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J&B Recycling Knowledge

Carbon or zero waste

What is more important for the environment: driving down carbon or eliminating waste?

As leaders, businesses and individuals around the world take threats to the environment more seriously, many people are asking the same important question: what can we do to best help our planet?

Many individuals and businesses are striving to become carbon neutral by balancing their CO2 emissions against equivalent amounts of carbon savings. People are also embracing the idea of zero waste and the circular economy – not sending items to landfill but recycling, reusing or composting them.

Both approaches are valid, but is there a case for prioritising one over the other?

Benefits of reducing your carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the production, use, and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. These gasses trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming.

Without reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our planet will continue to be harmed, public safety will be at risk, and more climate disasters caused by pollution will occur.

Here are a few ways you can reduce your carbon footprint:

  • Reduce your energy consumption. For example, turn down the heat, turn off your lights when you’re gone, and turn off your electronics when they are not in use.
  • Drive efficiently, if at all. You can do many things while driving to reduce emissions. For example, go easy on the gas and the brakes, or consider using cruise control on long drives. Also, carpool wherever you can! The RAC have produced a helpful guide on how to reduce your driving emissions >> click here to view.
  • Invest in renewable energy sources, such as solar panels. Or if this isn’t possible make sure your energy provider supplies ‘green energy’.
  • Consider buying energy-saving appliances.
  • Look for the Energy Star label. The items may cost more initially, but the energy savings will pay back the extra investment within a few years.

Benefits of eliminating waste

By reducing the amount of waste you create, you help prevent pollution and protect the environment. You also limit the amount of waste going to landfill, preserve natural resources and save money.

Making a new product emits greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and requires a lot of materials and energy - raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and the product must be fabricated then transported to wherever it will be sold. In addition, more than 90% of biodiversity loss is due to the extraction and processing of natural resources. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources and protect the environment.

While environmental reasons are often talked about the most, reducing waste can also have a positive effect on your finances. By purchasing only what you really need or reusing items, you can also save money through proper waste awareness.

We need to fundamentally transform the way we produce, use, and consume our products and food. Eliminating waste through the development of a circular economy offers a framework for such a transformation. If we eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature, biodiversity can thrive and we can help reduce greenhouse gases.

Can waste really be eliminated?

Chris Cheeseman, professor of materials resources engineering at Imperial College London, said: ‘The term “zero waste” has been used lots over the last 10 years or so, but what does it actually mean? Of course, it sounds great – it’s a wonderful aspiration – but if it means that no waste is ever created, then that is a totally unrealistic goal. In my view, it is an unachievable, aspirational target.’

‘A much better and realistic way forward, in my view, is to maximise the circular economy as much as possible. That has to be the way forward, particularly if this uses local circular economy infrastructure.

‘There are huge opportunities for innovation and local economic development. Then the residual waste that remains must be beneficially used.

‘This could involve using residual waste to generate energy combined with extensive resource extraction and reuse of any solid ash residues. I don’t think this would be defined as zero waste, but it seems to me to be the most realistic option. And it’s what the industry is working to achieve.’

In conclusion

In reality, it is not about a choice between carbon neutrality or zero waste. The two ideals are more like bedfellows than rivals. Net zero can never be achieved without the help of the circular economy - driving down waste drives down emissions too.

Perhaps one day we’ll find a more encompassing phrase to convey both ideals. One slogan that is gaining in popularity is ‘low-impact lifestyle’, which seems to merge the twin concepts of decreasing our waste output and reducing our carbon footprint.

Here at J&B Recycling, we work with you to ensure your waste is managed responsibly and sustainably. J&B Recycling are based in the North of England. Our commercial collection services operate from the Scottish Borders down to Hull and North Yorkshire. Our main areas for collecting and processing commercial waste include Teesside (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton), Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside and Northumberland. Get in touch for more information and to request a quote.

Related Content

- Our top tips to operate a more environmentally friendly business
- Environmental and Business Benefits of Recycling Your Office Paper
- Why is recycling good for the environment?

- Why is recycling Important for Biodiversity?

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