Going Plastic Free: What Does a Zero Waste Future Look Like?

by Sanderine van Odijk & Anne Poggenpohl, enviu

October 31, 2019

This is how the future of a localized, circular and zero waste economy can increase human health and well-being, regenerate ecosystems, and create value for all stakeholders.

This article is the second of six in our series, Going Plastic Free, to share how we can tackle the plastic pollution crisis by building a Zero Waste future with refuse, reduce, and reuse businesses that reimagine the way we deliver, consume and pack products. Check out the first installment for plastic pollution facts and the truth about recycling. Tune in next Thursday for the third installment, The Path Towards New Product Delivery Models.

How will a zero waste future be different from today? Imagine a future where all materials and products are treated with value and flow circularly. Our resources stay in the loop and our well-being increases as we transform our relationship with trash. So, how will we make, deliver, use and dispose of materials and products in this fascinating future that skips single-use plastics? Let’s imagine how the circular economy and zero waste future of Bandung, a typical city in Indonesia, would be like.

Cycle of a zero waste future.

Zero waste is the new normal and highly convenient: Packaging is a service with reusable and standardized food containers, drones pick up empty delivery boxes and refill containers stay in an endless loop.

Walking through Bandung in 2030, inhabitants and tourists see the sun reflecting in the main river of Bandung, Citarum. Sights of cluttered plastic and heaps of rubbish along the borders of the river have fully disappeared. The landfills outside of the city have become a green playground for families.

Circular consumption has become the standard for both inhabitants and tourist. This green capital of West Java has become a hotspot and global living example of how a zero waste economy looks and feels like. If you were to visit the place, you would most certainly experience the thrilling feeling of something extraordinary: we value keeping our nature pristine and making re-use a routine.

Let’s explore this new world where zero waste is normal.

Precision farming and artificial intelligence platforms cut energy demand, packaging, and food waste.

Smartphone produce shopping

Living in Bandung in 2030 is comfortable, easy and affordable. Youngsters on e-bikes bring around deliveries of fresh produce at the doorstep from the local, mostly organic, farmers surrounding Bandung. Organic produce has become the “ordinary vegetables” that are affordable for all.

How does it all work? Simple: The farmers offer their soon-to-be ripe produce, consumers order directly on their app and the farmers provide the fresh harvest, sending it in reusable crates to their consumer as soon as the next morning. Not just delivery has become zero waste — farming itself has become truly circular.

There is hardly any food loss, organic waste is cycled back into fertilizer, and wastewater is used as a source of nutrients. Artificial intelligence combined with precision farming is matching year-round local demand and production, significantly cutting unnecessary energy, packaging and food waste. Even the need for cooling is minimized and single-use packaging along the way is reduced to zero.

Circular economies and decentralized production has increased significantly.

It’s not just fresh fruits and vegetables that are produced in a circular and zero waste manner. More localized production of other fast-moving goods forms the backbone of Bandung’s zero waste economy. Bandung’s economy is really building on local resources, producing local solutions and products instead of importing. We now see a range of new local industries that have popped up.

This economic twist enabled to foster a strong community — people are creating, building and strengthening this new economy together. Using Indonesia’s available resources, these industries make organic, affordable, and sustainable products while significantly reducing the need for transport and packaging. As with fresh fruit and vegetable production, smart IT has optimized the logistical flows, packaging, and payments — creating a truly convenient shopping experience, simply ordering from home.

Hyperlocal production is fully integrated in everyday life.

3D printing household products

Hyperlocal production with universal active ingredients enables people to 3D-print their daily demand of household cleaning products, in turn cutting packaging and transport costs.

Aside from the industrial-scale production of foods and consumer products, Bandung has seen a large increase in do-it-yourself (DIY) production. Whereas this used to be a niche of enthusiasts ‘brewing’ their own personal care products, DIY and home making have become truly integrated into everyday lives. Hyperlocal production – as this is now called – is based on a home making processing station, which by now is present in almost every home.

This automated, robotized machine can easily process resources like dried ingredients into the right end products. Whether it is food or non-food products – almost everything can be made at home customized and adjusted on your specific needs and preferences. Good like sodas, drinks, sauces, and other foods are also easily made at home from concentrates and dried ingredients. The logistical process drastically reduces CO2 emissions by simplifying and reducing the weight of shipments. Since only dry products are sent, plastic packaging became redundant.

Autonomous vehicles and drones disrupt the food delivery system by offering zero waste services.

Drone delivery

Eating on the go has never been so earth-conscious and convenient: empty to-go food containers get automatically pick-up by drones, sanitized and distributed to local restaurants

You remember the annoying feeling of ordering good quality food, brought to you in these thin, cheap and ugly single-use plastic and Styrofoam containers? Visiting Bandung in 2030, this experience certainly belongs to the past. Go-Jek, the Indonesian delivery service, brings your hot meals by drone delivery and autonomous vehicles, in beautifully designed containers made of a strong yet lightweight, self-cleaning surface material.

It is fast, convenient and cheap. Healthy, hot and freshly prepared food wherever you are within 15 minutes. The delivery systems powered by drones and autonomous vehicles pick up your empty containers when you’re done. This zero waste experience is not only a sustainable solution to take-away food, but also BPA, BPS, and BPF free – which means zero toxicity that negatively affects your body.

Water has become a fully zero waste experience. It’s not transported anymore – it’s harvested everywhere.

Bottled water belongs to the past in 2030. All across Bandung, water access has drastically improved and became more equitable. A nation-wide support program has enabled schools, universities, and public organizations on their path towards zero waste water access. Circular (rain)water systems are everywhere. And for the dry season, fog catchment and purification systems that collect and purify drinking water without the need of electricity are just one example.

At events, water is often provided in soluble packaging, easy to drink without leaving a single trace of waste. Tourists going out in nature can simply purify water on-the-go with smart, portable water filtration systems that are provided for rent and lease by national parks, hotels, and tourist hotspots. In Bandung, water consumption has become a fully zero waste experience.

Packaging is now a fully circular material flow.

If you look at the type of packaging that is used, you see that most reuse packaging has become durable, lightweight and affordable. Using intelligent sensor technology, packaging has become smart and connected through a city-wide network, enabling optimized (reverse) logistics. No more plastic pollution.

While the standard has become reusable packaging, a small portion of packaging is still disposable. This packaging is either compostable or recyclable, and Bandung has enforced a strict Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system which has enabled the financially viable collection and recycling of this material — creating truly circular material flows. The production of packaging is fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources, with the use of locally available secondary resources and organic waste streams.

What happened to make mainstreaming zero waste lifestyles a reality in 2030? Cross-sector collaboration at the heart of a zero waste future.

A key reason why inhabitants and tourists in Bandung have been able to start living a zero waste lifestyle, is because new innovative services and products were brought on the market at a dazzling speed. Reuse business models, dispenser systems and zero waste takeaway services sprouted massively. Growing grant funding and early-stage investments in the field led to more solutions entering the market and the growth in zero waste customer base enabled the affordability of solutions.

Entrepreneurs could succeed in the market for zero waste consumption because of the favorable innovation ecosystem of supporting, local policies, economic incentives, and consumer awareness. These innovative businesses led the way and partnered with frontrunning local and international corporate partners to drive these solutions over the tipping point towards the new normal. Aside from venture support, local and global zero waste NGOs played a pivotal role through lobby and awareness campaigns.

Leading universities and research institutes forged new technology and material development that further facilitated the transition to a zero waste society. The local government created a level playing field by implementing zero-waste procurement guidelines for private organizations and incentivized entrepreneurs to experiment with new business models that skip single-use plastics. This cross-sector collaboration was the unique ingredient to drive this positive change at a rapid and much-needed speed.

In 2030, Bandung has become a global showcase for successful zero waste systems that satisfy consumer demand for convenience, performance, and sustainability. And actually now already, we see that zero waste business models all around the world are already showing us today that (part of) this future is real. Discover in our next blog post in more detail which business models are creating and enabling this zero waste future.

Join us in making zero waste the new normal.

All photos and graphics by Zero Waste Living Lab, a program by enviu and supported by Plastic Solutions Fund, Greenpeace US, Flotilla Foundation, Stichting Marma and the Marshall Foundation. Please check out the original article with citations and stay tuned via our NewsletterInstagram & Twitter.

By Sanderine van Odijk & Anne Poggenpohl, enviu

Within the Zero Waste Living Lab Indonesia, we scale, replicate and develop disruptive business models to make zero waste the new normal. Our research is being featured in “Going Plastic Free,” a six article series for Greenpeace that shares how we can build the Zero Waste future with refuse, reduce and reuse businesses that reimagine the way we deliver, consume and pack products.

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