What it means to be ‘zero waste’
Reduce, reuse, recycle: that’s the essence of a ‘‘zero waste’’ philosophy that aims to stop things ending up ‘‘in a hole in the ground’’.
Nelson Environment Centre’s Karen Driver says the idea is to create a ‘‘circular economy’’ for products and waste. Rather than something being made, used, and dumped in landfill at the end of its useful life, it’s about repurposing it so parts are reused, not thrown out.
‘‘To achieve zero waste properly you need everyone in the chain thinking about it, but it really comes down to the design of products.’’
Manufacturers and product designers need to have a product’s end-of-life in mind when they make it, giving thought to how it might be reused, fixed, or recycled when they’re choosing materials. But everyday consumers have their part to play too.
Driver’s first tip is don’t buy it if you don’t really need it. Avoid products that are single-use, like plastic bags or bottled water. Even if something is able to be recycled, it’s best to cut down on anything that creates waste, as recycling isn’t without its own environmental impacts.
‘‘If you’re needing to buy something, just think about the lifetime costs of it,’’ Driver says.
She suggests buying things that can be repaired - woodenhandled garden tools instead of plastic, for example - and spending a bit more on items like clothes, choosing quality garments that will last longer, rather than cheap items that need replacing every year.
Buying unpackaged fruits and vegetables is a big one too. It not only cuts down on plastic from packaging and bags, but it can be cheaper for the consumer, as loose items often have lower perkilogram cost than packaged goods. She says buying loose items means you’re more likely to only buy what you need.
Recycling is just part of the equation.
Anything you do own, in terms of plastic containers and bottles, reuse as much as possible.
‘‘Re-use it until it’s not reusable anymore and then recycle it,’’ she says.
Glass jars and more durable containers can be better in the long-term, however. Driver says places like Bin Inn or organic coops will let you bring your own containers to be refilled, to avoid relying on single-use containers.
Products like beeswax wraps for food and sandwiches are available as alternative to plastic wrap that only gets one use before it’s tossed in the waste. Biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes are more sustainable than their plastic alternative.
Driver says where people often came unstuck is thinking they have to change everything at once. She says a better approach is to take it a step at a time.
‘‘Like composting for instance. If you put all your vege scraps in the bin, just think about if you could compost it,’’ she says.
Worm farms, compost bins, and bokashi are all popular systems. The Nelson City Council offers a $20 discount for composting materials.
She says the Nelson Environment Centre is happy to advise people as to how they could manage their food waste based on their living situation. Bokashi systems work well for apartmentdwellers or those without gardens, for example.
If something can’t be broken down by nature’s processes, isn’t able to be reused, and can’t be repaired or repurposed, the last option is to recycle it.
The Environment Centre took old electronics, including cellphones, and where they couldn’t use the parts to remake new devices, they would recycle them.
The new government is going to look at ways to charge a levy on vehicle tyres, to help cover the cost of recycling them at their end-of-life, she says.
Both central and local government had a role to play in providing a framework for manufactures to be responsible with end-of-life management for products, and give incentives where necessary to encourage companies to think about ‘‘product stewardships’’.
In Kaiko¯ura, the council realised its landfill was nearly full and didn’t want to have to dig a new one, so has been encouraging zero waste practises. Auckland Council has also been setting up community hubs to teach residents how to re-purpose things and encourage them to think differently about what is waste.
Driver says, the first step is for consumers to look in their own bin. ‘‘Have a think about what’s the biggest thing you’ve got in your bin and think about how could you reduce that.’’