At the Global Climate Action Summit, the C40 network launched the declaration: “Advancing Towards Zero Waste.”  Twenty three cities and regions have signed on, including San Francisco, Auckland, Catalonia, Copenhagen, Dubai, London, Milan, Montreal, New York City, Paris, Rotterdam, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. The participating cities have committed to reduce the municipal solid waste generation per capita by at least 15% by 2030 compared to 2015, reduce the amount of municipal solid waste disposed to landfill and incineration by at least 50% by 2030 compared to 2015, and increase the diversion rate away from landfill and incineration to at least 70% by 2030.

“This move signals that cities around the world are waking up to the dangers of waste incineration and are taking concrete steps to reduce their waste instead of burning it,” says Christie Keith, Executive Director of GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives). “The cities who have signed on to this pledge are setting an example for other municipalities around the world to pursue true zero waste.”

Waste reduction is a critical part of combating climate change, as waste generation is directly linked to global resource extraction, transportation, processing, and manufacturing. Studies show that waste reduction, recycling, composting, etc. could lead to a reduction of up to 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

“We congratulate signatories on their commitments to prioritizing waste reduction and phasing out waste burning, and encourage other cities to sign on as well,” says Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe. “Most importantly, we are eager to see these commitments translate into practice.”

The declaration’s emphasis on phasing out waste incineration as part of cities’ zero waste goals is critical for the future of our planet. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both landfills and incinerators (euphemistically referred to as “waste to energy”) contribute far higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions and overall energy throughout their life cycles than source reduction, reuse and recycling of the same materials. Incineration also drives a climate changing cycle of new resources pulled out of the earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then wasted in incinerators and landfills.

“If the goals of this declaration are achieved in a just, inclusive way it will be a big step forward for our climate,” says Anne Larracas, Managing Director for GAIA Asia Pacific. “We’re hoping that this will be a tipping point for other cities to sign on and agree to move away from incinerators and landfills and implement instead real zero waste policies as a main strategy to mitigate climate change.”

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