Is a zero-waste life possible?

Written By: / Articles / Sunday, 21 November 2021 16:50

It’s no secret that the world today looks very different from what it used to be 30 years ago. Of course, the amount of waste that the world was generating back then was a fraction of what it is now as well. Some of the more common results for the hashtag are photos of kitchens with pantry supplies in beautiful uniform glass containers, and photos of people at bulk supply stores where you can take your own containers to buy your kitchen staples, thus avoiding the packaging waste.
But while buying things free of plastic packaging, or in recyclable or reusable packaging is great, packaging waste forms only one part of the waste we generate. We need to consider managing the end-life of a product — whether it gets composted or recycled or dumped into a landfill. This is called downstream waste, which we will talk about a little later. But again, that is not all. We quite often tend to forget that there is waste produced in the manufacturing process of the things we consume. This is referred to as upstream waste. Maybe it isn’t quite as ‘grammable’ as the typical zero-waste aesthetics of brown paper, glass, wood and unbleached cotton — but it would be a mistake to lose sight of it.
Upstream waste is real
The shirt that you’re wearing did not just come in the box or plastic wrapper that it came in.  Assuming it’s made of natural fibres, someone cultivated crops, tended to and harvested them. It was then turned into yarn, dyed and then woven into fabric. After the fabric was ready, it was tailored into a shirt and shipped to a warehouse before it reached you.
At every step of the process, there was waste generated — agricultural waste, effluent waste, tailoring waste — and not to mention, the fuel used and the footprint of transporting to reach you. (The textile industry is one of the most water-intensive ones.) This is upstream waste. When we buy a shirt and think of how to take care of the disposal of the packaging and the shirt itself once we’re done with it, we are only thinking of downstream waste.  All our attempts at recycling or responsibly disposing of the downstream waste still won’t offset or make the upstream waste disappear.
This is applicable to everything we consume — personal care products, shoes, gadgets, household goods, and the food we eat and many more things as well! It is an irrefutable fact that there is upstream and downstream waste created for everything we use and consume, and that they both need to be managed as responsibly as we can.
Instead of managing the waste, the easiest solution is to try and not create it in the first place. Especially with upstream waste not being wholly in our control, it is the simplest thing we can do. And how do we do that?
By simply reducing the number of things we buy. It’s fairly obvious if you think about it. By buying what we only absolutely need, and by looking for secondhand options wherever possible, we are reducing the demand for new products.
Of course, this isn’t always an option with all the things we might need, but it’s worth exploring when it is. Can you imagine how much the load on our planet will lessen if, on a larger scale, we all move towards buying lesser and buying used when we can? The good news is that there are many options available now to buy, sell, or even swap used goods, especially clothing. 
Buying lesser and buying secondhand are things that we as consumers can do to reduce waste. Besides these, bigger changes at a systemic level will enable quicker, and large-scale impact. This is where the concept of a circular economy comes in.
Everything in nature is cyclical. The night follows the day, and the day follows the night and the cycle repeats. Plants are food for animals, and animal excreta in turn become food for plants. The seasons change like clockwork every few months and the cycle goes on. What if our systems were designed that way? Instead of a linear pattern, what if our systems were designed to run in a cycle.
Currently most systems are designed to be linear — we take resources, make products and then discard them. A fresh batch of raw material is then used to make every new batch of products in linear systems. In a circular system, the idea is to discard nothing, or reuse as much as possible. So the components from an old machine would be either refurbished or recycled and go into a new machine, instead of mining for fresh raw material and starting from scratch. This is the core of the concept of circular economy.
Wouldn’t it be great if all companies cared for the environment as much as they cared for profits? What if they pooled in resources and shared their know-how to find the most optimal and sustainable solutions? Wouldn’t it be great if circular systems become the norm and not the exception?
 What can we do to minimise the waste that will continue to mount? We can get into the habit of doing some simple things that can go a long way in making an impact on our planet. The emphasis is on getting into the habit, because ultimately, living sustainably has to be something that we can sustain. Buying less, and buying used wherever possible are a couple of broad ideas. Here are twelve tips to keep in mind:
Before you buy something, pause and ask yourself if you really need it — or if you’re buying it because it’s on sale. And also, take a moment to think about where this comes from and what the end of its life will look like. These questions will give you pause and help reduce impulse buys.
Besides your phone, wallet and keys, add a water bottle, bag, handkerchief and a snack to your list of things to take when you step out. This will drastically cut down on the single-use waste you generate.
Start segregating your waste — besides dry and wet waste, try and segregate paper, hard plastics, soft plastics and cartons. This will give you a sense of how much waste you generate.
Wash all your takeaway containers before throwing them away. If possible, find a waste management service near you who can take them and ensure that they get recycled.

About the Author

Vijay Garg

Vijay Garg

Vijay Garg is a regular contributor of Imphal Times, mostly related with Education. Vijay is a resident of Street Kour Chand MHR Malout-152107 Distt Sri Muktsar sahib Punjab. Vijay Garg, Ex.PES-1 is a retired Principal from Government Girls Sen Sec school Mandi Harji Ram Malout -152106 Punjab. He is also the author of Quantitative Aptitude, NTSE , NMMS, Mathematics of XII, ICSE numerical physics and chemistry many more books.

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