Report from the
United Nations International Day of Zero Waste
May 9, 2023
As chair of the
Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) planning board, I got a message via ZWIA.org from the
United Nations General Assembly high level committee on climate and
sustainability. They requested that I come to speak as a representative of the
ZWIA in New York to the UN General Assembly about climate and sustainability
and what needs to be done.
This was an
incredible opportunity to let the world know about the ZWIA and our 25 national
and organizational affiliates. ZWIA is a global organization with a vision of a
just world of vibrant, resilient, Zero Waste communities, in harmony with
nature and a mission to work together as a global community to drive systemic
change towards Zero Waste using environmental and social justice principles.
And so, we booked tickets and flew to New York
for the March 30th event. This date was declared International Day of
Zero Waste by the United Nations at the request of First Lady of Türkiye, Emine
Erdoğan, with the resolution of support signed by 150 delegates.
We really didn't
know what to expect at this meeting. We found a hotel near the UN and had
dinner in the neighborhood. The next day I made some contacts and agreed to
meet at the gate. We were ushered into the assembly hall where we were seated
for the morning session which included the UN Secretary General, the wife of
the President of Türkiye, and a couple official UN representees from the
environmental, climate and sustainability programs. Next was a set of
testimonials from nations. We counted 35 countries that got up and had up to
five minutes to express their feelings about an International Zero Waste Day.
From the First Lady of Türkiye, and the Secretary General on down they all
supported Zero Waste and referred to a circular economy and the three Rs.
We had lunch in
the cafeteria at the UN. The whole building is just a marvel. I had my picture
taken next to a statue of Mandela. We came in for the second session which
began with our panel.
Our host was
François Jackman, the representative of Barbados and he introduced the panel.
The first speaker was from the UN Environmental Program who spoke about the
state of the planet and had a very negative outlook based on what was happening
globally in terms of climate and sustainability.
I was next. ZWIA
is an organization that is talking about how to shape local communities and
businesses for sustainability and survival. We realized as more and more groups
came to us and asked for certification for Zero Waste operations, we needed to
have a definition in which we all could agree and have standards that needed to
be met. The first internationally
peer-reviewed definition of Zero Waste was drafted about 10 years ago. It has
since been updated and revised with input from Zero Waste organizations from
around the world:
Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means
of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products,
packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water,
or air that threaten the environment or human health.
I went over our
nine points of program focus: equity among our profession and our projects;
banning wasteful products that don't have an end of life plan other than into
the land or air or water; we want producers to be responsible and redesign
their products so they can be either recyclable or compostable, or they have to
take them back. And they need to be responsible for the mess they've made in the
past in terms of our rivers and lakes and oceans with their discards.
We need required
sorting, for technical materials that are recyclable, organic and durable
goods. We need to work on the organic stream and capture edible food, sending
the other organic materials for composting and soil enrichment to grow food for
our communities. We need to have a repair economy where the industries that
produce products must make them repairable and reusable and they must provide
manuals that will basically allow us to fix our own materials. We need to look
at our infrastructure and make sure it encourages Zero Waste, taking down the
incinerators and getting the organics out of the landfills. These areas can be
transformed into resource recovery parks where we put the composting facility as well as an area for
people who bring in their own materials to reuse and recycle. We want the elimination of depletion
allowances for companies and organizations that are exploiting global finite
resources like rain forests and oil fields. We need to educate our elected
officials on how we feel and how we're going to get there. We need to stick to
our programs when we deal with things like pandemics.
After I spoke,
Aditi Varshneya from GAIA spoke about their
international organization that works against burning and for Zero Waste. She
represents a network of 800 organizations across the world. The third speaker
was Joshua Amponsem, founder of Green Africa Youth Organization and a UN Climate
Specialist, and the last speaker was Kathryn Kellogg who has a Zero Waste blog
– Going Zero Waste, practices a zero waste
lifestyle, and produces less than a baggie of waste per year.
After the panel
the testimonials continued. We sat in the audience listening to presentations
from over 30 countries. Again, the support for Zero Waste, circular economy,
and reduce, reuse, recycle was heralded. The bottom line is they all believed
Zero Waste is a good idea.
The next step is
to send a petition to the UN to adopt the internationally peer-reviewed
definition so when businesses and communities use the term Zero Waste, they
have a global standard in sync with the Zero Waste movement around the world.
appreciated the opportunity to represent our Zero Waste community and we look
to the future moving together to make changes in managing resources that work
towards sustainability and making a positive impact on the climate.