Better waste management and recycling is a critical part of the wider climate adaptation and mitigation effort, according to Chris Williams, founder and CEO of ISB Global. However, the issue received only limited attention at COP27 last November, leading to calls for change.
“In an ideal world, we would radically rethink how we view waste and consumption and set ourselves the goal of net zero waste,” explained Williams. “But short of complete waste prevention, more efficient and effective waste management on a day-to-day level and also across entire supply chains in industry and commerce, can ensure we tackle the problem.”
A 2018 World Bank’s report, entitled ‘What a Waste 2.0’, estimated that globally every human being produces on average 0.74 kilograms of solid waste each day. Approximately 40 per cent of this waste ends up in landfills or open dumps, which has a long-lasting harmful impact on the environment, including generating methane and water pollution. Globally, waste management contributes 20 per cent of all methane emissions, with other harmful environmental emissions including black carbon and dioxins.
“The answer is to move towards a ‘circular economy’, where we reclaim, reuse and recycle as much waste material as possible – ideally all of it,” said Williams. “The International Solid Waste Association, for example, claims that this could mitigate up to 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
The waste issue was not even on the agenda at COP26 in Glasgow two years ago. Thankfully, this changed last November at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh. A panel session featuring speakers from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the Global Foodbanking Network, plus politicians from Canada, Chile and Senegal discussed waste diversion and segregation as an opportunity for reducing methane emissions plus the challenges involved for public policy at a regional level.
Activist groups also headed to COP27 to raise awareness of the waste problem. Australian start-up Zero Co launched its ‘100 Yr Cleanup’ campaign by building a huge pyramid made entirely of single-use plastics collected from the River Nile. It hopes to raise $1 million over the coming year and remove the equivalent of 15 million water bottles in plastic waste around the globe. However, considering the amount of carbon and other emissions created by ineffective waste management policies, it deserved more.
Williams continued: “The initiatives announced at COP27 show the demand among people and organisations to improve waste management. But in order to make a significant difference, there needs to be a greater commitment at all levels of government, supported by the investors, for tackling and improving current poor waste management practices in both developing nations and mature ones.
“Waste still does not feature as a standalone UN Climate Change topic and so does not as yet attract the level of debate and action that is needed in order to proactively and seriously address the contribution that poor waste management makes to climate change. The key, of course, is to prevent waste altogether. That means changing our attitudes to consumption by consuming less and instead reusing more of what at the moment we throw away,” he added.
More recycling at a national, regional and a community level puts useful materials back in the production chain where they can be used and keeps them out of landfill. But a lot of recycling still is not good enough. Some countries and regions are better than others – and some are pitifully behind the times.
“Better, smarter waste management simply makes good business sense,” added Williams “For example, manufacturers who separate and reuse or resell their waste products rather than simply dumping them do not have to spend capital extracting and sourcing completely new raw materials. And it is also now a legal requirement, with more and more governments legislating against excessive landfill with minimum operating requirements and higher taxes.
“The combination of improved waste management processes plus more recycling is a significant opportunity – to have a meaningful impact on greenhouse gas emissions: and to also help bring about a sea-change in the way individuals and organisations alike think about their consumption and waste.”