"There is no such thing as away. When you throw anything away, it must go somewhere" - Annie Leonard
Welcome to part 1 of our 3-part blog series on zero waste and the future. If you prefer listening to reading, check out the audio version of this blog post!
What is Zero-Waste?
The term Zero waste is pretty self-explanatory and is frequently used when discussing a “Zero Waste Future.” At first, this may be viewed with scepticism and seen as an unrealistic goal. However, many things can be done, and are being done, to achieve zero waste in many countries over the next ten years (and beyond), or at the very least dramatically reduce waste in others.
Properly managing recycling and waste is one way we need to improve to reach a zero-waste society in the future. A substantial percentage of plastics either cannot be or are poorly recycled, thus they’re “abandoned in natural areas, damaging local ecosystems."
Billions of people on this planet don’t even have access to a proper waste management and collection systems. “In many countries, waste management is too far down in the list of priorities for countries to even consider.” As a result, waste is either put in waterways or dumped. Why are governments investing in technological projects like space programmes when we lack waste management capabilities? These countries must look inward and invest in waste management and recycling systems to secure a future with less trash.
The Circular Economy
Did you know that archaeologists found evidence that the inhabitants of Pompeii were recycling and reusing waste material? This is likely the earliest instance of a small-scale circular economy in history. However, we currently live in a linear “consume and throw away” economy, which has disastrous environmental consequences.
While Futurists and Furturism are concerned with the “future”, we can look at the past to make predictions and forecasts about the future. We should be looking at how we can reach the past again and the circular economy of Pompeii, to avoid wasting valuable materials that could be utilised so much better.
Possible and Probable Futures
Futurist Wendell Bell established a basis for future studies examining possible and probable futures, which we can apply to zero-waste futures. Probable futures are where we use data on the past and present to forecast what the future will be like. Possible futures, however, defy traditional thinking and current problems and limitations to envision possible images of the future.
Using Current Technologies to Reach Probable Futures
One problem with current recycling is the need for “more clever technology to separate materials quickly and efficiently”, says chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management Steve Lee. A technology called near-infrared spectroscopy could be the answer to this, identifying differences in unique polymer compositions spectrally. With more research into technologies such as this over the next 5-10 years, they could be implemented and assist in increasing the percentage of materials that can be recycled.
Another technology that should be implemented more widely over the next couple years is anaerobic digesters to break down food and yard waste. “Anaerobic digestion process is when organic materials are broken down by microorganisms, producing biogas, a renewable energy source.”
Through research and the commercialisation of these technologies over the next ten or so years, the amount of waste and materials poorly recycled will likely decrease. It is highly probable that these technologies will become pivotal in recycling and waste reduction approaches in the future.
Possible Future: Smart Bins?
In a possible future further away from the present, we could have smart bins that measure waste material composition. This could be useful for companies to “monitor the type of waste they produce and then make strategic waste reduction plans that target specific waste streams.”
Or we could develop smart bins that charge users for the amount of waste they are dumping. This could encourage individuals to reuse and recycle more. In this possible future, this style of bin would become the norm, as waste bins slowly die out as society develops ways to reduce and recycle materials more.
What can you do?
“Nature recycles everything; we do not”
Developing the world’s recycling capabilities in the future is one direction and step we need to take to move towards a circular economy, and away from a linear economy and consumerist culture. To move towards a zero-waste future, countries that do not prioritise or have proper waste management need to develop these facilities fast! There also need to be more research into technologies and processes that can assist and make recycling and the decomposing of waste easier.
In the next part of this series, we are going to be looking more into eco products and zero waste stores. However, if you’d like to limit your waste and transition to purchasing products that are good for the environment, check out out the rest of our site and our store where we sell eco goods and donate 50% of the profits to charities!
Hi Bonnie, first of all I love how you have an audio version available for your audience! Thank you so much for discussing zero-waste in detail, as I previously was unaware of the true meaning. When we think about the future, the idea of ‘too far down the line’ that you bring up, is important to note, as there really should be no such thing as that kind of thinking. The future is now, so the changes we make TODAY will impact the future. I really liked how you spoke about the possible and probable futures, and how they differ. Overall, I really appreciate your ideas for possible futures, it has inspired me to look into that within my DA. Love it!