Untrashing the Planet by Paul Connett

Paul Connett is a graduate of Cambridge University and holds a Ph.D in chemistry from Dartmouth College. He is an expert in the topics of Zero Waste and Water Fluoridation. Connett published two books, The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet, One Community at a Time with a foreword by actor Jeremy Irons and The Case Against Fluoride.

Several days ago, on the 11th of July, Connett gave a public talk titled “Untrashing the Planet” at CoHive D.Lab, Menteng, Central Jakarta. The public talk was a part of his visitation in Indonesia, after the NGO Gathering (10th of July) and before his going to Bandung to visit some subdistricts that have implemented zero waste lifestyle & policy under the guidance of Yayasan Pengembangan Biosains dan Bioteknologi (YPBB) (11th of July).

Connett divided his public talk into two sessions. The first session was about zero waste strategy and the second one was about arguments against incineration and related technologies. Before getting into the first session, he also provided us with an explanation of the difference between 20th century and 21st century. In the 20th century, people were more focused on waste management, with the question “How do we get rid of our waste efficiently with minimum damage to our health and the environment?” While in the 21st century, we should be focusing on resource management, “How do we handle our discarded resources in ways which do not deprive future generations of some, if not all, of their value?” He believed that the waste problem will not be solved with magic machines, but with better organisation, better education and better industrial design.

The zero waste strategy, according to him, is about ten steps to zero waste, namely: 1) source separation; 2) door-to-door collection; 3) composting; 4) recycling; 5) reuse, repair, and research centres (community centres); 6) economic incentives; 7) more waste reduction initiatives; 8a) the residual separation facility; 8b) the zero waste research centre; 9) better industrial design; and 10) a transitionary landfill for biologically stabilised dirty organic fraction.

In the topic of arguments against incineration and related technologies, Connett explained that incineration: 1) is the most expensive way of handling waste; 2) doesn’t get rid of landfills because they produce a toxic ash which has to be landfilled; 3) is a waste of energy; 4) is inflexible and long-term contracts trap communities into uneconomic situations; and 5) is a huge wasted opportunity to fight climate change; 6) puts many highly toxic and persistent substances into the air.

Connett closed the presentation with three excellent and inspiring final messages: 1) to citizens: don’t let the experts take your common sense away; 2) to politicians: put your faith back in people; and 3) to activists: have fun!

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