What is Zero Waste?

The article below was written by Maureen Edwards for the Sheffield Star. It was published on Thursday 29th May 2003.

I am Maureen Edwards the Sheffield Friends of the Earth Waste Co-ordinator, talking about zero waste, an ideal that we should all be working towards. In everything we do we generate waste. Zero waste does not mean that we will no longer produce waste but that this is kept to a minimum and recycled or reused. Reducing the packaging on goods and ensuring those used can be recycled is one way forward.
The old fashioned paper bags, made from a renewable source (trees), and having the advantage of being easily recycled or biodegraded, are far more environmentally friendly than plastic. Plastic packaging varies so much in content it is difficult to manufacture a quality-recycled product from the mixed materials. Carrying shopping home in bags manufactured to last several years rather than days, would also reduce the amount of waste.

Why should we be bothered about achieving zero waste? At the moment we are using up the Earth's valuable resources at an alarming rate. The careless disposal of the resulting products is also causing problems. By taking steps to recycle these materials, not only are the disposal problems solved but some resources will be left for future generations. What right do we have to fritter away these valuable materials?

Kitchen and garden waste represent about 20% of household waste and can easily be composted to produce a rich soil dressing. The household collection of such waste is problematic but several areas have successfully set up systems. The new blue bin scheme presently being rolled out across the city by ONYX to recycle paper and card, is the first step forward towards zero waste. It is to be hoped that the scheme will quickly be developed to include cans, glass, plastics, fabrics and kitchen and garden waste. Once a quality weekly doorstep recycling service has been set up, the collection of other 'residual' waste can be reduced to fortnightly. By using this system, recycling rates of about 30% can be very easily achieved.

Waste strategies should be flexible to allow for changes in legislation. Legislation can help ensure that everyone plays their part in reducing waste, so we need to be able to respond to new laws. Large scale, mass burn incinerators such as the one planned at Bernard Road, are too inflexible and long term. The mechanical biological treatment of mixed waste is far more flexible and ensures recycling of a far higher proportion of the residual waste. Although ideally recycling at source is preferable, until a high quality doorstep recycling service is available to the citizens of Sheffield, mechanical biological treatment of waste is the safest option. The incinerator may well become uneconomic to run in about 10 years due to European anti-incineration legislation.

As an individual with a wish to work towards zero waste, you will already be recycling a great deal of household waste and hopefully be able to compost kitchen and garden waste. Any large items will be disposed of through charities such as RECLAIM. You take your own bags when you go shopping and do not buy products with too much packaging. You are helping to reduce Sheffield's waste disposal bill and protecting our environment.