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Zero Waste Day: UN calls for a war on garbage

There are hundreds of landfill dumpsites spread across Kenya with the largest being Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi. PHOTO/ UNEP/Duncan Moore.


The planet is literally drowning in garbage, and it is high time to clean up, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday, at an event in the General Assembly Hall marking the first-ever International Day of Zero Waste

The high-level meeting was held to raise awareness of the urgent need to transition to a “green” and circular economy that promotes sustainable production and consumption patterns. The move could save governments billions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Humanity currently generates more than two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, which includes plastics, textiles, rotting food, discarded electronics, and debris from mining and construction sites. 

As the Secretary-General bluntly put it, we are basically “treating our planet like a garbage dump”, warning that the messy mountain will reach four billion tonnes by 2050.

“We are trashing our only home,” he said.  “We’re spewing a torrent of waste and pollution that is affecting our environment, our economies, and our health.”

War on waste 

Mr. Guterres said it was time for “a war on waste” on three fronts, calling on polluters themselves to take the lead.

“Those who produce waste must design products and services that are less resource and material intensive, smartly manage any waste created across all stages of their products’ lifecycle, and find creative ways to extend the lives of the products they sell,” he said.

These companies will also need to invest in waste management, recovery and recycling systems in communities where they operate, he added.

Reuse, recycle, rethink 

The UN chief urged countries, cities and local governments to develop and scale-up modern waste management systems, as well as policies that encourage re-using and recycling plastic bottles, ageing electronics and other items.

His final point focused on the need for consumers to be more responsible.

“All of us need to consider the origins and impacts of the goods and products we buy every day and rethink how we dispose of them,” he said.

“We need to find opportunities to reuse, recycle, repurpose, repair and recover the products we use.  And we need to think twice before throwing these items in the garbage.” 

The Secretary-General also encouraged countries to take inspiration from examples like Türkiye’s Zero Waste project, which is spearheaded by the First Lady, Emine Erdoğan, who is also chairperson of his newly established Advisory Board of Eminent Persons on Zero Waste.

Delivering the keynote address, Mrs. Erdoğan noted that all life on earth is connected but industrialization has led to the overconsumption that is polluting the planet.

Share the burden 

“Humans have created this frightening landscape. But we know that it is in our hands to stop this destruction and save the earth, our common home,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. 

Emine Erdoğan, First Lady of the Republic of Türkiye, addresses the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the role of zero waste as a transformative solution in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. PHOTO/UN/ Eskinder Debebe.

“We are obliged as humanity to act at once, and together, because we will either win or lose together in this equation.”

She reported that through the Zero Waste Project, some 650 million tonnes of raw material have been conserved, and four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated through recycling.

The First Lady also highlighted the need for justice and equality when it comes to protecting the planet and combatting climate change.   

She cited her husband, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, saying he “rightfully suggests that the world is bigger than five” – a reference to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“We are obliged to establish a fair system and take on measures based on burden sharing where we look out for countries deeply impacted by the consequences of climate change which had no part to play in the first place,” she said.

Be ‘waste wise’ 

The head of the UN’s urban development agency, UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, urged countries to be “waste wise”, including through finding value in reusing items before discarding them.

“Zero Waste is the first step towards creating waste-wise societies,” she said.  “The first step is to take responsibility and make a conscious effort to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. Remember that everything we use and discard must go somewhere.” 

The global population is on track to reach 10 billion by 2050, and demand for food and non-food agricultural products is also expected to rise by up to 56 per cent, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Meeting this demand will require healthier and more sustainable food production and consumption, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said in a video message.

He noted that over 13 per cent of food produced globally goes lost between the production and wholesale stages of the supply chain.

“We need to urgently address the inefficiencies and inequalities in our agrifood systems to make them more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable,” he said. 

Mr. Qu underlined FAO’s commitment to work with all partners to achieve the goal of zero waste through transforming global agrifood systems.

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