New Study: Zero Waste Systems Creates up to 200 Times More Jobs than Landfills and Incinerators 

Zero Waste Found to Be a Key Strategy to Build Strong, Sustainable Economies

15 February 2021– A new study from GAIA finds that cities that invest in zero waste programs and policies create good green jobs, in addition to known benefits of reducing pollution and improving community health. This report comes as municipal governments worldwide are making critical decisions about which programs to invest in to increase climate resilience and rebuild local economies that have been damaged by the COVID-19 crisis.

In a global meta-analysis of job creation potential of different waste management sectors, the research makes clear that what’s good for the environment is also good for the economy. Zero waste strategies score highest on environmental benefits and create the most jobs of any waste management approach:

  • Reuse creates over 200 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
  • Recycling creates around 70 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
  • Remanufacturing creates almost 30 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.

Zero waste is a comprehensive waste management approach that prioritizes waste reduction and material recovery, with the ultimate aim of creating a circular economy, shrinking waste disposal to zero. In contrast, disposal-based systems rely on incineration (“waste to energy”) and landfills to handle most of the waste stream, resulting in higher economic costs and environmental consequences.

The report analyzed the job growth potential of cities around the world if they were to divert 80% of recyclable and compostable waste from landfilling and incineration. The numbers were impressive: for example, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam could both create over 18,000 jobs, and São Paulo, Brazil could create an astonishing 36,000 new jobs.

Zero waste systems not only create more jobs, they create better jobs. Studies show that jobs in zero waste go beyond basic manual labor, provide higher wages, offer more permanent positions, and improve quality of life.

Report author Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at GAIA, states, “With the world still reeling from the pandemic, job creation is a top priority. Zero Waste offers a strategy to create good jobs and reduce pollution without breaking the bank. It’s a triple win for the economy, the environment, and the city.” 

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GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.