Waste crisis is undermining the Earth’s ability to sustain life. Waste costs global economy billions of dollars each year. And in encouraging everyone to prevent and minimize waste and promote a societal shift towards a circular economy, the United Nations marked March 30 as the first International Day of Zero Waste.
The United Nations engaged the day in response to the worsening impacts of waste on human health, the economy and the environment. “The waste crisis is undermining the Earth’s ability to sustain life. Waste costs the global economy billions of dollars each year,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message on the Day. “By treating nature like a dumping ground, we are digging our own graves. It is time to reflect on the toll that waste is taking on our planet – and to find solutions to this gravest of threats.”
Established through a UN General Assembly resolution that followed other resolutions on waste, including the 2 March 2022 UN Environment Assembly’s commitment to advance a global agreement to end plastic pollution, the International Day of Zero Waste is jointly facilitated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). The Day calls upon all stakeholders – including governments, civil society, businesses, academia, communities, women and youth – to engage in activities that raise awareness of zero-waste initiatives.
In its resolution to establish the Day, the UN General Assembly underlined the potential of zero-waste initiatives and called upon all stakeholders to engage in “activities aimed at raising awareness of national, subnational, regional and local zero-waste initiatives and their contribution to achieving sustainable development”.
Humanity generates more than two billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, of which 45 per cent is mismanaged. Without urgent action, this will rise to almost 4 billion tons by 2050. Waste comes in all forms and sizes – including plastics, debris from mining and construction sites, electronics and food. It disproportionately impacts the poor, with up to 4 billion people lacking access to controlled disposal facilities.
The International Day of Zero Waste aims to bring these myriad impacts of waste to the world’s attention and encourage global action at all levels to reduce pollution and waste.
“Waste management is critical to overcoming housing challenges, how we manage our cities’ sanitation challenges and, indeed, the climate crisis,” UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif said. “It is central to improving the lives of people everywhere.”
Turkey, which put forward the resolution alongside 105 other countries, is among the leaders of the zero-waste movement. Turkey launched its zero-waste project in 2017 under the leadership of Emine Endogen, the First Lady. On the margins of the UN General Assembly in 2022, the First Lady of Turkey and the UN Secretary-General signed a goodwill document to extend the country’s zero-waste project globally
SDG AND ACTION
Promoting zero-waste initiatives can help advance all the goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including 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 need to act now,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said. “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 foster environmentally sound waste management and to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals,” she added.