Remind me what is Zero Waste again?

“Waste isn’t waste until we waste it.” ~ for Fashion Revolution

I’ve compiled a set of Zero Waste explanations and definitions from various sources in this post to get a broader perspective about this term.

Zero Waste is a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean. Currently, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled.”  Wikipedia

The definition of zero waste according to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is as follows:

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 short, Zero Waste is to ensure nothing goes into the bin, sent to the incinerator, or dumped in the land(fill) and the sea as an end result.

Zero Waste refers to waste prevention as opposed to end-of-pipe waste management. It is a whole systems approach that aims for a massive change in the way materials flow through society, resulting in no waste. Zero waste encompasses more than eliminating waste through recycling and reuse.Wikipedia

When I first heard about the term ‘Zero Waste’, I thought: “How is it possible to produce absolutely zero waste when everything around us is packed or wrapped in some sort of packaging?” Zero Waste is not about producing no waste at all. Looking at the movement, you will see notable activists showing a jar of trash accumulated over some years. Let me show you my version – the eco-bricks I’ve painstakingly made during the early days of my zero waste journey.

Eco-bricks – Used plastic bottles packed solid with clean and dry non-degradable waste to make reusable building blocks. Turning waste problems into construction solutions in developing countries.

I’ve since donated my eco-bricks for correction and educational purposes in Malaysia. It takes a lot of effort and energy to make a good one suitable for construction use, which made me want to refuse and reduce my waste even more. While it’s impossible to achieve absolutely ‘0’ waste, that doesn’t mean we should take zero action. It is a conscious collective effort, beginning from individuals, to avoid or not have anything end up as waste. Besides, 8 billion of us on this planet can either create 8 billion waste or 8 billion ways to zero waste. 

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

– Anne Marie Bonneau from Zero Waste Chef

According to Zero Waste SG – “Zero Waste is a concept that challenges the old way of thinking about waste as something that has no value and to be thrown away. Nature is the best Zero Waste model. There is no waste in nature and its by-products become resources for others or are assimilated harmlessly back to the surroundings.”

Singapore has designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste. We are working towards becoming a zero waste nation by reducing our consumption of materials and reusing and recycling them to give them a second lease of life. I’m so proud that Singapore has rolled out a Green Plan 2030 – a nationwide movement to advance the national agenda on sustainable development with five key pillars: City in Nature, Sustainable Living, Energy Reset, Green Economy, and Resilient Future – honouring Singapore’s commitments under the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and Paris Agreement. From a Garden City, Singapore will move towards becoming a City in Nature, and I am confident that together, we can become a Zero Waste Nation, and be a role model for the world to follow.

WWF Singapore once said, “If everyone consumed like Singaporeans, we would need four planet Earth to survive.” Zero Waste is not about buying more eco-friendly products to look eco-friendly. It is not about consuming more. It is what you choose not to buy and make use of what you already have, that is a true zero waste spirit. At the same time, it is not about consuming or producing nothing at all, although I secretly wish all factories could stop production of all sorts already. It is about carefully and intentionally designing and producing with circularity in mind, only buying what you need, without creating unnecessary waste as the outcome. Very much aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – No. 12 – Responsible consumption and production.

Some companies may claim their products and packaging are recyclable. Interestingly, not many brands request customers to return their recyclable products or packaging for recycling. Why is that so? The truth is, it takes a lot of time, manpower, and cost to take back these so-called ‘recyclables’ and properly recycle them. Other challenges include the variants of materials used, contamination, and land constraints in Singapore, which will incur more costs.

Is recycling a myth, as reported by Greenpeace Malaysia? I  used to think recycling is how consumers close the loop. Far from it! Linear economy – Take, Make, Buy and Throw Away model needs to change. Take, Make, Buy and Return – Circular economy is the solution. Return or trade-in expired goods and packaging to brands and their recycling partner for proper processing and waste management. Brands to provide repair or replacement of parts. Reward or rebate for the return. This way, we can close the loop and, at the same time, develop a deeper relationship with consumers and create better products. And can we refill our everyday products already? Why is there a need to pre-pack and produce so much packaging wastage, which requires more time, energy, and cost to clean and recycle when we can bring containers back to stores to refill? 

Zero Waste Malaysia (ZWM) envisioned a zero waste lifestyle as a way of life that minimizes the general waste footprint and embraces circular economy by challenging conventional methods to reduce waste generation and utilizing waste as input materials. ZWM encourages everyone to shift our mindsets from the current take-make-dispose culture, practice environmentally-responsible habits and get out creative juices flowing to realize the reusability potential of ‘wastes’.

From ZWM NGO, I learned about the 5R principles that help me aim for zero waste daily: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot or compost the rest. I added ‘Rethink’ in front of the 5R sequence as I believe everything starts from the head. Rethink our consumption habits. Pause and think before buying and throwing away. More Rs came along the way, which helped me stay sane – Return, Refill, Repair, Re-gift, or Repurpose before Recycling. Regrow and Repurpose food waste before Rot or compost the rest, returning nutrients to Earth where we grow our food. So my road to zero waste looks pretty much like this for now.

From 3R to 5R to 6R and many more R to zero waste.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Suppose our convenience is costing the planet, and a simple act of saying ‘No’ to things we do not need or bringing our own reusable water bottle, cup, containers, cutleries, and bags could save the planet, more so during the time of Covid. Why not just do it already? What is holding you back from saving our only home by consuming less and creating less waste? “If it’s important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.” – Ryan Blair

Thankfully, we are creatures of habits, and habits can change if we want to.

Robert Swan, a British historian, explorer and activist, once said: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” Remember, we are ‘someone’.

The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution: millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space.”

– Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

We only have this planet home. Let’s not waste it away.

Thank you for reading it till the end! What does ‘zero waste’ mean to you? Would you adopt such a lifestyle? Why yes? And why not? Please leave a reply below. ::)

Published by jsmntuan

A self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, collector and a well organized one, Jasmine Tuan, a designer, a creative brand consultant, co-owned and ran a fashion concept store in Singapore featuring the best of Asia designers, went from having a walk-in wardrobe, downsized to a rack full, to zero shopping on new fashion items in 2018. She also began her zero waste journey the same year, by applying the 5Rs principles in this order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot daily. She added 'Rethink' in front of the 5Rs as she believes everything begins from the head.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: