How realistic is a no-waste future? Let’s face it, with decomposing landfill sites spewing out noxious greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide we are not really helping ourselves. With many nations now facing a looming waste management crisis the issue definitely warrants urgent attention. Thankfully we have a local organisation dedicated to this very task - Zero Waste Australia (ZWA). hipages caught up with their dynamic chief executive Kellie Walters, for an insight into this future and how she proposes getting us there.
First off tell us a little bit about Zero Waste Australia.
“Very simply Zero Waste Australia is an NGO that works with government, business and community to reduce waste going to landfill.”
What would you say ZWA core values are?
“Our goal is to achieve sustainability by:
• eliminating all solid and liquid waste;
• releasing zero emissions into the atmosphere;
• recycling or reusing finite and valuable resources;
• developing efficient transportation in terms of both environmental and economic costs;
• educating the community to the long term effects and power of their short term choices; and
• realistically pricing the environmental costs of production for industry.”
Tell us a bit about the concept of waste avoidance.
“We believe waste materials are resources. Zero waste is an achievable, practical, profitable goal for Australian business.”
How realistic is a no-waste future?
“I think it is closer than we think. I detect a real groundswell and change in attitude at all levels of society.”
How does a no-waste vision become a reality?
“There needs to be a real culture of change, driven by a combination of legislation, infrastructure and entrepreneurial spirit. In terms of legislation, Wales is a good example of this. They passed their ‘Towards Zero Waste’ strategy in 2010 with a goal of reducing their waste by 1.5 per cent every year until 2050. Their objectives also make provision for creating green jobs and developing new skills.”
I visited a builder’s reclamation yard at the weekend – is this where the future lies?
“Yes, absolutely. For the home improvement industry this is where people can discover real jewels. I see the same happening with furniture – period pieces have become very much sought after.”
E-waste is a growing problem, how do you see us meeting this challenge?
“I think there is a great opportunity for niche businesses to develop, which will ensure that all the various components that make up these devices get recycled.”
What ZWA initiatives can you tell us about?
“We recently completed a joint initiative with BASF, Woolworths and businesses in the Griffith area called Cooperating on Organics Out of Landfill (COOL). Through this, we explored ways of eliminating organic waste to landfill via a combination of change in practice and product use. BASF have developed compostable bags made from certified biodegradable plastic to make this process easy. Organic waste, collected in these bags, was processed at a commercial composting site and used by local farmers as nutrient rich compost.
ZWA also works directly with businesses, councils and communities looking to reduce their waste. We are a member-based organisation, so are always looking for members who share our philosophy and are looking for help to realise their zero waste goals.”
Is there a crisis with landfill in Australia?
“It is a pretty simple equation. If we as a growing nation continue to ignore the opportunities we have to reduce, reuse and recycle, where will we ‘put’ our waste? More waste plus limited space creates a problem.”
What can we do at home to work toward a no-waste future?
“Many, many things. My three top tips would be:
1. Set your own zero waste challenge. Eliminate the packaging and bargain purchases you know you will never use.
2. Reuse, or buy reused. Cheap, made for now furniture is manufactured from composite materials and glue. I recently bought a beautiful 1940s dining suite, in fabulous condition, for less than a third of the cost of a new alternative.
3. Compost when you can. Food scraps and garden waste can be turned into an organic, nutrient rich fertiliser whether you live in an apartment or on a farm.”
And at work?
“Across the board, my suggestion would be to look for opportunities to improve efficiencies in processes and purchasing. The simple options are to reduce paper use, opt for recycled supplies and feed your organic waste material to a worm farm. The more complex solutions are based on resource optimisation, redesigning existing systems and employing industrial ecology approaches so that the waste of one business becomes an important, cost effective input for another. For any change towards zero waste to be maintained, education, training and leadership are key.”
Can you give us an idea of what materials can be re-used or recycled?
Metal: 100% recyclable. Non-ferrous metals, mainly aluminium and copper can all be re-smelted and re-manufactured. Ferrous metals such as steel and iron can be also be re-used.
Glass: 99% Recyclable. The best option is "glass to glass", where shards are processed to make material for new tubes or lead-based glass products, or for use in ceramics Alternatively, lead is extracted by smelting and re-used in lead products, and glass in road base.
Plastic: 100% recyclable. Computers generally contain polypropylene, or ABS plastic or a blended resin such as ABS/polycarbonate or polystyrene, which can be re-used as packaging, textiles, etc.
PVC: could be recycled. The cost of recycling PVC usually sees it sent to landfill. A new process developed in Europe offers hope.
Fibreglass: non recyclable. The type used is impregnated or coated with a flame retardant, which is often toxic. It becomes brittle during use, making it unsuitable for re-use.
Circuit boards: could be recycled. Generally made from layered plastic with copper inlays, these are hazardous. They contain materials such as gold, silver and palladium, which can be recovered and re-used. In most cases the plastic can't be recycled because the particles are reduced to too-small a size during refining.
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