Footsteps 107 - Waste

Footsteps 107 is packed with practical advice and inspiring stories about dealing with waste in our communities.

Photo: @zerowastehome
Photo: @zerowastehome


The challenge of ‘zero waste’

Several years ago, I watched a TV programme about a lady who had helped start the ‘zero waste’ movement. She had reduced the amount of waste she and her family sent to landfill to a single jar’s worth every year! I realised that if this lady with her family of four could live so very lightly on the earth, I could do the same. 

Living a ‘zero waste’ life is proving tricky. It throws up many challenges that I do not have all the answers to yet. I know that this will require time and commitment. There are days when I wonder if this amount of effort is really worth it – if it makes any difference when others around me create as much waste as I used to. In these moments I am reminded of why I am doing this. This is a part of my worship of Jesus, to seek justice for those living in poverty by caring for creation. The world needs people who refuse to accept things the way they are and who open up a new path for others to follow. Will you join me? 

Jo Herbert is a Theology and Networks Manager at Tearfund. 


Knotty problem

Question: If open dump sites are so unhealthy, should we be working to simply close them down? 

Answer: Often, when the world’s attention turns to an open dump, the government responds by closing it and the journalists go home. All that happens is another open dump emerges nearby, and those who scavenge from the waste move to the new site. 

The problem is that if there is no alternative solution in place, people will discard their waste in the only ways available – dumping it or burning it. And the waste pickers will follow the waste.

Replacing an open dump with a government-controlled waste management system is not an automatic solution, either. The losers, again, are the hundreds of men, women and children who make their living by scavenging from the dump. If you take that opportunity to earn a small living away from the poorest people in society, they will starve. Solutions need to be inclusive. 

To close dump sites, you need to have a workable alternative solution in place. You need to have regular waste collection taking place, and you need somewhere to take it. One idea is to build resource recovery facilities alongside existing open dumps. Informal waste pickers who are currently working in dangerous conditions on the dump site can gain employment (or better still, form a cooperative) sorting recyclable materials and reducing the amount of real ‘waste’ that needs to be disposed of. 

There will always be something left, though. The fact is that in most cases, a standard, lined landfill site with landfill gas capture is still the most appropriate answer for non-recyclable waste. (That is, until we stop producing waste, or learn how to make it disappear!)

Answer provided by Zoë Lenkiewicz at WasteAid. Email:

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