Quarter of countries neglecting waste reduction strategy

The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) published a report last week (25 October) that revealed that over a quarter of the countries across the world have proposed climate plans that neglect waste reduction strategies.

In the midst of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, the publication of the Wasted Opportunities paper underpins the role of the waste industry within the conversation surrounding carbon neutrality and Net Zero.

Key findings of the report

Wasted Opportunities waste reductionThe report analysed the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the 99 countries that had updated their legislation since 2020 in preparation for COP26 – an NDC refers to the plans submitted by national governments, as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, that detail strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in keeping with the global 1.5˚C goal.

From GAIA’s analysis, it was revealed that in spite of the fact that plastics are estimated to use up 13 per cent of the 1.5˚C  carbon budget by 2050, only 11 nations had proposed either restrictions or bans on the usage of the material. It was also revealed that none of the countries examined had proposed restrictions on the production of plastic.

Additionally, the paper discovered that 40 per cent of the countries surveyed had included waste-burning practices that ‘undermine’ climate goals, including energy from waste (EfW), pyrolysis, gasification, and chemical recycling. The report went on to underscore that just 12 countries made mention of environmental justice; gender and equity; informal workers; or community engagement within the waste sector in their NDCs.

Encouragingly, the report did find that 35 nations had put forward strategies to implement the separate collection of organic waste, which GAIA cites as the ‘most effective means to reduce emissions of methane’, though it also added that wider adoption is critical for its impact to be felt.

Prior to the paper’s publication the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognised waste management as ‘one of three sectors with the greatest potential to reduce temperature rise in the next 10-20 years’.

Pressure on national governments

In the wake of the paper’s publication, over 300 GAIA member organisations have put their name to an open letter addressed to COP26 delegates. It demands that legislative measures are implemented in order to ensure that the emissions gap is closed; ‘waste-to-energy’ incineration is excluded from climate plans; plastic production is limited; and schemes that operate ‘under the guise of a net zero framework’ - such as carbon trading - are avoided. The address also states that petrochemical and plastic production companies must be held accountable by world leaders for their contribution to plastic pollution and climate change.

Zero waste targets and investment in a circular economy are also advocated by the open letter. GAIA claims that the reduction of GHG emissions within the waste sector can be optimised through the implementation of resource management approaches that prioritise waste reduction and material recovery  – these should incorporate policy and business strategies tailored to encourage the redesign of products and delivery systems, increasing access to reuse, repair and recycling, according to the open letter.

Emma Priestland, Global Corporate Campaigns Coordinator for Break Free From Plastic, commented: “The world’s top plastic polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution, but instead they are continuing to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging. We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels, including the significant amount of fossil fuels that are or will be turned into plastic.”

Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at GAIA, said: “With the climate crisis growing more urgent and deadly every day, governments are missing an important chance to employ zero waste as a common-sense, affordable strategy toward zero emissions and a sustainable economy. Ending bad practices such as the burning of waste and the overproduction of plastic will create new job and business opportunities in reuse, repair, recycling, and organics treatment.”