To all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
As your government starts to solidify its nationally determined contributions (NDC’s) in line with the Paris Agreement, it is important to avoid some misleading measures masquerading as climate solutions under the framework of net zero.
The burning of plastic waste, investments in unproven technologies like chemical recycling, and continuing production of fossil fuel-based plastics will result in massive carbon emissions and seriously undermine the world’s ability to limit global heating to 1.5 C and avert climate catastrophe.
Plastic pollutes and emits greenhouse gases throughout its life cycle, and expanding plastic production in association with loopholes such as carbon offsets/trading schemes and unproven technologies (e.g., carbon capture and storage (CCS), chemical recycling, geoengineering) only serves to delay and distract from the action needed to implement real solutions to the twin crises of climate change and plastic pollution.
We, the undersigned, urge all parties to the UNFCCC to reject false solutions to climate change such as the burning of waste in waste-to-energy incinerators, phase out investments for single-use plastic production, and hold petrochemical companies accountable for plastic pollution and their enormous contribution to global heating. We also urge parties to support community-driven zero waste solutions that secure green jobs, stimulate local economies, and reduce climate and air pollution.
- Close the emissions gap and ensure global temperatures do not rise above 1.5ºC.
- Exclude waste-to-energy incineration from NDC’s and other climate plans.
- Stop petrochemical expansion, reduce plastic production, phase-out single-use plastic and packaging across different sectors, and leave fossil fuels in the ground.
- Do not rely on offsets, carbon trading, carbon removal or carbon capture and storage schemes to reach net zero targets.
What we propose:
- Commit to real zero targets, with increased ambition to ensure a just transition towards a truly sustainable zero waste circular economy.
- Invest in waste reduction measures and zero waste circular economy systems in national climate action plans, including reuse-based alternative product delivery systems.
- Hold petrochemical and plastic polluter companies accountable for plastic pollution and their enormous contribution to global heating, in line with the producer pays principle.
- Finance a just transition model with robust social protection and decent income for workers including waste pickers engaged in recycling, reuse, and waste prevention, recognising their contribution to climate change mitigation, and protecting them from climate change impacts.
Close the emissions gap and ensure global temperatures do not rise above 1.5º
We need urgent action to stop catastrophic climate change. Global temperature rise must be limited to 1.5°C– anything above will bring widespread devastation. Only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent climate breakdown, but current plans do not put us anywhere near on track to achieve this.
Current government and corporate targets of ‘net zero’ do not really mean zero emissions. Our research shows that up to a quarter of NDC’s submitted rely on misleading measures that actually exacerbate instead of mitigate the climate crisis, such as plastic waste-burning in waste-to-energy incinerators and cement kilns. Not a single NDC discusses the issue of international plastic waste trade or e-waste dumping, and none propose zero emission goals for the sector, revealing a staggering lack of ambition on the part of many countries with respect to the waste sector.
To meet climate commitments and alleviate harm to communities on the frontlines of the climate and waste crises, we urge parties to:
- Exclude waste-to-energy incineration from NDC’s and any other climate plan.
Waste-to-energy incineration sits at the bottom of the waste hierarchy precisely because it has the greatest negative impact on the climate. The burning of one tonne of municipal waste releases nearly 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, contributing to runaway climate change. This makes energy produced through burning waste extremely carbon-intensive, while creating a lock-in effect that prevents increasing waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting, which have greater greenhouse gas (GHG) savings as well as other environmental, social and economic benefits.
Notably, air pollution from waste incineration has been shown to disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities, including people of color, further exacerbating the injustices in our society and continuing to place climate impacts on those most vulnerable. Furthermore, waste-to-energy incineration takes away the livelihood of many waste pickers and informal recyclers, who retrieve recyclable materials from municipal solid waste.
- Reduce plastic production, phase-out single use plastic, and leave oil in the ground
As governments make the decisive shift away from fossil fuel-based energy and transport systems, the fossil fuel industry continues to invest in the expansion of gas, oil and petrochemical facilities to produce more plastic. The production and use of single-use plastic is a major driver behind this expansion and provides a convenient safety net for fossil fuel companies to hedge their future and justify their huge investments. According to the International Energy Agency, petrochemicals, including plastic, are set to comprise 45% of the growth for oil and gas mining from 2018 to 2040. Like decarbonizing the energy sector, we cannot reach the 1.5°C target without phasing out plastic production.
Oil and petrochemical industries are betting their future on the growth of plastic packaging and synthetic fibres, such as polyester for textile production. If the planned large-scale investments materialise, they will perpetuate the current lock-in of cheap fossil-based plastics for decades to come, undermining and negating efforts to phase out fossil fuels.
- Reject offsets or carbon removal strategies to reach net zero
Evidence shows that carbon markets have systemic failures, meaning they would not work even if the price of carbon were “right.” Most of the projects that have been financed by the carbon market are not additional, so the offsets do nothing to reduce GHG emissions. Instead, polluting companies have received huge windfall profits from over-allocation of carbon allowances, and the system is infested with corruption, obfuscation, and projects lacking environmental integrity.
Plastic offsets are yet another example of a false solution. Plastic neutrality and plastic offsetting are new concepts modeled on the idea of ‘carbon neutrality.’ An entity sells credits by collecting plastic waste that otherwise might be left in the environment and a company or individual buys enough credits to offset his plastic footprint or a part of it. This means a company can produce huge amounts of single-use plastic and their corresponding emissions, but claim plastic neutrality because they have paid enough money to someone else to collect waste, most of which is non-recyclable. Often the plastic is collected by informal waste workers, and the collected plastic is burned in cement kilns. Carbon neutrality and carbon offsets are false solutions to the climate crisis, and the same is true for plastic neutrality. No plastic is actually reduced, and how much plastic is actually diverted from the environment is hard to confirm. Either way, burning plastic is yet another way of burning fossil fuels.
We propose parties to:
- Include zero waste policies within national climate action plans
We urge the UNFCCC parties to commit to zero waste as part of their national climate plans. Zero waste is a comprehensive waste management approach that prioritizes waste reduction and material recovery. Strategies include policy interventions and business approaches to drive the redesign of products and delivery systems; and increasing access to reuse, repair, recycling, and composting. The ultimate aim is to create a circular economy, shrinking waste disposal to zero.
In particular, the ever-increasing trend in plastic production and plastic incineration needs to be reversed. This requires the deep transformation of the dominant single-use plastic regime into a zero waste circular economy, where production and use of single-use or throwaway products is limited to the minimum.
Zero waste strategies should also aim to reduce methane emissions, through initiatives that prevent food waste and increase the volume of separately collected and composted organic waste. Governments must ensure that the life cycle of the materials and products we use – from extraction and production, to end use, recycling, composting, and disposal – sustain the health of people and the planet.
- Hold fossil fuel companies and corporate plastic polluters accountable.
Fossil fuel companies must be held accountable for the impacts of the worsening climate crisis, especially on vulnerable communities, and should not be allowed to amass greater profits by producing even more plastic.
Equally important, consumer goods companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé amongst others, should be required to phase out their use of single use plastic packaging and products and cut their addiction to fossil fuels. These companies need to be held responsible for the full life cycle costs and impacts of their products and packaging. This includes taking responsibility for the end-of-life of their products in line with the polluter pays principle, with effective and mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and Deposit Return Schemes.
Moving forward, government support is needed to start-up and scale-up systems that support reusable products and circularity, and disincentivize the continuation of single-use commodities.
- Finance a just transition model and welfare system for recyclers
A just transition must address injustices, poverty and inequalities. This means shifting away from the fossil fuel industry while supporting workers engaged in plastic production and investing in creating decent unionised green jobs and services.
Zero waste plans should be inclusive and equitable, giving priority to job creation and respect for workers rights. In the Global South, recycling provides a livelihood to approximately 15 million people worldwide— 0.5% and 2% of the global population (12.5 to 56 million people). These are self-employed workers, mostly in the informal economy, who retrieve up to 45% of the total waste stream. They collect, sort, clean, and in some cases, process the recyclables, returning them to industry as an inexpensive and low-carbon raw material. In doing so, waste pickers can be incredibly efficient recyclers and thus represent a huge opportunity to reduce GHG emissions through increased recycling rates, if given proper recognition and support.
Yet, waste pickers are systematically marginalised, and can face significant social and health challenges in the absence of formalised unions, ending up at risk of losing their livelihoods and being very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A just transition in the waste sector will include the informal waste sector as a key stakeholder in existing waste management systems, and must be incorporated into the planning of system improvements to yield further beneficial social and economic outcomes.
The action we need is already being modeled at the local level around the world, including national-level product bans, innovative reusable and refillable alternatives in the business sector, and bans on the plastic waste ‘trade.’
Communities around the world are rejecting waste burning and are instead advancing recycling, composting, waste reduction, and other creative solutions. Recyclers and waste pickers have formed cooperatives and collectives that promote social justice while reducing waste and pollution.
Zero waste solutions are being implemented at the local level together with the local communities, proving a different way is possible and achievable. They are leading the way to achieve a substantial decrease in waste generation and increase in separate collection and recycling while creating livelihoods, saving money, and protecting the environment and public health. Furthermore, cities are stopping the flow of plastic into our oceans by implementing strong systems of collection and by banning single-use, disposable plastic. Together, these practical, bottom-up strategies provide some of the best-decentralised urban solutions for reducing climate pollution, conserving energy and natural resources and present enormous opportunities for developing local living economies.
Now these actions need to be scaled up through national policy. National zero waste plans offer a rapid, inexpensive strategy to reduce emissions while increasing employment and economic activity.
Now it’s time for UNFCCC parties to follow suit.
Academia Mexicana de Derecho Ambiental
Aer Beatha Limited
Again Again Limited
Alianza Basura Cero Chile
Alianza Basura Cero Ecuador /Área de Salud de la Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar
Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers
All India Kabadi Mazdoor Mahasangh (AIKMM)
All Our Energy
alpha academy npo
Alubarika Healthcare Services
Andy Gheorghiu Consulting
Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance (APPA)
ASD-Bangladesh (Association for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh)
ASOCIACIÓN AMBIENTE EUROPEO
Asociación de Mujeres Ambientalistas de El Salvador AMAES
Asociacion Ecologica Santo Tomás A.C.
Asociación para la Promoción y el Desarrollo de la Comunidad CEIBA
Association Zéro Déchet Sénégal
Ateneo de Naga University
Bakalcha plastic waste collection
Be the Solution to Pollution
Bios Argentina Nodo Tandil
Black Hills Sustainable Living
Break Free from Plastic
Break-Free From Plastic Awareness Initiative
Bye Bye Plastic Bags
Casa Fiizi Arquitetura e Meio Ambiente Ltda
Center for Adaptive Capacity Building (CAB)
Center For Coalfield Justice
Centre for Financial Accountability
Centre for Human Rights & Governance
Centre for Zero Waste & Development in Africa (CZWDA)
Centro Ecosocial Latinoamericano
Changing Markets Foundation
Citizens Environmental and Social Concern (CESCo)
Citizens Network For Community Development Zambia
Climate Crisis Policy
Climate Justice Alliance
Climate Justice Group
Coaching servicios profesionales
Colectivo Voces Ecológicas COVEC
Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE)
Consumers for a Plastic Free Fiji
Consumers’ Association of Penang
coordinamento ligure gestione corretta rifiuti (GCR)
Corporación Chile Ambiente
Corporacion Peograma La Caleta
CREST- Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Ekologi brez meja
End Plastic Pollution
Environmental Investigation Agency
Environment and Social Development Organization
Environmental & Public Health Consulting
Environmental association Za Zemiata (FOE Bulgaria, ZeroWasteBulgaria)
Environmental Defence Canada
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
European Environmental Bureau
Federal Capital Territory Administration, Satellite Town Development Department, Environment Division, Abuja
First Unitarian Environmental Justice Ministry
Flying Kite Motion Pictures
Food & Water Watch
Forum For Better Bapatla
Foundation for Environment and Development ()FEDEV
Friends of the Baltic
Friends of the Earth – Slovakia – SPZ
Friends of the Earth Russia = Russian Social Ecological Union
Front Commun pour la Protection de l’Environnement et des Espaces Protégés (FCPEEP)
Fundación El Árbol
Fundación La Alameda
Fundación Minga por el mar
Gary Liss & Associates
GAYO – Green Africa Youth Organisation
Githurai Social Justice
Grambangla Unnayan Committee
Green Course Israel
Green jewell movement
Green Knowledge Foundation
Green Living Science
Green Schools Alliance
Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
Greening the Caribbean
Greenway of Life Initiative
Health and Environment Justice Supprot (HEJSupport)
Health Care Without Harm SE Asia
Heirs To Our Oceans
Householders’ Options to Protect the Environment (HOPE) Inc.
Independent Environmental Education Consultant
Indigenous Environmental Network
Inland Ocean Coalition
Innovation for Life group
Instituto ATEMIS BH – Análise do Trabalho e das Mutações Industriais e dos Serviços
Instituto SUSTENTAR Interdisciplinar de Estudos e Pesquisas em Sustentabilidade
Integrated Social And Agriculture Development Organization (ISADO)
International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF)
Kentucky Environmental Foundation
Kool Kids of Kali
Korea Zero Waste Movement Network
Küste gegen Plastuik. e.V.
KYMA sea conservation & research
Lagos State Government
Lakshya A Society for Social and Environmental Development
Let India Breathe
Let’s Do It Foundation
Let’s Do It Ghana
Let’s Do It! Togo
Ludewa Vocation Training & Innovation Center
MASSPIRG Students UMASS Amherst
McKnight Higgins Consulting
Microplastic Research Group
Minnesota Environmental Justice Table
Missouri River Bird Observatory
MNCR- Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Materiais Recicláveis
Mobius Circle APS
Mother Earth Foundation
Nagrik Chetna Manch
National Toxics Network, Zero Waste Australia Campaign.
Nature’s buddy NGO
New Zealand Product Stewardship Council
No Plastic In My Sea
Nothing Left to Waste
Núcleo Alter-Nativas de Produção da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG)
Ondokuz Mayıs University
Otium Works LTD
Pelican Kenterra P LTd
People Over Plastic
Plastic Free Delaware
Plastic Free Minehead
Plastic Pollution Coalition
Plastic-Free Hackney CIC
Polish Zero Waste Association
Political Ecology Research Centre
Posidonia Green Project
Pusat Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup Bali (environmental education center)
Reciclaje San Antonio
Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales RADA
Red Internacional de Promotores ODS – Chile
Resilient Dunedin Inc
Rio Grande International Study Center
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth)
SDG Research Focus Group
Semester at Sea
Sisters of St. Francis
Social Development for Communities (SDC) Foundation
society for sustainable development
Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA)
South African Waste Pickers Association
Surfrider Foundation Europe
Sustainable Environment Development Initiative
Taiwan Watch Institute
Taiwan Zero Waste Alliance
Taller de Comunicación Ambiental (Rosario)
Texas Campaign for the Environment
The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE)
The Center for Sustainable and Just Communities
The Centre for Social Research and Development
The Chamber of Diving and Water Sports
The Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement
The Last Beach Cleanup
The Last Plastic Straw
The Nappy Alliance
The Rubbish Trip
The Watershed Project
Thuchila Youth Empowerment Programme and Development Network
Toward Zero Waste North Carolina
TRASH HERO MUBA
Trash Hero World
Tuesdays With(out) Tillis Climate Crisis Committee
Turtle Island Restoration Network
U-recycle Initiative Africa
United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN)
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
University of the Arts London, Central St Martins
University of Victoria (UVIC)
Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance
VOICE of Irish Concern for the Environment
Vsi “Ziedine ekonomika” (NGO “Circular economy”)
Vuma Earth Nigeria
WALHI West Java
War on Waste break Free From Plastic Negros Oriental
Wear You Stay
West 80s Neighborhood Association
Western Studios, Leeds Ltd
Wild Patch Gardens LLC
Women & Child Development Organization (APARAJITA)
Youth for Environment in Schools Organization
YPBB (Yaksa Pelestari Bumi Berkelanjutan)
Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia
Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine
Zero Waste Association of South Africa
Zero Waste BC
Zero Waste Belgium
Zero Waste Europe
Zero Waste France
Zero Waste Italy
Zero Waste Latvija
Zero Waste Montenegro
Zero Waste Network Aotearoa (NZ)
Zero Waste Society
Zero Waste Tunisia
Zero Waste Warren County (NY)