UNEP chief: Zero-waste approach can reduce gov’t costs by $70bn

UNEP chief: Zero-waste approach can reduce gov’t costs by $70bn
By Marwa Nassar - -

 Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Inger Andersen said a zero-waste approach can reduce the global annual volume of plastics entering our oceans by over 80%, reduce virgin plastic production by 55%, reduce government costs by $70 billion over the next 20 years and reduce GHG emissions by 25% while creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, mainly in the Global South. 

Andersen made the remarks during the International Forum on Green World Solidarity: Shifting from Waste to Value for a Sustainable Future in Baku.

She referred to the UNEP’s Global Waste Management Outlook highlighted that embracing circular economy approaches on waste will deliver environmental and economic benefits.

This year’s report shows municipal solid waste generation is predicted to grow from 2.3 billion tons in 2023 to 3.8 billion tons by 2050. Costs are also rising quickly.

In 2020, the global direct cost of waste management was an estimated $252 billion. But the often-forgotten associated costs are far greater. When we factor in all the hidden costs from pollution, health issues and climate change from poor waste disposal practices, the cost rises to $361 billion. Without urgent action, by 2050 the global annual waste management cost could almost double to a staggering $640 billion. 

Circularity and zero waste approaches can help break our waste addiction. Zero waste initiatives in just five sectors – cement, aluminum, steel, plastics, and food – could eliminate an estimated half of the emissions from the production of goods – 9.3 billion tons of CO2eq in 2050 – equivalent to cutting current emissions from the transport sector to zero. 

How to turn words into action:

“First, we need to build greater capacity to deal with both our present challenges and prepare for the transformational shift we need,” she said, adding “This means dealing with leaking methane emissions; banning open burning to reduce deadly air pollution; increasing waste management capacity, from collection to recycling and reuse; and supporting debris recycling efforts as an integral part of post-disaster and post-conflict recovery. Azerbaijan is already showing leadership in tackling waste with innovative efforts in recycling demolition waste in the conflict-affected areas in collaboration with the private sector and technical advice from UNEP.”

“Secondly, applying a life-cycle approach that covers the design and production phase of products so that products stay longer in the economy and be reused, without creating a waste burden in the first place,” she said.

“Thirdly, we must unlock finance. None of the above will be possible without it, especially for developing countries. I live in Nairobi, Kenya, and many countries across the continent lack solid waste management infrastructure. They are burning waste not because they want to, but because they do not have proper waste management. Financing, including greater support from Multilateral Development Banks, to build out the resources they need is critical. Countries have also started to include waste into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which will unlock climate finance to scale waste management solutions,” she added.

“Finally, we need to embrace existing multilateral agreements and deliver ambitious new ones, including securing a plastics treaty later this year,” Andersen said.

Zero waste is a win win. Keeping materials in the economy and strengthening waste management will deliver financial savings. Protect people’s health. Safeguard nature. And reduce emissions.

Only a drastic reduction in waste generation will secure a liveable and affordable future for all, she concluded.

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