About zero waste
Why zero waste?
Zero waste will become a priority not just because it's desirable from an environmental point of view. There are other, more powerful drivers:
- Global demand for raw materials and energy is accelerating at an alarming rate. Sources of virgin materials (such as rare earth metals) are running out. The costs of energy, food and materials are rising fast.
- Legislators will act to protect their economies. Scotland's Zero Waste Regulations are due in April 2012. The 2011 waste policy review for England also commits the Government to promoting a zero waste economy an aim shared by the European Union.
- Shrinking landfill space will restrict this disposal route for more types of residual waste, so alternatives have to be found. Meanwhile, concern about climate-changing emissions will increase the pressure on inefficient use and processing of materials.
- More aware and social media-savvy consumers and campaigners are demanding transparency about environmental performance, and they will punish companies that lag behind.
"We are committed to working towards a zero waste economy as part of the transition to a green economy and our commitment to be the greenest government ever. Communities and businesses can help us become a first-class zero-waste economy and unlock the real value in the goods that people no longer want." Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State, Defra. Waste Review June 2011
How can Zero Waste be realised?
In one sense, achieving zero waste means more of the same, the 3Rs of waste: reduction, re-use and recycling. All three must increase. But zero waste also implies a new mind set. Waste must be viewed as another resource to be managed. Also scarcity of supply and rising disposals costs will give this resource ever greater value
The aim in recycling is to close the loop, so recovered waste materials are fed back into the production cycle, creating a virtuous, closed circle, as in nature.That thinking is now being applied at the macro level to how the economy works. Currently we take, make and dispose - it's a linear model. So recycling and resource management is an afterthought or bolt-on.
The circular economy offers a different business model, one that values resources, energy and emissions at each stage of the process from cradle to cradle. In other words, it eliminates waste by designing products and using materials that allow disassembly, re-use, remanufacturing or refurbishment, with minimal energy. The biological parts are non-toxic so they can be safely composted.
Policymakers and business experts have begun to see the opportunities, if not yet the necessity, of shifting to a circular economy. But it's a huge challenge that requires action by many players.
Who will bring about a Zero Waste Economy?
The answer, ultimately, is that everyone will have to play their part, but the Zero Waste Awards aim to celebrate the trailblazers and inspire others to follow.
The recycling and waste management sector, of course, has a vital role to play, supporting its customers with a variety of solutions from recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion through to energy-from-waste.
Product and packaging designers and manufacturers can make waste prevention and minimization a core aim when producing goods.
The service and public sectors from manufacturers, hotels and retailers to local authorities, and hospitals must seek to eliminate waste from their own operations as well as the supply chain.
Innovative and creative solutions will also be needed from technology providers, inventors and the voluntary sector.
The Zero Waste Awards will recognise advances in these and other areas.