THE ZERO WASTE PHILOSOPHY

In our consumer society, everything has to go fast and be as easy to use as possible. It is thanks to these new needs that so-called “disposable” products have invaded our homes. Unfortunately, these products have an economic but also and above all ecological cost. Let’s not forget that we can do without take-away food to live without air to breathe or water to drink. The waste we produce every day pollutes our air, soil and water.

In order to limit the weight of our garbage cans and thus preserve the environment, we need to review the world around us. More than a concept or a trend, zero waste is a philosophy that applies at every moment, in each of our decisions. It affects all aspects of life, both personal and professional, individually and in the community. In concrete terms, being “zero waste” means, at best, producing no waste at all, or at least optimizing the use of a product destined for destruction.

THE ZERO WASTE MOVEMENT

The first zero-waste communities began to be structured in the 1990s within the Zero Waste International Alliance (http://zwia.org), with the desire to go beyond recycling. In France, the National Center for Independent Information on Waste (CNIID) was created in 1997. It was later transformed into Zero Waste France, a national association promoting a zero-waste, zero-waste society (www.zerowastefrance.org).

In 2004, the first definition of zero waste was adopted internationally by the Planning Group of the Zero Waste International Alliance.

That same year, France made commitments to prioritize prevention over recycling, with the appearance of the first National Waste Prevention Plan.

However, the one who democratized the movement and made it known throughout the world, while at the same time allowing each household to integrate it and make it their own is Bea Johnson, the author of a successful book that I will present to you later. Thanks to her, many people have taken the plunge, without even having any particular ecological sensibility. Sometimes, zero waste is just a way to save money and live better with a small budget by avoiding waste in all its forms (food, energy, financial). Waste in English means “waste” but also “wastage”. Zero waste is therefore the fact of not generating any waste or wastage in one’s daily life.

PRODUCE NO WASTE

The idea is to produce no waste from the start. This means completely removing the trash from your life and your home. Does this seem impossible to you? At first glance, yes! Especially when you know what a trash can contains!

The composition of a trash can

Here is the average composition of a garbage can1 in an average French household :

  • >29% organic waste (peelings, meal leftovers, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc.).
  • >25 % of paper, cardboard, newspapers, food packaging made of cardboard
  • >18% others (complex materials, textiles, hazardous waste)
  • >13% glass
  • >11% plastic
  • >4% metal

The good news is that the vast majority of this content is fully recyclable. The bad news is that the rest is not and that there are no good solutions to deal with this type of waste today.

Where does our waste go?

The recent garbage collectors’ strike in Marseille seems to me to be a strong symbol of our relationship with waste. For fifteen days, against the backdrop of a pension reform, garbage accumulated in the streets. In the various reports devoted to the subject, we saw citizens, very upset, explaining that it was unacceptable, that this nuisance, both visual and olfactory, was leading to the proliferation of pests as close as possible to homes. Their anger was quite understandable.

Still, I was shocked. First of all by the mounds of garbage in the streets, and then by the outraged reactions of the inhabitants who, by attacking the unions, the garbage collectors or the government, had not grasped the problem at all. Accustomed to the fact that the waste they generate every day magically disappeared, they did not even realize the incredible amount of waste they were producing.

One would have thought that to have them in front of us would have questioned them :

  • Am I the one producing all this waste?
  • Is it normal that I produce so many?
  • What happens to this waste once it is collected?

But nobody questioned it. The only question that kept coming up was, “When are the garbage men going back to work? »

Hide this waste that I cannot see

It’s obvious that waste is something we don’t want to see. It leads back to dirt, to unhealthy conditions. It is a taboo subject. Moreover, our garbage bags, always opaque, are often dark in color. Once filled, we put them in plastic garbage cans that are just as opaque, and these garbage cans are emptied, by others, into closed garbage trucks. They then set off on a mysterious journey that will make them disappear, forgotten by all. Yet remember: nothing disappears, everything is transformed. And the transformation of waste affects ecosystems and our health.

Incinerators

In France, we have 126 incinerators throughout the country.

Incineration of non-recycled waste is the preferred solution in France. At first glance, it is a rather smart option, because the heat generated by this incineration is stored and used to produce energy, such as electricity or heating. This transformation is therefore rather positive. But there is a flip side to it, and not the least important one.

To begin with, the fumes released during incineration are a source of dioxin emissions into the atmosphere, even if these fumes are called “purified” because they comply with regulations regarding their rate of toxic emissions into the air. The consequences on health and the environment are little known, but certain.

Another source of pollution, even more problematic, is clinker and REFIOM. The first are the solid residues from the combustion of household waste, and the second are the residues from the purification of household waste incineration flue gases. Part of the slag is used for road construction, but the rest is buried. And REFIOM, which is highly toxic, is impossible to treat. Like radioactive waste, they are stored in “hazardous waste storage facilities” (ISDD).

Non-hazardous waste landfills or storage centers

It is obvious that the inconveniences inherent to public dumpsites are numerous and well known to local residents who are unlucky enough to live next door. The ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency) counts 230 of them in France. But this is without counting the wild dumps, which are nearly 600.

Visual and olfactory pollution, but also soil and groundwater pollution are the main drawbacks of these last-chance landfills. They exist for want of anything better. Indeed, some waste cannot be revalorized either through direct recycling or by creating energy through incineration. Something has to be done about it. And that something is simply to store them while waiting… But while waiting for what? A miraculous solution to finally revalorize them? Or their natural decomposition? You should know that a plastic bottle takes between 100 and 1,000 years to decompose. You might as well know that your great-grandchildren will most likely fall on your very first toothbrush!

Hazardous waste storage

But what about so-called hazardous waste, such as REFIOM or nuclear waste? Well, it’s more or less the same thing! It goes without saying that landfills and burials are much more controlled and protected than for non-hazardous waste, which can be left in the open. But their end-of-life is exactly the same: they are stored while waiting… The problem is that their toxicity and radioactivity do not last 100 years, but several thousand years. A beautiful poisoned gift for the generations to come!

So what’s the solution? Well, it always comes back to the same thing: not generating waste! And to help you do that, here are some very simple rules.

THE 5 R RULE

The 5 R’s are the 5 rules that will easily guide you towards zero waste. They were proposed by Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home2.

Refuse: Refuse anything superfluous. For example, the plastic bag in the store. In this case, you must have your own canvas bag.

Reduce: Its consumption. This can be reducing unnecessary purchases, meat consumption or carbon footprint by using more bike and less car.

Reuse : Rather than throwing away, consider reusing. For example, prefer washable towels to disposable paper towels.

Recycle: You will notice that recycling only comes in fourth place and this is no coincidence. Indeed, recycling is not the solution, since it requires a lot of resources and most recyclable materials are not infinitely recyclable. They therefore end up like ordinary waste, whether incinerated or buried.

Giving back to the earth: This is called composting or vermicomposting. Your peelings and meal leftovers can also be given to chickens, pigs, and other backyard animals.

INTERVIEW WITH BÉA JOHNSON

I begin this series of portraits by Béa Johnson, the one who brought zero waste to France. This French woman, born in Besançon, grew up in Avignon before flying to the United States as an au pair. There she met her husband, an American, and became the happy mother of two boys. She then began living the American way of life with the big house, two refrigerators, cars and many objects inherent to this way of life. But Bea Johnson will radically change her life in 2008. She tells us how and why in this interview she kindly granted me in January 2020, for which I thank her warmly.

LEARN HOW TO RECYCLE PROPERLY

According to the latest figures provided by the ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency)4 , 568 kg of waste are thrown away per year per inhabitant: 51% of this waste goes into the household waste garbage can, 20% is sorted by households (yellow or green garbage cans) and 29% is deposited in waste collection centers.

Although in 10 years, selective sorting has reduced household waste by 0.3%, we are still very far from zero waste! Yet it is easy to reduce the quantity of waste, by learning how to sort it better so that it can be reused in the best possible way.

Now that you know the composition of your garbage, let’s see how to sort at the source. Here are some simple examples.

Valorize organic waste

As we have seen, organic waste represents 29% of the contents of the grey garbage can. To recover this biowaste, the Green Energy Transition Law of August 17, 2015 provides for: “[…] the development of source separation of organic waste, until it is generalized to all waste producers before 2025, so that every citizen has a solution at his disposal that allows him not to throw his biowaste in the residual household waste, so that it is no longer eliminated but recovered5. »

This law therefore assumes that all individuals, local authorities and businesses have a new sorting bin in which to deposit their food waste and that it is then collected, as is already the case for plastic and cardboard. The objective is to recycle this biomass through composting, spreading or methanization. The compost becomes a powerful soil for plants, and the spreading of the compost enriches agricultural plots or avoids mosquitoes in sensitive areas. Finally, methanization produces energy in the form of electricity or biomethane, a 100% renewable gas.

Don’t throw away your paper and cardboard anymore!

Indeed, it is a resource that can still be used before it ends up in the (good) sorting bin. The back of the papers can become drafts for your children’s drawings. As for the cardboard, they can be used to make creations, furniture or to balance your compost.

If you end up throwing them away, make sure you put them in the right garbage can! Most garbage cans dedicated to the collection of paper and cardboard are yellow. If this is not the case in your area, check with the city hall or the organization in charge of waste collection.

Once this waste is collected, it is sorted, bundled and sold to papermakers. Be careful, however, not all paper can be recycled. This is particularly the case for so-called processed papers, such as photo paper, tracing paper or receipts. In addition, the fiber of the paper loses quality with each new use. This is why recycling paper and cardboard is not THE solution, but a solution while waiting to reduce waste at the source.

Plastic is not fantastic

After almost 50 years of being a hot topic in the industry, plastic is now being singled out. It must be said that it presents a major environmental risk. I will come back to this in more detail in part 4.

Only food plastics are sorted! So do not throw toys or other plastic pens into the sorting bin. They will not be sorted and will end up being incinerated.

Attention, in some municipalities, all food plastics can be put in the sorting bin, while in others, only plastic bottles are recycled. Find out more!

Finally, unlike paper, I do not advise you to recycle your plastic waste to make artistic creations. The sanitary danger is real and still too little known to this day.

Metal is recyclable for life

Metal, whether aluminum or steel, is infinitely recyclable. So, above all, dispose of this waste well in the sorting bin. It’s a resource that can be sold at very good prices, because it’s used by the canning and preserving industry, among others, but also in automobile construction. Sorting centers are therefore fond of it and this is good news for our wallets. Indeed, waste sorting unions charge for this service either to the municipality or to the agglomeration in which you live, and this billing is passed on to you in your taxes: the famous “taxe poubelle” (garbage tax). But the bill becomes lighter with the revenues from the resale of the sorted materials.

To make it simple: the sorting syndicate bills your town hall 100 € for the sorting service. But on its side, the syndicate resells the sorted raw materials for 50 €. The new invoice sent to the town hall will no longer be 100 €, but 50 €. And your garbage tax will be lowered accordingly. Keep in mind, however, that the more waste to be sorted, the higher the bill!

You should also know that cans and preserves, although infinitely recyclable, pose health problems that are still unknown, including bisphenol A (an organic compound also found in plastic). I’ll talk about this in the chapter devoted to zero waste cooking.

Recycled or consigned glass?

Glass is the big winner in sorting. Composed essentially of sand, a healthy raw material, it is safe for human use and can be recycled indefinitely. However, it takes a lot of energy to manufacture and then recycle glass.

To preserve resources, we assist in the return of the deposit, which you may have known as a child.

The deposit allows the infinite use of already manufactured bottles. Washing glass bottles requires four times less energy than recycling them. Let’s hope that the deposit will develop and become a daily habit again.

Others

Once all these products are properly recycled and reclaimed, your trash should contain only 18% waste.

As there is currently no solution for non-recyclable plastics, you have the choice of throwing them away or permanently removing them from your trash.

  • > Textiles and shoes, even if damaged and perforated, must be deposited in the containers provided for this purpose (type Le Relais or La Fibre du Tri).
  • >Batteries and bulbs should be returned in the boxes provided for this purpose at the entrance to supermarkets or DIY stores.
  • >All hazardous waste, such as batteries, hazardous household products, etc., must be taken to the waste disposal site.
  • >Finally, all “large garbage” must absolutely be dropped off at the garbage dump or on the sidewalk on bulky collection days.

NOT TO GENERATE WASTE

The second objective of Zero Waste is addressed, which is well present in the philosophy of zero waste, although poorly represented in its French translation. When I talk about waste, you probably immediately think of food waste. Yes, it is part of it, of course. But it also refers to the waste of natural resources. We are constantly over-consuming these resources and the frustrating thing is that it comes from a monster waste that could be avoided.

The day of the world overtaking

The day of the global overrun is the date on which we have consumed all the resources that the planet is capable of providing in one year. In 1998, it fell on September 29th, in 2018 it came two months earlier, on July 29th6. Stationary in 2019, the ecological deficit is likely to widen again in 2020.

In 2019, we lived on credit from July 29th, which means we used more resources than the planet is capable of producing. By doing so, we are preventing it from regenerating properly. The result is a scarcity of natural resources, the disappearance of several thousand species, plants and organisms, which are suffering a sixth mass extinction.

Avoid food waste

Food waste in France means 10 million tons of consumable food thrown away each year by all the players in the chain: producers, distributors and consumers. That’s 32 kg of food thrown away every year by a single person. 32 kg, or about 50 meals! We therefore throw the equivalent of one month’s worth of meals in the trash every year. I’ll give you another figure that’s even more telling: food wastage costs about €160 per year per person. A whole shopping cart thrown in the trash!

Avoid waste of natural resources

Natural resources are numerous and although some appear to be constantly renewable and renewed, in reality they are not completely renewable and some are even very limited resources.

“A renewable resource is a natural resource whose stock can be replenished over a short period of time on a human scale, renewing itself at least as fast as it is consumed7. “Renewable natural resources are, for example, water, air, soil and food.

E NO WASTE GENERATION

The second objective of Zero Waste is addressed, which is well present in the philosophy of zero waste, although poorly represented in its French translation. When I talk about waste, you probably immediately think of food waste. Yes, it is part of it, of course. But it also refers to the waste of natural resources. We are constantly over-consuming these resources and the frustrating thing is that it comes from a monster waste that could be avoided.

The day of the world overtaking

The day of the global overrun is the date on which we have consumed all the resources that the planet is capable of providing in one year. In 1998, it fell on September 29th, in 2018 it came two months earlier, on July 29th6. Stationary in 2019, the ecological deficit is likely to widen again in 2020.

In 2019, we lived on credit from July 29th, which means we used more resources than the planet is capable of producing. By doing so, we are preventing it from regenerating properly. The result is a scarcity of natural resources, the disappearance of several thousand species, plants and organisms, which are suffering a sixth mass extinction.

Avoid food waste

Food waste in France means 10 million tons of consumable food thrown away each year by all the players in the chain: producers, distributors and consumers. That’s 32 kg of food thrown away every year by a single person. 32 kg, or about 50 meals! We therefore throw the equivalent of one month’s worth of meals in the trash every year. I’ll give you another figure that’s even more telling: food wastage costs about €160 per year per person. A whole shopping cart thrown in the trash!

Avoid waste of natural resources

Natural resources are numerous and although some appear to be constantly renewable and renewed, in reality they are not completely renewable and some are even very limited resources.

“A renewable resource is a natural resource whose stock can be replenished over a short period of time on a human scale, renewing itself at least as fast as it is consumed7. “Renewable natural resources are, for example, water, air, soil and food.

Conversely, rarer materials, also known as fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, gas, and certain components used in particular in the manufacture of computers and smartphones, are not renewable. And it’s no secret: scarcity is close for some of these resources (especially oil) and their use is dangerous for nature (especially coal).

To avoid wasting these resources, some habits will have to be changed. We will come back to this later.

 

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