GAIA Member Victories in 2019!

2019 was an exciting year for the GAIA network. Our members’ achievements were too numerous to count, so we put a few highlights here. What are YOUR big victories of 2019? Write to us at or tag us on social media!

We helped pass groundbreaking new policies… 

This year kicked off with a bang with the passage of the Disposable-Free Dining Ordinance in Berkeley, California. The new ordinance includes a mandate for all dine-in service ware to be reusable, and slaps a charge on (all PFAS-free compostable) takeout containers. Read more. Thanks to the efforts of numerous GAIA and Break Free From Plastic Members such as Ecology Center, UPSTREAM, and The Story of Stuff Project, not only has this ambitious legislation succeeded in Berkeley, other cities and regions in the U.S. are following their lead! For example, in December the state of Hawaii passed a ban on straws, plastic utensils, and styrofoam containers.

In March, GAIA Asia Pacific released a report that shed light on how sachets from multinational companies are polluting the country, sparking widespread media attention that helped put plastic pollution squarely in policymakers’ legislative agendas. Thanks to the work of GAIA members such as EcoWaste Coalition and Mother Earth Foundation, Quezon city, which has the largest population of any Philippine city, subsequently replaced its plastic bag levy with an all-out ban, and additionally banned the usage and sale of single-use plastics in dine-in restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels.

In July, the European Union formally approved the Single-Use Plastics Directive, a bold plan to curb the most problematic single-use plastic products in the region. Read more.

We fought global environmental injustice and pollution…

GAIA members in Asia Pacific, including Balifokus/Nexus3, Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Ecoton, Ecowaste Coalition, Greenpeace Philippines, Greenpeace Thailand, and EARTH Thailand sounded the alarm about foreign waste dumping on their shores—primarily from Global North countries—post-China National Sword, and allies all over the world joined forces to expose this injustice and call for exporting countries to take back their trash. See here for our investigative report on the subject.

Our voices had a profound effect. 

In May of this year,187 countries took a major step forward in curbing the plastic waste crisis by adding plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another. The amendment requires exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste, providing an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country. The tenacity of GAIA members throughout the world helped keep up the pressure to pass this important amendment. In addition, GAIA Asia Pacific members’ persistent work resulted in the re-exportation of illegal plastic waste imports back to the country of origin. Additionally, many countries in Southeast Asia are following China’s lead and announcing import bans of their own, putting the onus on Western countries to deal with their own waste and focus on reduction. 

We protected our communities from incinerators…

After decades of community activism, the incinerator in Detroit, Michigan finally shut its doors in March of this year. The incinerator had exceeded emissions standards over 700 times in the past five years alone, exposing residents to odors and air pollution. Our sincerest congratulations to GAIA members Breathe Free Detroit, the Ecology Center, and so many others for this hard-won victory. Read more.

In April, NGOs in Malaysia formed the Gabongan Anti Incinerator Kebangsaan (Malaysia Anti-Incinerator Alliance) in response to the government’s move to build one “waste-to-energy” incinerator per state in all of Malaysia. Since then, the group has been very vocal in their anti-incineration and pro Zero Waste advocacy. Listen here

In February, the European Parliament voted to cut subsidies to incinerators in mainland Europe, and to instead financially support waste prevention, reuse, and recycling. In October, activists in Belgrade, Serbia cheered as the European investment bank decided not to finance the Vinča municipal waste incinerator proposal. The reasoning behind the decision was the understanding that the incinerator would undermine the regions’ efforts to build a circular economy and improve its recycling systems. Way to go Zero Waste Europe member, CEE Bankwatch Network! 

The anti-incineration is alive and well in Latin America! In Sao Paulo, Brazil, 50 activists and catadores (recyclers) held a meeting to develop strategies and an anti-incineration manifesto with the aim to resist a national ordinance that regulates incineration.The manifesto has had an important impact on the media and grassroots organizations are in the streets fighting back incineration proposals in the country. In July, the community of the city of Hidalgo, Mexico along Frente contra la incineración pushed a series of actions aimed at promoting a legislative initiative that prohibits the incineration of urban solid waste and promotes Zero Waste plans and home composting.

In October, the Argentinean justice ruled favorably the requests of recyclers and environmental organizations (Anti-Incineration Citizens Coalition of Argentina, Greenpeace Argentina and the Argentinian Federation of Waste Pickers (FACCyR)), and declared invalid the modification of the Zero Waste Law (Nº 5.966) which enabled incineration as a method of waste management in the city of Buenos Aires. In November, the Chilean organization Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales RADA, presented a record 13,000 observations to challenge the city’s incineration project.

We helped grow the zero waste movement… 

GAIA AP opened the year with a policy brief, to help city planners in the Philippines establish resilient and sustainable cities and transition to a sustainable circular economy.  To celebrate the Zero Waste Month, local governments in the Philippines together with GAIA AP, GAIA Latin America, GAIA Africa, Zero Waste Europe and Ecoton Indonesia, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP), BFFP Europe, Plastic Solutions Fund, Wild at Heart Taiwan, GAIA Latin America, and  China Zero Waste Alliance gathered in a Zero Waste Forum to discuss the plastic issue. Read more.  

African members have also been at the forefront of the Zero Waste movement, and this year’s highlights include a Zero Waste Academy in Morocco hosted by Zero Zbel, and a national gathering of waste pickers that the South African Waste Pickers Association and groundWork hosted in South Africa. 

The Zero Waste movement in Europe has also been gaining momentum. In Croatia, for example, three new municipalities signed on to the official Zero Waste Strategy and entered the Zero Waste Europe network of municipalities, and the Croatian island of Zlarin just declared itself a plastic-free island! In November, Kiel became the first German municipality committing to go Zero Waste, and the country of Portugal approved a waste management plan that focused on various Zero Waste strategies and left out funding for incineration. Additionally, Ahead of European Parliament elections in May, Zero Waste Europe got dozens of candidates and existing members to sign the pledge to help make the EU a circular economy. Read more.

In Latin America, thanks to the GAIA microfunds and the support of Break Free From Plastic, in June representatives of seven organizations and recyclers met to strengthen the Zero Waste Alliance Chile. Our members in Ecuador also held their 3rd Zero Waste Meeting in Quito, and created the Ecuador Zero Waste Alliance. Members also celebrated the launch of the inspiring book Reciclaje sin recicladoras es basura. El retorno de las brujas“, which compiles the story of women recyclers from Ecuador and Colombia, and the Latin America edition of the book “Basura Cero: Superemos nuestros límites, no los del planeta” by Joan Marc Simon.

The Argentinean Federation of Recyclers (FACCyR), Grupo Obispo Angelelli and Taller Ecologista signed an Agreement with the Municipality of Rosario to begin a new recycling initiative in the city: a program of source segregation in a neighbourhood of more than 80 blocks, which includes recyclers as part of the system.

In October, GAIA Asia Pacific held the International Zero Waste Cities Conference in Penang, Malaysia, co-organized by the Consumers’ Association of Penang. While Southeast Asia is often burdened by non-recyclable waste from the global North, the region is also home to some of the most transformative Zero Waste solutions. This year’s conference gathered government officials, civil society organizations and Zero Waste communities and practitioners, and featured Zero Waste champions from cities in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States, the European Union, and Malaysia. Read more

Cities all over Asia Pacific are modeling community-driven waste prevention and reduction systems, proving that the region is a leader in the Zero Waste movement. From San Fernando, Philippines to Seoul, South Korea; Kamikatsu, Japan to Kerala, India, Zero Waste Cities have seen major improvements in climate resiliency, waste picker livelihoods, waste management costs, and so much more. 

To celebrate the revolutionary work that members are doing to move their cities towards Zero Waste, GAIA launched in October a new microsite featuring multi-media stories, case studies and tools, and a blog to inspire and resource Zero Waste advocates. Check it out!  

We held producers accountable…

In September, alongside World Clean-Up Day, Break Free From Plastic and GAIA members conducted 484 cleanups and brand audits in over 50 countries and six continents culminating in a report showing that, for the second year in a row, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are the world’s biggest corporate polluters. Read more.

One brand audit action in particular took place in Rosario, Argentina, where Coca-Cola was found to be the top polluter by far. The organizations grouped in “Más Río Menos Basura” (More River Less Garbage) together with the Rosario Banking Association brought all plastic bottles found in the riverside of Paraná River during a cleanup  to the Coca-Cola distribution center.The organizations demand that the company to stop using single-use bottles because they are causing severe environmental damage.   

We strengthened our network…

GAIA is a network of very diverse organizations from around the world that work in many different local contexts, and this is precisely what makes us unique and strong. This year, we organized regional meetings in Africa, Europe, Asia Pacific, and the U.S. and Canada to network, and learn from one another by sharing lessons learned by the work done in many different countries. During those meetings, members from around the world had the opportunity to find opportunities for collaboration and plan for the work that’s ahead of us, because the closer we work with each other, the stronger we are!