Climate and Nature

Zero Waste Day highlights vital individual, local and regional actions

Zero Waste Day highlights the importance of stomping out waste

Zero Waste Day highlights the importance of stomping out waste Image: Swati Singh Sambyal

Swati Singh Sambyal
Waste Management Specialist, UN Habitat India
Parul Agarwala
Country Programme Manager, UN Habitat India
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Waste mismanagement is a significant contributor to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss and pollution.
  • To combat this problem, it is necessary to take action at the individual, local and regional levels.
  • Zero Waste Day on 30 March 2023 reminds us of our individual and collective responsibility to reduce waste.

The world is facing a waste crisis.

The World Bank estimates that two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated globally every year. This is expected to grow to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050. At least a third of this waste is mismanaged. In low-income countries, the problem is even worse, with an estimated 90% of waste not disposed of correctly.

Waste mismanagement is a significant contributor to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss and pollution.

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Recognising this, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in its seventy-seventh session, adopted the resolution, Promoting zero-waste initiatives to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, on 14th December 2022. This resolution, put forward by Türkiye along with 105 other countries including India, and adopted unanimously by the UNGA, proclaims 30th March as the International Day of Zero Waste (now known as Zero Waste Day), to be observed annually.

The occasion signifies the societal shift towards zero-waste initiatives that advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The occasion seeks to inspire individuals, communities and businesses alike to re-evaluate their consumption habits and adopt a more responsible approach to waste management.

It is important to take actions at individual, local and regional levesl.

Individual action for zero waste

Action starts at home. As individuals, we can considerably reduce our footprint and adopt a zero-waste lifestyle by minimising the use of single-use-plastics and switching to greener alternatives; by minimising our consumption − buying only what is necessary whether that's clothing or electronics; by reducing food waste and managing wet waste at source (composting, biogas, etc.); by opting for local sustainable brands; and, by volunteering on zero-waste campaigns.

Empowering local stakeholders to create a zero-waste future

Consistent and effective local action can have a significant positive impact on a city's, a state's and, eventually, a nation’s waste-management efforts. Local stakeholders, be it government agencies, local businesses, NGOs or citizen groups, have a critical role to play in implementing and enforcing waste management policies on the ground and ensuring that appropriate zero waste systems (ZWS) are established in the form of pilots or initiatives (for instance zero waste wards) that can be replicated.

They can facilitate the creation of local circular economies, doing so by supporting local businesses that utilise waste as a resource (for instance, ditching plastic carrier bags with NGOs supporting informal actors to make cloth bags via cloth collection drives or zero-waste crockery banks that support zero-waste events); and encouraging sustainable production and consumption patterns amongst local people.

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Advancing frontier innovation at the grass-roots level

Businesses can contribute to the transition to a zero-waste economy by developing proficiencies in circular innovation. They can also design production processes to implement product reuse, recovery and recycling. Also, existing linear models can be transposed to zero-waste infrastructure systems by focussing on frugal innovation systems that are affordable and accessible and include the informal sector.

The PROTOPRINT project (TPP), for example, being implemented in Pune, India, adopts a synergic systemic approach to reshaping the informal recycling sector for upcycling of plastic waste by setting up self-managed processes consisting of waste-picker members. The end products are then sold via negotiated agreements with industrial partners, assuring fair wages and buy-back assurance for the workers.

Strengthening local municipal systems

Segregating and collecting waste at the source level minimises waste in landfills and maximises resource recovery. This is crucial for setting up ZWS in our cities − focusing on end-to-end segregation. Additionally, local bylaws can be strengthened to focus on zero-waste policy measures and to cement such processes.

And, evidence-based planning for MSW is essential to strengthen and plan effective municipal ZWS in cities. Cities such as Indore, Mysuru, Ambikapur and Thiruvananthapuram in India have shown tremendous progress in setting up ZWS by focussing on behaviour change, end-to-end segregation, business and technology and social enterprise approaches.

Zero Waste Day is a crucial reminder of our individual and collective responsibility to reduce waste on our planet and push towards a greener future for our planet, people and future generations to come. It is a call for action.

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