“Refuse what you do not need: Reduce what you do need; Reuse what you consume; Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse; and Rot (Compost) the rest” - Bea Johnson


The principle of zero waste refers to the minimization of waste production based on the concept of the 5 R’s - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. It constitutes a key part of circularity, which is the concept wherein the potential waste generated at the end is a point of manufacture. The principle of zero waste dates back to 1970 and before the rise in plastics during the 20th century, it was a practice that was naturally followed. As an increase in population in urban areas is seen, high rates of consumption have simultaneously been recorded in cities. In today’s high-consumption society, waste generation has increased in enormous amounts which has created massive pressure and challenges to manage waste suitably and sustainably.

Waste and consumed materials play a vital role in the generation of greenhouse gases, which impacts global warming and climate change. The amount of waste generated globally is shocking, with 146 million tons ending up in landfill annually in the USA alone, and global e-waste production reached 53.6 million tonnes between 2010 and 2019. It is recorded that one-third of the food produced for human consumption ends up as waste and globally weighs 1.3 billion tonnes annually. A zero-waste approach gives us clean seas, fresh air, fertile soils, sanitary environments, and sustainable consumption and production practices. It is recorded that A zero waste approach reduces waste management emissions by 84%, while recycling produces 9 times the job opportunities and composting twice the amount of job opportunities as compared to landfill disposals. By adopting a zero waste approach cities—minimizing and treating waste appropriately rather than dumping it in landfills—can save money, protect the environment, create jobs, reduce emissions, build resilience, and promote communities.

For the zero waste strategy to make an impact and for us to be able to reduce the generation of waste, action at all levels—on a large and small scale – is critical. Unfortunately for most, adopting zero-waste living is often perceived as a lifestyle choice for those who have time and money to invest in certain habits, products, and projects. However, in reality, there are communities all over the globe of different sizes, cultures, traditions, and economic standings that have adapted zero-waste strategies to help the global crisis we are facing. From an island town in Japan to right here in our city in Aotearoa, New Zealand we can see the steps taken by diverse communities, proving how zero waste can be woven into our communities and lives.




Capannori a small town in north Italy was the first town in Europe which proposed the zero-waste goal in 2007 led by a primary school teacher Rossano Ercolini now president of Zero-Waste Europe. They embarked on a movement to stop incinerator construction and convinced the local government to send zero waste to landfills by 2020. They introduced successful strategies which led to a 40% waste reduction, an increase in separate collection rates by 28%, a reduction of residual waste per capita by 57%, a reduction of waste tariffs of residents by 20%, and over 90 tonnes of items being dropped off at the reuse centre over 10 years.


ISLE OF BUTE, Scotland

Isle of Bute is an island found in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland with a tiny population (6020 as of the 2021 census) are on the road to inspiring, educating and empowering their residents with the skills and knowledge to manage waste and reduce waste generation sustainably and such is the story of Brute Brew Co. This microbrewery found on the Isle of Bute collects bread from the locals that would otherwise go into landfills and converts it into a good tasting beer. Their journey and story of reducing the generation of waste in landfills is one of the many on this island.



Indore is the largest city in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is a city that has been Open Defecation Free (ODF) and landfill-free since 2017. The city practices a 6-bin segregation system at the household and commercial level which includes dry waste, wet waste, plastic waste, e-waste, domestic sanitary waste, and domestic hazardous waste. The city has also undertaken the initiative to place wet waste processing plant where the waste is converted into energy to deal with wet waste and reduce the city’s dependency on fossil fuels. The plants installed convert the wet waste into 95% pure biogas called methane, which is further converted into Compressed Natural gas (CNG).



Kamikatsu is a tiny town with 1500 residents tucked away in the mountains of Shikoku islands, Japan. It was the first municipal in Japan to adapt to zero waste life in 2003. Since 2003 this town has adopted practices that have ensured the town about 80% of its way of reaching its carbon neutral goal by 2030. From the town recycling center, separating their garbage into 45 different categories to thrift shops where residents can drop off unwanted items for others to take for free. The town promotes sustainable food consumption through its Rise and Win Brewing Co, where brews are made from farm crops that would otherwise be dumped and local Cafe Polestar, where one dish served is a curry made with local vegetables.


KIEL, Germany

Kiel on its way to become a Zero.Waste.City | UBC Sustainable Cities  Commission

Kiel is the first certified zero waste city in Germany, with its zero-waste plan including 100 measures to cut waste of an average person by 15% and to halve residual waste that cannot be recycled by 2035 with homes, businesses, schools, and public bodies being part of their plan. Some of the measures taken up include grants of up to 200 euros to buy cloth nappies instead of disposable ones. The city provides free reusable bags at events and public bodies are banned from using single-use items. Another zero-waste initiative in Kiel involves turning hair from hairdressers into materials that filter oil from water.



Palmerston North is a city found in the North Island of New Zealand where a sector of society has taken steps to help and educate the community to adapt to a waste lifestyle through the Palmerston North Repair Café. The repair cafe opens once a month, where the community can come in to socialize and mend their treasured items. Customers can bring in their broken and damaged goods for the volunteers to repair them. The steps taken by this movement not only help reduce the waste going to landfill but also the people of the community. It is a perfect example of a zero-waste lifestyle.

While these are some examples, there are plenty more communities that have taken steps to adapt to a zero-waste lifestyle at an individual and large-scale level. This International Day of zero waste lets us appreciate the steps taken by others to battle the problems we face. Let us take a page from their books and take a step forward and make a change toward a zero-waste life.