Reforming how world deals with waste is critical to keeping warming below 1.5°C, report finds

The introduction of ‘zero waste’ systems in cities around the world would be one of the quickest and most affordable ways to reduce global heating and stay below 1.5°C of warming, as per a new report released by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

The ‘Zero Waste to Zero Emissions: How Reducing Waste is a Climate Game Changer’ report is published ahead of the November COP27 climate change discussions in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt), which will have waste as one of its key topics. According to the report, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions thanks to the implementation of zero waste systems would amount to 1.4 billion tonnes, equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million cars, much more than taking all cars off the road in the European Union for a year.

GAIA, who will have a delegation present at the summit, urges global leaders to take urgent and bold action on zero waste to meet the 1.5°C target by:

  • Incorporating zero waste goals and policies into climate mitigation and adaptation plans.
  • Prioritising food waste prevention and single-use plastic ban.
  • Instituting separate collection and treatment of organic waste.
  • Investing in waste management systems, recycling, and composting capacity.
  • Establishing institutional frameworks and financial incentives for zero waste including regulations, educational and outreach programs, and subsidies to recycling and composting.

Report co-author Dr. Neil Tangri at GAIA said: “Better waste management is a climate change solution staring us in the face. It doesn't require flashy or expensive new technology - it's just about paying more attention to what we produce and consume, and how we deal with it when it is no longer needed.”

Without concrete commitment from global leaders to zero waste, we will not be able to meet the 1.5° C climate target.”, added co-author Mariel Vilella, Director of GAIA’s Global Climate Program.

“Previous climate talks have largely overlooked the potential of reforms to the waste sector, particularly for reducing methane, which over 100 countries have now pledged to do. We now have a unique opportunity to put waste firmly on the agenda. Zero waste strategies are the easiest way to rapidly and cheaply bring down emissions, while building climate resilience, creating jobs, and promoting thriving local economies.

The GAIA report and its conclusions have also drawn praise from Janez Potočnik, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel of the UN Environment Programme, former European Commissioner for the Environment states: “This report demonstrates the huge importance of aligning our waste systems with climate goals. It shows how cities are already working to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from waste while building climate resilience and creating livelihoods. It highlights the absolute necessity of reducing root sources of waste through changing our production and consumption patterns - using all the tools at our disposal to achieve the deep emissions reductions we need.”

The report provides global case studies of how zero waste cities bring about socio-economic and political benefits besides helping to tackle climate change. In Europe, this is visible through Zero Waste Europe’s (GAIA’s European branch) network of Zero Waste Cities and the report singles out the city of Lviv (Ukraine). Despite the ongoing conflict with Russia, Lviv has thrived in its zero waste efforts and became an example of resilience and commitment. Some of the zero waste actions taken by the city include separate door-to-door waste collection, including organic waste, and multiple waste prevention programs that include single-use plastic or sanitary products.

Zero waste approach was Lviv’s way out of the waste crisis after the landfill fire accident in 2016. In 2022 we learned how in times of war it helps to cut down our dependency on fossil fuels, which is now also a matter of national and global security ”, said Iryna Myronova, Executive director of Zero Waste Lviv, a member organisation of Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine, Zero Waste Europe and GAIA.

“It allowed us to better serve refugees in need through providing meals in reusable tableware, it taught resourcefulness and compassion providing reusable diapers and menstrual products, used household items. Lviv’s case can help to establish a zero waste protocol for emergency response in communities around the world”, continued Myronova.

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