Plastic Free

Battle Of The Sustainability Methods: Zero Waste Vs Circular Economy

September 6, 2021   By Spacewhite Green Team

There’s no question that climate change is accelerating at an alarming rate. 

We are facing increasingly devastating weather disturbances, countless lives, homes and species lost.

While there might not be a single culprit, we can’t ignore the environmental impact human activity has had on our ecosystems. 

One look at a landfill, and you’ll see tonnes of single-use plastics and miscellaneous waste improperly disposed of.

The situation looks dire, but there’s still a glimmer of hope for Planet Earth. That’s right! We’re talking about grassroots solutions.

It’s time for us to plant some seeds, and hopefully, one day, we’ll get to see them blossom.

From scientists to bloggers — there are individuals providing advice and raising awareness around the world.

There’s been a surge in technological answers to environmental questions. (*Side-eyes Elon Musk.)

But, there are also personal solutions such as lifestyle changes and inventive hacks cropping up all over the internet.

It’s just a matter of trying them out for yourself!

Reducing waste and responsible resource management appears to be the leading answer. Scientists believe that deforestation and agriculture are the top contributors to climate change, along with fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal (that’s how we make plastic). 

And the fight starts there.

Since greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere are difficult to contain, some think that raw materials are the best weapon against climate change.

Of course, when it comes to the fate of our planet, the best tactic is to approach it from all angles. 

We should tackle climate change on a larger scale: taking on the coal industry and switching to renewable energy. 

It helps when the local government steps up to the plate and makes profound changes — such as the single-use plastic ban in Victoria by 2023. 

And it’s pertinent that legislators take action instead of delegating all the responsibility to ordinary people who might not have the time or money to be perfectly plastic-free.

But, with that in mind, we can still make changes in our day-to-day habits.

The question is, how do we do that?

Presently, two growing movements are gaining popularity with environmentalists, namely “zero-waste living” and “the circular economy“.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy as one that maximises a product’s use, the drastic reduction of waste and responsible utilisation of raw materials.

On the other hand, zero-waste living means consciously removing non-recyclable products and exclusively using reusable items, cutting out a variety of plastics from your laundry, food packaging, and clothing.

Comparing both approaches, it’s evident that neither one is perfect. 

They each have pros and cons that might turn some people off while attracting others. However, they both have the same goal.

Fighting for resource efficiency

Seven billion. That’s the estimated number of people alive right now. (Yup. Those are a lot of zeroes.)

Seven billion also represents that same amount of mouths to feed and people to clothe and house. While the planet won’t be running out of room anytime soon, there’s only a finite amount of natural resources available.

Experts predict that water, rare earth metals and other prime materials are in danger of running out. Luckily, there’s still time to act, starting with responsible consumerism and companies incorporating the ecosystem into their business models. 

Policymakers aren’t the only ones responsible. Everyone should do their share in preserving our ecology for future generations through better resource management.

Unlike the old linear economy, which abuses virgin materials without any action plan for future reuse, a circular economy envisions a loop system maximising old items for new products.

A circular approach to resource management means materials remain in a closed-loop supply chain; utilising an object as much as its lifespan allows. 

Think cradle to cradle — a method of certifying a product based on its reusability, material reutilisation and perpetual cycle of reuse — instead of the current take, make, waste model.

Zero-waste living isn’t that much different, only that it emphasises eliminating as much rubbish as possible. To some, that seems like an impossible task. 

What about low-impact, then? Let’s take a look-see.

The low-impact movement offers a lenient alternative to waste and resource management if zero waste seems too drastic.

Low-impact equates to, well, reducing your environmental impact or carbon footprint. 

Compared with zero-waste, the low-impact movement is more accessible thanks to eco-friendly and affordable products (and less guilt-tripping to do the near-impossible.)

Pick A Method That Works For You

You really can’t go wrong with either of the two since they share a common raison d’etre, but if we’re to split hairs, the circular economy model fares better for protecting natural resources.

Since a circular economy requires reusing all materials, there’s less wastage as the products are utilised to their full potential, leaving less demand for raw materials.

Permanent sustainability

Fighting climate change isn’t limited to wiser resource allocation. 

The best solution to the ecological problem is focusing on overall sustainable development.

But what the hell is “sustainable development”?

Sustainable development involves everyone practising conscious consumerism or embracing eco-friendly concepts such as renewable energy, remanufacturing, and recycling.

Remember your three Rs? “Reduce, reuse, recycle” isn’t meant to just be catchy but to catch on. ♻️

Once they do, we move closer to achieving sustainability that matters.

Knowing that, how can both circular economy and zero-waste work in the long run?

A zero-waste lifestyle is promising as it incorporates sustainable practices like composting food waste and rejecting plastic bags. 

That could have a significant impact. However, eliminating waste is unrealistic for many.

Here, the looped manufacturing model has an advantage. By streamlining resource processing, a circular economy could become the poster child for sustainable development. 

Compared with a zero-waste mindset, transitioning into a circular economy is the more realistic outcome. 

It’s easier to imagine brands scrambling to redesign products when consumers are willing to voice their concerns with their wallets; saying no to an unethical and unsustainable manufacturing approach.

The degree of dedication required for participation makes it harder to jump on the zero waste bandwagon compared to a circular economy. 

Good intentions still need action, and eliminating waste from your life entirely could be harder to sustain.

By buying into a circular model, sustainability can become affordable and accessible for everyone. 

The more people participate and companies wake up, the greater the outcome will be for the environment.

Now, it’s all about selling the idea.

The desire for economic development shouldn’t outweigh environmental responsibility — a problem plaguing government and CEOs worldwide.

Adopting a circular economy en masse could be the solution.

Member countries of the United Nations committed to their conservation efforts to achieve sustainability by 2030. 

Individuals must buy into (or boycott) initiatives to make it work, and that’s where your actions matter.

Mastering waste management

Based on the title alone, nothing beats a zero-waste lifestyle when it comes to effective waste management. 

The problem is, that’s easier said than done. Let’s talk about the waste stream for a minute.

When defining what a waste stream means, it helps to imagine a straight line. Start from the source of the rubbish, all the way to recovery and disposal. 

Why is this significant?

Choosing between a zero-waste mentality and a circular economy (based on recycling or repurposing items) includes anticipating waste management. 

The question to ask yourself is: how you’ll dispose of your rubbish.

Let’s start with the zero-waste method. Here, the goal is simple. 

You vow to use organic and reusable materials, meaning you have next to no rubbish. In a perfect world, this would be simple to achieve, but this is a BIG ask under our current system. 

The prevailing trend of take, make, and waste means legitimately organic products are hard to find. That also means an increase in the amount of waste per year. 

Something’s got to change.

Understanding the concept of a waste hierarchy is necessary for distinguishing which of our disposal choices work better.

The waste hierarchy is an inverted triangle with waste avoidance at the top, waste disposal at the bottom and recycling/ reusing smack-bang in the middle.

Funnily enough, that could also be a description of the circular economy.

In adopting a circular production model, manufacturers will gather raw materials efficiently, creating reusable products and eliminating as much waste as possible. That’s one option worth exploring.

Ultimately, the circular economy might be more viable and accessible than zero-waste.

Time for an action plan

In the wise words of High school Musical, “We’re all in this together”.

Whether you prefer living a zero-waste life or want to stick with recycling, it all boils down to what will work for you in the long run.

As long as you’re mindful of your waste management and carbon footprint, then you’re doing something right.

Climate change is a global problem that needs concerted effort to address. That said, it won’t hurt to cut back on plastics, embrace renewable energy and choose brands that offer eco-friendly products, from time to time.

If you don’t know where to start, here at Spacewhite, we specialise in cleaning solutions that won’t harm the environment or your bank account.

We believe there is a kinder way to clean, so let us help you do just that. 🍃

Up Next

Does Zero Waste Seem Impossible? Easy Swaps To Get You Started

August 25, 2021   By Spacewhite Green Team