By Sharon Atieno

The world marks the inaugural International Day of Zero Waste on 30th March with a renewed call to not only prevent and minimize waste but also promote a societal shift towards a circular economy.

Globally, more than two billion tons of municipal solid waste is generated annually, of which 45 per cent is mismanaged. Without urgent action, this will rise to almost four billion tons by 2050.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the waste which includes plastics, debris from mining and construction sites, electronics and food, disproportionately impacts the poor, with up to four billion people lacking access to controlled disposal facilities.

“The waste crisis is undermining the Earth’s ability to sustain life. Waste costs the global economy billions of dollars each year,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message.

“By treating nature like a dumping ground, we are digging our own graves. It is time to reflect on the toll that waste is taking on our planet – and to find solutions to this gravest of threats.”

Established through a UN General Assembly resolution that followed other resolutions on waste, including the 2 March 2022 UN Environment Assembly’s commitment to advance a global agreement to end plastic pollution, the International Day of Zero Waste is jointly facilitated by the UNEP and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

The Day calls upon all stakeholders – including governments, civil society, businesses, academia, communities, women and youth – to engage in activities that raise awareness of zero-waste initiatives.

The International Day of Zero Waste aims to bring these impacts of waste to the world’s attention and encourage global action at all levels to reduce pollution and waste.

“Waste management is critical to overcoming housing challenges, how we manage our cities’ sanitation challenges and, indeed, the climate crisis,” UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif said. “It is central to improving the lives of people everywhere.”

In its resolution to establish the Day, the UN General Assembly underlined the potential of zero-waste initiatives and called upon all stakeholders to engage in “activities aimed at raising awareness of national, subnational, regional and local zero-waste initiatives and their contribution to achieving sustainable development”.

Promoting zero-waste initiatives can help advance all the goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including Sustainable Development Goal 11 on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and Sustainable Development Goal 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.

“We need to act now,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said. “We have the technical expertise and the drive to innovate. We have the knowledge – both scientific and indigenous knowledge – to find solutions to the waste crisis.

“The first International Day of Zero Waste is a real opportunity to build on local, regional and national initiatives to foster environmentally sound waste management and to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals,” she added.

Türkiye, which put forward the resolution alongside 105 other countries, is among the leaders of the zero-waste movement.

Türkiye launched its zero-waste project in 2017 under the leadership of Her Excellency Emine Erdoğan, the First Lady. On the margins of the UN General Assembly in 2022, the First Lady of Türkiye and the UN Secretary-General signed a goodwill document to extend the country’s zero-waste project globally.

“The Zero Waste Project, which we launched five years ago, is an important step to take action in response to nature’s call for help,” Her Excellency Emine Erdoğan said.

“Zero waste has grown over the years – person by person, city by city and region by region – to become a global movement that extends beyond the borders of our country. I sincerely believe that this date will mark the beginning of better days for the world, our common home.”

The President of the UN General Assembly will convene a high-level meeting in New York to provide a platform to exchange the experiences and success stories of Member States in developing and implementing solid waste management solutions and technologies.

UNEP, including through its One Planet Network and UN-Habitat will undertake campaigns and concerted outreach efforts in the build-up to observations of International Day of Zero Waste on 30 March every year to continue rallying support and action on the importance of zero waste.