Thursday, 10 May 2012
The future of waste is something that's been on my mind lately, not least because tomorrow I will be attending my first board of trustees meeting of the Zero Waste Alliance UK. I've also got several exciting projects coming up over the next few weeks, which will highlight how our culture is changing.
My mind goes back to 2008, when I volunteered to take part in my first Zero Waste Week challenge. Despite my enthusiasm, I thought I must have had a screw loose for trying it. I worried that people would think I was a weirdo and as for the reducing waste so drastically, I didn't think it was possible.
But the results of the challenge showed otherwise and, at the time, shocked me.
I realise now that my pre-challenge assumptions were based on limiting judgements, lack of knowledge and embedded habits, as well as expectations that fitted well within my comfort zone. Consequently, when I first signed up for the challenge, I confessed to the council that the best I could commit to during Zero Waste Week would be a carrier bag's worth of rubbish. It was a comfortable target. With such a busy family lifestyle, it felt far more realistic than producing an empty bin. And to be honest, knowing how much rubbish we threw away before that, I knew I'd be happy and proud to declare such an achievement.
But this declaration was 8 weeks before the Zero Waste Week. I was unaware of the discoveries I would make in the coming months, including the recycling solutions that were continually improving, or how I could take control over reducing waste that could not be recycled. As my knowledge grew during those few weeks, my assumptions changed and so did the horizon of the challenge that lay ahead.
With my limiting judgements being sledge-hammered into oblivion, thanks to my new knowledge, experiences and conviction, I was able to look afresh at the Zero Waste target and the goal looked more easily attainable. That's how during that week in March 2008, we only came to throw out a plaster. And that's how those who took part in the Rubbish Diet Challenge that I set at the beginning of the year, also came out with fabulous results.
That's the power of the target, no matter whether it's zero waste or any other personal\business goal.
And this is why we must keep the focus on zero waste and underpin it with a commitment to learn, innovate and improve the processes and solutions that help us move towards that goal.
Zero waste isn't just about recycling more, it's about not creating that waste in the first place.
Whether you're a designer developing your next product or packaging, a buyer for your own business or a large retail chain, an events manager organising the smallest of events, or a householder who thinks you have nothing at all to do with the waste stream, you can make your own contribution towards a zero waste future whoever you are.
Even if all you do for now is take a proper read of your council's latest leaflet or your company's waste management policy, that is a key step to recharting the future of waste. As a resident, you may find new services that you never realised existed and begin to recycle more as well as reduce other waste. As a designer or buyer you may discover that the future of your product can only be landfill and decide to design-out that waste. Or if you're organising an event based on plastic cutlery or polystyrene, you may decide to consider alternatives that could help make your event waste free.
By setting yourself a zero waste target now, even if you don't think it is achievable, it will kickstart your interest and your inner innovation. Then once your learning curve is underway and you become satisfied with your progress, a sustainable zero waste future will become more attainable, and you'll be ready to pounce on any new technologies or services that become available or more easily respond to legislative pressures.
Sometimes, all it takes is a little imagination to want to do things differently and great results can be achieved, such as that shown in the business case study here or illustrated by community based programmes that include WasteWatch's Our Common Place, or the examples demonstrated by individual contributors to MyZeroWaste.
You just need to keep that target in mind, even if it feels like it will take you five years to get there.
So begin now, by setting yourself the target, learn, innovate accordingly, reap the benefits of interim successes and review regularly.
I strongly believe you'll get there, even if you need the genius of scientists\designers to help you or invigorated markets to drive the demand for recycled goods.
As a society, if we focus on the target, the road to zero waste and closed loop recycling will always remain open and all other diversions will become closed.
Anything else, can only be second best and is less than our future deserves.
Useful websites to feed your inspiration: