Zero waste is a rising trend that came along with the trend of ethical, cautious business and lifestyle. More and more people support a business that does not just offer good products but also business that serves some purpose for the community, people, and the environment.
According to Zero Waste International Alliance, zero waste means: “ The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
I personally am applying zero waste into my life, imperfectly, of course. I do not use single-use plastic bags/containers, I got my own compost bin, and I usually reuse the single-use plastic items that I got with my purchase.
The history of Zero Waste is a little blurred as I could not find the same story in many different sources, so I am just going to explain some of it.
According to ILSR.org, zero waste was started in 1995 by Dr. Daniel Knapp. At the time, the name is called No Waste and later on morphed into Zero Waste and the idea that time was total recycling. According to the same source, total zero waste is “...converting the “solid waste stream” from liability to asset” and to “...to divide it into twelve discreet commodity sets and. over time, to build handling facilities capable of upgrading all of them to resources that could be sold back into commerce.” Sounds like no different with the zero waste these days.
And then according to Zero Waste International Alliance, it started in 2002. The first day, it was the formation of the group that will go to Geneva and talks about tackling the environmental issue from the front end (one of the members was Dr. Daniel Knapp). Dialog after dialog, attracted more and more people, including the government. Soon enough, it attracted many activists, and fast forward to now, zero waste is a lifestyle many adopted. (this could be the history of the organization itself, not necessarily the history of the zero waste movement itself, but I can’t confirm it at this moment)
Probably one of the key points that contributes to Zero Waste to the public is the advancement of the internet and media. You may have watched Buzzfeed’s video about it, which has a total of 5.4mil views. And I am sure, many other videos, photos, and articles. You may have seen other people did it that it sparked conversation.
So Zero waste has been around for 20+ years. Let us see how’s the outcome.
As the graph is shown above, the waste generation growth is slowed down since 2010, and the recycling rate is getting much higher. This could be due to the zero waste awareness.
It is easy to find people promoting zero waste and how it is good for the environment and the planet. I find it hard to find the opinion that opposes it. However, I still got to see some of them. One of them was written by Alden Wicker in 2017, stating that “Conscious consumerism is a lie”. According to Naturespath, Conscious consumerism means “one that seeks out ways to make positive decisions on what they buy and solutions to the negative impacts caused by consumerism”.
So, what is the difference between conscious consumerism and zero waste?
Conscious consumerism :
one that seeks out ways to make positive decisions on what they buy, and solutions to the negative impacts caused by consumerism
Zero Waste :
The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health
In a nutshell, conscious consumerism is a PART of zero waste. They are not the same. However, zero waste could be part of the positive impact of conscious consumerism.
Conscious consumerism focuses on buying or consuming positively while zero waste focuses on conserving resources.
In this article, I will focus mainly on zero waste. This definition is to lay out the fact that there is a similar yet not the same practice in zero waste and I am not talking about that.
There are so many ways to be zero waste, but they can be grouped into 3 Rs :
Refusing: refuse single-use packaging or any other material.
Reuse: use back everything you have used.
Recycle: This is the last option in zero waste as recycling itself may even produce even more waste in the making and this is not encouraged as it may make people think “let’s consume blindly as they are going to recycle this anyway!”.
The goal is simple, not to waste anything at all.
This is my take regarding zero waste and why there is a better cause to do.
I like this article written by Bonjour Adventure that explicitly tells how you can be saving the environment, “Don’t have any children, get rid of your car (walk, bike or travel with public transportation), never travel by airplane (overseas international travel by boat only), become a vegan, retrofit your home with energy-efficient options, use only renewable energy, get rid of your refrigerator”. It makes a lot of sense that the source of pollution, inevitably, also comes from the population itself.
By not buying and refusing anything single-use, what is the impact?
Possibly, landfills are not filled even more and the existing solid waste can be recycled better.
When landfills are empty, it can be used to probably plant more trees (although land that is used for trash is not a very good option to plan vegetations), and probably make a home for more population.
By reusing everything we have used, what is the impact?
Manufacturers produce fewer items, in fact, there might be no manufacturers at all since everyone reuses everything and every shop is a bulk shop. No manufacturers, that could possibly mean no more industrial waste. When there is no industrial waste, our water air and land are cleaner, which is better for human lives.
By recycling items, what is the impact?
Many people do not have to buy anything anymore and this can also speed up the recycling process that relies on the government or big corporations. This might also mean no more manufacturers.
Here’s the big question :
How is any of this solves people's problems?
Sure you might say that being zero waste is also being natural, and natural is healthy. Or that there is cleaner air, water, and solid as there is no more waste. Yes, those are also benefits for the people.
However, one has to bear in mind also the following :
No manufacturer = fewer jobs available, which makes poverty a bigger problem.
Reusing = health risk and contamination may come with it. This is not good for people with the compromised immune systems.
By washing and having a fridge and air conditioner, there is still waste that goes through the environment (and the eco-friendly ones are not cheap!) By not having them, it is also a risk that comes with it such as more money spent, more time required to be spent in one day to wash, some sick people who have to use air conditioner’s stable temperature has to rely on a fan.
This is me assuming that people do not drive anymore and there is no public transportation as there are bulk stores, schools, and jobs within walking/bike distance.
I think that Zero Waste living is great, but unfortunately, this is not what we should be doing and advocating.
I get that a lot of people are trying to promote zero waste living everywhere they go and to tell as many people as they could. I did that too a few times to my family until I realize that there is little to no use for me to talk about it as they have a bigger problems in their life. And we actually all have a bigger problems in our life, it is just that some of us choose to solve the environmental problems first.
I still practice zero-waste lifestyle (still imperfectly), however, I would suggest thinking about solving more basic problem, such as :
I think that you can’t advocate zero waste living when the people you are speaking to is thinking about what to feed their family, them losing their job and had little money to survive, and depression that had been haunting them.
I do not think using metal straw makes the life of the neighbor, that is dealing with poverty, get any better. Some may argue, it will, in the long run. But I suggest to reconsider what I wrote earlier and try to co-relate them. Better air, better soil, and better water does not directly (and quickly) solve poverty. It may improve their life quality a little bit. But certainly does not repair poverty.
Instead of environmental problems, I think instead we can try to solve these three basic human problems.
Once their basic needs are met, it is easy to talk about zero waste or any other cause you think is great.
There are some solutions that I think could solve these root problems, like :
Teaching entrepreneurship and self-providing
Make simpler entrepreneurship to the people with better wealth condition in order to create more jobs
Make mental health awareness bigger and subsidize mental health medication prices.
Recommend more people to volunteer to others in a soup kitchen, free education, free course, etc.
These three problems are, in my opinion, the root of so many problems, including the environmental one. When solved, could make the world a much better place and solve even more problems that have been around for some time such as bullying, crime, loneliness, and so so many more.
I think that solving root problems are a very difficult thing to do. But so does being zero waste, actually.
So instead of advocating zero waste, let’s advocate in helping another human. Let’s make other people’s life better, let’s solve their problems.
This writing is purely my opinion. And I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you disagree with mine, please express it peacefully. This writing does not intend to spread hatred towards a certain group, but instead to express disagreement.