by Shahla Fairooz
We generate million tonnes of waste every year; for instance, in the UK, in 2016, around 221 million tonnes of waste were generated (Defra, 2020). A large proportion of this waste, is incinerated, sent to landfills, or littered, leaking into our oceans. These practices create negative externalities, polluting our earth, and jeopardizing our future. It is now more important than ever to become more mindful of our impact to the environment and take accountability for the waste we generate. We often think that because we put the effort to recycle, somehow all our waste is properly sorted out. But this is not really the case. So, the key question is: How can we change that? And should we be the only ones taking this responsibility? Or should there be more action from businesses, corporations, and local authorities to inform consumers and share this responsibility with the potential to minimise waste and develop sustainable solutions?
To eliminate waste completely out of the system and keep resources in continual use (Greyson, 2007), we need a huge amount of effort and commitment by the businesses, local and national government, and society as a whole. Zero-waste has become a growing trend towards that direction. Zero-waste is about disrupting the linear model where resources are extracted, used and disposed in the environment when they are no longer needed (Barnish, 2013). Zero-waste is about keeping materials, components and products in use in the economy, via repair, reuse and recycling, but also the re-design of products and services in order to avoid waste being generated within the system in the first place (Zaman and Lehmann, 2011). New start-ups such as bide boxes who offer plastic-free and zero waste products, are leading examples of this. Additionally, a few small local businesses have taken the initiative to promote zero-waste, bringing both communities and people together, with the goal to protect the environment. Last summer, during my internship with OurPledge, we worked with local businesses in Leytonstone, such as the Stone Mini Market, to empower the removal and replacement of single-use plastic packaging items. Working with consumers (via campaigns), the store generated a reduction in plastic packaging waste. In total, the store was able to introduce refill stations, remove over 93,000 single-use plastic packaging items off their shelves each year, whilst also generating an increase in sales by 40% in the first 2 months of their first campaign launch (OurPledge, 2020).
Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased our reliance and demand for plastics, creating challenges to our plastic waste management system (Vanapalli, 2021). Over the past year, we have seen a considerably large rise in the use of personal protective equipment, such as disposable masks and gloves. Additionally, we have seen more people switching to online shopping, leading to an increase in demand for packaged items. To address and manage the increased use and generation of plastic waste, we may need to turn to governmental intervention and planning, as well as corporate social responsibility. This also includes efforts to develop innovative materials and products that are circular in design and will reduce environmental impacts (Vanapalli, 2021).
Post-COVID-19, it is important that we educate and provide the right incentives to the public and businesses to repair, reuse and recycle. In order to move forward, we need cooperation from all stakeholders, including the government who can potentially encourage companies and businesses to evaluate their resource use, as well as increasing environmental awareness (Song, Li and Zeng, 2015). There are many benefits for businesses to implement zero-waste strategies. They not only can achieve waste reduction and cost savings, but they can help generate green jobs for people within communities and nurture a ‘greener’ and ‘responsible’ purchasing attitude. Large corporations and businesses, such as Microsoft, have recently pledged to achieve zero-waste by 2030 (Smith, 2020). This is a huge step up, but these pledges can be meaningless, unless there is genuine action taking place.
We live in an interconnected world, where our actions, and the actions of others, have an impact on everyone’s lives, and more importantly on the future of the planet itself. Therefore, we need to change our approach to waste and waste management, which might be quite difficult without the collaboration amongst all stakeholders. I understand how profit can be the main priority for many large corporations and businesses, but governments need to find out ways to help them, so that businesses can focus on driving innovation and the development of new sustainable strategies based on environmental corporate social responsibility. Scaling-up influential and transformational change doesn’t occur overnight. Without businesses and large corporations taking the lead on implementing zero-waste strategies, we, as a society, will find it extremely hard to move towards a sustainable future.
Barnish, R. (2013) “Why businesses are starting to care about zero waste to landfill”, The Guardian, 13 February. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/business-zero-waste-landfill (Accessed: January 1, 2021).
Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (2020) UK Statistics on Waste. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-waste-data (Accessed: December 1, 2020).
Greyson, J. (2007) “An economic instrument for zero waste, economic growth and sustainability”, Journal of Cleaner Production, 15(13–14). doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.07.019.
OurPledge (2020) Stone Mini Market Case Study, OurPledge. Available at: https://www.ourpledge.co.uk/business (Accessed: January 24, 2021).
Smith, B. (2020) “Microsoft commits to achieve ‘zero waste’ goals by 2030”, Microsoft. Available at: https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2020/08/04/microsoft-direct-operations-products-and-packaging-to-be-zero-waste-by-2030/ (Accessed: January 23, 2021).
Song, Q., Li, J. and Zeng, X. (2015) “Minimizing the increasing solid waste through zero waste strategy”, Journal of Cleaner Production, 104. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.08.027.
Shahla is a 2nd year student from Brunel University London, studying BSc Environmental Science. Her interest lies in advocating sustainable environmental change to tackle some of the global challenges we face, including climate change and plastic pollution. Shahla is currently working on implementing zero-waste initiatives on campus to try and reduce our plastic waste.