Zero Waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Zero waste is a nice idea and concept but does it work as an individual action? The answer, the short one, is NO!

A fair number of people around the developed world are attempting a zero waste lifestyle and claim that they are having great success. They have very little waste they produce, but for many that means waste that they can't get rid off in the various “recycling” streams. The reason I am putting recycling in this context in quotation marks is that much of that what is being put into those bins is, in fact, not recycled but just sent to landfill.

Waste reduction is certainly possible from an individual, family, commune or even community standpoint, but total zero waste we, ourselves, will be unable to achieve, aside from the fact that there are also bodily wastes but let's not get into that discussion.

The greatest amount of waste that we encounter in our daily life is packaging, which we have to dispose off. Notice that I did not say that we have to throw away; that is because there is no such place as away, as far as waste is concerned.

True zero waste can only be achieved if and when manufacturers end the excessive and over-packaging and when we can get many of our groceries, as was once the case, loose again, without packaging.

Yes, we can slim down out trash cans by putting all the waste products, such as bottles, paper, etc., into the appropriate receptacles for recycling and where possible, though more often that not it is not, buy unpackaged goods, but much of a difference it will not make until manufacturers reduce or even do away with packaging, an the over-packaging that they seem to be addicted to and when stores sell goods loose again the way they used to only half a century ago.

The idea of zero waste may be all the rage right now but realistic it is not really. The fact, and possibly unpalatable truth for some, is that there is no such thing as true zero waste.

Even in a so-called closed-loop system, waste is created in some capacity, be those emissions from transportation, energy wasted during the creation or repurposing of goods, and so on. The term zero waste is a misnomer, and the goal to achieve 100% zero waste, while noble, is not feasible for most consumers. But that does not mean the path toward zero waste is not one worth embarking upon as long as we remember that total zero waste just is not possible and do not beat ourselves up over it.

Reduction of the waste we create, even if, without industry and legislators making serious changes, real zero waste may not be achievable, is a good thing to do, on an individual or family/group level.

It can be done and here are some small points:

  • by refusing, where possible, packaging and finding stores – not very easy at the present – that sell goods loose like almost all stores did before the middle of the 20th century

  • by reusing as much of the packaging waste as at all possible

  • by using a little or no so-called disposables as possible

  • by reducing and eliminating food waste

  • use what you have for as long as possible

  • buy second hand where possible

  • buy products that are made to last

  • buy handmade

Those are, obviously, only a few small pointers and while they may not lead to total zero waste are a step to something close to it. Zero waste just simply is not possible for even with vegetables, without packaging, there is some waste but that, at least, can be converted onto compost.

© 2016