First International Day of Zero Waste asks us to look within to tackle the global pollution crisis

It’s recycling collection day here CleanTechnica Global Headquarters. Have you ever seen that commercial where the therapist advises adult children how not become their parents? Yes, that’s us on recycling collection day – we pause at the window and stare at the bins, pacing a bit, waiting for the arrival of the city truck that will take us plastics and cardboard. Once the bins are emptied, we run out and refill them with the recyclable materials we’ve hidden in the Clean Café cabinet.

It is rather ironic that today is the inauguration International Day of Zero Waste, which encourages everyone to prevent and minimize waste. The new celebration promotes a societal shift towards a circular economy, recognizing and responding to the increasing impact of waste on human health, the economy and the environment. Yet we have so much waste from the products we buy that we don’t have an adequate method to start the process towards ultimate reuse.

We must not forget that once we put all plastic items in our recycling bins, there are 3 options for their next destination: recycled, incinerated or landfilled.

Our relationship with the environment is under strain and while waste is not the only problem, it is a major part of the problem.

Ah, dumps. We have here with us some of the items that cannot be recycled CleanTechnica offices. While searching for our muses, we sometimes look out the window across a long stretch of flat land, towards the highest landmass in sight. It’s a distant hill, a dump, and it seems to get a little higher each year.

a dump is not a good solution for most types of waste. Due to the compression of waste and the sealed containers used, the waste that goes to the landfill does not decompose as we would expect. The lack of oxygen prevents the waste from breaking down naturally, so a landfill is the least sustainable option for waste. But what options do we have? We compost certainly here, but it feels like a small gesture in the larger paradigm of waste.

From conceptions of waste and loss to how the environmental movement has influenced the way we think about waste, the way we treat it, and the way we view others’ reactions to waste. Do we feel virtuous if we reuse a plastic bag? Do we despise those who throw away aluminum cans? When does personal waste become public responsibility? How can we influence our public consciousness to influence policy?

Humanity generates more than 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, of which 45% poorly managed. Without urgent action, this will rise to almost 4 billion tonnes by 2050. Waste comes in all shapes and sizes, including plastic, debris from mining and construction sites, electronics and food. It disproportionately impacts the poor, with up to 4 billion people without access to controlled disposal facilities.

“The waste crisis is undermining the Earth’s ability to sustain life. Waste costs the global economy billions of dollars every year,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message on the Day. “By treating nature as a dumping ground, we are digging our own grave. It is time to reflect on the toll that waste is taking on our planet – and to find solutions to this greatest threat.”

The International Day of Zero Waste: an opportunity for reflection

The International Day of Zero Waste aims to bring the myriad impacts of waste to the world’s attention and encourage global action at all levels to reduce pollution and waste.

Established by a UN General Assembly solution which followed other resolutions on waste, including the UN Environment Assembly’s March 2, 2022 commitment to advance a global agreement to end plastic pollution, the International Day of Zero Waste is jointly enabled by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat). The day calls on all stakeholders – including governments, civil society, businesses, academia, communities, women and youth – to participate in activities that raise awareness of zero waste initiatives.

“Waste management is critical to addressing housing challenges, the way we address sanitation in our cities and, indeed, the climate crisis,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of UN-Habitat. “It’s central to improving the lives of people everywhere.”

In its resolution to establish the Day, the UN General Assembly underlined the potential of zero-waste initiatives and called on all stakeholders to participate in “activities aimed at raising awareness of national, sub-national, regional and local zero-waste initiatives and their contribution to achieving sustainable development”.

Promoting zero-waste initiatives can help achieve all goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goal 11 on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and sustainable development goal 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.

“We must act now,” said UNEP director Inger Andersen. “We have the technical expertise and the drive to innovate. We have the knowledge – both scientific and indigenous knowledge – to find solutions to the waste crisis.

“The first International Day of Zero Waste is a real opportunity to build on local, regional and national initiatives to promote environmentally sound waste management and contribute to sustainable development goals,” she added.

Türkiye, which has tabled the resolution along with 105 other countries, is among the leaders of the zero waste movement. Türkiye launched its zero waste project in 2017 under the leadership of Her Excellency Emine Erdoğan, the First Lady. On the sidelines of the 2022 UN General Assembly, the First Lady of Türkiye and the UN Secretary-General signed a goodwill document to expand the country’s zero-waste project globally.

“The Zero Waste project, which we launched five years ago, is an important step to take action in response to nature’s call for help,” said Her Excellency Emine Erdoğan. “Zero waste has grown over the years – person by person, city by city and region by region – into a global movement that extends beyond the borders of our country. I sincerely believe this date will mark the beginning of better days for the world, our common home.”

On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Waste, companies, governments, non-profit organizations and more are organizing events around the world. These include community information sessions, e-waste and food fundraisers, fashion shows, photo exhibitions and conferences.

The President of the UN General Assembly will convene a high-level meeting in New York to provide a platform for the exchange of Member States’ experiences and success stories in developing and implementing solutions and technologies for the management of solid waste.

UNEP, including through its One Planet Network and UN-Habitat, will undertake campaigns and coordinated outreach efforts leading up to observations of the International Day of Zero Waste on March 30 each year to continue to rally support and action for the sake of from zero waste.

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