Who’s the driver?

The concept of zero waste challenges the perception of waste from the old days when waste was something to be thrown away, with no value at the end of its life cycle. In fact, the entire concept of waste should be eliminated and waste should be regarded as a valuable resource. We should take nature as an example of the best a zero waste model. There is no waste in nature, life builds up and breaks down, is used and re-used endlessly and harmlessly.  The waste of one species is the food for another. A dead tree becomes the home for a bird, fertilizer for other plants, and food for termites. Nature is fascinating in the way it functions and how it designs its systems. This is how “Biomimicry 3.8”, studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and process to solve the human problems and creates the product and the process that no one ever even thought to create before.

We humans are the only species that produces waste, taking for granted Mother Nature. In the industrial world, we extract resources from the earth, produce and use what we want, and even make business from the use of natural resources.  Yet we don’t stop there; we even returned the harmful wastes we produce back to the earth.  Some people might blame or wonder why deforestation, water shortages, declining biodiversity, climate change, and earth quake happen frequently compared to the last decades. Some may even blame it on the earth itself, when in fact it is no one other than us.

Zero waste occurs when a given process has no output that is not used. Many think of waste is just solid waste, but energy, air and water should be accountable as waste also. Zero waste maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption and ensures products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled or biodegradable. Zero waste creates many business opportunities and innovative processes and ways to return resources back to the life cycle loop. Waste, is not actually waste; it is a resource.

So, what is zero landfill? Are the concepts of zero waste versus zero landfill the same? According to the Waste Management website, a zero landfill goal has a concrete, tangible end-state, while the concept of zero waste requires continuous improvement. A zero landfill initiative considers the recycling of non-product outputs, while at the same time exploring other options that are higher on the waste solutions hierarchy.  On the other hand, the zero waste target is to eliminate all non-product outputs entirely from the system or to reuse non-product outputs back to the system. That way, there is nothing left on the curb.

Can we achieve zero waste? Yes We Can.

The most important concept behind zero waste is the goal of eliminating output that is detrimental and it should not be overwhelmed by the word “zero”.  Even though some people believe it is “easier said than done”, we must remember that we cannot it do alone as individuals; it depends on each and every one of our efforts, including support of communities, organizations, businesses and the government, working closely together towards zero waste. Everyone should have a social responsibility to reduce the environmental impacts of our used products.  We should not wait to be driven by someone else.

The idea of “who is driving the bus?” amuses me and leads me to think that all stakeholders in the life cycle loop are basically waiting for each other or simply waiting for the driver to take the lead. The worse scenario is one in which everyone just points the finger at each other.

The more important question is that even if we have the driver, are we following? Can the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Principle drive?

 Thomas Lindhqvist formally implemented the concept of EPR, in a 1990 report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment.  Over the years, many countries have adopted the EPR principles such as Europe, Canada and North America and Asia. EPR, also known as Product Stewardship, is placed upon the manufacturer to reduce the environmental impacts of the product at each stage of the product’s life starting from raw materials extraction, production, packaging and distribution through the end use and final disposal phases as shown in Figure below. It also focuses on take-back, recycle, and reuse disposal of the product; which later converts the linear “cradle-to-grave” production and distribution chain into a “cradle-to-cradle” system. However, ERP is no longer focuses specifically on manufacturers and has extended the framework responsibilities to all the players in the product chain.

Singapore is a relatively small country, with a land area of approximately 707 sq. km. Its population grew from about 2 million to 6 million in 2012. At the same time, the quantity of solid waste disposed per year grew from 1,200 tones per year in 1970 to 7,600 tones per day in the year 2000. That’s a huge problem for such a small country with limited land resource for incineration plant and landfills. In 2008, 57% of all waste disposed in Singapore was considered domestic waste – mainly from paper, metal and plastic and the number keeps on increasing.

It shows that there is potential to reduce packaging waste in the municipal solid waste stream. In the review of Singapore Green Plan (SGP), one of the focus groups suggested that Singapore should adopt the principle of EPR to reduce the waste coming from packaging, as well as reduce the amount of packaging in their product. The National Environmental Agency (NEA) would not implement ERP as legislation because it would increase the cost of manufacturing and those costs would be gradually passed on to the consumer. However, some manufacturers voluntarily agreed to participate in ERP.

Is there a way for manufacturer to sustain economic growth and minimize their impact on the environment at the same time? Some companies have proven that they can not only reduce their impact on the environment, but also increase the revenue together.

Boncafe International Pte Ltd is a local gourmet coffee in Singapore.  As business grew over the years, the company noticed that 33% increase in usage of packaging and in turn, the production cost increased by 3.3%.  As a responsible company, they agreed to implement the ERP and agreed to sign on Singapore Packaging Agreement. The company managed to change the thickness of the packaging material from 140 to 120 microns without compromising on the look and quality of the product. As shown in the figure below, the changes they made reduced material usage by 14% and cost by 12.9%. These small changes made a huge different on environmental and business aspects of the company.

This leads me to another point, if we don’t know “who’s the driver?”, maybe a better question is “who can really drive the bus?” In ERP, could it be the Manufacturer or the Consumer?

Governments could not implement and make ERP a mandatory legislation because of industry concerns that the new legislation would dry up business cost and would increase the price of the good.

In Monroe Country, Rochester, recycling is mandatory for residents and business/institutions. However, I believe not everyone is aware of that.  I believe the reason for this is due to the lack of transparent information, and media coverage. Recycling also plays a role in the product life cycle loop, and although it is not inside the circle , it is still part of it.

I believe government should tighten the laws and regulation on manufacturers and put extra pressure on leading manufacturers or retailers in order to make zero waste a reality. For instance, when Wal-Mart announced that they would only accept products within the required carbon footprint level, almost the suppliers modified their products according to the define requirements. The consumer has also responsibilities to consistently provide feedback to manufacturers when a product deliberately impact on the environment in a negative way.

As the principle of ERP, everyone has these responsibilities. It depends on the individual perception, awareness and initiatives to reach the goal of zero waste.

So, we should not wait for the driver because we are all the drivers.


Sustainable Consumption

Consumers play a central role in sustainable development, sustainable production and consumption.  Sustainable consumption is considered in economic, environmental and social terms. It should also take into account the social and ethical dimensions of products and how they are produced as well as their ecological impacts. In that way, production and consumption are related to each other.

Humans consume for basic survival and most of us go beyond that to consume for our life style. As technology advances, our life style has become more complicated Mother earth has been exploited by us to length and depth. Life has evoluted and similarly, our life style and so now, if we are asked to consume sustainably, will it be too hard for us?

Sustainable consumption requires the consumer to be the stake holders of the products and life style they want to pursue. They want the consumers to be aware of the impact of their choices and actions and how the impact can bring upon on a society as a whole and decide responsibly the environment consideration should be incorporated to the purchase decision such as product cost, durability and quality. There are some challenges relating to Sustainable consumption as there are no clearly defined benchmarks. For example,

  1. What are the consumers’ values related to Sustainable Consumption and purchasing?
  2. How do the consumers determine what is a sustainable product?
  3. How do the consumers incorporate sustainability in their purchasing decisions?

The answers will depend on individuals. Some are willingly to pay more on green products and some may consider if the price and the quality are comparable with other items. For some, their decisions are influenced by friends, family and the community and the media which play the greatest role in product publicity.

For example, there is one company called ENVIROFRIENDLY printing.com that produces environmental friendly products and utilize renewable energy resources. They produce Holidays Greeting cards, Flyers and Business cards at reasonable price.

When their product life cycle is studied, the following steps are observed:

Raw Material Starting from the raw materials (input) of the product, they use 100% recycled paper, 100 % Wind Power processed paper and Forest Friendly Papers from the suppliers such as NEW LEAF paper and MOHAWAK Paper as their raw materials (input) of product

Manufacturing Facility: The Facility is operated by Renewable energy resources with 100% Wind Energy from XcelEnergy’ Wind Source Program in Colorado.

Purchase order can be placed online with readymade template easily. Furthermore, they use Waterless Soy or Vegetable Inks and 100% recycle paper with Direct to plate technology by using Heidelberg Printing machine. They are also licensed to use the Soy Ink logo which uses recycled paper. The reason they paste Soy Seal logo on their printing is that they want to encourage and motivate consumers to foster the habit of printing on soy ink and 100% recycle paper.

Recycling They also recycle back their printed and unprinted sheet, shavings and guillotined cuttings. The internal waste is sent back to the paper mill as coated book stock (CBS) which again produces tissue and de-inked pulps.

One will suspect how a printing company does sustainability. As a printing company, they have no way to get away from not using papers that are flesh of the trees and ink that is chemically toxic to the environment. However, they solve their challenge by creativity and innovation and apply sustainability to every life cycle of their production. On top of that, they leave an impact on the consumers and prove that their courageous ways to work things out is a very sustainable answer that everyone can practice on.

My Guilty pleasure


Yes I admit, I feel guilty, I should have known more than any other person and I should not have done it as a sustainable student but I could not resist the comfort and my desire. After I had a dilemma for certain period whether I should buy it or not, finally, my devil side won. You know what; I bought a car this winter. I am increasing my carbon footprint which is already high. I am living on campus and only one and a half mile away from the classrooms, 4 miles from my favorite Asian market and 4 miles away from Wal-Mart. What made it even worse is that I am driving to the class almost every day during winter.  I just gave myself excuse for being an Asian and came from warm weather so I am not used to the cold weather at Rochester. In fact, I cannot stand the cold at night when I come back from the library or from the class. I just want to quickly hop on to the car, switch on the heater and quickly come home. Sometimes, I came back from the library rather late around 2 or 3 am, I felt safe if I am driving back home.

So now, the spring is coming. Do I stop commuting by car to school? After I have spent long hours at school, I am tired as no one knows and I did not want to walk back home. So, I need a car to reach home quickly. In term of the triple bottom line, it is huge impact on economic, which affects my financial burden, and on environment, which increase in energy consumption, carbon emission and other pollutions. Socially, I think I gained in certain extent. When I go to grocery shopping, I can bring my roommates and friends who do not have a car .I can go and visit my friends’ house and fetch them from the airport and train station. All of these above little actions make me feel that I am at least contributing something back to the society but I am just lying to myself.

However, I cannot continue this anymore and I should not. I need to make a change. OK. This is my spring quarter resolution, which I need to stop driving to the school every day unless it is emergency. In the past, I used to ride my little bicycle during fall quarter and I felt that it was so convenient and it even gave me my daily regular exercise. Now, I need to look for my bicycle being abandoned for the whole winter quarter and will utilize again.

According to the Buddhism, Buddha said, “You need to reduce or rather eliminate your wants and desires as much as you can”. What I am doing? I am fulfilling my wants and desires as much as I can without taking any consideration on anyone or anything  by working hard to earn money so that I can buy what I want and I just want to feel good.

Globally, there is an increasing demand for energy, and therefore, the gasoline price is increased. The fossil resources depletion is rather fast than expected and increases negative impact on environment and also to increase greenhouse gas emission (GHG) and global warming potential.

I am an engineering student and I would not believe if I don’t see the proven data. So, I have accessed my carbon footprint points at http://www.footprintnetwork.org which can calculate the individual carbon footprint. After I saw my result, I just shut my mouth and was speechless and I could not argue or give excuse more than now. The result shown that I need 3.6 planets to cover my life style, 15.9 global acres of the Earth ‘productive area and 8% of my ecological footprint come from transportation. I know I cannot dwell on anymore,  I need to take action.


I will change effectively and efficiently to include with other people. So,  when I go to the grocery shop , I will bring as many people as possible .It will give me a win-win situation which I can give them a ride and I can reduce my carbon foot print by sharing a ride with people.

Like I mentioned in above, the biggest challenge is I cannot resist the comfort from having a car. It is convenient, safe and can bring you to your required destination with the shortest time. I am always busy with homeworks and assignments and I cannot wait for shuttle bus or public transportation coming every hour to the specific grocery shops and it takes one and a half hour to reach to that designated place.  Furthermore, their bus schedules do not fit with my class timetable on weekdays and your waiting time for bus is longer on weekend.

The temptation to travel fast with shortest time with my busy schedule is the biggest obstacles I need to overcome.

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