The idea of “zero waste” has now become very popular with the public around much of the world, but is it really so good? Cutting back on the waste that ends up in landfills was always favoured by those that live close to them, and naturally when it was suggested that no waste should go into landfills, huge numbers of people were in favour so it was not long until politicians began to incorporate “zero waste” into national waste management plans.
Unfortunately, the concept was not one which originated from the engineers and scientists which are now be pressed into making “zero waste” a reality. Those guys are never likely to want to discourage the rest of us, when a challenge like this comes up, because it means business for them and raised profits if they get it right. But, it won’t be easy because the technological and cultural changes needed to pull it off still need a lot of development.
But, is “zero waste” really so green and environmentally beneficial when it comes down to it, and don’t forget that it is the public who will be paying, mostly through their rates, for the privilege of closing down the local landfill.
With this in mind, we decided to look at what is being said around the world, right now, about the disdvantages of “zero waste”. The following is what we found:
“Even if we divert or eliminate all new waste, landfills will emit greenhouse gas for decades.
By Mark Mondik
According to the EPA, U.S. landfills emit about 100 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent (or about 21 million cars) of greenhouse gas annually. Thus itâ€™s no surprise that measuring corporate waste emissions is the hottest thing to hit carbon accounting since Kate Middletonâ€™s wedding, and that terms like â€œcompostâ€ have become commonplace for solid waste managers and ordinary citizens alike.
Knowledge that may be less common is that waste diversion efforts like composting donâ€™t by themselves solve our waste emissions problem. Even if we ultimately eliminate all new waste through diversion programs like composting and recycling, we are likely to have material GHG emissions from landfills for the next 100 years. There are two main reasons for this.
The Long Life of Waste
First, most of the methane gas being emitted from landfills comes from waste that was deposited in the landfill five or more years ago. The source of this methane is largely wood, textiles, office paper, and other organic materials that break down slowly over time (and not from food waste, which is the common assumption). As a result, landfills will typically produce methane for 40 years or more after they have been closed and stop accepting new waste. So even if we successfully divert 100% of organic waste going forward, the waste thatâ€™s already there will be adding to our GHG inventory beyond 2050.
Second, itâ€™s going to take a while to get to zero waste. Waste reduction and diversion programs are still largely in a development and implementation phase in most parts of the U.S. They will require extensive education and behavioral changes at a mass scale to be successful. This will also entail the cooperation (perhaps by forcible legislation) of companies with respect to product packaging.”
Effectively, Mark is saying that basically “the horse has already bolted” in other words, he seems to be arguing that the limited investment available should not be going into expensive “zero waste” projects when there is a massive problem with existing landfill gas emissions from landfills in the US.
Plus, unlike taking recycling levels up higher than ever attempted before, which will take many years to achieve, it is better to properly compost landfills, to reduce landfill gas emissions. To do that there is no need to wait while the necessary technology is developed for collecting and then generating useful power from landfill gas because the technology is well proven.
Another disadvantage of “zero waste” has been highlighted in Spain:
Waste incineration in cement kilns is a widespread reality in Spain that is causing major distress to local communities, as it’s been one more time confirmed in the 5th gathering of the Spanish Network Against Incineration in cement kilns.
â€œCement kilns are currently burning municipal waste, used tires, bone meal, etc, which has severe consequences for public health and destroys limited natural resources which should be saved, recycled or reused, according to current Spanish and European legislationâ€Â said Carlos Arribas fromÂ Ecologistas en AcciÃ³n â€“ ValenciaÂ in his intervention.
In this article, they cite research which is thought to show that cement kiln incineration is causing emissions of carcinogens. Therefore, it is presumed that they are causing cancer in the local population.
Finally, we have found profound doubts which are being raised about the Danish so called “zero waste” strategy which is on the way to taking their nation down the road to becoming a zero waste producer. But, surely “zero waste” SHOULD be all about recycling more – not burning more waste? See what you think below:
Denmark is perceived to be one of the worldâ€™s greenest countries. But is it really? Besides the Danish windmills and bike lanes there is a not-so-well-hidden secret of this otherwise rather environmentally friendly country; their passion for burning garbage!
This burning passion has received widespread and often misleading coverage by international media such as the New York Times or the National Geographic who didnâ€™t bother to dig too much into the details and instead succumbed to the charms of well-designed green washing.
Objective facts about Denmark are that is one of EU countries that generate more waste per capita, and is world leader in incineration of household waste, burning 80% of it. For comparison this means that after discounting recycling Denmark burns more waste than what is generated in countries such as Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria or Poland. How green is that?
Contrary to best practices in the sector, in Denmark most household waste is not separately collected this means that recycling rates are as low as 22%. Most organic waste, which is 90% water, ends up in the oven.
More waste is good, less waste is bad??
It might look like a contradiction but in Denmark the system is set up in a way that the worst thing you can do is reduce the size of your waste bin. Why? Well, every city in Denmark has its own incinerator and they are mostly publicly owned. This means that the citizens are actually the owners of the burners and hence if less waste is sent for burning -because it is being avoided, reused or recycled- the incinerator will function under full capacity, lowering the efficiency to generate heat and power. Yet the incinerator has to meet the capital and operating costs with less income which will result in an increase in the waste management fees. I.e. the more waste you generate, the better for your pocket.
With the current system of incentives in Denmark getting to Zero Waste would be a financial catastrophe. It is therefore unsurprising that the country that burns the most also generates more waste than any other. Denmark is the perfect example of the linkage between waste burning and waste generation.
Want to know more about the original idea behind “zero waste”, and its true definition, then go to the green quiz website:
Zero wasteÂ means all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. San Francisco, a national leader in waste management, has set an ambitiousÂ zero wasteÂ goal for the city. By what year is San Francisco planningÂ …