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Hilal English

Moving Towards Zero-Waste Life Style

April 2023

This article discusses challenges to adopt zero-waste lifestyle in Pakistan and proposes strategies to achieve a sustainable and eco-friendly environment with the aim to highlight its significance and evaluate the current waste management system in the country.

Zero-waste lifestyle is focused on reducing waste generation, conserving resources, and minimizing the environmental impact of waste disposal. This concept involves the process of incorporating all materials back into the existing system rather than discarding them, recognizing the significance of existing resources rather than considering them as disposable, and maximizing the utilization of available materials.1
The idea of zero waste surpasses the conventional approach of merely recycling and composting products at the end of their life cycle. It entails a comprehensive consideration of the entire product’s life cycle, commencing with product design and emphasizing the judicious use, and management of materials to preserve their value, minimize environmental effects, and safeguard natural resources.
Opting to challenge the current waste practices is a powerful means of promoting the changes that individuals wish to witness in the world. Reduced demand will result in a corresponding decrease in production. To achieve zero-waste practices on a large scale, it is imperative to reevaluate the present priorities, policies, and economic systems.  On a smaller yet significant scale, the zero-waste lifestyle can be adopted to reestablish an individual’s authority over consumption patterns and foster sustainable living practices. The objective is not solely to concentrate on the individual impact, but also to prompt influential entities to take notice and enact necessary measures. 
Rejecting mass-produced packaging and single-use plastics exemplifies the zero-waste movement. The approach aims to eliminate waste by redesigning the entire lifecycle of products and materials. It seeks to optimize the recycling process, minimize the generation of waste, decreasing consumption, and promoting the design of products that can be reused, repaired, or recycled either in the market or in the natural environment.
Zero-waste Lifestyle in the Context of Pakistan
Pakistan is no exception to the global trend of an urban population driven by consumption, leading to excessive waste production and contributing to climate change, a significant existential threat. The resulting billions of tons of waste generated each year in Pakistan, mostly discarded in landfills or openly dumped, is worth billions of dollars but only 15% of it is recycled. This unsustainable waste management system not only leads to the loss of finite resources, but also poses major challenges due to civic illiteracy and lack of proper waste management systems. 
Zero-waste lifestyle is a potential solution that calls for our civic duty as a community to implement. The Government of Pakistan estimates that 87,000 tons of solid waste is generated per week, mostly from major metropolitan areas. Pakistan has the highest percentage of mismanaged plastic in South Asia with more than 3.3 million tonnes of plastic wasted each year.2 The major reasons are lack of awareness and weak waste management infrastructure.
The waste management infrastructure in Pakistan is inadequate, with only 50% of the waste being collected and less than 10% being recycled. The remaining waste is either burned, buried in landfills or dumped in open areas, causing environmental and health hazards. The situation demands a shift towards a zero-waste lifestyle that prioritizes the conservation of resources and the prevention of waste generation. The adoption of a zero-waste lifestyle is a relatively new concept in Pakistan and is not yet widely practiced. However, there is a growing trend of individuals and organizations promoting the principles of zero waste and advocating for sustainable living practices in the country. For example, there are small businesses that sell eco-friendly products and promote zero waste, as well as individuals who share their experiences and tips for reducing waste on social media platforms. 
This growth is attributed to the relative increase in awareness about environmental sustainability, waste management practices, and the implementation of supportive government policies and initiatives. Several government programs and policies are aimed at reducing waste, such as the "Clean and Green Pakistan" campaign and the ban on single-use plastic bags in various cities. However, the implementation and success of these initiatives are still in the early stages, and more efforts are needed to promote and encourage the adoption of a zero-waste lifestyle in Pakistan.
The management of materials, from collection and treatment to disposal, has had detrimental effects on both human health and the environment. It is imperative to adopt a more proactive approach to managing waste, by implementing sustainable and scientifically-backed practices for tracking, separating, and treating waste. This is a necessary shift away from the historically unregulated and unscientific methods that have been used in the past.3
Principles of Zero-waste Lifestyle
The 5 R's or the five core principles of zero waste were first coined by Bea Johnson, the ‘Zero Waste Home’ blogger, and are now widely adopted by the zero-waste community to promote sustainable living.4 These principles advocate for specific changes in everyday habits and routines, and are referred to as ‘endearing solutions’ towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The principles of zero waste can be applied to Pakistan to promote sustainable waste management practices and reduce environmental impact.

The resulting billions of tons of waste generated each year in Pakistan, mostly discarded in landfills or openly dumped, is worth billions of dollars but only 15% of it is recycled. This unsustainable waste management system not only leads to the loss of finite resources, but also poses major challenges due to civic illiteracy and lack of proper waste management systems.  

Refuse. The principle of refuse involves avoiding items that contribute to waste. In order to practice this, one should stop accepting unnecessary, non-recyclable, or single-use items that will quickly end up in the waste stream. By refusing these items, one can reduce the amount of waste one generates and reduce his/her environmental impact. For instance, avoiding single-use plastic bags, straws, and cutlery. Consumers can instead opt for reusable bags, water bottles, and containers.
Reduce. It involves minimizing waste generation. This can be achieved by being mindful of your consumption habits such as using less paper and packaging, buying products with minimal packaging, and reducing food waste by buying only what is necessary and consuming leftovers. 
Reuse. This principle promotes using items multiple times and finding new ways to reuse an item to prevent waste. It can include reusing containers, bags, and packaging by repairing and repurposing of items instead of replacing them. Also, donating or selling unwanted items rather than throwing them away.
Recycle. This principle involves ensuring that waste is recycled into new products rather than disposed of in landfills to conserve resources. This involves separating recyclable materials from regular waste and properly disposing hazardous waste, such as batteries and electronics.
Rot. It involves composting the organic waste, food waste and yard waste to create a compost for gardening and agriculture by creating a nutrient-rich soil. This reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and creates a valuable resource for gardening and farming.
By following the 5 R’s, you can significantly reduce your environmental impact and move towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Like many other developing countries, Pakistan is also facing severe environmental and public health issues due to the inadequate infrastructure for waste management.
Composition of Municipal Solid Waste in Pakistan
The values of physical composition of municipal solid waste (MSW) mentioned above include ash, bricks, and dirt 18%, glass 6%, textile 2%, cardboard 7%, food wastes 30%, leather 1%, paper 6%, plastic 9%, rubber 1%, metal 4%, wood 2%, and yard wastes 14%. Evidently, Pakistan is producing an excessive amount of solid waste on a daily basis, and more alarmingly, has become a major destination for hazardous waste disposal globally. The country generates approximately 49.6 million tons of solid waste a year, increasing more than 2.4 percent annually.5 The problem in urban Pakistan is that waste is viewed as unwanted and needs to be thrown away, resulting in a crisis of solid waste management.
Hence, zero-waste management is a complex process that starts before waste generation, aiming to reduce waste levels by regulating reduced packaging. This involves actions such as reusing, recycling, and segregation in homes, which can lower the amount of waste that needs to be collected and transported. Inorganic waste components can also be recycled in households, and kitchen waste can be composted for kitchen gardening. 

The waste management infrastructure in Pakistan is inadequate, with only 50% of the waste being collected and less than 10% being recycled. The remaining waste is either burned, buried in landfills or dumped in open areas, causing environmental and health hazards.

Moving beyond the household, pursuing a zero-waste approach rather than disposing and burning waste opens up many opportunities for entrepreneurship and business start-ups in the circular economy. This can create jobs and businesses, resulting in a healthier and a more environmentally friendlier city. Additionally, a lot of inorganic waste can be reused. Recycling of e-waste, along with recycling of plastic, wood, and metal-based materials, is a profitable industry with significant amounts of value addition globally. It is also necessary to connect the dots and build the necessary economic and environmental policies for success.
Way Forward
Pakistan needs to take urgent steps to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle to address the environmental and health hazards caused by waste accumulation.  It is a long-term process that requires a change in mindset, habits, and systems. Here are some steps that Pakistan can take to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle:
Increase Awareness. The first step is to educate people about the importance of reducing waste and how they can do it. The government, non-profit organizations, and individuals can organize workshops, seminars, and campaigns to raise awareness about the benefits of a zero-waste lifestyle.
Reduce Waste at the Source. One of the most effective ways to reduce waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. Pakistan can encourage businesses and individuals to reduce waste by using sustainable alternatives like reusable bags, bottles, and containers. The government can also implement such regulations that promote waste reduction by making policies which include imposing taxes on single-use plastic products and providing incentives for recycling.
Improve Waste Management. Pakistan can improve its waste management system by investing in infrastructure development like recycling facilities and composting sites. The government can also work with the private sector to create incentives for businesses that prioritize waste reduction. 
Encourage Composting. Composting is a great way to reduce waste and create a nutrient-rich soil environment. Pakistan can encourage households and businesses to compost their organic waste by providing training and resources.
Implement a Circular Economy. Circular economy is an economic system that aims to minimize waste and maximize the use of resources. Pakistan can adopt a circular economy by encouraging businesses to design products that are durable, repairable, and recyclable. The informal sector can also be integrated into the formal waste management system to increase recycling rates and create employment opportunities.
Promote Community Involvement. Zero waste is a collective effort that requires the involvement of the entire community. Pakistan can encourage community involvement by organizing clean-up campaigns, waste segregation drives, and other activities that promote waste reduction.
Research and development Sector. In Pakistan, there is a need for research and development to find innovative and sustainable solutions for waste management, such as composting and biodegradable products.
Pakistan is one of the most populous countries in the world, and as a result, generates a large amount of waste. By adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, individuals can minimize their contribution to the overall waste problem in the country. Individuals can contribute their efforts to address climate change, protect natural resources, and promote a more equitable and just society by reducing waste and living more sustainably. It is important for individuals, businesses, and policymakers to work together to promote sustainable waste management practices in Pakistan. By adopting the principles of zero waste, Pakistan can reduce waste generation, conserve resources, and minimize environmental impact.

The writer has done MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]

1.   "The 5 Principles of Zero Waste," Zero Waste Creative, accessed March 19, 2023, https://zero-waste-creative.com/the-5-principles-of-zero-waste
2.   Javeria Masood, “The good, the bad and the ugly of plastics in Pakistan”, UNDP, March 04, 2020, https://www.undp.org/pakistan/blog/good-bad-and-ugly-plastics-pakistan
3.   Rimsha Malik, “Zero Waste Lifestyles,” Pakistan Today, January 8, 2023, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2023/01/08/zero-waste-lifestyles/.
4.   "How Communities Have Defined Zero Waste," EPA, last updated October 26, 2022, https://www.epa.gov/transforming-waste-tool/how-communities-have-defined-zero-waste#:~:text=The%20zero%20waste%20approach%20seeks,into%20nature%20or%20the%20marketplace.
5.   “Pakistan - Country Commercial Guide”, International Trade Administration, published on November 10, 2022, https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/pakistan-waste-management