The month of January is declared National Zero Waste Month. Even before its official proclamation by the late Pres. Benigno Aquino, in 2014, civil society organizations have already been initiating many efforts to push for a zero-waste country and a zero-waste planet.

But before I continue writing on the subject, I would like to welcome you to this new column! As the name suggests, I will write about my thoughts about the people and the planet. As a young environmentalist, I have always been interested in protecting and fighting for both because I know we cannot have healthy people if we don't have a healthy planet and vice versa.

One might ask, why separate the youth? Aren’t they people too? Yes, we are but in this context, we are also the generation that will bear the brunt of environmental degradation and the climate catastrophe as years unfold. However, beyond the victim narrative, this column also aims to shine a spotlight on the amazing work done by young people in Negros and beyond that shows that “we are not only victims to the broken world, but can be architects of a better one.”

What is zero waste?

Going back, zero-waste is defined by different entities differently. But the most authoritative one, I think, is those of the Zero Waste International Alliance, which defined zero waste as:

The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and, recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

That definition seems overwhelming. However, if one is to unpack this definition, the buzzword here is conservation.

The Zero Waste Movement dates back to the 20th century, and in the early 2000s, it peaked when it successfully attempted to transform zero waste theories into action.

With the global recognition of our problem with plastic pollution, more and more people, governments, institutions, and communities have adopted this model and are trying their best to achieve zero waste.

Zero waste as a solution

Unfortunately, many local and national governments are turning to waste incineration to address their garbage problem (which would not have occurred if they had adopted a zero-waste model), and this is a massive problem when it comes to the climate crisis. These incinerators, which come in various types, are harmfully emitting dangerous gases and substances into our atmosphere, which not only worsens climate change but also threatens people’s health. Many researches have revealed the direct correlation of air pollutants from waste incinerators to lung cancers, heart and skin diseases, and even untimely deaths.

If cities such as Bacolod and Dumaguete are to adopt a zero-waste model in managing and disposing of their waste, it would have significant health, economic, social, and environmental gains. Many case studies around the world have shown that it is doable.

Doing zero waste means lesser emissions both of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Longer life spans for our landfills, no more plastics in the oceans, more green jobs for waste workers, less spending on waste management, meaning more funds could be used for other social services, and many more.

In this era of plastic pollution and the climate crisis, I hope our leaders will make the right choice. Every month could be a zero-waste month!*

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Joshua is a 20-year-old environmentalist from Bacolod City. He is a co-founder of the coalition Youth for Climate Hope, and currently chairs Silliman University’s Student Government Environment Committee.