27.09.2016 : Grace Huen

Net zero: waste and energy

Imagine a future where we don't have to worry about running out of natural resources, climate change, and the exponential growth of our carbon footprint. In this ideal world, we would produce enough renewable energy to cover our energy consumption. Landfills would be minimal because everything would be recycled, and the little waste we did produce would be re-used in nature.

How do we create this ideal world? What choices will make a difference? What impact are we having on our future generations who, will ultimately, live in the environment we create?

Our choice of lifestyle influences these questions. Every day we make thousands of decisions, but only 10% are conscious. The remaining 90% are made by our subconscious mind which stores our knowledge and experience.

If we focus on the 90% – the ‘auto-piloted’ decisions we make – it includes purchasing and consuming goods, and (in some cases) throwing them away. A good example is the humble coffee that many of us purchase daily. We buy our coffee, drink our coffee and then throw the cup away. This isn’t a sustainable way of living. We’re taking resources from the land (in this case coffee beans), making a product and then sending it to landfill at the end of its lifecycle.

To create our ideal world, we need to consider our physical waste. We need to train our conscious mind to think about how much we’re purchasing and throwing away, and the impact it has on our environment. By making an effort to recycle and reuse just a fraction of the goods we produce, we can make a real difference.

For example, if we look at recycling one tonne of paper, the following resources are conserved:

  • 13 trees
  • 31,780 litres of water
  • 2.5 barrels of oil
  • 4 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 4,100 kWh of electricity.

Secondly, we need to consider the waste associated with processing goods. For instance – nine tonnes of waste are generated to create a 2.3kg laptop. Imagine if we could shape our manufacturing decisions to eliminate waste before products get to the consumer. There are endless opportunities to generate zero impact on the environment, including:

  • Restricting the choice of raw materials to those which can be broken down at the end of the product lifecycle – to become raw materials of tomorrow’s goods
  • Creating enough renewable energy to cover the energy it takes to manufacture, transport, consume and recycle your goods.

And by eliminating these wastes, the space that would’ve otherwise become a landfill, could be used to generate natural energy and resources to feed back into the economy.

Thirdly, by streamlining government regulations and policies we can encourage businesses and technology to get on board. In Hong Kong, they have had great success in reducing the number of plastic shopping bags used, simply by introducing a levy. The use of plastic bags dropped by 90%, just one year after implementation in 2015. America and some countries in Europe have introduced similar bans. Another option would be to introduce a waste disposal levy for businesses and manufacturing plants.

For this ideal world to become a reality, individuals, businesses and government need to collaborate together and make a change. We need to share our ideas on how to build a sustainable future, and use data and technology to transform the way we make decisions. To improve our quality of life, we need to come together as communities and shape our lifestyle and habits to reduce wastes and energy consumption within our infrastructure systems.

In my vision for the future, our choices will be driven by our subconscious minds – where making smarter and greener decisions happen without even thinking.

What ideas do you have to influence our lifestyle and habits?

About the Author

Grace Huen

Business Performance Consultant

Grace is a Business Performance Consultant with a background in mechanical engineering. With a passion for sustainability, she integrates sustainable practices into her work and personal life. She inspires others to do the same and is the Green Team leader for our Auckland office.

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