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Zero Waste

Author: Nirmala Nair ~ ZERI SA, and Muna Lakhani ~ Zero Waste International Alliance

( Article Type: Explanation )

What is Zero Waste?

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance - 2004, the internationally accepted definition is:

'Zero Waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.'

To add an explanation to the definition and diagram, in nature there is no waste. Nature's operations are Zero Waste. All energy and matter are utilised in a synergistic manner, making Zero Waste a living concept. Nature's operations are so simple, always at ambient temperature and ambient pressure, with no need for energy-guzzling petroleum products or high-pressure, hightech engineering technologies. For those who care to learn from nature's systems-based operation, it is self-evident that human society has chosen to ignore Zero Waste as a possibility because of the limitations of linear thinking we have become used to.


The Zero Waste Approach 

The Zero Waste approach is inspired by nature's bio-mimetic system, whereby every unused by-product is utilised optimally by adding value in many ways. Zero Waste also predetermines that the whole production process is cyclical, and emulates nature, so that the cycle of production, consumption, decomposition and regeneration all happens in an integrated organic manner.

A closer look at the forest floor reminds us how Zero Waste takes place continually through many diverse processes happening simultaneously, as opposed to linear processes taking place in current systems (be it industrial or other).

Zero Waste underpins a certain philosophy that is rooted in complex systems theory. To move towards a Zero Waste society requires a commitment from all to create decentralised but interconnected operations that create healthy diversity while feeding and assisting each operation as whole, as opposed to current linear disconnected operations.

In a classical Zero Waste society, our energy, shelter, water and food can be derived from the waste generated from consumption process. Inter-connected operations will create methane for heating and lighting from sewage and other wastes, fertiliser for food production from digester effluent, without having to spend vast resources in disposing of our waste from kitchen or sewage to distant sites, which cost the taxpayer large amounts of money.


Zero Waste Industrial Parks 

Zero Waste industrial parks will create processes for total material and energy recovery from all operations that are linked into new processes, which add value in a continuous and seamless fashion without stretching the boundaries of science and technology, while regenerating local ecosystems through meeting the needs of all.