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From Waste to Wealth: Addressing waste crisis through social business

In a world facing numerous challenges, from climate change to biodiversity loss and pollution, it has become increasingly clear that we must take bold and innovative steps to address the planetary crisis.  

On 31 October, the World Cities Day 2023 took place in Istanbul, Turkey. The Day aims to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable cities around the world.  

Our co-founder and managing director, Christina Jaeger, represented Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and chairman of Yunus Environment Hub, Professor Muhammad Yunus, at the event. During a round table discussion, “From Waste to Wealth,” she highlighted the concept of social business and its role in achieving a world of “Three Zeros”: Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. She emphasized Prof. Yunus’s message of the need to build a new civilisation where every human being has equal access to economic and social opportunities and a clean and healthy environment. The distinguished roundtable discussion featured influential figures, including Mr. Ibrahim Yumakli – Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Government of Türkiye, Mr. Murat Kurum – Head of the Environment Committee, Government of Türkiye, Ms. Rohey Malick Lowe, Mayor of Banjul, Gambia Ms. Catalina Velasco, Minister of Housing, City and Territory of Colombia, Ms. Heidi Solba – President and Head of Global Network, Let’s Do It World and Mr. Valentin Lavaill – Senior Project Manager, Middle East, Roland Berger Middle East, and member of Waste to Zero United Arab Emirates. 

Plastic waste has become a global menace, polluting our oceans, harming wildlife, and affecting our health. To eliminate this imminent threat to human existence and the planet, we must take immediate action. The plenary session explored ways to efficiently work towards zero waste and a sustainable future.  

The following 5 areas were highlighted by Christina to work towards zero waste cities: 

  1. Embracing Social Business and Circular Economy Principles: 

Uncontrolled carbon emissions, a take-make-waste mentality, and the overexploitation of precious resources have led us to the crisis we are facing today – a crisis rooted in the disconnection between people and nature, a crisis dominated by waste. To bring about meaningful change, we must combine social business principles and circular economy strategies. These concepts can empower both people and the planet, steering us away from ineffective traditional and linear economic approaches and towards innovative solutions to the waste crisis. To accelerate change, social businesses play a pivotal role in designing, developing, adopting, and implementing circular business models and strategies such as circular supply chain, product as a service, product life extension, sharing and leasing, and resource recycling and recovery. 

Read how our CirculaRise participant is turning waste to resource

  1. Empowering Individuals and Communities:

Ensuring individuals and the communities they live in have the tools to build and implement zero waste solutions at the micro level is important to contribute to zero waste solutions. At Yunus Environment Hub, we are building climate champions like the SHE Starts that are impacting their communities, to build climate resilience and take necessary climate action. 

Read about SHE Stars program supporting micro, small and medium enterprises 

3.Promoting Behavioral Change: 

Changing ingrained behaviours is essential to combating the waste crisis. It is not just about recycling; it is about reducing waste at its source by refusing to purchase from businesses contributing to the waste crisis and by refusing the “throw-away” mentality. Education and awareness campaigns, alongside incentivising responsible consumption, can drive behavioural change on an individual and societal level.  At Yunus Environment Hub, we participate every year in Plastic Free July to promote behavioral change and inspire others.  

4.Empowering the Informal Waste Sector: 

Recognising and enhancing the role of the informal waste sector is paramount in addressing the waste crisis. Ensuring a just transition for individuals within this sector not only safeguards their well-being but also underscores the fundamental importance of respecting human rights. Establishing safe working conditions, fair wages, and relevant trainings to ensure workers are aware of their rights is essential. The informal sector, along with other actors across the waste value chain, should be included when new policies and processes are developed to ensure a holistic approach is taken. 

Learn about our EHS training program for the informal waste sector  

5.Collaborative Efforts: 

Solving the waste crisis requires collaborative action. It is imperative to bring together different stakeholders – governments, businesses, non-profits, and individuals, including the informal sector – to create unified solutions. Governments can enact and enforce regulations and policies promoting sustainable practices, while businesses can innovate and adopt circular economy approaches. Non-profits and individuals can raise awareness, drive innovation, and support local initiatives to achieve zero waste. By including the informal sector in the decision making processes, we can ensure their voice is heard and solutions are designed with a human rights-based approach.  

Read our recent UNEP report on a holistic approach for the informal waste sector  

The plastic waste crisis and broader waste management issues demand immediate and concerted action. Embracing the principles of social business and circular economy, empowering individuals and communities, promoting behavioural change, and recognising the vital role of the informal waste sector are essential steps toward a sustainable future. Through collaborative efforts, we can address the planetary crisis and work towards a world of “Three Zeros”: Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.  

Reach out to us if you need support for your zero waste initiatives.