A Zero Waste Hierarchy for Developing Countries in Asia


Developing countries in Asia are struggling with the increasing amounts of waste generated and disposed. Those countries without the proper waste infrastructure and collection services often resort to open dumping or burning, thus causing environmental pollution and health problems.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is a concept that could be adopted in these developing countries in Asia. Zero Waste challenges the old way of thinking about waste as something that has no value and to be thrown away.

According to the Zero Waste Alliance: “Zero waste suggests that the entire concept of waste should be eliminated. Instead, waste should be thought of as a “residual product” or simply a “potential resource” to counter our basic acceptance of waste as a normal course of events. Opportunities such as reduced costs, increased profits, and reduced environmental impacts are found when returning these “residual products” or “resources” as food to either natural and industrial systems.”

Zero Waste is a whole system approach that changes the way materials flow through society and ultimately results in no waste. It involves reducing consumption, minimising wastage, maximising recycling and composting, and ensuring that products and materials are designed to use less resources and made to be reused, recycled or biodegradable.

Nature is the best Zero Waste model. There is no waste in nature and by-products produced become resources for others or are assimilated harmlessly back to the surroundings.

The Zero Waste Hierarchy

The Zero Waste hierarchy refers to the following options for managing waste (in order of priority):

1. Right in the beginning, waste should be prevented or reduced through redesign, reduced packaging and material use, and less consumption.

2. Waste should be reused, repaired or refurbished for their original use or for another purpose.

3. Waste should be recycled, reprocessed or composted into raw materials and useful resources.

4. Waste should be recovered for their energy content through waste-to-energy or incineration facilities.

5. After all of the above have been done, waste should be landfilled in a safe and sustainable manner.

Developing countries in Asia could adopt this Zero Waste hierarchy when planning and implementing waste policies, instead of focusing mainly on landfilling or incineration. Infrastructure, services, technologies and funding should be sourced and put in place to fulfill this hierarchy.

Benefits of Zero Waste

The benefits of Zero Waste is that it helps to conserve resources, reduce pollution, create jobs in waste management, reduce waste costs, increase the lifespan of landfills and incineration plants, and mitigate climate change.

Environmentalist and author, Paul Hawken, said that: “Zero Waste is an extraordinary concept that can lead society, business, and cities to innovative breakthroughs that can save the environment, lives, and money. Through the lens of Zero Waste, an entirely new relationship between humans and systems is envisaged, the only one that can create more security and well being for people while reducing dramatically our impact upon planet earth. The excitement is on two levels: it provides a broad and far-reaching vision, and yet it is practical and applicable today.”

Can Asia Achieve Zero Waste?

Zero is the goal but it is important not to be over-focused on the word ‘zero’. What matters is the concept behind Zero Waste. The road to Zero Waste for Asia is a long journey and it requires the efforts of individuals, communities, organisations, businesses and governments, working closely together towards Zero Waste.

Image credit: Recycle 1 by jaylopez

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