Global Day of Action initiative pushes for a zero waste strategy post-COVID

On the Global Day of Action in 2021, over 100 environmental groups have taken a stand on climate change and zero waste, calling for leaders to act urgently and go beyond recovery strategies following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign #BeyondRecovery aims to focus international communities on building a zero waste future, by proposing an economic recovery strategy that enacts sustainability, boosts local economies, creates jobs and drives zero-waste practices.

This year, the Global Day of Action will take place virtually, with environmental justice organisations taking to social media, spreading petitions and setting out organised points for action, with six key areas having been established as key to building a sustainable society beyond COVID-19.

Firstly, post-COVID recovery plans should eliminate incineration, and instead take steps to prioritise systems that enable cities to implement zero waste practices. In addition, governments should take action to include waste pickers and waste workers, who are part of the decision-making process, and ensure they are remunerated with a dignified living wage.

Further to this, there should be a significant descaling of plastic production, enforced in tandem with policy that cuts plastic production and use. Alongside this, governments should terminate financial investments in waste-to-energy systems so investments instead go to local and national infrastructures that support zero-waste solutions.

Finally, the #BeyondRecovery initiative prioritises putting communities first. Governments must be transparent with how taxpayer money is being used. Civil society should be consulted on how their communities are affected by spending.
Research shows that cities would environmentally, socially and economically benefit from zero-waste systems.

Zero waste strategies rate highest for positive environmental impact, while contributing the most jobs out of all waste management approaches; zero-waste approaches create up to 200 times more jobs than waste disposal.
Furthermore, cities could cut more than 70 per cent of waste management costs per tonne by employing more efficient collection and recycling systems.

With ‘energy from waste’ (EfW) incineration being the most expensive waste management approach, costing three times more than sending waste to landfill, and up to five times more than recycling and composting, informal recyclers in zero waste systems have the potential to save on costs, provide economic support, and stimulate a healthier environment.

Global Projects Advisor at GAIA and contributor to the #BeyondRecovery publication series, Cecilia Allen, commented: “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, (the GAIA’s European branch) stated: “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.”

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) said: “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.”