Groups make declaration on first UN zero-waste day

On the first annual United Nations International Day of Zero Waste on March 30, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has released a public declaration that defines the principles and essential components of zero waste.

Signed by over 200 organizations representing zero waste practitioners, policy experts, and community groups in almost 60 countries, the declaration is designed to guide governments in tackling global waste problems.

Aditi Varshneya and Joshua Amposen of GAIA’s network are presenting the declaration at the UN General Assembly inaugural high-level meeting celebrating International Day of Zero Waste.

“We are faced with triple planetary crisis – climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity – which is threatening our survival on earth,” Amposen said.

“For many communities, zero waste is pivotal to building resilience against climate risk and achieving sustainable socio-economic systems.”

The document emphasizes the importance of reducing waste through reuse, refill, repair, and redesign, and encourages governments to further critical infrastructure investments and policies that facilitate these systems.

“Zero waste must also centre social and environmental justice, redressing the historic harms inflicted on communities at every stage of the linear economy– from those living near extraction and manufacturing sites to the waste pickers working without proper pay or recognition, to the neighborhoods where waste is dumped or burned, especially waste sent from overseas,” said Alejandra Parra, zero waste and plastics advisor for GAIA Latin America & the Caribbean and co-founder of Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA) in Chile.

GAIA and Zero Waste Europe members around the world have been at the forefront of zero waste solutions worldwide. Numerous Latin American cities in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, among others, have robust programs to separately collect organics and recyclables, and ban single-use plastic products.

Over four hundred municipalities have committed to zero waste in Europe alone, and cities across Europe and Asia are modeling zero waste solutions that reduce waste by up to 80%.

Zero waste is also a proven climate solution. A recent GAIA study showed that better waste management policies such as waste separation, recycling, and composting could cut total greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector by more than 1.4 billion tonnes, equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million cars. Studies show that zero waste systems also support resilient local economies– creating up to 200 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.

GAIA members also caution leaders against being taken in by dangerous waste management practices that undermine zero waste. “Waste incineration in any form, including in cement kilns and so-called chemical ‘recycling,’ is climate-polluting, toxic, a drain on public funds, and encourages more wastefulness,” said Weyinmi Okotie, GAIA Africa clean energy campaigner.