Towards Zero Waste Community

Towards Zero Waste Community

What is waste?

Waste is something that is rejected as useless. These are items that are either so badly designed that they can either be repaired, reused, re-sourced through composting, or safely recycled.

Wastes are also created when we dump various items together in a manner that they cannot be easily separated or in a manner that renders them useless even if they are separated. Much of our resources end up as wastes primarily because we do not separate them before discarding.

Example: When we throw in paper and toxic wastes with bio wastes the entire garbage becomes toxic. The bio wastes then cannot be composted because the compost would be poisonous. The paper cannot be recycled because it becomes wet and dirty for anyone to pick it up and send it to a recycler. Accumulated garbage along roadsides, in rivers and canals, and overflowing dustbins posing serious health and environmental hazards are common sights.

Types of wastes:


  • Bio degradable substances (food wastes, flowers, garden wastes etc)
  • Plastics (bags, bottles, toys and other items, containers and so on)
  • Glass, Paper and Cardboard, Metal Items, Wood Items
  • Toxics such as batteries etc
  • Composites that are made up of a combination of two or more of the above items

    What is waste management?

    The conventional methods of handling garbage is termed waste management. That is this approach sees all garbage generated as useless and then goes on to manage these wastes by devising technologies to collect it, transport it, bury it, dump it or burn it. Landfills, Incineration or burning of wastes, centralized composting and recycling are some of the ways of solid waste management.



    How is garbage handled today?


    Almost every society in the world struggles with the issue of efficient and safe waste management practices. Everywhere, the most common practice of waste processing has always been uncontrolled open dumping, a method which requires no investment and has very little operational costs. However such uncontrolled dumping leads to unhealthy impacts on the surrounding environment not to mention the ugly scenes of garbage heaps it creates.

    Another processing technique used in cities is incineration or for that matter in the rural areas and often in cities is open burning. Incinerating or open burnings are by far the most hazardous among the many inefficient waste management practices. Valuable resources get needlessly burnt and do not provide any long-term solution to the solid waste crises that still remains. In fact incineration further worsens the crisis because resources like glass for instance, that may be reused are also burnt with all the other tonnage of waste. Such reusable resources just ended up as non-recoverable resources.


    a) landfill


    Landfills are those assigned places or holes in the ground where wastes are dumped. Low lying areas are usually selected for this purpose.




  • People, particularly in the cities are producing so much waste that our habitat is being crammed by landfills.
  • The poisons from a landfill leak out from the sides in the form of a black, smelly toxic liquid called ¡§leachate¡¨ This liquid eventually escapes into the ground surrounding the landfills and contaminate the nearby and underground water sources.
  • Landfills also lend to air pollution and attract vermin and other disease causing germs. Landfill fires, a common incident, releases heavy metals and other toxic substances such as dioxins and furans into the atmosphere. 

    b) Open Burning or incineration


    Conventional waste disposal relies significantly on burning garbage, in the open (common in India) or in machines. The machines are also used to burn the waste and these are known as incinerators.




  • Burning of garbage is wasteful because they burn resources that rightfully ought to be conserved for further use.
  • They are also polluting our environment because of releasing poisons such as heavy metals and cancer causing chemicals including dioxins and furans. 

    c) Recycling


    Recycling is a process wherein previously discarded garbage is made into a new product. 



  • Not all materials can be recycled. For example, toxic materials can not be recycled for obvious reasons.
  • It does not in anyway discourage the use of unsustainable material especially when safer and sustainable alternatives exist.As human populations and material use continue to increase, the amount of waste is ever increasing that the natural systems that sustain us are suffering from accelerated degradation. Large percentage of resources often goes as waste in the form of garbage, which either goes up in the smoke or goes down the leachate drain in landfills, with serious environmental and health consequences.Unfortunately there are no such mathematical solutions to the above mentioned problems. However, with the change in habit and people¡¦s attitude toward waste management and natural resources, things can change for cleaner and safer environment. This can be achieved through continued education and awareness programme with some systems in place to involve local people of the community.


    Zero Waste Management is the solution.


    The whole concept and approach to waste problems should be changed. The amount of waste is very little if we are careful and sensible enough when we discard things as useless. Here comes the concept of ¡§Zero Waste¡¨. It is a new approach that seeks to maximise recycling and minimise waste, and ensures that products are made and purchased to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.

    Opting for zero waste means we forgo the entire concept of ¡§waste.¡¨ There is nothing as waste. Zero waste works from this belief. Resources are used for creation of a product or commodity usually designed for time-bound use, after which the product is rendered useless and ends up as waste while the process of production also generates waste. Zero waste provides facilities like resource recovery, composting, and waste to wealth ideas to tackle the waste generated.

    As world population and consumption seems to only escalate, all the one way systems of extracting resources, changing them into packages or products and then burying or burning them appear far from sustainable. The Zero Waste approach considers waste as the visible face of inefficiency. An efficient system should have sustainable movement of materials. This assumes that material would be consumed, material would change form, and finally material would become discards.

    The pile of trash we produce throws up a range of raw materials for new products, exciting financial opportunities, and better jobs. Zero waste rechannelises the flow of resources through our societies with marked and substantial environmental, social and economic benefits. Walking the zero waste way has other added gains too. Considerable saving on water, energy, resources and landfill space makes it an optimum environmental and sustainable option.

    And Zero Waste addresses increasing wastage of natural resources and depletion of environment through job creation and civic participation. Thus the zero waste approach shows how this far reaching environmental progress will be achieved by just impacting change at one single point: where and how we empty our bins.


    How do we achieve zero waste goals?


    The most obvious problems of today¡¦s waste management are:

  • Accumulated garbage along roadsides and overflowing dustbins, which were not cleared frequently. These wastes (mostly organic) putrefies and poses serious health problems.
  • There are so many rag-pickers, who depend on these very wastes for their living, by retrieving recyclables from them and selling them to waste recyclers. These rag pickers face great difficulties in identifying the recyclable wastes.So now there should be a solution which will address both the problems.Material Substitution or the efficient use of materials is one way of achieving the goal of Zero waste.People often choose the easy way while purchasing products without taking into consideration the environmental and health consequences. For example: During functions, wedding or party, people use paper or styrofoam cup and plate instead of proper steel cup and plate that could be reused later. This use-and-throw-away culture, particularly generating toxic waste is the main cause of our garbage problem.


    Civic Participation


    Public co-operation and participation is the key to achieving zero waste goals. Zero waste management presupposes the involvement of the local community in its day-to-day processes. Hence forming people based organisation is the key here.

    It is important to take environmental, health and economic issues to the common people and help them understand these issues better. Identify the local garbage related problems or issues that people from all walks of life could best relate to and use it to bring the people together.

    It is also important that people see this from a positive angle, like creation of employment opportunities in a society. The households should be ready to bear a monthly cost which is minimal today where a child spends Rs. 10-20 on unhealthy foods in the form of fizzy drinks etc.


    Need of Street beautifier


    The name street beautifier is given to those people who are employed by the community to do door-to-door collection of wastes. This name also gives dignity to the job. In a not so large Tibetan community, one street beautifier will work for 4 hours every morning. He or She should be paid a monthly salary of Rs. 1500 which is subscribed by the community. He/she should also be able to augment his/her income by about Rs. 200 in a month by selling the recyclables wastes that are segregated from the garbage. The street beautifier should be equipped with one compartmentalised tricycle.

    This new system requires that waste is not disposed onto the streets, or even into the public dustbins, and hence ensures

  • Cleanliness and hygiene of the surroundings.
  • People¡¦s participation in the system and thus their responsibility toward their environment.
  • Creation of employment opportunities, dignity and integrating the waste collection job into the mainstream job. 

    Two key components of zero waste management are  

  • a) Segregation


    Segregation of waste at source is important. Each household should be educated on the need and method to separate wastes into organic and inorganic and to dispose them in the compartmentalised tricycle bin. Thus, the uncontaminated paper and other inorganic waste like plastic, metal and glass could be recovered and recycled.




  • b) Composting 

  • composting


    The organic waste could be converted into manure through composting. However this needs a small plot of land to develop community composting, which can be discussed with the local Tibetan authority. The manure produced could be used for household vegetable garden.

    However, in the process of segregation of waste, a third category of considerable amount of mixed waste will be found. This can not be composted nor recycled and should be transported to the dumping sites.






    Things to consider before going ahead with the new system



  • Count the number of households.  
  • Study the current waste disposal system and its impact on health and environment.  
  • Identify the types of waste that are produced, dumped and burned.  
  • Find out the number of rag pickers and identify the prospects of job opportunity.  
  • Form a community and people based organisation to achieve zero waste. Courtesy: EXNORA, Chennai and Thanal Zero Waste Programme, Kerela


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    One Response to Towards Zero Waste Community

    1. Dirk Bunger says:

      Normally I don’t learn article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, very nice article.

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