THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Zero waste relies on strong community action to make decisions about the present and future of waste management programs. In a zero waste society, cultural diversity is valued, local culture and knowledge is preserved and protected, and community members assume responsibility for doing their part to make zero waste possible.
In most countries, waste management today falls under the responsibility of local governments, acting within a regulatory, financial and political framework. There is a lot of money going into the waste sector, yet a large portion is still financing harmful end-of-pipe approaches. Community engagement has a large role to play in advancing zero waste solutions by shifting the playing field to one that enables zero waste policies to succeed and discourages or phases out false solutions. Engaged communities will better sustain the plan when government administrations change.
Designing a zero waste plan
Citizen involvement ensures the appropriate design of local zero waste plans and creates a sense of ownership among the entire community. Citizens can call public meetings, make a deliberate effort to reach out to groups that are already organized (such as resident associations or waste picker groups), and communicate in such a way that makes it easy for everyone—including those with limited time, access to email, or other limitations—to actively participate. By creating oversight and advisory bodies, citizens can establish mechanisms that monitor the implementation of the zero waste plan, provide continuity even when government administration changes, and stay open to community input.
Implementing the plan
This includes reducing waste generation (through conscious consumption, reuse and repair), separating discards at the source, home composting, and entrepreneurial activity such as creating new businesses out of recyclables or organic material.
Educating the public
It is imperative to increase participation in reduction, reuse, recycling and composting programs through public education. This can take the form of engaging and easily understood radio, print, or billboard advertising that encourages participation in zero waste programs and raises awareness on local resources. These efforts should be sustained over time, as even high participation and diversion rates will deteriorate unless public education efforts are maintained.
Governing bodies can also benefit from the insight and input of their communities by:
Informing and involving residents
Zero waste plans are best tailored to the community where they will be implemented, and who better to provide input than those who will be affected? Soliciting suggestions and input from the community helps create a sense of ownership of the programs and policies, which contributes greatly to their success. When bringing together individuals from diverse constituencies, such as citizens, government, and waste workers, using communication strategies such as advisory committees, community meetings, alliances with existent community groups, feedback mechanisms such as phone lines, and interactive internet systems can be effective strategies.
Creating mechanisms for accountability
Public access to information helps citizens become more involved. Mechanisms for accountability include organizing regular public meetings to inform citizens about activities and progress related to the zero waste program, and setting up a telephone number and email address that allow people to ask questions and provide feedback on its practical implementation.