Resource Use

International Day of Zero Waste promotes switch to circular economy

The UN’s second annual International Zero Waste Day (IZWD), taking place this month, aims to raise awareness of the benefits of waste reduction and proper waste management.

Volunteers in Podgorica, Montenegro conducting Brand Audit after a cleanup action 2023
Volunteers in Podgorica, Montenegro conducting Brand Audit after a cleanup action 2023
Organised by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and Zero Waste Europe, IZWD promotes sustainable production and consumption in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

IZWD takes place on 30th March this year, but a month-long campaign has been launched leading up to it, with each week focusing on different aspects of zero waste, such as ‘prevention first’ and ‘thriving communities’.

UN Member States and organisations, as well as groups from civil society, the private sector, academia and youth, are encouraged to organise events that platform national, subnational, regional, and local zero waste initiatives. The UNEP website lists events taking place all over the world.

The IZWD campaign has also been promoting stories and information via social media and online publications.

Jack McQuibban, Head of Local Zero Waste Implementation at Zero Waste Europe, commented: “What inspires me this IZWD is seeing the hundreds of communities in Europe leading the way in showcasing what it truly means to be a zero waste city - with citizen-centred policies being introduced to transition towards systems that recognise the true value of resources and materials.”

One example of these local zero waste initiatives is the EU-funded ‘NoToWaste’ project, led by Zero Waste Austria. Lorraine Wenzel, Chairwoman of the group, said: “We're reshaping mindsets and crafting actionable strategies to tackle food waste. Together, we're transforming what once seemed utopian into a tangible reality of zero waste.”

The need for zero waste

In a report released last month, UNEP highlighted the significant costs of the global waste crisis, including its impacts on human health, biodiversity, climate change and pollution. In financial terms, inaction on global waste management is estimated to cost over USD 600 billion per year by 2050.

Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Anderson, shared her thoughts on the importance of reducing waste: “Zero waste makes sense on every level. Keeping materials in the economy and bolstering waste management will lead to enormous financial savings, prevent greenhouse gas emissions, avoid damage to the nature that sustains us, and reduce ill health and deaths.”

“On International Day of Zero Waste, let us remember: nature doesn’t waste. Nor should we.”

Humanity generates between 2.1 billion and 2.3 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, of which only around 60 per cent is managed in controlled facilities. Some 2.7 billion people lack access to solid waste collection.

Without urgent action, annual municipal solid waste generation is projected to rise by two thirds by 2050. We must “decouple waste generation from economic growth” by adopting waste prevention and circular economy approaches globally, the UN says, as “many fast-growing economies are struggling under the burden of rapid waste growth”.

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