Stressing Humanity Treating Planet Like Garbage Dump, Secretary-General Urges More Investment in Recycling, Reuse, at General Assembly Event on Zero-Waste Project
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the High-Level Event of the General Assembly on the Zero-Waste Project, in New York today:
Thank you for coming together to mark the first International Zero-Waste Day. I want to recognize and salute the leadership of the Government of Türkiye and First Lady, Her Excellency Emine Erdoğan, on this vital issue.
Humanity is treating our planet like a garbage dump. We are trashing our only home. We’re spewing a torrent of waste and pollution that is affecting our environment, our economies and our health. Plastics, textiles, rotting food, discarded electronics and batteries, debris from mining and construction sites, abandoned chemical containers — the list goes on.
According to the World Bank, the world generates 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste every year — and 33 per cent of that is not properly managed in controlled facilities. Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into the ocean. Pollution and chemicals are poisoning our water, air and soil.
Meanwhile, a staggering 10 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions comes from growing, storing and transporting food that is never used. An outrage when more than 800 million people around the world go hungry every year. And poorly managed waste is the third-largest global emitter of methane. A travesty in the wake of last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which shows we are running out of time to avoid climate catastrophe. And a huge missed opportunity when we consider that reducing waste globally would have a transformative impact on carbon emissions.
Waste is a killer. Of people. Of our planet. Of our natural resources and ecosystems. Of economies, which lose billions each year from waste. And the gobs of garbage keep growing. By 2050, municipal solid waste will double to 4 billion tons each year. Garbage is laying waste to our planet. It’s time to fight back and launch a war on waste on three fronts.
First, polluters themselves must take the lead. Those who produce waste must design products and services that are less resource and material intensive, smartly manage any waste created across all stages of their products’ lifecycle and find creative ways to extend the lives of the products they sell. And they need to invest in waste management, recovery and recycling systems in the communities in which they operate.
Second, we need to massively invest in the ability of countries, cities and local governments to develop and scale up modern waste management systems, and policies that encourage people to reuse and recycle everything from plastic bottles to ageing electronics. They should follow the lead of cities like Kigali, Kamikatsu and Ljubljana, all of which are strengthening their municipal waste management systems by recycling 50 to 80 per cent of their waste.
And at the national level, countries should take inspiration from other examples like Türkiye’s Zero-Waste project spearheaded by the First Lady. In this context, I am pleased to announce that I am establishing an Advisory Board of Eminent Persons on Zero Waste. I thank Her Excellency the First Lady of Türkiye for agreeing to chair this important initiative — along with Mr. Jose Manuel Moller, CEO and Founder of Algramo, as vice-chair. The Advisory Board will share success stories of national and local zero-waste initiatives.
And third, we as consumers must be far more responsible. All of us need to consider the origins and impacts of the goods and products we buy every day and rethink how we dispose of them. We need to find opportunities to reuse, recycle, repurpose, repair and recover the products we use. And we need to think twice before throwing these items in the garbage.
All three of these areas have potential for massive economic benefits. Circular, zero-waste economies could save Governments billions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. But unlocking these benefits requires collaboration on a global scale.
Last year’s agreement to negotiate the first-ever treaty to end plastic pollution was a promising first step. Sustainable Development Goal 12 reminds us of the imperative to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030. And the United Nations General Assembly resolution on zero-waste initiatives demonstrates that the political will is there.
We’re making a mess of our world. It’s time to clean up. Let’s work as one to build a circular, zero-waste future. For people and planet.