Zero waste at Johannesburg Summit

Although there has been much negative media coverage of lavish lobster dinners and five-star hotels, the Johannesburg Summit is making strides towards being a ‘zero waste’ event. It is hoped that the scheme will become more widely adopted after the delegates have returned home.

Charities Earthlife Africa and GAIA (the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) are aiming to reduce total potential waste by 80 to 90%, reduce water and energy consumption by 20% and ensure that no waste goes to incinerators.

“It’s going very well indeed,” Muna Lakhani, co-ordinator of the Zero Waste Earth Summit team for Earthlife Africa, told edie in a telephone conversation from the Summit on 29 August. “We’re very close to 80% diversion as we speak.”

Ten years ago, the Rio Earth Summit itself was a good example of why the world is facing environmental problems, says Earthlife Africa. Seven tonnes of waste were produced every day and little effort was made to recycle or reduce the amount of produced. Resources produced daily by the Summit included 70,000 pages of press releases, 150,000 sheets of memos and 300,000 pages of schedules.

Heads of state arrived in limousines, and according to one official, before the summit had started they had used up enough energy to light Tokyo for an hour, says Earthlife.

The Zero Waste philosophy views products as being part of a cycle of use, re-use and recycling, rather than the traditional linear view in which a resource is converted into a product which ultimately turns into waste. At the Johannesburg event this has included persuading organisers and sponsors not to use plastic products that can only be recycled and remanufactured a limited number of times.

At least 90 jobs have been created in order to support the goal of zero waste at Johannesburg in addition to employment created in local recycling businesses, says Earthlife. Bins have been provided for different waste streams, and placed around the meeting areas. When full, the bins are transported by specially designed bicycles and taken to sorting areas.

Recyclables are sent to local recycling companies, and leftover food items are distributed to the poor. Kitchen waste goes to a local pig farmer.

The system required some fine-tuning in the first couple of days, Muna Lakhani told edie. One problem has been that the delegate pack did not reach many of the delegates until a number of days into the Summit, which meant that they did not at first understand their role in the system.

The scheme is currently sixth out of the top ten greening processes at the Summit, but the intention is to climb higher.

“We are educating participants to actively take control of the waste they produce, and we hope to inspire zero waste policies in South Africa and around the world,” said Lakhani.

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