Zero Waste: Green Initiatives Forum Tackles the Big Questions

Yesterday, Green Initiatives sponsored a Zero Waste forum featuring Collective Responsibility’s Research Manager, William Morris. Alizée Buysschaert, Will Morris, and Antoine Moussali encouraged participants to embrace a zero waste lifestyle and look at innovative trends in waste reduction.

Green Initiatives Director and event host Nitin Dani opened the event with two simple questions:

“How many of you knew about ‘zero waste’ before you showed up tonight? Do any of you actually have a zero waste lifestyle?”

For the first question, the majority raised their hands and were at least vaguely familiar with a “waste-free” lifestyle. Those who take the plunge eliminate all non-recyclables, non-compostable material, and waste from their life – from car exhaust to one-use take-out containers – and use only sustainable alternatives.

But when Nitin asked the second question – “do any of you actually have a zero waste lifestyle”– only one of the speakers raised her hand. Alizée, founder of Zero Waste Shanghai, even admitted that she is not entirely waste-free, but has reduced her waste output by about 80% over the past year.

Looking at Nitin’s questions, why were the responses so different? Why, in a group of sustainability leaders and waste reduction experts, had only one chosen a waste-free lifestyle? The answer is surprisingly simple – it’s challenging.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle

Zero Waste Green Initiatives - Collective Responsibility
Panelists William Morris, Alizée Buysschaert, Antoine Moussali, and moderator Rob Han take questions from the audience at the Green Initiatives Zero Waste Forum. Image Credit: COLLECTIVE RESPONSBILITY

On her journey to becoming waste-free, Alizée had to make her own toothbrush and face cream, stop ordering take-out, cut out plastic packaging, and wash her dishes with soap nuts. Every step of her daily routine took a serious hit – from showering, to commuting, to buying groceries at her local wet market. Even after ten months of brand development, Alizée still has trouble finding sustainable meat and has only just recently found a recycling plant willing to process her razor blades.

In contrast to Alizée, Will Morris and Antoine Moussali offered more modest recommendations. Both emphasized the business opportunities in waste reduction and called for an entirely new attitude toward “waste.” Will, Research Manager at Collective Responsibility, began his presentation with a definition. “When we look up the word ‘waste’,” he said, “we see ‘useless’, ‘no purpose’, and ‘unwanted material’. We should see ‘reusable’, ‘something with value’.”

He pointed to informal recyclers who have made waste collection and processing into a business, and three innovative companies involved with sustainable packaging, food sharing, and bioenergy: Ecovation, OLIO, and Bio-Bean.

Antoine Moussali, founder of Sineo Packaging, provided a more pessimistic outlook on the feasibility of zero waste, but outlined clear strategies to reduce wasteful packaging. His solutions touched on multiple stakeholders, including consumers, large online shopping hubs like Tao Bao, and product designers. “We need to educate customers about unnecessary wrapping,” he said, “and charge logistics companies extra for wasteful packaging.”

He ended his talk with a note on product design: “All models should be simple.” Under his definition, simple design means no unnecessary plastic, biodegradable wrapping, and minimal packaging.

The Real Challenge

Following a question and answer period, the speakers agreed on their biggest challenge – convincing stakeholders:

  • Manufacturers need a better incentive to design simpler products and use recyclable materials.
  • Government officials need to better monitor businesses, and enforce environmental regulations.
  • Consumers, most importantly, need to pressure manufacturers, shipping companies, and government regulators, who design products and services to meet their needs.

After some basic waste education, consumers could easily make small adjustments to their daily routine. That doesn’t necessarily mean cutting all waste. They don’t need to make their own toothbrushes or wash with soap nuts, but they could order in bulk, skip plastic-wrapped produce, and approach a ‘limited waste’ lifestyle.

This event recap was written by Alison Schonberg, Research Analyst at Collective Responsibility.

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