Not only must we recycle waste, but we must also reduce the waste that we generate since, from the environmental point of view, the best waste is that which is not generated at all.

In the recycling chapter, we reviewed the waste strategy or hierarchy that we should follow (reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery, and disposal). Now, if recycling is necessary, waste reduction – or prevention – is even more significant (first option in the pyramid). We should even prioritize not generating or producing waste over recycling it. In a society where the culture of “use and throw away” is increasingly widespread and where products become waste in an instant, changing our habits is incredibly difficult.

When I started to think about writing this post (and also in the book), I was in doubt whether to base it on waste reduction and prevention rather than recycling. However, how the hell would I explain that we have to reduce waste if we only recycle only 30-40% of our garbage? Who would read the book? So, I chose to address the basic principles of waste and explain the importance of recycling, and at least to dedicate a chapter (this one) to waste reduction.

The best waste is that which is not generated

Waste reduction, or prevention, is the set of measures or actions that are adopted before a substance, material or product becomes waste and that contribute to reducing: the amount of waste (including reuse and increasing the product lifetime), its negative impact on people or the environment and the content of dangerous or harmful[1] substances.

These measures or actions must be taken not only by the users or consumers of the goods but also by the industry and the manufacturers, whose responsibility in the different stages such as product conception, design, and distribution is essential.

Prevention in the kitchen: The fried egg example

This example that I’ve always liked

The fried egg is the product and the oil is the waste, these are the available options:

RECYCLE: Oil waste is produced when cooking a fried egg in a pan. We can put this oil in a pot and take it to the recycling bin or Recycling Point.

REUSE: Once the fried egg is cooked, we can save the surplus oil to reuse it, for example, to fry future eggs.

REDUCE: Keep non-stick pans in good condition so that we hardly need any oil to cook the egg. If we’re feeling particularly daring, we might even cook the egg in the oven or the microwave, thus reducing the use of oil (waste) as much as possible.

This example perfectly illustrates the options that exist in order to reduce the amount of waste that we generate; sometimes it’s just a matter of will. Even though environmental awareness among consumers is increasing, other measures should be adopted so that companies and manufacturers incorporate specific waste prevention actions.

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Something that stands out in the industrial field is the planned obsolescence of some products, which are designed to function for only a certain number of years thus forcing the consumer to buy again (turning them into a repeating customer). The sectors that should take urgent measures to extend the lifetime of their products are: those that manufacture household appliances (electrical and electronic equipment), furniture, textiles, tires, and packaging.[2]

The environmental benefits of waste prevention are greater than those of recycling because, if we don’t produce that waste in the first place, we reduce energy consumption by 100%, natural resources are not used, water and air are not polluted, waste isn’t sent to landfill or for incineration, among other benefits. However, we must also highlight the economic benefits that come from not needing to treat or recycle waste.

Between reducing and recycling there is also a middle ground: reusing waste or objects and, sometimes with a simple repair, an object can be reused again.

The environmental benefits of reducing waste are greater than those of recycling

In the international arena, there is an exciting zero waste generation program. At the municipal level, there are several interesting initiatives, such as second-hand markets, Recycling Points for waste recovery, guides featuring shops for repair or resale, workshops to learn how to repair objects or even purchase-sale applications for used objects.

Want to know more?

 The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019

The incredible story of a plastic spoon, Greenpeace (ENG)

i Blog de Bea Johnson sobre cómo vivir sin generar residuos (ENG y FR)

http://www.zerowastehome.com

i Lauren Singer’s blog about how to live a zero waste life (ENG) / And also in El País (CAST)

http://www.trashisfortossers.com/

http://smoda.elpais.com/articulos/la-neoyorquina-que-consiguio-vivir-sin-generar-basura/5690

i Catalan zero waste strategy, citizen initiative (CAT)

http://estrategiaresiduzero.cat/

Planned obsolescence, ARTE, TV3, RTVE (ENG)

i Millor que nou 100% vell, guide to repair shops, second-hand markets and workshops in the Metropolitan Area of ​​Barcelona (CAST)

 http://millorquenou.cat/es

Recuprat, waste recuperation program at a Recycling Point, El Prat del Llobregat (CAT)

[1]. Estate waste prevention programme, Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, Spanish Government.
[2]. Estate waste prevention programme, Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, Spanish Government.

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