What does zero waste actually mean? 

25 January, 2023

What does zero waste actually mean?


There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge toward specific goals.

Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?



That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose.



Zero Waste has been a buzzword in sustainability for the past few years, but what is it exactly? How does it change our perception of viewing and using natural resources? In this article, we will look at exactly what the zero waste system talks about and how can it help create environmental integration and address global warming at the same time. 



According to Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), Zero Waste is the conservation of all resources through responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharge to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health. 



The main target of the zero waste system targets the “take, make and waste” business practices to the more environment-friendly way of consuming resourcing by using strategies like circular economy. The primary goal is to bring nations closer to the target of nullifying the disposal of waste. 



With the roots relating to recycling and conscientious waste management, zero waste stretches out to handling and repurposing the residual wastes. It looks at the product lifecycle, analysing the shortfalls of the production and handling systems. It also aims to create energy-efficient and conscious systems. 



There is a huge misconception that people have regarding zero waste. For those who ask if zero waste is a realistic target – we will ask you to look into your question. Zero waste is not just an end goal, but a guide to set guidelines and policies. It strives to create principles that eliminate waste-generating practices and employ clean and better systems in the economy. The aim is to create more use from the waste material and consume raw materials consciously.



So what are zero waste principles? 



Zero waste principles look into three major obligations that help businesses to target different aspects of society. 


  1. Producer Responsibility 
  2. Political Responsibility 
  3. Community Responsibility 



Each aspect mentioned deals with handling waste. The primary goal of the producer is to make sure that manufacturing and operational units and systems are sustainably designed. The community needs to ensure proper disposal and end-use of the products. The political responsibility is to create laws and promote a better environment that is designed based on zero waste goals. 



With the growing environment and constantly expanding the range to meet new challenges, the realities of a zero-waste economy get more and more evident:


  • Designing multiple circular systems 
  • Making sure that processes are less deviated
  • Conservation of resources and energy reserves
  • Promoting a healthy change 
  • Making sure that the products can be consumed in a loop as much as possible
  • Rigorous improvements to update the existing systems 
  • Reducing the amount of wastage
  • Considering the actual cost of the opportunities 


Zero waste hierarchy and cradle-to-cradle thinking 



The major difference between zero waste management and conventional waste management is that the practice is incorporated from the start vs managing the waste at the end. 



Cradle-to-cradle thinking highlights a circular model that focuses on design thinking which minimizes waste and keeps the resources in the loop as much as possible. The close loop of activity promotes sustainability and less waste – encouraging reuse, reduction, and repurposing the materials. 



Core concepts of zero waste hierarchy 



  1. Rethink


Design rethinking encourages the creation of systems, products, and materials that can easily accommodate to circular loop. The materials are incentivized and include extended responsibility for the entire product lifeline.


  1. Reduce 


A sustainable economy is ensured when it supports environmental and social issues for the local markets and programs to avoid product disposals. 


  1. Repurpose


Expanding the systems helps to incorporate high-quality recyclable materials. The local markets need to be designed in a way that can be recycled.


  1. Residual management 


All the leftovers that cannot be processed, need to be minimized. Safe disposal options should be adopted that minimize destruction 


  1. Unacceptable products


Removing support to products that cannot be brought back into the system. All toxic residuals and products should be removed from consumer products and materials. 


Know more about the zero waste movement


The zero waste movement is a collective effort towards employing maximum zero waste principles and concepts. This strategy will help to move the agenda of zero waste forward. It is not just for the public to take responsibility for their waste products. It also involves politicians and producers to equally participate and take even greater responsibility to move towards zero waste. 



To regulate this vision, Zero Waste International Alliance (ZIWA) is the only authority that sets any related guiding comprehensive principles. 



At the current levels of waste generation, there is an urgent need for recycling with the hope to keep up with the demand. Recycling is an essential part of curbing emissions and leading the zero waste movement and should be designed for better resource management. It also strives to enhance the responsibility of producers and the government. 



Finally, it is essential to address the destruction of climate change and create a circular economy while having more sensible and sustainable options. 

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