by Sherma E Benosa

The 2021 International Zero Waste Cities Conference (IZWCC) was vastly different from previous versions not only because the conference was conducted online, but more importantly, we managed to put on the centerstage the very people who are doing Zero Waste work on the ground—these people that we call our  Zero Waste heroes.

We decided that the best way to showcase our members’ work was to have them produce videos about their Zero Waste initiatives. Had we chosen to do the  straightforward way to do it (conduct a series of webinars) we would have just had the same old   “business-as-usual” virtual event. 

Fortunately, our concerns about “Zoom fatigue” inspired the Zero Waste Cities team to come up with a different format. And even better, 19 of our members had signed up to participate despite many of them also facing challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every sub-region where we have members was represented: Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific. 

Thus, from January 27 to March 12, 2021, we uploaded two to three member-produced videos every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on the GAIA Asia Pacific Youtube Channel: Zero Waste Asia

Through these member-produced videos, we heard stories from waste workers and waste pickers, hospital administrators, city and community leaders, school administrators, and other partners from different countries in the region. They talked about their experiences, the interventions they implemented, and their struggles and successes. 

We heard community leaders talk about the crucial role of waste pickers and waste workers in making Zero Waste happen and how important it is for the community to be directly involved in program design and implementation.

We also had waste workers talking about the roles of various stakeholders in waste management, saying that it is important for governments to create policies that promote Zero Waste, and for producers to drastically reduce their plastic production. 

We also listened to administrators talk about their Zero Waste goals, and the policies and programs they instituted to achieve these goals. They described how the support they received from stakeholders, especially civil society organizations, provided them guidance, as well as how they wanted to impart to others the lessons they learned through implementing their programs .

Finally, our members themselves discussed their programs, their partnerships with local governments and communities, and their campaigns such as single-use plastic regulations and waste picker rights.

The IZWCC has always been GAIA’s way of highlighting the success stories of our member-organizations, and this year was no different. After a seemingly never-ending stream of bad news, it is good to be reminded that there are pockets of progress that persist despite all the obstacles, which is what this year’s IZWCC gave us. 

Similarly to what has been achieved for the past IZWCC’s, we once again demonstrated that Asia is still home to Zero Waste solutions because of the many people across the region working together that make it so. The problem with waste is a complex issue requiring holistic and systemic solutions, but as we have long realized, it can be so much easier when done together.