The Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE): We Can Be Heroes

Interview with Jane Bremmer by Dan Abril

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

Jane Bremmer is one of Asia Pacific’s prominent and outspoken environmental advocates. However, with two Arts degrees and a Sound Design major, her involvement in environmental activism was something she didn’t quite expect or envision. She shares, “We had just moved into an old house with our 4-month-old baby and we were planning on a ceramics business when we discovered we were living next door to Western Australia’s worst contaminated site – a massive 38000 m3 pit of waste oil.” 

Heavily involved in social activism back in university, Jane was not the type to hold herself back; and so, together with others in the community, they formed a group and managed to get the site cleaned up and relocate those residents most affected by the contamination.

Known then as The Bellevue Action Group, it soon joined with other communities facing environmental justice threats and morphed into the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE) 

25 years later, the alliance has seen ordinary folks become heroes: from holding industrial polluters to account to getting involved in campaigns against waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerators, and climate change.  As ACE’s pioneer, Jane Bremmer sat with us to discuss the joys and challenges that come with coordinating and leading such an alliance.  

What are ACE’s main ongoing campaigns? 

ACE continues to support environmental justice communities facing pollution threats. In addition, we have two large WTE incinerator proposals here in Western Australia (WA) and so to counteract their waste disposal narrative, we are focused on supporting Zero Waste Campaigns here. 

Aside from that, we are also working on the impacts of pesticide use in both agricultural and urban environments.  A lot of people are interested because they are tired of seeing children’s playgrounds drenched in pesticides.  

What are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

Our campaign on contaminated sites resulted in the state government introducing the first-ever Contaminated Sites Act. This was a great achievement and outcome for our campaign, ensuring no community in the future would face the same situation.

ACE was also able to prevent a fifth brickworks from being built in an already heavily industrial-impacted neighbourhood where air quality had long been compromised. We consider that every time that our government listens to us, and acts to protect our health and environment,  it is a win for us!

In 2005, ACE was also bestowed with a Sunday Times Pride of Australia Award for the Most Outstanding Environment Work Award. 

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

ACE is a very independent voice and one of the significant challenges of an environmental justice campaigner is that you are often criticizing corporations and the government – and that is not a great way to make friends or get funding. In WA, mining corporations fund everything, even the academe is very industry-captured here and as such, it is very difficult for us to get the financial support we need. 

Another concern is that the world is changing very rapidly and people have less time now and people are feeling jaded and cynical. Compared to 20 years ago, people were more willing to take action and get involved in their local communities to defend their health and environment. Today, people are less interested and often accept government and industry platitudes without question. 

Our working model is to focus on providing resources that frontline communities need to raise awareness and engage their own communities and connect with experts and other contributors. 

COVID posed another problem, people became reluctant to meet – Australia has been so lucky dealing with the pandemic but I understand that the pandemic caused so much stress to so many other people, especially in the Asia Pacific (AP) region. 

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

There are many issues but climate change is right at the top. The fossil fuel industry, the petrochemical industry, and the pesticide industry are a deadly trio that wreaks havoc on climate, economics, trade, and people’s health. 

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next years? 

ACE is currently considering its future right now. Our membership often fluctuates according to the campaign – so whether we will still be ACE in 10 years or evolved into another organization, I don’t know. People retire and move on.  My hope is that I will see me and my colleagues in our old age sitting in the back while all these awesome, young, energetic campaigners will take up the reins and lead ACE forward. Whatever happens in the future, ACE will still be around in some shape or form. This oasis will always be here. 

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?

Every single state in Australia is facing an incinerator threat. Two big ones have already been approved in WA, while New South Wales (NSW), Victoria, and Queensland are now facing numerous incinerator threats. South Australia (SA) meanwhile, has been quietly burning waste all this time and has massive expansion plans for refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The ‘waste disposal sector’ dominates in Australia driving a narrative of false solutions like waste incineration while failing to invest in sustainable Zero Waste policies and redefining a Circular Economy to enshrine waste burning. The waste disposal industry does not talk about Zero Waste and as such, government finances are funneled into waste incinerator projects and not source segregation. 

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

I have a bit of hope here though. Industry heads have acknowledged that they do not have a social licence to operate in Australia. When they say that, I know that we are being effective. 

While Australia’s world-first waste export ban was a step in the right direction, it is simply enabling further waste dumping in the AP region through a simple redefinition of waste as a fuel commodity that can continue to be exported. This will exacerbate the global waste crisis and push incineration projects into the AP region. This will be a disaster for our climate, health, and environment. The vulnerable equatorial region on our planet is no place for dangerous highly polluting waste incinerators. The AP region knows how to implement Zero Waste policy and have long been leaders in this area. They just need respect and support to scale up. Imagine a world without waste incinerators or coal industries!

To look at the other positives: Australia has seen some major waste policy improvements such as single-use plastic (SUP) bans, container deposit schemes, extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, and now has a national food and garden organics (FOGO) programme diverting this waste from landfills to composting. 

Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?

We work with a number of other organizations – from local groups such as the Conservation Council of WA to international networks as the Basel Action Network (BAN), International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), and of course the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

Most environmental justice threats disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples (IPs) and other minority groups and Australia is no exception.  It is well-documented that communities hosting industries in their neighborhoods are often negatively impacted by those industries. ACE’s fight against air pollution is a battle for human rights. Everyone has a right to clean air, water, and soil. 

Who do you admire most in environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

There are so many great women in Australia and around the world who work for environmental justice, whether it’s petrochemicals, pesticides or plastic. They deserve much more recognition. Noting the work of  Dr Mariann Lloyd- Smith who founded the National Toxics Network (NTN), Lois Marie Gibbs, who lifted the lid on dioxin and its impact on communities in the US, Theo Colburn and her incredible work on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, and  Rachel Carlson who wrote “Silent Spring”. I have come to cherish and rely on them all. 

There are lots of incredible women who are doing amazing things in environmental justice spaces and a lot of women are simply standing up for their kids and communities – and they inspire me to keep going. 

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

The Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE) is in need of funding to continue its work on exposing the threat of waste incinerators and its campaign against the use of pesticides in urban areas. Reach out to ACE via their website or their Facebook group to learn more. 

Local Business Demonstrate Packing-free Practices in Dar es Salaam

GAIA member Nipe Fagio interviewed local shopkeeper Stonida P. Mwasemele, from Ubungo Msewe in Dar es Salaam.

How long has your place of business been open?

I’ve been part of this business for 16 years after I inherited this shop from my mother, who started the business here in the early 1990s.

What goods do you sell at this shop?

At my shop, we sell goods from local farms, such as flour, maize, rice, beans, coconuts, and many other food products. We also sell other goods like soap, jelly, toothpaste, soft drink etc.

Do you follow zero waste principles in your business?

My mother practised zero waste; it was their way of life a long time ago. However, due to the nature of the recent market, customers and different types of products, it makes it challenging to practise zero waste for all products that we sell to customers.

Do you think people who are your regulars, come because your product is not in plastic packaging?

Yes, most customers prefer to buy from us because of the type of packaging offered. We use cardboard packaging at a reasonable price, but some come with their own carrying bags.

What are some good lessons you have learned when running your business?

  • The best business practices are environmentally friendly;
  • We can be environmental activists by maintaining African zero waste practices in Tanzania.  

What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?

  • Low capital & customer;
  • Market competition from other packaging materials of the same goods;
  • Some products are not sustainable for zero waste practices in Tanzania;
  • The lack of Government intervention to reduce environmental pollution.

Why should customers support businesses like yours that have been operating for years?

It is friendly to the environment and reflects African Culture.

What do you hope for future business owners in this field?

Economic recovery for zero waste practices in Africa. This will bring hope to environmentalists documenting African practices on zero waste in the business model.

What principles should they keep in mind?

  • Ensuring zero waste systems are achieved at a high level in all parts of Tanzania.
  • Government intervention towards zero waste policy in Tanzania.
  • Managing zero waste practice at the low level of the life cycle, such as at the household level to the national level. 

The Refillery, Johannesburg, South Africa

GAIA team in Africa spoke to Dom Moleta from The Refillery in Johannesburg, South Africa. Moleta is the co-founder of The Refillery, an eco-friendly grocery store.

What does zero waste mean to you?

I think there’s a few different ways of looking at it. Obviously, the ideal situation is that there is zero waste. There are a number of ways of that happening: be it biodegradable compostable products, or a fully circular product that initially comes in one form and then it can be reused, there is also products that can be used for entirely different purpose after its use. So I guess zero waste is something that at the moment, it’s not perfect and I don’t know whether it ever will be, but it’s something that we are always striving for and that it can take many different forms.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

Our journey started a long time ago. It wasn’t directly linked to the stores, but we used to travel to these beautiful places and take guests to a beach where nobody lives or anything like that, and then you get there, and you go, “man, there’s rubbish everywhere”. We would go ashore first, clean up all the rubbish for half an hour, and then the guests would say, “look at this beautiful beach”. At the time, it sucked, but we thought that it was a big problem and what could we do about it? In 2018, my wife and I tried Plastic Free July for the first time when we were living in New Zealand. We had two small kids, and we thought, okay, cool, we’ll give this a go. So we said I could collect the coffee cups, water bottle, all the easy stuff, the lifestyle stuff, to kind of dip our toe in and see what it was like, what we could do, and could we maintain those things after just one month. We also saw Beau Johnson speak, which was very inspiring. I mean, she’s very normal. She’s also got kids and all that stuff. And all the points were very valid. Not for everyone, for sure, but they were very achievable. It was really hard to get to source supplies in the first place. It was tough. Nobody was interested at all because we were new to the scene. Now, as time has passed, we don’t have to look for suppliers; they approach us. So it’s definitely much nicer now.

How do you think that these stores are changing the perception of people who know little about zero waste?

We try for our stores to be as inviting as possible for everyone. We don’t want to pigeonhole it into a tree-hugger store. It’s a very normal way of living. We’re very normal people. People are already nervous when they come in, and they say it’s a bit overwhelming. I think that the stores’ appearance played a massive role in trying to take the edge off for people. But our approach has always tried to make it a mainstream alternative for everyone. We don’t need a handful of people doing it perfectly but a million people doing it imperfectly. The more people are doing it imperfectly, then that’s when you start creating greater change. Manufacturers are forced to make changes because more and more people are looking at shopping in a different manner. It is still a very niche market, but awareness is always growing.

How is your business model different from conventional mainstream supermarkets?

Interaction with people is a massive part of it. You can go to any store anywhere and someone can scan something and tell you what you owe them, and it’s the end of the transaction and engagement. So definitely, the interactions are a massive part of this for us; we have a great team that we’re always looking to help upskill and train. We get our suppliers on board as well for product information. All our team members must try what’s in store because anyone can tell you something is great. But if they’ve tried it, they’ve used it, and they know that it is a great product and can help inform consumers.
Our stores also allow you to shop for what you need. If you are trying a recipe or need a smaller quantity of something, you can just buy those in a packaging-free way so you don’t end up having money sitting in your pantry and inevitably resulting in food waste.

As consumers, we often buy a product for itself and not the packaging that comes with it. What are your perceptions of brands who are intentionally designing products for single use?

At the moment, brands operate in a place where there’s no incentive for them to change. It’s in a traditional marketplace where these big brands have always dominated, and why should they change? People are still buying it. Consumers are still looking for those products, seeking them out and purchasing them. The Refillery is one of the bigger zero waste stores in South Africa but our footprint by comparison to a traditional retailer is zero. We look to work with the right brands, where we want to change how we do business, and how they can see value in working with us. If we’re waiting for big brands to change, there’s no incentive whatsoever.

One, I would say the first thing is to shop online at the refillery and we’ll deliver it to you. Doesn’t matter where you are. We send it all over the country. Second, one would be, choose where you are shopping and why. If you’ve got access to the major retailers, wherever you live, then there’s a very good chance you also have a fruit and veg store somewhere and a butchery somewhere. So generally speaking, not much is prepackaged in fruit and veg stores or butcheries. Most people have packets and bags at home, just carry those with you and prevent taking newer ones.

Learn more about The Refillery here.

NIYA, Casablanca Morocco.

GAIA team in Africa spoke to Chama Tahiri Ivorra from NIYA in Casablanca, Morocco. Ivorra is the founder of NIYA, an innovative zero waste and cultural café.

Can you tell us about your journey in establishing this business?

I conceptualised NIYA in 2017 after working in the cultural industry in Morocco for about five years. I was frustrated by the lack of support and development in the field. Seeing the model of « tiers lieux » in France, I thought it was an excellent alternative to be able to finance cultural activities through a restaurant business. Niya is a cultural café with exhibitions, book clubs, and workshops. Fast forward five years later, all my projects in the cultural field stopped during the pandemic, and that’s when I met the person who became my business partner. As a vegan myself, I was very familiar with vegan cooking. I had experienced many restaurants abroad, so I was able to train a team and come up with my seasonal menus.

What is your current waste management practice at the restaurant?

NIYA has adopted many zero waste practices; some of our practices include:

  • We offer filtered mineralised water for free to avoid plastic or glass waste;
  • We do not use straws;
  • We use glass containers for sugar, salt and pepper, and sauces and refill them to avoid unnecessary packaging;
  • We reuse organic lemonade glass bottles, to bottle our homemade juices;
  • We try to make as many homemade preparations as possible to avoid containers. Examples include vegan cheeses and patties, ketchup & sauces, lasagna and ravioli pasta;
  • We offer a 10% discount for people who bring their own containers for takeaways. This practice hasn’t really picked up;
  • We sort our waste to facilitate the recycling of unavoidable packaging;
  • We work with local farms that bring us veggies in boxes they keep and ask other suppliers to avoid plastic and mix everything in boxes. We also use our own containers with our gelato artisan, for instance, to whom we bring our own glass bottled almond milk to fabricate the ice creams.

As a vegan restaurant, we imagine that most of the waste produced is organic. Do you have a sense of what percentage of the total waste stream is organic waste?

I would say it’s probably around 80%, but we don’t have a system yet to compost this waste.

How do sell package the goods that you sell to customers, i.e. takeaway boxes?

We use Kraft packaging for deliveries, take-away bags and bamboo cutlery. We try to avoid over-packaging.

How have you found working with wholesale distributors?

We receive most of our goods in cardboard boxes from distributors.

What are some good lessons you have learned when running your business?

I have learned that it is not so complicated to do things differently and accompany people towards a different lifestyle. We need to uphold our principles, and so far, we haven’t been met with much resistance. We have also attracted a community of people that resonates with our practices.

What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?

As we work with several small businesses and alternative farms, we are mostly challenged with the regularity of our suppliers, so we have to be flexible. Our customers also understand that we work with fresh goods only and they aren’t too frustrated when something is sold out or not available. We also try to avoid food waste and carefully measure our daily production and the portions we offer so that people are full and satisfied but don’t waste food.

What do you hope for future business owners in this field? What principles should they keep in mind?

Filtered water is a practice that should be mandatory. I understand that there’s a whole industry that we would be threatening, but it would be about time that people move to a different practice and stop selling water. It is totally absurd to me. There are also so many little ways to avoid individual packaged stuff, I wish some restaurants would put more effort into this. Furthermore, it helps to reduce processed foods.

Vegan or not, the most important thing for me is to make food from scratch, not only for health and quality reasons but also because it is automatically correlated with a reduction of packaging and waste.

Chama Tahiri Ivorra.

Learn more about NIYA here!

The word “cero” in spanish means “zero,” and that’s the focus of this composting cooperative in Boston: moving the city towards zero food waste, and building stronger, more equitable communities in the process. The seeds of CERO were first planted at a meeting where local community members gathered to discuss how to improve recycling rates and create good jobs for marginalized communities. At the time Boston had an abysmal recycling and waste diversion rate of under 25%, and according to a 2015 study by the federal reserve bank of boston, white households had a median wealth of $247,500, and Dominicans and U.S. blacks had a median wealth of close to zero.  CERO sought to combat that economic injustice head on by creating a diverse, bi-langual worker co-op connected with Boston’s working class and communities of color. 

Close shot of a truck with blue sky and a brick building in the background. Photo taken in Boston, US.
©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

As worker-owner Josefina Luna says, “We started to think[] about green economy. The media talk[ed] all the time about green economy but we didn’t see any green jobs in our community… The first idea [was to] create jobs for the community, create better social development for the minority people, for the people who didn’t have the opportunities.” When the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection enacted a ban in 2014 that prohibits over 1,700 food businesses in the state from disposing of organic material with their trash, CERO was there to provide the solution.

The beauty of CERO is that it creates local “closed loop” systems for food, so that instead of disposing of food waste in dirty landfills that people have to live next to, they ensure that food is recycled back into soil that grows nourishing food for the community. And the model is working. So far the cooperative has prevented 11,867,122 lbs of food waste from going to landfills, and saved their customers $407,570 in trash hauling expenses!

A day in the life of a CERO worker-owner starts early. At 7am, Jonny Santos pulls up to his first customer. 

Jonny is originally from the Dominican Republic and primarily speaks spanish. Of his work with CERO, Jonny explains, “It’s been 1 year and 5 months since I’ve been with CERO and since I joined the company my life—both personally and economically— has changed. At CERO I feel important and useful.”

The first stop for Santos is Mei Mei, a stylish Chinese-American restaurant that uses fresh local ingredients and is dedicated to being a good employer for the Boston community, and preventing as much food waste as possible.

Worker owner of CERO coop in Boston, picking up compost bin. In the background a blue truck and a brick building.
Jonny Santos picking up compost from Mei Mei restaurant. ©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

 

Mei Mei is a family business. Meaning “Little Sister,” in Chinese, it is now run by the youngest in the family, Irene Li. From the beginning, the restaurant was on a mission. “For me, I figured that if we were going to be in this tough challenging industry, it would have to be because we were trying to make a difference,” said Li. “We didn’t want to be another average restaurant. A lot of them contribute to a lot of social problems. Can we instead use restaurants as an engine for change?” In order to live up to those values, Mei Mei serves farm-to-table food at a reasonable cost, provides employee education and empowerment trainings, and thanks to their partnership with CERO, they are doubling-down on food waste.

 

Close up of a resturant's sign. Yellow sign with a fish as a logo and the words mei mei
Mei Mei restaurant. ©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

“When I got my first restaurant job I was pretty horrified by what I saw on a more commercial scale– recycling wasn’t happening, composting definitely wasn’t happening.” So at Mei Mei they make sure to repurpose food scraps (kale stems too tough for salad become a pesto or a perogi filling), donate what they can’t use, provide free or cheap food to employees through a wholesale program, and then whatever is left over goes into CERO’s compost bin.

Mei Mei and CERO’s partnership represents a perfect food loop– Mei Mei sources some of its produce directly from the very same local farms that use compost from its food waste. CERO makes sure that all those onion peels, carrot tops and apple cores that Mei Mei puts in the bin don’t go to waste, but turn into a rich compost to help grow the next crop of local fresh food that land on Mei Mei customers’ plates.

Mei Mei’s partnership with CERO not only helps grow a local food economy, but it’s helped them keep their costs down. “Not only is that good from a financial perspective, helps us show that you can buy ingredients selectively and still have manageable costs,” says Li. Not only does it make sense financially, it just feels right. It makes Mei Mei a place where people are proud to work,” says Li. “The world makes it very hard to live in alignment with our values, so if we can offer that in any small number of ways to our team that’s providing them some kind of harmony in their lives.” 

After picking up food scraps at Mei Mei it’s time to head to Green City Growers. Founded in 2008, Green City Growers is  an edible landscaping and urban farming company converting unused spaces to places where food is grown, revitalizing city landscapes and inspiring self-sufficiency. They install gardens in people’s homes, at restaurants, corporate offices, and grocery stores, and other–sometimes unexpected–urban spaces, like the top of Fenway park! 

The company was founded by Jessie Banhazl. Banhazl wasn’t always an urban farming extraordinaire– before she founded Green City Growers she worked in reality TV, working behind-the-scenes of shows like “Wife Swap”, “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”, and “The Hills.” But Banhazl wanted a more meaningful career, and she realized that to have a sustainable and resilient cities, they need to, quite literally, go green.  As Banhazl puts it, “[Green City Growers] creat[es] opportunities to see food growing in spaces where there wasn’t. It’s proven that it’s important for human beings to be around nature, and cities have moved away from that as a priority. We want to get that back into how cities are developed and built.” Green City Growers has a goal to create a regenerative, local food system throughout the country, and their partnership with CERO is an essential part of that system. Not only does CERO collect plant waste from over 100 Green City Growers locations, it also delivers the compost made from that waste for Green City Growers to enrich their soil with. Through its partnership with CERO, GCG has been able to compost 50,000 pounds of plant waste per year.

Close shot of a sign at a garden that reads Green City Growers
©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

Green City Growers has a bit of an unusual service model. Banhazl calls it “edible landscaping.” GCG takes care of the maintenance, and their clients get to use the fruit of that labor however they like, whether for their cafeteria, restaurant, or corporate donations. Banhazl estimates that 5,000 pounds of produce a year is donated to food banks. They also provide education programs for both students and seniors, exposing city dwellers of all walks of life to the joys of growing your own food. As Banhazl states, “The intention [of Green City Growers] is to build a business model around sustainable and regenerative agriculture.” They want to change the business culture in the region, so that sustainability “is a priority for how business takes place.”

Next stop is the Daily Table, a non-for-profit grocery store aimed to provide affordable food options to underserved communities in Boston.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. wastes 30-40% of its food supply, and 31% of that food waste comes from retailers and consumers, who cumulatively waste a whopping 133 billion pounds of food per year (as of most recent data from 2010). This wastefulness is all the more shocking when paired with the fact that 11% of households across the United States are food insecure. The Daily Table is out to solve the problem of food waste and food insecurity in the Boston area in one elegant solution– collect donated food from growers, manufacturers and retailers, and offer them at discounted prices to lower income communities.

However, Daily Table is sometimes not able to distribute all the fresh food before it goes bad. That’s where CERO comes in. CERO collects the leftover food and composts it so that nothing goes to waste.

Fruit and vegetables section at a grocery store
©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

Waste-conscious businesses like Mei Mei, Green City Growers, and Daily Table show the promise of local, sustainable food systems rooted in social justice and equity. CERO’s role is to connect these efforts together in a loop that prevents waste while creating green jobs, healthy soil, and more vibrant communities. As the city of Boston unveils its Zero Waste Plan– to get the city to 80 percent diversion by 2035 and 90 percent diversion by 2050 from recycling and composting– organizations like CERO are the key not only to reaching these ambitious goals, but transforming Boston into a place where its workers and all its residents can thrive. 

  • Waste sector accounts for 20% of global methane emissions, a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2
  • Better waste management could cut waste sector emissions by 84% (1.4bn tonnes) and significantly reduce emissions in other sectors 
  • São Paulo, Detroit, and others could reach net-negative sector emissions by 2030
  • Governments preparing for COP27 should prioritise action on waste 

The introduction of ‘zero waste’ systems in cities around the world would be one of the quickest and most affordable ways to reduce global heating and stay below 1.5°C of warming, according to a new report released by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). 

The waste sector accounts for 3.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and a fifth of global methane emissions. Introducing better waste management policies such as waste separation, recycling, and composting could cut total emissions from the waste sector by more than 1.4 billion tonnes, equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million cars – or taking all motor vehicles in the U.S. off the road for a year.   

But this figure underestimates the potential impact of waste management reforms. At least 70% of global emissions come from the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of goods, and a focus on waste reduction could significantly reduce the emissions in these sectors too. For example, manufacturing something from recycled aluminium uses 96% less energy than starting with raw materials. 

The potential for zero waste policies to reduce methane emissions is also critical. Methane is over 80 times as potent as CO2 but lasts only a short time in the atmosphere. Reforming the waste sector could cut global methane emissions by 13% globally. This would bring enormous climate benefits within the next few decades and ‘buy time’ to cut other emissions. 

Report co-author Dr. Neil Tangri at GAIA, said: “Better waste management is a climate change solution staring us in the face. It doesn’t require flashy or expensive new technology – it’s just about paying more attention to what we produce and consume, and how we deal with it when it is no longer needed.”

“Previous climate talks have largely overlooked the potential of reforms to the waste sector, particularly for reducing methane, which over 100 countries have now pledged to do. Zero waste strategies are the easiest way to rapidly and cheaply bring down emissions, while building climate resilience, creating jobs, and promoting thriving local economies,” stated co-author Mariel Vilella, Director of GAIA’s Global Climate Program. 

“As we prepare for another round of UN climate negotiations, we have a unique opportunity to put waste firmly on the agenda. Without concrete commitment from global leaders to zero waste, we will not be able to meet the 1.5° C climate target.” 

GAIA’s report modelled potential emissions reductions from eight cities around the world. They found that on average, these cities could cut waste sector emissions by almost 84% by introducing zero waste policies, with some, such as São Paulo  and Detroit, able to reach net-negative emissions by 2030. 

“GAIA’s report scientifically demonstrates that zero waste can actually get São Paulo to net-negative emissions from the waste sector, while promoting new jobs, providing a decent dignified livelihood to waste pickers and compost to support local agro-ecological farmers, groups who have been historically marginalised,” stated Victor  H. Argentino de M. Vieira of Brazil-based organisation Instituto Pólis. “What are our leaders waiting for?  The time is now to prevent waste and reduce poverty in São Paulo.”

The report also maps out how zero waste systems could help cities adapt to the escalating climate crisis, preventing both flooding and droughts, strengthening soil and agriculture, reducing disease transmission and generating employment opportunities. 

Despite this, more than a quarter of countries’ current climate plans neglect the waste sector. Waste management will be one of the critical topics tackled at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in November, where host nation Egypt plans to put forward the Africa Waste 50 Initiative, aimed at treating and recycling 50% of waste produced in Africa by 2050. 

In order to keep global warming below 1.5°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement, and prevent catastrophic climate change, GAIA is urging global leaders to take urgent and bold action on zero waste by:

  • Incorporating  zero waste goals and policies into climate mitigation and adaptation plans.
  • Prioritising food waste prevention and single-use plastic ban.
  • Instituting separate collection and treatment of organic waste.
  • Investing in waste management systems, recycling, and composting capacity.
  • Establishing institutional frameworks and financial incentives for zero waste including regulations, educational and outreach programs, and subsidies to recycling and composting. 

Janez Potočnik, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel of the UN Environment Programme, former European Commissioner for the Environment states: “This report demonstrates the huge importance of aligning our waste systems with climate goals. It shows how cities are already working to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from waste while building climate resilience and creating livelihoods. It highlights the absolute necessity of reducing root sources of waste through changing our production and consumption patterns – using all the tools at our disposal to achieve the deep emissions reductions we need.” 

Press Contacts: 

GMT: Cora Bauer | cora.bauer@digacommunications.com  |  +44(0) 7787 897467

EST: Claire Arkin | claire@no-burn.org | +1 ‪(856) 895-1505

Note to Editor:

The full report can be found at: https://www.no-burn.org/zerowaste-zero-emissions

Methodology

To ascertain the global emissions reduction potential of zero waste strategies, GAIA worked with local researchers to collect city-specific waste composition and generation data from eight diverse cities around the world. Bandung (Indonesia), Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), Detroit (USA), eThekwini (South Africa), Lviv (Ukraine), São Paulo (Brazil), Seoul (South Korea), and Temuco (Chile) were chosen to represent a wide range of conditions and circumstances, including climates, waste generation patterns, affluence and poverty, and current waste management systems. Projected diversion efforts focused on organics and easy-to-recycle materials such as paper, cardboard, metal, and glass. The degree of ambition or effort required for the potential zero waste scenario, as measured by the diversion rate (~50%), is well below what has already been achieved by multiple large cities in similar or shorter timeframes (~80%).  

GAIA found that the eight cities they studied could achieve average emissions reductions of 84%. Scaled up to a global level (i.e. assuming comparable actions taken in other cities and countries around the world), this represents a potential reduction of 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas globally (3% of the global total), and reduction of 42 million tonnes  in methane emissions (13% of the global total). 

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How Reducing Waste is a Climate Gamechanger

A new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) provides the clearest and most comprehensive evidence to date of how better waste management is critical to the climate fight, while building resilience, creating jobs, and promoting thriving local economies.

City Case Studies

GAIA’s report modelled potential emissions reductions from eight cities around the world. They found that on average, these cities could cut waste sector emissions by almost 84% by introducing zero waste policies, with some, such as São Paulo  and Detroit, able to reach net-negative emissions by 2030.

Bandung, Indonesia

The major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the city is from organics in landfills.

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In the Road to Zero Waste scenario, Dar es Salaam would achieve an increase in overall diversion rate from 0%-50%, avoiding annual climate emissions by 1,889,583 tonnes in 2030.

Detroit, USA

Through employing zero waste practices, Detroit could achieve net negative sector emissions by 2030.

Durban, South Africa

In the Road to Zero Waste scenario, eThekwini would achieve an increase in its overall diversion rate from 11% to 47%, avoiding annual GHG emissions by 1.5 tonnes by 2030.

Lviv, Ukraine

Zero waste activists in Lviv, Ukraine are aiding in emergency response. The city could reduce it’s sector GHG emissions by 93% in 2030.

São Paulo, Brazil

São Paulo could achieve net negative emissions in the sector by 2030, while creating thousands of good jobs for the informal waste sector.

Seoul, South Korea

The majority of Seoul’s waste sector emissions come from waste incineration.

Temuco, Chile

Temuco would achieve an increase in overall diversion rate
from 2% to 55%, avoiding annual GHG emissions by 64,000 tonnes in 2030.

Virtual Launch Events

Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe Launch
U.S., Canada, Latin America Launch

While we have been working hard to organize this, urgent unforeseen events that we need to address impede us from pushing through with the Summit this year. To ensure the quality of content and participation from all concerned, we are moving the virtual event to 2023.

We appreciate the support from those who already registered and are engaged in the organization, and we thank you for your understanding.Once we have the new date for 2023 we will be sharing it with all of you, and we hope to organize then an event that can reflect the dimension of zero waste around the world, and provides opportunities to learn and get more cities inspired to follow the zero waste path!

Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn for updates.

Youth Leading the Way

For August’s #MeetOurMembers, we traveled to a province in the Philippines to introduce you to Zero Waste Youth Negros Oriental.
These youth are leading the way not only for their peers but also for academic institutions organizing sustainable projects in partnership with Break Free From Plastic, War On Waste – Break Free From Plastic Negros Oriental, Kinaiyahan, TELUS International Philippines and many more.
Learn about their fantastic initiatives – from the campuses, to the streets, and the beaches.
The GAIA Team is excited to see more of their work!