Why Zero Waste
The global waste sector is the third largest emission source of methane gas – a potent greenhouse gas that causes rapid global warming.
Our current linear economic production process generates extensive waste, from extraction of natural resources to the disposal of goods. Much of our waste ends up in overburdened landfills, which cause numerous public health and environmental issues, and in many African cities, these landfills have run out of space.
In the face of these challenges, zero waste offers a strategic, viable and versatile approach to climate change mitigation. According to the GAIA’s On the Road to Zero Waste Report, zero waste is defined as “both a goal and a plan of action”:
The goal is to ensure resource recovery and protect scarce natural resources by ending waste disposal in incinerators, dumps, and landfills. The plan encompasses waste reduction, composting, recycling and reuse, changes in consumption habits, and industrial redesign. But just as importantly, zero waste is a revolution in the relationship between waste and people. It is a new way of thinking that aims to safeguard the health and improve the lives of everyone who produces, handles, works with, or is affected by waste—in other words, all of us.
(GAIA, 2012, p.2)
Combinations of different waste management strategies are important for climate change mitigation.
Zero waste solutions can operate in local closed loop systems, like using food waste from a fresh food market to create compost at a nearby site for urban farming.
Zero waste strategies can also operate across large urban scales, such as integrating waste pickers into municipal waste systems to secure livelihoods and social protections for these workers while diverting recyclables from landfill.
It is also a smart urban strategy for protecting public health and infrastructure like sewage and water pipes, which get damaged when blocked by waste materials. Importantly, zero waste also contributes towards job creation.
Zero waste strategies help societies to produce and consume goods while respecting ecological limits and the rights of communities; they ensure that all discarded materials are safely and sustainably returned to nature or manufacturing.
(GAIA, 2012, p.2)
African cities are both urban spaces of innovation and dynamic social relations, as well as spaces of deep social and economic inequality.
Zero waste approaches in our context must include considerations of justice! Some of our cities are poorly resourced and many of the technological and capital-intensive solutions being used in countries in the North are not feasible.
Despite this Africa has innovative zero waste solutions! In many cities, people and organisations are developing and supporting frugal, creative and sustainable zero waste solutions. This website offers examples of some of these solutions so that we can learn from each other as we move towards a zero waste future.