Call for leaders to go #BeyondRecovery to a Zero Waste Future

Environmental Justice groups around the world are joining a Global Day of Action to demand that international leaders go beyond recovery, to a future where zero waste practices drive clean air and water, more and better jobs, and a healthy environment for families and communities, as the planet returns to a life-sustaining pathway where nothing and no one is wasted.
Thorben Wengert,

Over 100 groups have organized actions, signed petitions, or taken to social media to unite around a common blueprint for leaders to build a better future beyond COVID-19:

  1. Go zero waste, don’t incinerate. Regional and municipal COVID recovery plans and budgets should prioritize Zero Waste Cities systems, and phase out of false solutions like incineration.
  2. Include waste pickers and workers. Governments must include waste pickers and waste workers in these systems and provide them with a dignified living, as well as a seat at the decision-making table.
  3. Break free from plastic. The pandemic must not be used as an excuse to fuel the plastic production crisis, and governments should enact policies that drastically reduce its production and consumption.
  4. Divest from incinerators, invest in local solutions. As part of a green recovery, International Financial Institutions must divest from Waste-To-Energy and instead finance local and regional zero waste systems.
  5. Put communities first. Governments and financial institutions must be fully transparent and inclusive with regards to how taxpayer money is being spent, not least by ensuring that meaningful consultations are held with civil society and affected communities early on in the process.

Transitioning to zero waste systems has significant environmental, social, and economic benefits for any city.

  • Studies show that zero waste strategies score highest on environmental benefits and create the most jobs of any waste management approach, creating up to 200x more jobs than waste disposal.
  • Cities can save upwards of 70% of waste management costs per tonne by implementing better collection and recycling/composting systems.
  • Inclusion of informal recyclers in zero waste systems results in cost-savings, healthier environments, and greater economic justice for a large percentage of the population.
  • “Waste-to-Energy” incineration is the most expensive waste management approach, 3x the cost of landfills and up to 5x the cost of recycling and composting.

Cecilia Allen, Global Projects Advisor at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative (GAIA) and contributor to the #BeyondRecovery publication series, states: “At a time when governments are looking for ways to recover their economies, they need to realize the potential to create local, sustainable jobs by transitioning into zero waste systems. This will not only be good for the economy, but could also be the beginning of the end to the trap of eternal waste disposal, a headache for governments and a tragedy for the environment.”

Nathan Dufour, Coordinator of the Consumption and Production programme at Zero Waste Europe, which is GAIA’s European branch, said: “With many solutions to design out waste also reducing carbon emissions, transitioning into zero waste systems is also absolutely essential to achieve our climate objectives in an inspiring and forward-looking way. In this context, going beyond recovery means developing and financing genuine circular solutions, which are the only ones that can help build long-term resilience and bring structural responses to the systemic problems that led us to the ongoing crisis.”

GAIA members across the globe are uplifting these demands to their local and regional decision makers. European groups are pushing their governments to drop incineration and instead invest in a circular economy.

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) states: “Incineration has no place in the circular economy towards which we should be working. Most of what is incinerated in the United Kingdom could and should be recycled or composted, and the rest should be designed out. The release of CO2 from incinerators makes climate change worse and comes with a cost to society that is not paid by those incinerating waste.”


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