UN Secretary-General António Guterres has launched a war on waste and called on companies and consumers alike to be more responsible to prevent pollution and environment degradation
The planet is literally drowning in garbage, and it is high time to clean up, Guterres said on March 31 at an event marking the first-ever International Day of Zero Waste.
The UN held a high-level meeting to raise awareness on the urgent need to transition to a “green” and circular economy that promotes sustainable production and consumption patterns. The move could save governments billions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Humanity, according to the UN, currently generates more than two billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, which includes plastics, textiles, rotting food, discarded electronics and debris from mining and construction sites.
Guterres said the population is basically “treating our planet like a garbage dump,” warning that the messy mountain will reach four billion tons by 2050.
“We are trashing our only home,” he said in a speech that stressed the role of zero waste as a transformative solution in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. “We’re spewing a torrent of waste and pollution that is affecting our environment, our economies, and our health.”
Guterres said it was time for “a war on waste” on three fronts, calling on polluters themselves to take the lead.
“Those who produce waste must design products and services that are less resource and material intensive, smartly manage any waste created across all stages of their products’ lifecycle, and find creative ways to extend the lives of the products they sell,” he said.
These companies must also invest in waste management, recovery and recycling systems in communities where they operate, he added.
Reuse, recycle, rethink
The UN chief urged countries, cities and local governments to develop and scale-up modern waste management systems, as well as policies that encourage re-using and recycling plastic bottles, aging electronics and other items.
He urged consumers to be more responsible.
“All of us need to consider the origins and impacts of the goods and products we buy every day and rethink how we dispose of them,” he said.
“We need to find opportunities to reuse, recycle, repurpose, repair and recover the products we use. And we need to think twice before throwing these items in the garbage.”
Guterres encouraged countries to take inspiration from examples like Türkiye’s Zero Waste project, which is spearheaded by the First Lady, Emine Erdoğan, who is also chairperson of his newly-established Advisory Board of Eminent Persons on Zero Waste.
Mrs. Erdoğan in a keynote address noted that all life on earth is connected but industrialization has led to the overconsumption that is polluting the planet.
“Humans have created this frightening landscape. But we know that it is in our hands to stop this destruction and save the earth, our common home,” she said, speaking through an interpreter.
“We are obliged as humanity to act at once, and together, because we will either win or lose together in this equation.”
She said that through the Zero Waste Project, some 650 million tons of raw material have been conserved, and four million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated through recycling.
The First Lady also stressed the need for justice and equality in protecting the planet and combatting climate change.
The head of the UN’s urban development agency,UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, urged countries to be “waste wise” by finding value in reusing items before discarding them.
“Zero Waste is the first step towards creating waste-wise societies,” she said. “The first step is to take responsibility and make a conscious effort to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. Remember that everything we use and discard must go somewhere.”
The global population is on track to reach 10 billion by 2050, and demand for food and non-food agricultural products is also expected to rise by up to 56 per cent, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).