because it is either too toxic to be
      safely recycled or is made out of non-recyclable materials -- becomes
      evident, and industrial design mistakes and inefficiencies can be studied
      and corrected.

      Reducing or substituting toxic materials, reducing packaging, and
      environmentally preferable purchasing are some important strategies.

      Each of the communities discussed in these case studies is enjoying
      significant environmental, climatic, social, economic, and sanitation
      benefits as a result of its moves to zero waste. Together, the successes
      offer models we can all build from, regardless of context. Let us all learn
      what is environmentally possible, and begin turning the possibilities into

      This article was published at NationofChange at:
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