What's Up With Zero Waste?
Thailand has an undeniable problem with waste management. Hidden away from the comfort of our homes are mounds of foul waste piling up in landfills, pieces of waste floating in the sewage waters and even in our precious blue oceans. Every year, Thai people generate an estimated 27.8 million tonnes of solid waste. Due to tourism and the increases in population, this amount continues to grow by 600,000 tonnes per year. Unfortunately, this abundance of waste is not properly managed as only 20% in the whole country are managed properly. This results in soil, water, and air pollution which poses a direct risk to wildlife and human health. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that there are cute marine animals choking on shredded pieces of plastic then dying as a result of accumulated toxins in their bodies. And the delicious salmon you ate for lunch? There is a chance that microplastic particles have entered your body. What’s more is that the Chao Phraya river, flowing just 4.5km away from NIST, is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. While this issue cannot be solved simply with the actions of a single community, there are methods in which you can adopt into your lifestyle to lessen your contribution to the problem. One of them is going zero waste.
Whether it’s from an article warning you about the dangers of plastic in the ocean, or another school assignment about the detrimental impacts of food waste, you’ve probably encountered the term “zero waste” at least once. At first glance, the two words in themselves may seem to make no sense; how does one generate absolutely no waste? The Zero Waste International Alliance defines it as; the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health. As much as this type of lifestyle can help to make the environment more sustainable, it is commonly misunderstood.
“Zero waste is just about recycling,”. Zero waste really focuses more on waste prevention rather than waste management. Preventive measures should be the utmost priority as the positve impacts of recycling products are quite limited in comparison. Depending on the material, the shipping process as well as the manufacturing process of converting waste into reusable material requires energy which in turn, generates air pollution. This is still better than waste going into the landfill or oceans though!
“You have to produce absolutely no waste,”. This is in fact, currently impossible as not all materials are made to be reusable. According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, just 85% of waste can be recovered and resold. The idea of going zero waste comes with a lot of hesitancy due to this misconception but realistically, people go “almost zero,” where they try their best to produce as little waste as possible. What remains to be reusable or non-reusable is up to the companies manufacturing these products but it is achievable to one day have all materials to be able to be used more than once, hence, achieving “zero waste,”.
“Zero waste means zero waste to landfill,”. In reality, the goal is similar to a circular economy where the product’s entire life cycle is taken into account and not only on the discarded waste after consumption. In the ideal form of 'zero waste', there is no waste produced in the extraction, production, distribution, or consumption. This is because any waste produced is re-inputted back into the manufacturing to prevent release into the natural environment.
“Going zero waste costs a lot of money,”. In truth, one of the principles of zero waste is reducing your consumption of unnecessary items. When you only buy what’s essential and occasionally indulge in luxury items, you could actually save a lot of money. For example, instead of buying 10 pieces of fast fashion clothing from H&M every time your favorite celebrity posts an image on instagram, you have the option to purchase a few second hand clothing items. Trust me when I say both your wallet and the environment will thank you.
As difficult as going zero waste may seem, you are always welcome to start out in modest ways. In Bangkok, there are actually a small number of zero waste shops that you can support. Customers are able to bring in their own reusable packaging materials such as bottles, jars, containers, then fill or refill them with eco friendly goods. Depending on the business, this can include foods to soaps, shampoos, and detergents. Great stores that do this are; Refill Station, Thailand’s first bulk store located near BTS On Nut, a quaint shop called Normal Shop Refills which recently opened on Nang Linchi Road, ZeroMoment Refillery, an eco-friendly convenience store situated in @Home Residence and many more. Purchasing from these sustainable shops is a much better alternative to repeating the destructive cycle of buying new products than disposing of the packaging every time you are done using it.
Whether it takes five days or even five years to go zero waste, it is important to know that a process such as this takes time and effort. Some prefer to make small changes and others go full in, that’s perfectly fine. Above all, understanding the ways in which we can help the environment and acting upon them is absolutely crucial for a more sustainable future.