A SOLUTION TO OUR CLIMATE CRISIS
Zero waste is a fundamental solution to the climate crisis — waste reduction, composting, recycling, and other hallmarks of a zero waste system are proven to both prevent emissions and sequester existing carbon. Emissions reduction, however, is only part of the equation. The economic, social, and health benefits that zero waste provides to cities is pivotal to creating the strong and resilient societies we need in the face of climate change. By building up climate resilience, cities cannot only survive, but thrive.
CREATING RESILIENT CITIES
Zero waste strategies should be a central part of any municipality’s climate resilience plan as they help cities weather natural disasters. Low-lying areas prone to flooding are a key example, as the consequences of constant flooding are exacerbated due to plastic waste clogging drains. By implementing a zero waste system in areas most vulnerable to flooding, residents won’t have to worry about being awash in plastic pollution or the public health impacts that come with it. By providing infrastructure that allows cities to better withstand storms — which are increasing in intensity due to climate change — they can become more sustainable and resilient.
Today, our materials economy — raw material extraction, processing, and goods manufacture — is responsible for a lion’s share of our climate problem, accounting for a whopping 62% of global greenhouse gases (GHG). The GHG reduction potential of materials management through zero waste strategies is huge, and key to creating a carbon neutral future.
MANAGING MATERIAL STREAMS
Methane, a GHG that is 84 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period, is what organic waste produces when it goes to a landfill. Currently, it is estimated that 12% of our global methane contributions come from landfills, which remain a primary source of organics management for cities. By diverting food scraps to compost instead of landfills, cities across the globe can make great strides towards reducing food waste. Over the next 30 years, global food waste prevention can reduce emissions by 70.53 gigatonnes of CO2, making it one of the most essential solutions to the climate crisis. In addition to curbing global methane production, studies have shown that compost improves soil quality and allows it to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere. In 25 years, healthy soil could sequester more than 10% of annual anthropogenic emissions.
Avoiding waste and GHG through reuse
Reusable packaging produces far fewer carbon emissions than single-use packaging, which makes up 36% of municipal solid waste and is estimated to cause more GHG emissions than the global aviation industry.