Towards Zero Waste by Feidhlim Harty: review

If you’re casting around for something to give a loved one as a holiday gift and feeling irritated by the constant pressure to buy, buy, buy, why not make a constructive, yet consciously ironic, choice: offer a book that’s all about cutting down on materialism and slowing down the overconsumption frenzy?

Feidhlim Harty, a long-time Feasta member and one of Ireland’s few experts on wetland-based sewage treatment, has produced an extensively-revised (and renamed) update of the book Get Rid Of Your Bin that he originally wrote ten years ago.

There are countless useful tips in this new edition, and I took copious notes. I’ve become far more conscious of packaging since reading it and it’s had a strong effect on my choices when I’m shopping.

I was struck by just how limited and flawed recycling is and how much better it is to avoid generating waste in the first place. That said, of course there are still contexts in which recycling makes a lot of sense. Composting gets a great deal of deserved attention in the book.

For someone like myself who tends to put a lot of time into the more abstract, theoretical side of environmentalism, it’s very helpful to come across a book like this, which is highly readable and jammed with practical details but which also makes the vital connection between on-the-ground work and the higher-leverage changes that are needed. (Here in France I’ve noticed a tendency for environmental activists to focus solely on what they can do as individuals or in small communities, and not to try and bring about change at a higher level).

I much appreciated the discussion of various upstream interventions that Feasta has been advocating for years, such as Cap and Share and the adoption of alternatives to GDP as a measure of progress. As Feidhlim comments, Cap and Share and discontinuing pursuit of [economic] growth “are perhaps the most important and potentially effective measures of all”.

Cap and Share would eventually eliminate plastic and other fossil-fuel-based contaminants altogether by steadily reducing the supply of the raw material for manufacturing plastic – oil – to zero over time. (Just to clarify, the version of Cap and Share described in this book is the original ‘classic’ version in which carbon permits are distributed per-capita, rather than the more recent, and less cumbersome version, in which the permits are auctioned and it’s the proceeds from the auction which are distributed per capita).

A shift in policy focus away from growth and towards well-being as a goal would be enormously helpful. Feidhlim argues that public pressure could help to bring this about.

I’m sure that many of Feidhlim’s suggestions will ring a bell with members of Zero Waste Ireland, VOICE and other environmental NGOs in Ireland and elsewhere who are working hard to eliminate plastic waste and other contaminants from our biosphere.

You can order the book from Feidhlim’s website for €15,99 including delivery within Ireland, or €19,99 for a delivery outside Ireland.

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.