“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall
Welcome to part 2 of our 3-part blog series on zero waste and the future. Check out part 1 of this series to learn more about waste, recycling, and the future. If you prefer listening to reading, check out the audio version of this blog post!
Doing More Then Just Recycling
Did you know that the Netherlands-based impact organisation ‘Circle Economy’ has estimated approximately 100 billion tonnes of minerals, fossil fuels, metals, and biomass enter the world’s economy each year? However, only 8.6% of this is currently cycled back. According to Professor Chris Cheesman, there must be a "total rethink in how we produce, use and manage materials across the whole life cycle.”
As mentioned in the previous part of this series, “nature recycles everything, we do not.” We are in the Anthropocene epoch, in which humanity’s impact on the environment and climate change has grown to the point where it cannot be ignored any longer. While there are numerous ways to recycle and decompose the waste we create, we shouldn’t be producing that much waste in the first place, because “waste is the evidence that we are doing something wrong.” We must shift from a linear to a circular economy to avoid overconsumption.
One way to think about the future is to follow futurist Jim Dator’s lead, who says that the future can’t be predicted, but alternative futures can be forecasted and prophesised, and preferred futures continuously imagined and invented.
Therefore, we need to be radically thinking about the future and what we can do to achieve an ideal zero waste society, through reducing and reusing for example.
Zero Waste Stores
Local Zero-Waste Stores
The development and expansion of zero-waste retailers is one strategy to phase our superfluous packaging. Zero waste stores “follow a model that offers radical change and disruptive innovation,” allowing consumers to restock on products they need using reusable containers. One advantage of this is that individuals can purchase the exact amount of product that they need, resulting in less shopping and waste. By shopping at a local zero waste store instead of a typical supermarket, you can also dramatically reduce the amount of packing waste you would usually generate due to using reusable containers.
If we imagine a preferred future in which zero-waste stores become widely available, these stores, which sell less-processed, seasonal food, would drastically reduce energy and waste consumption as well as our emissions. However, this is still a lofty goal, and we probably won't see this happening in the in the next few decades. If we want to see this become a reality, large retailers must also adapt to zero-waste packaging practices.
While this is a future that could likely become a probability, futurists should also consider more radical scenarios.
One example is the concept of delivery drones delivering hot meals to your door, and then collecting your reusable container when you’re finished. This would effectively “disrupt the food delivery system by offering zero waste services.”
Dator’s Laws of Future Studies are a set of laws proposed by Professor Jim Dator about futurology. One of these laws is that "any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous."
This concept of meal delivery drones successfully follows this logic, imagining a possible future when this becomes the norm and a sustainable alternative to take-away food.
Designing for Reuse
While consumers need to effectively reuse products, it is also necessary for businesses to embed eco-design into their products. This needs to be done at the start of the production process, “to ensure that the environment is at the core of their proposition, rather than an afterthought.”
Did you also know that “researchers have found there is more gold, palladium and silver within landfills than in natural ores in the ground”? As a society, we must shift away from our throwaway culture and designing products for a limited useful life, to one more sustainable.
More Ideas of the Future
There are many more ideas to minimise waste that many individuals, professors, and scholars have come up with. Our favourites are as follows:
One futuristic idea from professor Cheesman is designing packaging and products made from photosynthesis which could be burned as fuel for energy. Although carbon dioxide would still be produced, it would be carbon neutral and avoid using fossil fuels.
A group called The Future Laboratory has also proposed the development of biomimicry materials that would mimic the cycles of nature, and after use, degrade so they could regenerate anew.
What Can You Do?
If we wish to halt and reverse the effects of climate change, we must transition from a throwaway and consumerist society to a sustainable one. To achieve this goal, we must develop products that can be reused many times while avoiding those that cannot be recycled, biodegraded, or reused.
What can you do? You can find and shop at local zero-waste stores to reduce your waste, or you can purchase eco-friendly products, like those from our store Ecoternatives. We sell environmentally friendly products, donate our profits to charities, and ship carbon neutral and plastic free!
In the next part of this series, we will be specifically looking at why individuals, businesses, governments, and the world need to take responsibility and work together against climate change.
First of all, love the Jane Goodall quote, she’s so inspiring!
This is such a great project! You clearly know a lot about this topic and have done in depth research. You’ve also linked it to future studies really well!
One thing you could look at would be how to reduce the cost of zero waste living, particularly zero-waste stores as it is currently quite expensive and not everyone can afford it!
Overall super great work! You’ve got such detailed research, it seems like this is something you’re really passionate about and have the potential to do great things with!
Hi Bonnie, I love the ideas you have suggested when thinking about future sustainable alternatives, no matter how ‘radical’ they may sound to us now. It is so important that there are people like you teaching others about the possibilities for the future. It plants the seed for us as readers to start implementing small practices in our day to day, and maybe even begin to plan for the more radical alternatives too!