The Zero Waste Approach points at 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.
The amount of waste generated per year is estimated at around 2.2 billion tonnes worldwide. It is mainly composed of packaging from food and beverages, which usually end up in a landfill since many types of them have a non-degradable nature or they degrade too slowly, such as some plastic bottle types, for instance, that can take as long as 450 years. The actual way of thinking rests on the idea that the world has infinite resources, but it is just a myth, so there must be a change in the culture about production, consumption and disposal patterns.
Action in this sector needs to be taken, indeed, according to the International Solid Waste Association, it is estimated that the waste sector could cut 10 to 15% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally if waste management actions, including disposal, recycling, composting and treatment, are considered. Furthermore, if a reduced waste approach is considered, the sector could reduce up to 20% its carbon footprint. To achieve these results, The Zero Waste Approach is the answer.
The Zero Waste Approach is a philosophy that tries to encourage a lifestyle that assures the reuse of products and materials, rather than ending up in landfills. It is inspired by nature, where nothing is wasted but everything is a resource. Recycling is part of this approach, but it is the last chance, instead, the main aspect is reuse. It goes from the design and production processes to rethinking the purchase decisions we make and evaluating if what we are consuming will become a waste or not. The overall goal is to hold materials in circulation for as long as possible, by ensuring various valuable lifecycles. Instead of discarding resources, the point is to create a system whereby all of them can be reused again.
Community education and public debate are requisite for the success of any intention to go toward the Zero Waste Approach. Citizens must be invited to take care of waste-free practices and take active participation in the management system thinking towards waste reduction. Public education campaigns to boost public participation must be engaged, and they need to be well resourced and sustained over time.
That is what happened in Japan where A great example of the implementation of this approach is presented by Kamikatsu, a small village of Tokushima prefecture located in southwestern part of the country. It was the first in the country to make a ‘Zero Waste Declaration’ in 2003 born with the support of the Japanese Zero Waste Academy. The Zero Waste project was expected to achieve 100% recycling of the waste produced by the 1500 inhabitants of the village by 2020. To date, 81% of urban waste is recovered which reaches only 20% at the national level, but the final goal remains to completely abandon the use of its two small incinerators. The village was forced to change the way it managed its waste when a strict new law on dioxin emissions forced it to shut down the incinerators.
The active participation of the citizens of Kamikatsu is essential. Indeed, every day the residents are called to separate their waste, selecting the organic materials to be used for composting, washing, and drying the rest of the waste to be then taken to the Zero Waste Center, a sort of ecological island with 45 different containers divided into 13 types.
Reuse is also encouraged: a small emporium has been set up in the village where citizens can exchange objects and tools that they no longer use for lottery tickets.
By Kamikatsu example, several other cities in Japan and worldwide now have ambitious waste goals. In 2018, 23 cities and regions signed C40 Cities’ Advancing Towards Zero Waste Declaration. They pledged to cut the amount of waste generated by each citizen 15 per cent by 2030, reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incineration by 50 percent and increase the diversion rate to 70 per cent by 2030.
This approach is mainly linked to the circular economy concept that will be the future of the economic system. Indeed, it has the potential to generate many more jobs and enterprises to deal with the reuse and recycling of the resources that are a precondition for a sustainable habitat for humans on this planet.
Moreover, this way has an important result on the management of energy flows in the economy. In the life cycle of most products, the most energy-intensive processes are the extraction, production and use phase. Consequently, from an energy point of view zero waste reduces emissions associated with extraction and production thanks to supplying back most by-products and resources back into the natural cycle –soils- or technical cycle -reuse and recycling-. The emissions associated with the use phase are reduced with better product design and eco-innovation.