Can the planet support 10 billion people? Today, there are over seven billion of us on Earth, with the UN predicting the global population will hit 9.8 billion by 2050. That’s a whole lot of people, and (potentially) a whole lot of disposable coffee cups and plastic straws. If the entire world lived a Western lifestyle, it’s been said we would need multiple planets worth of resources to sustain ourselves.

European governments, including in France, the Netherlands, Finland, and Germany, believe we need to move towards a “circular economy” (though some researchers think even that is not going far enough to be truly sustainable). Can we, as individuals, cut down the amount of “stuff” we use? And recycle or reuse as much as possible? Would that be enough to support ten billion people?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Ingrida believes a “zero waste” lifestyle is possible as long as the EU applies strict rules so that manufacturers only use recyclable packaging. Is she right?

To get a response, we put her comment to Mella Frewen, Director General of FoodDrink Europe, a European food industry confederation. How would she respond?

For packaging to be recyclable it is not only about how it is designed. Of course, the design can play a role, and many food and drink manufacturers have made commitments and pledges to design their packaging to be more circular. However, while you can have a pack that is perfectly designed for recyclability, there needs to be collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure in place to recycle it and consumers need to be aware of how to dispose of it properly. We need a whole-of-society approach.

To get another perspective, we also put Ingrida’s comment to Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at the environmental organisation Zero Waste Europe. Her organisation argues in favour of reusable alternatives to plastic food containers. So, how would she respond to Ingrida?

Is a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle possible? Would stricter EU rules around recyclable materials help? Is greater investment needed in recycling infrastructure across the board? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – noblige; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Frewen (c) FoodDrink Europe

33 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    A “circular economy”? Great words!

    Similar to discussing in perpetuity the same problem over & over again- without achieving (concrete) results, just peripherals- all for the sake of discussing “stuff” in a circular manner?

    On the one hand we import cheap “stuff” made in China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka (the greatest polluters of earth & ocean) because it’s more advantageous and fits the EU “comparative advantage” principle, since the EU cannot manufacture nor compete with them anymore. Check mate!

    China’s most miserable growth rate= 6-7%. EU’s most glorified is 2%!

    On the other hand the EU (=some of its Members) assist that all this “stuff” arrives quicker and cheaper in the “EU consumer heaven” by supporting China & its “One Belt, One Road Initiative”:

    The EU is becoming a (sell out) holiday & investment destination for foremost Chinese & Arabs- to view and experience some ancient civilizations before them getting extinct!

    Maybe one of their desires- keep the EU clean & unpolluted in order for “us” to recuperate in EU Wonderland!

    What will save the EU from extinction & degeneration? And to answer the Forum question:

    Zero waste= zero human life on earth will create balance. Never the EU with its regulatory madness! God bless Europe!

  2. avatar
    Zero Waste Nederland

    It is not only possible. It is easier than you think and it is necessary!

    • avatar
      EU Reform- Proactive

      Sorry Zero Waste- but such (your) comment either qualifies to be ignored or dismissed out of hand as utmost ridiculous, naive & with contempt. Or should it be exposed as a total estranged view about global reality- . … “de nieuwste Nederlandse omgevings bubble…”?

  3. avatar

    It’s super easy to have zero waste if the EU make stricter rules and people make the effort to reduce their waste:

  4. avatar

    Yes. Get rid of all the EU crooks and its a done deal.

  5. avatar

    Make sure that everyone is under strict control? My goodness.

    • avatar

      no thanks

  6. avatar

    The food is way too cheap and accessible in Europe. The people doesn’t respect it as they are only consumers. It’s the same with clothes and the rest. It’s too easy. Not possible if they don’t produce what they eat or wear.

  7. avatar

    Circular economy can lead to a huge waste reduction.

  8. avatar

    No not in this life. from cradle to cradle economy will be possible soon.

  9. avatar

    i don’t think so but this shouldn’t keep us from trying…

  10. avatar

    Is this the same EU that wants uniform shaped apples and straight bananas and scrapped those that didn’t conform and pays farmers not to plant crops. Yeah that sure saves waste.

  11. avatar

    no zero waste is impossible you always have waste every day otherwise you do not need a toilet haha

  12. avatar

    Of course not. But we can reduce the effect of us, to an absolute minimum.

  13. avatar

    Nope everything can be wast even cloth shoesglases homes wood everything. Even ashes from a fire and your own urine and poo is waist . So its not posible

  14. avatar

    Is it even relevant if Asia, Africa and America are causing 90% of the pollution and waste?

    • avatar


  15. avatar

    What is the debate issue? “We need an infrastructure”. Of course, but most European countries already have this.

  16. avatar


  17. avatar
    C. Stoffels

    A proportion of people will never change the habit of throwing away plastic or aluminium waste on the streets or in the mountains. So the sorting out of materials before and recycling afterwards will always have a limited contribution to a pure cyclic production and consumption. Prevention of wrong use is needed. And a multiple investment in cleaning and filtering.

  18. avatar

    Start with governments. They waste a lot

  19. avatar

    No, but this goal could be combined with other like orthological consumption, extention of product life cycle etc towards a more balanced waste lifestyle.

  20. avatar

    It should be a goal today to be possible tomorrow

  21. avatar

    Sure, one can also live “off-the-grid.” It’s all a matter of desire.

  22. avatar

    Yes, but we’d probably reduced standards of living, at least in the short term.

  23. avatar

    I think. Stop bothering Europeans.. And do something for the tons of plastic throwed into the river and the sea in Asia

    • avatar

      thanks for answering so wisely😀

  24. avatar

    Yes but it takes lots of planning

  25. avatar

    The Paris accords were signed a decade ago and not a single national government made work of any of the goals.
    It’s easy to make proposals, but they have to then also be made reality through actual effort.

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