Zero Waste Management: Let us pay heed to it

Dr. Ashaq Hussain
7R Rule is inevitable as 5R’s of waste management have become now obsolete in sustainable waste management efforts
Large scale Industrialization and an increase in living standards have led to the generation of impressive amounts of waste that, unfortunately, have made considerable environmental degradation through climate change, through their negative impact on fauna and flora and ultimately on our health. The most devastating effect comes from the generation of solid waste contaminating every ecosystem on the planet. The increasing use of plastics and their accumulation has further contributed to eco-pollution. A large percentage of plastic produced each year is used to make single-use, disposable packaging items or products which is mostly permanently thrown out within a year. The effect of solid waste is even far more dangerous, acting as a large source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, contributing to global climate change. Along with it, if waste is not managed well, then it leads to flooding, air pollution and thereby various health problems such as respiratory ailments, diarrohea and dengue fever.
Despite the need and importance of zero waste in terms of preserving a clean and healthy environment for citizens, waste management has historically suffered from a poor image. Globally, it has typically been viewed as dirty work in dirty and dangerous places carried out by people with little or no qualifications for little or no wages, sometimes just for subsistence on discarded materials. This is still a widely held view and sadly a daily reality for poverty stricken families in many under developed parts of the world and too much pronounced in our country. No doubt, by convention, solid waste management is a better choice. But, the idea of management also creates feelings of creating and using more solid waste, which is undesirable. Thus, the process of linear production-consumption-disposal system is now an outdated ideology and hence we should have one-way alternative i.e., “Zero waste management” or “Life with minimal waste”.
Thus with change in mindset, times have changed and in many parts of the world, the modern waste industry have laid claims of being one of the most dynamic and fast changing business sectors. The 21st Century has seen a substantial number of initiatives that focus on improvements to the environment, with changes in how we manage our wastes forming a part of firm foundations that are being built to facilitate the sustainable development of society. However here still we have a greater requirement on the waste sector to operate to higher standards of professionalism and to incorporate best practice and new technologies in all its activities. These changes should reflect society’s desire to manage our resources better and to protect the environment, locally as well as globally. So waste management should be now viewed as resource management and a multi-disciplinary subject, incorporating: civil, electrical and mechanical engineering; physical, chemical, biological, environmental and materials sciences; politics; economics; urban and rural planning; media and communications; IT; advertising; marketing; design; technology; transportation; logistics and operational management; business studies; management; and even the creative arts. Resource or waste management has never had a higher public profile, because its complexity is not properly recognized by the society that continues to under-value its importance to its quality of life. There has never been a better time to consider the importance of education to waste (resource) management.
So, when we talk about waste, it literally means the solid wastes that are produced from residential, industrial and commercial sources with the exception of hazardous wastes. Among these, the output of garbage, litter, tailings, debris and other discarded materials of household materials are the large waste groups. The amount of waste produced in the world is growing exponentially, especially in developed countries, where the national gross domestic product (GDP) and waste generation per capita are at high ratio. Thus, there is a growing concern regarding the impacts of commodity production and associated waste materials. Integrated waste management (IWM) is thus the need of the hour and as such it has emerged as a holistic approach to managing waste by combining and applying a range of suitable techniques, technologies and management. There is no individual waste management method which is suitable for processing all wastes in a sustainable manner. With the rise in waste generation and processing costs along with a simultaneous dip in available land, the three or even five R’s of waste management of past have become now obsolete in sustainable waste management efforts. It has been proposed that, instead of 3R or 5R, 7R rule must be incorporated indicating, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, Rethinking, Renovation, and Regulation so as to arrive at Zero waste target.
Zero waste thus refers to waste management and planning approaches which emphasize waste prevention and using no extra product that can generate potential waste. Zero waste focuses more on restructuring production and distribution systems to reduce waste rather than eliminating waste through recycling and reuse. Even if it is not possible to completely eliminate waste due to physical constraints still zero waste provides guiding principles for continually working towards eliminating wastes and there are many successful cases around the world which resulted from the implementation of the zero waste rule. Since the focus of zero waste is on eliminating waste at the outset, it requires heavy involvement primarily from industry and Government. In fact, zero waste will not be possible without significant efforts from the industry. Meanwhile, the Government which has the ability to form policies should frame efficient policies and provide subsidies for better product manufacturing, design, sale and the ability to develop and adopt comprehensive waste management strategies that can reduce waste generation.
New Zealand is one of the first countries to adopt a national goal of achieving zero waste policy. A number of companies are now embracing zero waste concept including Hewlett-Packard, Kimberly Clark, and The Body Shop. Cradle-to-cradle (C2C) strategies are at focus on designing industrial systems so that materials flow in closed loop cycles; meaning that waste is minimized, and waste products can be recycled and reused. In natural ecosystems, nutrients are cycled through an ecosystem because the waste generated by certain organisms is typically used or consumed by other organisms.
This biological nutrient cycling can be mimicked for better waste recycling and reuse. Green engineering is another option of achieving sustainability through science and technology. It can reduce pollution at the source, and minimize the risks faced by humans and the environment when designing new products, materials, processes and systems. Many successful persons are working on promoting the zero waste system through awareness programmes to inspire the whole world on the beautiful concept of zero waste. So practically it is possible to make a world of zero waste, where no human being and no biotic life is prone to risk of harmful impacts of solid waste and plastics. It is the time which we can make for us as well as for our future generations to make a healthy, greener and sustainable planet to live within.
(The author is Associate Professor at Govt. Degree College Chatroo)