Zero waste is a strategy to systematically transition us from a linear economy that generates waste, fuels climate breakdown and is life destroying, to a life sustaining circular economy that zeros waste. Zero waste is consistent with the Doughnut Economics of Kate Raworth a system for living within our planet’s carrying capacity while ensuring a safe and just space for human society. Here’s Technopeasent putting it into a local context.

“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 ”

– Definition of Zero Waste as adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance

Why Zero Waste?

Going Zero Waste emerges from the understanding that:

  • We can’t recycle our way out of the global WASTE GENERATION CRISIS.
  • Our linear economy that posits perpetual growth on this finite planet is no longer tenable.
  • Its practice of TAKING from the earth, MAKING, USING, and DISCARDING billions of single use and poorly designed products is what is generating the crisis.
  • The only authentic response is to transition from this waste-generating energy-squandering linear economy, to an energy efficient circular one.
  • ‘WASTE’ is then reframed as LEAKAGE FROM THE CIRCLE.
  • Society moves from the Waste Hierarchy which facilitates leakage through energy from waste (EfW) facilities (effectively INCINERATION) to a Zero Waste Hierarchy (ZWH) that excludes EfW.
  • EfW only recovers a quarter of the embedded energy in the resources they destroy. This is vital feedback for where new industrial design, innovation or improvements in the efficiency of our collection systems is required (also see Industry below).
  • Citizens work with local councils to increase the quality of the recyclate and shift their focus above recycling on the ZWH to
    • REFLECTION (Do I need really need this?  If so do I need to buy or can I borrow, hire, or wait and buy a better designed one that will last longer and can be repaired?)
    • REUSE (Do I need to use disposable or is there a reusable option or system I can buy into? e.g. refillable coffee cup/water bottle)
    • REPAIR (employing someone locally or bringing it to a repair cafe).
  • Councils shift focus from the quantity of recycling to the quality of the recyclate (are/can these resources be fully recycled) and importantly to the Kg per person per year NOT BEING Reused, Repaired, Recycled or Composted, with targets to push it steadily down.
  • Industry shifts it focus to REDESIGN. “If we can’t reuse it, repair it, recycle it or compost it, we shouldn’t be making it.”

Zero Waste & The Great Turning

To place the Zero Waste movement within the wider context of authentic responses to the climate breakdown and ecological catastrophe we are witnessing, we draw on the work of Joanna Macy whose practices are drawn from systems scienceDeep Ecology and spiritual traditions to help us better to embrace uncertainty and act for the sake of life.

She asserts that in we jump between three stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our world. These are:

  1. Business As Usual
    is the story of the industrial growth society, currently in a globalised neoliberal phase.  We hear it from mainstream politicians, business schools, corporations, and the corporate-controlled media.  The defining assumption is there is little need to change the way we live.  The central plot is about getting ahead.  Economic recessions, extreme weather conditions, even pandemics are just temporary difficulties from which we will surely recover, and can maybe even profit!
  2. The Great Unravelling
    is the story we hear from environmental scientists, independent journalists and activists.  The central plot is the damage our industrial growth society has and is causing to our fragile life support system.  It is an account backed by evidence of the ongoing derangement and collapse of biological, ecological, economic and social systems. It can induce anger, frustration, fear and despair when it has us in its grip.
  3. The Great Turning
    is the transformational story of those of us who ‘get’ how Business as Usual is driving the Great Unravelling yet are not fully captured by either story and can imagine a third story our actions are the co-authors of.  This emergent story unfolds in new and creative responses that assist the transition from the industrial growth society to a life sustaining one.  The central plot now is about joining together in partnership with others and nature to act for the sake of all beings and earth.  On a personal level it’s a turning towards self-love, presence, and justice (Never forget the justice is what love looks like in public.” Cornell West).  We no longer understand ourselves as fixed characters in someone else’s story but as authors of both WHO WE ARE BEING and the parts of The Great Turning we are LIVING.  Creating ourselves to BE THE CHANGE we want to see, transforming and being transformed by a world we co-create.  See below for the three interrelated aspects of this transformative story.

Three Interrelated Aspects

Holding Actions:
Holding actions aim to hold back and slow down the damage being caused by the political economy of Business as Usual. The goal is to protect what is left of our natural life-support systems, rescuing what we can of our biodiversity, clean air and water, forests and topsoil. OPPOSING WASTE INCINERATION IS A GOOD EXAMPLE. Holding actions include countering the unravelling of our social fabric and caring for those who’s basic needs are not being met.  Setting up foodbanks, soup kitchens, community fridges etc, caring for the elderly, but also creating spaces where such citizens can come together to organise and create actions that will counter their exclusion or exploitation.   in war, starvation, and injustice. However, along with stopping the damage, we need to replace or transform the systems that cause the harm.

Life-sustaining systems and practices:
This dimension involves rethinking the way we do things, as well as a creative redesign of the structures and systems that make up our society. ZEROING WASTE AS WE TRANSITION TO A CIRCULAR ECONOMY IS A GOOD EXAMPLE, alongside social enterprisesmicro-energy projects, community education, sustainable agriculture, and ethical financial systems all contribute to the rich patchwork quilt of a life-sustaining society. However, these new structures won’t take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them.

Shift in Consciousness:
At the core of our consciousness is a wellspring of caring and compassion; this aspect of ourselves – which we might think of as our larger, connected self – can be nurtured and developed. We can deepen our sense of belonging in the world. Gaia theory proposes that Earth functions as a self-regulating living system, of which we are a part. “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole world”

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This is not someone else's world it is our world. We transform it together by being the change we want to see.