DISRUPTING PRODUCTION & CONSUMPTION
Currently, the corporate drive for profit spurs an unsustainable cycle of drilling, clearcutting, and mining of our natural resources that companies push on consumers at unsustainable rates before burning or burying the waste, and dumping toxic incinerator ash in landfills. Not only does this linear economic model violate the principles of environmental justice and is dangerous for our health and our planet, it is a system built on inequality. To sustain wealthier countries’ ever increasing rate of consumption and supply them with goods, other countries are depleted, displacing people from their lands in the process, increasing poverty and hunger, and affecting the sovereignty of these nations.
Both production and consumption are two important touchpoints to disrupt in this linear economy—and corporations, individuals and policymakers are all actors that must take responsibility. Together, we can create a circular system that functions within ecological limits and enables people to enjoy their right to a safe and healthy environment.
All over the world, waste management policies and programs are oriented around the assumption that waste is inevitable. This has given rise to a focus on providing services for the convenient removal of waste and building facilities for the destruction or storage of waste (incinerators and landfills). With these services at hand, corporations currently have little incentive to change their business model. In a zero waste model, producers are held accountable for designing waste out of their operations, and providing safe products that can be readily reused, recycled, or composted. Producer responsibility further includes minimizing the amount of materials used, using recycled content, providing less waste and toxic-free options in all parts of the world, improving their delivery systems, and protecting their workers and communities by avoiding the use of hazardous chemicals in products and in manufacturing.
Zero waste operates on the principle that nothing should go to waste. If a product cannot be reused, composted, or recycled, it just should not be produced in the first place.
Zero waste relies on both governments and an engaged public to influence and regulate industry through sound policies such as outright bans on hazardous materials and practices.
Straightforward strategies policymakers can enact to reduce waste at the source including banning disposables and implementing reuse/refill systems, and eliminating single-use packaging and foodware in order to replace them with reusable/refillable alternatives. Policymakers can further draft zero waste contracts that increase transparency when it comes to recycling, promote waste reduction and diversion, and support workers’ welfare. Supporting businesses that provide zero waste goods or services is also instrumental to the success of a zero waste plan; policymakers can leverage the purchasing power of their governments to support businesses that provide zero waste services over those that deal in waste management.
As consumers, we can take ownership of our consumption habits in order to avoid waste as much as possible, and advocate in favor of zero waste strategies. Today, we are seeing more and more individuals on the path to adopting a zero waste lifestyle and calling on companies to design out waste. This is an accessible course of action that gives individuals agency over their place as consumers in societies where overconsumption is a reality. While certain communities have access to zero waste alternatives that aren’t feasible for others, and the burden should not be placed on consumers alone: individual change still has the power to turn into collective action.