Introduction to zero waste

10th April 2021

"Zero waste is 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."
- Zero Waste International Alliance

We are used to throwing things ‘away’. But plastic bottles, crisp bags, and food waste all has to end up somewhere. In the past, it has ended up in landfill or floating around in oceans. Waste in landfill breaks down and gives off high levels of greenhouse gas or produces toxic compounds which can pollute the ground. Waste in the oceans does not break down and ends up damaging marine life. In recent years waste has increasingly been burnt in incinerators. But this does not solve the problem. Waste incinerators give off high levels of greenhouse gases and speed up climate change. There is also concern about the toxic effects of some of the emissions.

There is only one way to avoid the immense environmental damage caused by waste. That is to design waste out of the system - to stop using plastic packaging that is thrown away, to stop making products that cannot be repaired, or whose parts cannot be reused. This way of doing things is known as zero waste. It is key to moving to a clean and sustainable environment. Zero waste is a big change from how things are done now. Why hasn’t it happened? Partly because manufacturers and retailers have had no incentive to avoid generating waste. But also because we, as consumers, have been too ready to accept waste as inevitable.

Zero waste is the change that Plastic Free Swindon is campaigning for, by lobbying for political change but also by local initiatives here in Swindon to avoid using plastic and to help clean up from plastic waste.

Zero waste for recovery

A 2021 report shows that zero waste is excellent for local economies:

  • Repair creates over 200 times as many jobs as landfill and incineration.
  • Recycling creates over 50 times as many jobsas landfill and incineration.
  • Remanufacturing creates almost 30 times as many jobs as landfill and incineration.

Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

A DRS could drastically reduce plastic production / pollution by helping us to reuse bottles, cans and cartons. For those not old enough to remember, we used to be able to return glass bottles, receiving money for doing so. This would reduce litter, pollution, and use of energy and resources. Sadly the government have told us that a UK DRS won't be in place until 2024, and that's only if trade deals don't hinder its implementation. Neither of Swindon's MPs would guaranteee that eventuality. Another concern is that the proposed DRS is not comprehensive. Read more.

Further reading

  • GAIA's introduction to zero waste.
  • Zero Waste World provides details on how to transform to zero waste and provides interesting case studies which detail links with issues of social justice, workers' rights and equality.
  • Zero Waste Cities provide tools, articles and case studies to help transition to zero waste. The focus is on government, both national and local.