Community participation is central to any zero waste strategy
In today’s world, community participation can more often than not involve simply informing citizens about new initiatives or programs. Though this can be useful, citizens play a much role central role in a zero waste strategy.
Designing the zero waste plan
Involving local citizens in the design stage of a zero waste strategy is hugely beneficial for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, these individuals are likely to have locally-specific knowledge ensuring that the zero waste strategy is suitable for the specific locality. More broadly, however, it creates a sense of ownership amongst the community meaning that the plan is more likely to be properly implemented and maintained long-term. A great way to ensure community engagement is to call a public meeting giving those interested the opportunity to begin designing a zero waste plan. Though campaigners should be wary about preaching to the already converted, local groups already involved in similar projects (litter picking groups, resident associations etc.) Communication strategies should be as accessible as possible, acknowledging individuals’ time-restraints, lack of e-mail access or any other limitations. However, it is important that engagement is sustained throughout the whole designing process rather than simple a one-off feature at the preliminary design stages. This could involve creating oversight and advisory bodies.
Implementing the plan
Citizens have a crucial role to plan in implementing zero waste; there is no point designing a plan if it simply falls on deaf ears and isn’t acted upon. To a large extent, the role of individual citizens relates to cultural change and more conscious shopping. Citizens could implement home compost, separate discards at source and re-use and repair as much as possible. However, they could play a much bigger role and perhaps get involved in businesses (or even set up with own) that facilitate the growth of a circular economy.
It is important that public education is sustained to ensure that public participation remains high.
Education can take diverse forms (important as everyone learns differently):
- Radio and print advertising: ensuring engaging and easily understood
- Billboards: encouraging participation and raising awareness
- Periodic leafleting to households about changes in waste collection
- Information for students about collection dates, sorting instructions etc.
- Simple how-to-guides on home composting, non-toxic cleaners, skin care and pest control
- Educational talks at schools, markets, community centers and faith-based groups, as well as presentations to city councils, regulators and other government officials
- Bibliography of information resources about zero waste issues given to the public library, schools and community groups
- Free classes and instructions on how to compost, how to compost in home gardens and how to reuse and repair a variety of products
- Zero waste contests and events
Keeping residents informed and involved
If residents feel like they have renewed involvement with the zero waste strategies, they are much more likely to remain engagement and involved with it; engagement will help to create a sense of ownership. This is also advisory as local people are likely to have the nous and geographically-specific knowledge to help ensure the strategy is successfully implemented. Continued involvement could be in the form of advisory committees, community meetings, alliances with existing community groups and feedback mechanisms such as phone lines and interactive internet systems.
Mechanisms for accountability to the public
Public access to information helps citizens to be more involved. Organise regular public meetings to inform citizens about activities and progress related to the zero waste program, and set up a telephone number and e-mail address where people can ask questions and provide feedback on its practical implementation.