Guest article: The case for a simple climate solution: zero waste | SDG Knowledge Center

By Desmond Alugnoa, Member Support Program Coordinator, GAIA Africa, and Claire Arkin, Global Communications Manager, GAIA

As another United Nations climate change conference, or “COP” in climate jargon, approaches, leaders are looking for affordable and effective strategies to meet their emissions reduction targets while strengthening national economies. . Since climate change is linked to so many other societal ills, climate solutions cannot be considered in a vacuum. Adopting an intersectional approach will both reduce political barriers and achieve more tangible immediate results for community health and well-being.

A new report of the Global Alliance for Alternatives to Incinerators (GAIA) finds that “zero waste” systems – waste reduction, separate collection, composting and recycling – are not only a rapid and cost-effective climate mitigation strategy, but can also help create a host of economic and social benefits that support many of the SDGs.

There’s a reason why SDGs 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 13 (climate action) sit side by side. We cannot act for the climate without radically rethinking our relationship with the material world. It is estimated that 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the materials economy – from extraction to manufacturing, transport, use and disposal. By avoiding waste through methods such as reusing, repairing and banning single-use materials, we can create ripple effects that reduce emissions throughout the product lifecycle. For examinationIn fact, creating a soda can from recycled aluminum uses 96% less energy than starting with raw materials.

The waste sector itself has a significant carbon footprint. The report finds that zero-waste strategies could reduce global waste emissions by 84%, or 1.4 billion tons, which is equivalent to taking 300 million cars off the road a year (or all motor vehicles in the states -United). The report outlines potential GHG emissions savings through zero-waste approaches for eight cities of varying geographies and socio-economic status, and finds that some like São Paulo and Detroit could achieve net negative emissions in the waste sector by 2030, the sector saving more carbon than it emits.

Tackling waste is a powerful climate strategy, especially when it comes to methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). Twenty percent of all methane emissions come from the landfill of our organic waste where it sits and rots, spewing the gas into the atmosphere. At last year’s COP in Glasgow, UK, the international community recognized the importance of reducing methane by announcing the Global Methane Pledge signed by over a hundred countries, pledging to reduce global methane emissions to minus 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. The use of proven strategies such as separate collection of organic waste, composting, mechanical-biological treatment of residual waste and covering of biologically active landfills can reduce methane emissions from the waste sector by 95% on average.

The climate crisis has also threatened food production, with increased droughts, floods and pestilence leading to reduced yields and crop failures, jeopardizing SDG 2 (zero hunger). The simple act of separately collecting and composting our organic waste can contribute to food security by making local food systems more resilient to climate-related environmental stressors.

Composted soil not only absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, increasing the soil’s ability to be a carbon sink, but it also enriches soil bacteria that facilitate a good harvest. Composted soil has also been shown to preserve nutrients in the face of drought and to absorb and detoxify flood waters to prevent the worst consequences of flooding.

The need to compost organic materials is particularly important in the Global South, not only because the majority of the region’s waste streams consist of organic materials, but also because communities in the Global South are on the front line of worst impacts of climate change. Composting can support communities in flood-prone areas like the Philippines and Bangladesh, and in dry sub-Saharan Africa to protect local agriculture. Fortunately, communities around the world have been practicing composting for generations. The next step is for governments to scale composting infrastructure into their climate plans.

Zero-waste systems not only promote climate resilience, but also support economic stability and equity. Zero waste has been shown to support SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), by create up to 200 times more jobs than disposal systems such as landfill and incineration. And there are not just more jobs, but better jobs: studies show that zero-waste systems allow for higher wages and better working conditions than in disposal systems, and allow workers to develop and use a wide range of skills, from repairing equipment to raising awareness public. Reports show that a diversion of 80% of organic and recyclable materials could create 18,000 new jobs in places like Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and 36,000 new jobs in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Governments that have implemented zero waste strategies fight too poverty (SDG 1) and systemic inequalities (SDG 10). Much of the existing recycling collection in the world is done by the informal recycling sector, especially in the Global South. There are between 12.6 million and 56 million people worldwide who currently work as informal recyclers, and the majority of them work in dangerous and undignified conditions with very little pay, job security or protection of workers. By adopting a zero-waste system, local governments “formalize” these workers, meaning they are recognized and compensated for the important work they do for the community, and have a seat at the decision-making table. .

For example, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the government hired 6,500 registered workers in 12 waste picker cooperatives to manage their recycling system, which the cooperatives co-manage with the local government. Through this partnership, workers receive the recognition and support they deserve, and the city saves thousands of tons of GHG emissions. The Amanecer de los Cartoneros cooperative alone avoids approximately 112,157 tonnes of GHG emissions per year.

Sometimes the simplest and most obvious solutions are the best, and the same goes for the waste sector. With a modest investment in scaling up zero waste solutions, governments can achieve rapid results to achieve the SDGs.

About Donnie R. Losey

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