We all know that waste is a big enemy of the environment. Natural resources are tapped to produce things like packaging and single-use cups, only to be thrown into a landfill shortly after. Then, this waste continues to leech toxins into the environment and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change. While eliminating waste entirely would be the ultimate solution to this problem, the Bureau of International Recycling, the global federation of the recycling industry, sees an intermediate fix—treating waste as a valuable resource.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, this is the premise behind the first-ever Global Recycling Day, an initiative from BIR that aims to promote recycling on a global level by showcasing its benefits. Taking place on March 18, Global Recycling Day will unite people across the world with events that will take place in London, Washington DC, Sao Paolo, Paris, Johannesburg, Delhi, Sydney, and Dubai, plus other private events expected to take place in smaller communities and individual homes. On this day, these cities will implement a set of challenges set forth by BIR to improve their recycling habits, and thus make a commitment to cutting down the use of natural resources in favor of "the seventh resource"—recyclable waste.
"[Global Recycling Day] is a day to showcase that whoever and wherever we live on this great planet, whether we are the humblest individual or the greatest leader, the responsible use of the materials around us, the better understanding of how they are used and dispatched, and the championing of recycled goods from the plastics in our home to the metals in our buildings, is a collective, and global, concern," said Ranjit Baxi, president of BIR and the brainchild behind the new initiative.
By treating recyclable waste as a resource, the use of sometimes irreplaceable natural resources will be significantly reduced, which will have a huge impact on the environment. According to the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Footprint Network, in 2017, we used a year’s worth of the earth’s natural resources in just seven months.
Every year we dump over 2 billion tons of waste in landfills. By 2100, the World Bank estimates, the growing global urban population will be producing three times as much waste as it does today. Additionally, 91 percent of the plastic created today isn’t recycled, and Americans recycle just 34 percent of all the waste they create, according to the latest report from the Environmental Protection Agency.
At the same time, however, recycling saves over 700 million tonnes in CO2 emissions every year, according to BIR, and supplies 40 percent of the world’s raw material needs. Unlike natural resources, it isn't finite and can sometimes be used indefinitely. By switching the world's focus away from the use of natural resources to the use of waste instead, the environment could be spared.
This, of course, is where Global Recycling Day comes in. For the cities participating, BIR is asking seven changes to take place: Implement and strengthen international agreements that promote recycling, and negotiate new ones as needed; support and promote the sustainable trade of recyclable materials to ecologically sound companies across the globe; educate the public on the critical necessity of recycling; agree to a common language of recycling; make recycling a community issue; work with the industry to encourage ‘design for recycling’ in the reuse of materials – reducing waste and integrating ‘end-of-life’ functionality at the design stage; and support innovation, research and initiatives that foster better recycling practices.
“We need to see waste for what it really is – a wasted resource," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. "There is no place on our planet anymore for products that are used only briefly and thrown away. We need to ensure planned obsolescence is a thing of the past. It’s time for countries in the world to dramatically step-up recycling rates if we are to save this planet.”
Additionally, BIR is asking citizens across the world to engage in this new global holiday by asking themselves tough questions about their recycling habits, such as, "Do I know what happens to my recyclables once they are taken away by my local municipality?" and "Do I, my family and my friends, mend, repair and reuse in order to sustain the usefulness of the items around us for as long as possible?"
And, to truly take the initiative global, BIR is also launching a social media competition with participants able to win one of 70 Re-Kånken backpacks by sharing their Global Recycling Day celebration photos under the hashtag #GlobalRecyclingDay. So go forth and recycle!
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The summit will take place in mid-July.