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Multi-Level Approach to Zero Waste

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AL has a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies.


What is Zero Waste?

According to a recent definition, “Zero Waste is the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” (Zero Waste International Alliance, 2018).

The definition of Zero Waste is not a fixed terminology or an ideology of zero waste produced. It is a multi-level issue with different definitions and connotations at different levels. The term Zero Waste has a different meaning at a national level. It carries a different denotation in economic and environmental terms. At the household level, the Zero Waste approach encompasses our everyday consumption patterns which include the products we buy, use, and throw away as garbage.

All these different definitions and approaches to Zero Waste management have one thing in common, the generation of waste should and must be stopped. This means any waste produced in any sector of the economy is a challenge to the effectiveness of the Zero Waste model.


Zero Waste at National Level

Zero Waste at the national level involves conserving and reusing resources to such an extent that they do not become waste products that would otherwise impact negatively on the environment. This means altering the common linear economic structure that involves acquiring resources, producing and consuming goods, and then discharging waste as the end product. This economic structure can be altered to a new circular economic structure that includes recycling or reusing the waste materials produced at the end of the process.

In this approach, waste products produced at the end of the process will now be considered an acquired new resource that can be used to produce new consumable goods. This process theoretically produces zero waste because the waste materials are no longer considered waste products, but rather a resource used to produce new products. This, however, can be a very expensive economic restructuring that would require the participation of all sectors of the economy. It is for this reason most economies are linear by default.

Circular Vs Linear Economy

A linear economy cannot be a Zero Waste economy. This is because it produces products from raw materials in the environment, the products are consumed, and the used-up or unwanted products are discharged back into the environment. This is a very simple, effective, and straightforward type of economy. However, this process becomes unsustainable because the waste produced at the end of the process line will continue to accumulate. Burning, burying, and discarding waste creates other environmental concerns such as pollution and degradation. Therefore, a Zero Waste approach cannot function in a linear economy. This is why a circular economic model was developed.

A circular economy builds on the concept of the linear economy with the added perks of recycling or reusing the waste materials produced at the end of the linear economic line. In a circular economy, the waste materials are treated as resources that can be recycled or reused to produce usable products. This approach resets or restarts the whole process again. In this approach, waste materials are resources used to produce goods that are consumed and discarded as waste materials. This whole process repeats itself again and again in a never-ending cycle. This ultimately negates the whole aspect of waste materials by rebranding them as new resources to be used to produce new products, hence, Zero Waste.

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The Zero Waste approach at the national level should not only focus on recycling waste products produced by consumers but also be integrated into other aspects of the economic processes of production and manufacturing. This means reducing how much waste is produced during those stages. This must also involve producing goods that can be easily reused or recycled. The whole concept behind the Zero Waste approach is to remove the aspect of waste materials discharged into the surrounding environment.

Producing and packaging of products

Producing and packaging of products

Zero Waste at Household Level

The Zero Waste concept is based on a multi-level approach. The tools that are available at a national level may not be available at the household level. Recycling equipment for a lot of products may not be accessible, or they may be too expensive to acquire for regular household consumers. It is also worth noting, households are mostly consumers and not producers of goods. This means to reduce the amount of waste produced at the household level, the emphasis should focus on the consumption process and the amount of waste generated.

Consumer buying products

Consumer buying products

Reducing Household Waste

  • Identify and reduce products consumed that generate more waste.
  • Increase the usage of recyclable and reusable products.
  • Avoid or minimize the usage of single-use and disposable products.
  • Separate recyclable and non-recyclable waste products.
  • Flyers, advertisement cards, freebies, event giveaways, and any products that are likely to be disposed of after a short period should be avoided.
  • Use digitized mediums of information and reduce paper waste.
  • Organic waste can be used to create compost manure.
Composting biodegradable products

Composting biodegradable products

Zero Waste and the Future Possibilities

Zero Waste is not a concept of absolute zero waste produced. It is instead a benchmark aimed at removing waste generation from our production and consumption activities. This can be achieved by reducing, reusing, or recycling the waste materials produced. It is a multi-level approach that requires the participation of all sectors of the economy.

The Zero Waste concept requires society to rethink and reevaluate its approach to waste management and the structure of the economy and the environment. It requires an introspective view of how we all view the waste that is produced from our consumption activities. It also necessitates the need to introduce a different approach to waste management that does not end with waste products discharged into the environment. Waste materials at the end of the process should be reused or recycled back as resources and not discarded into the environment.


Zero Waste Definition. (2018, December 20). Zero Waste International Alliance.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 AL

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