Egypt’s 50 by 2050 initiative highlights urgent need to address the role of waste in contributing to pollution

A panda made of plastic waste at the green zone during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. l MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS

A panda made of plastic waste at the green zone during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. l MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS

Published Nov 17, 2022


Waste is the third largest contributor to man-made greenhouse gas emissions globally – this discovery has led to Egypt’s impending announcement of its Global Waste Initiative 50 by 2050.

The initiative sets the ambition to recycle and treat at least 50% of the waste produced in Africa by 2050.

The COP27 host's promise was made at a press conference held by GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, along with Friends of the Earth Nigeria at COP27 to provide civil society’s perspective on the Egyptian government's sustainable waste ambitions.

In this press conference, civil society and diverse experts, including climate justice groups, waste picker organisers and government leaders from across the African continent, stressed the potential of waste reduction and management for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Niven Reddy, regional co-ordinator for GAIA Africa, said that “the 50 by 2050 initiative provides us with an opportunity to scale zero waste systems for climate action in Africa and around the globe”.

“However, this initiative can only be effective if it includes organic waste management, inclusion and recognition of waste pickers, and phase out of residual waste and fundamentally moving away from incineration and other climate-polluting waste management practices that aren’t meant for Africa.”

GAIA’s press release states waste will be critical on the COP27 agenda as countries discuss ways to reach the Global Methane Pledge.

The pledge recognises that reducing methane, a short-lived greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent as CO2, is critical to achieving the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5˚C.

As human-made waste has been found to be the third largest anthropogenic source of methane, primarily from landfilling organic waste, 122 countries have committed to tackling this greenhouse gas globally.

The Global Methane Pledge and the Global Waste Initiative 50 by 2050 both signal how countries are recognising the potential of “zero waste” to help meet climate targets affordably and effectively.

Introducing better waste management policies, such as waste separation, recycling, and composting. could cut total emissions from the waste sector by more than 1.4 billion tons, equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million cars, or taking all motor vehicles in the US off the road for a year, according to GAIA.

The climate crisis has exacerbated its impacts in Africa, making the need for adaptation measures more acute. Loss and damage financing and climate investments for zero waste systems in Africa can both boost climate resilience, redress historical inequities, and support local economies.

African communities are spearheading zero waste projects for adaptation, recognising the current realities they are faced with. One such strategy, composting, reduces pollution, prevents disease vectors like mosquitos and vermin, and boosts soil resilience, which helps combat flooding and droughts that threaten food security.

Plastic is a huge contributor to pollution, l GRAPHIC NEWS

Bubacar Jallow, permanent secretary, Ministry of Environment, Climate Change & Natural Resources in The Gambia, explained that “what some may call waste is actually an incredible resource for the climate and public health”.

“Composting food waste creates an effective fertiliser that can support greater food security in The Gambia in the face of a changing climate.”

If this initiative prioritises the rights of waste pickers, it could also have a tremendous impact on the thousands of people working in the informal sector in the region.

Waste pickers in Africa play a key role towards mitigating climate change by collecting and selling waste as a livelihood strategy, which increases recycling and reduces raw material extraction.

Waste picker Rizk Yosif Hanna stated: “In Egypt, the Zabaleen community recycles more than 50% of the waste they collect, and therefore must be taken into consideration.

“Any step in Egypt and in Africa as a whole should be built on the accumulated knowledge that exists in the informal sector, and integrate waste pickers into the decision-making and implementation.”

However, all efforts to manage waste will be fruitless unless there is a strong focus on source reduction, particularly for plastic, which is made from fossil fuels. If plastic’s life cycle were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Ubrei-Joe Ubrei-Joe Maimoni Mariere, regional co-ordinator of Friends of the Earth Africa, said: “Recycling alone is not enough to address the global waste crisis. For recycling to be effective, African countries need to start attacking sources of raw material extraction, stopping single-use plastic and reducing waste at the source.”

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