Article 11 for the Dawlish Gazette by Vanessa Ryley, writing for Dawlish Against Plastic 2nd October 2020

Towards Zero Waste

On Monday 28th September, an interview with Sir David Attenborough was shown on Breakfast television. The question that resonated with me the most was: What is the most important thing that we can do as individuals to care for the planet? His reply was, “Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world, and the animals in it, and the plants in it too. This is their planet as well as ours. Don’t waste them.”

While the advice is simple, carrying it out can be extremely difficult in the modern world which often thrives economically on our culture of ‘throw it away and buy a new one’. Nevertheless, that does not mean we should not try, since it has become abundantly clear that as a species, we have plundered the earth’s resources and destroyed natural habitat to the point where we are heading towards our own extinction if we do nothing to rectify the situation.

However, there is already a movement towards Zero Waste, which is defined simply as “to send nothing to the landfill”, but the more complex and accurate description is “to completely redefine the system, to move to a circular economy and write waste out of existence”. This approach ensures resource efficiency where resources are not wasted and are recovered and reused or recycled rather than being burned or buried. There is also protection of scarce natural resources and a move towards renewables.

Now we are still generally operating on a linear system, which is a one-way street from resource extraction to consumption and then to disposal. Unfortunately, this model is quite obviously unsustainable because we do not have infinite resources and the way items are disposed of causes environmental problems. Companies are not responsible for the whole life cycle of their products.

The Zero Waste system is designed to move away from a linear system to a circular system. The idea is to minimise extraction and consumption, reduce waste and ensure that products and materials are reused or recycled back on to the market. The resources that we use can be safely and economically recycled, reused, and composted or turned into biogas through anaerobic digestion. In this model the use of disposable products is avoided, and products are redesigned to be non-toxic and built to last. This system encourages participation from the public and phases out waste exports to other nations. Governments create policies, regulations, incentives, and financing structures to support Zero Waste.

In Teignbridge, the council uses an anaerobic digestor for food waste and encourages comparatively high rates of recycling. Some local companies have placed significant investment into recycling plastics into new products and many not for profit organisations and charities run schemes designed to target and reduce unnecessary waste.

The new scheme in Cornwall to use farm waste such as cow manure and grass cuttings, converted into biomethane, to fuel vehicles is a good example of a ‘circular economy’. However, these small successes in managing the use of precious resources need replicating and expanding many times over and in all areas of the economy before Zero Waste can be achieved.