Planet Garbage


Baher Kamal | Human Wrongs Watch - TRANSCEND Media Service

4 Apr 2023 – Straight to the point: the current system of voracious money-making production and the induced over-consumption patterns have turned Planet Earth into a giant garbage dump.

We’re spewing a torrent of waste and pollution that is affecting our environment, our economies, and our health, warns UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

We’re spewing a torrent of waste and pollution that is affecting our environment, our economies, and our health, warns UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

And straight to the facts:

  • Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean.
  • If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • More than 75% of all electronic waste is not safely managed.
  • Resource extraction is responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions.
  • The amount of municipal solid waste generated globally could rise from around 2.24 billion tons to 3.88 billion tons by 2050.
  • 80% of marine pollution originates on land.

One billion tons of food in the garbage

The waste sector contributes significantly to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, and pollution.

Just take the shocking case of food. Every year, around 931 million tons of food is lost or wasted and up to 14 million tons of plastic waste enters aquatic ecosystems.

Such an unimaginable waste of food in a world of one billion empty plates, is just to be added to the dumping of billions of tons of plastics, textiles, discarded electronics, and debris from mining and construction sites.

‘Trashing our only home’

“The planet is literally drowning in garbage, and it is high time to clean up,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned, marking the first-ever International Day of Zero Waste (30 March 2023).

“We are trashing our only home,” he said. “We’re spewing a torrent of waste and pollution that is affecting our environment, our economies, and our health.”

Guterres said it was time for “a war on waste” on three fronts, calling on polluters themselves to take the lead.

“Those who produce waste must design products and services that are less resource and material intensive, smartly manage any waste created across all stages of their products’ lifecycle, and find creative ways to extend the lives of the products they sell,” he said.

“We need to find opportunities to reuse, recycle, repurpose, repair and recover the products we use. And we need to think twice before throwing these items in the garbage.”

The case of Türkiye

The Türkiye’s Zero Waste Project has so far managed to conserve some 650 million tonnes of raw material, and to eliminate four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions through recycling.

“All life on earth is connected but industrialization has led to the over-consumption that is polluting the planet, said the Turkish First Lady, Emine Erdoğan, who spearheads the Project.

“Humans have created this frightening landscape.”

“We are obliged to establish a fair system and take on measures based on burden sharing where we look out for countries deeply impacted by the consequences of climate change which had no part to play in the first place,” she said.

Be ‘waste wise’

The head of the UN’s urban development agency, UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, urged countries to be “waste wise”, including through finding value in reusing items before discarding them.

“Zero Waste is the first step towards creating waste-wise societies,” she said. “The first step is to take responsibility and make a conscious effort to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. Remember that everything we use and discard must go somewhere.”

Food systems

The global population is on track to reach 10 billion by 2050, and demand for food and non-food agricultural products is also expected to rise by up to 56%, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Meeting this demand will require healthier and more sustainable food production and consumption, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said.

“We need to urgently address the inefficiencies and inequalities in our agri-food systems to make them more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable.”

For this, it would be of great help to implement the world’s Global Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and Production, which calls for the adoption of sustainable consumption and production objectives across all sectors by 2030.

Another available tool is the “End plastic pollution: towards an internationally legally binding instrument”, which was adopted at the United Nations Environment Assembly on 2 March 2022.

Zero waste?

A zero-waste approach entails responsible production, consumption and disposal of products in a closed, circular system. This means that resources are reused or recovered as much as possible and that we minimise the pollution of air, land or water.

Products should be designed to be durable and require fewer and low-impact materials. By opting for less resource-intensive production and transport methods, manufacturers can further limit pollution and waste.

Consumers can also play a pivotal role in enabling zero waste by changing habits and reusing and repairing products as much as possible before properly disposing of them.

‘The world is bigger than five’

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has suggested that “the world is bigger than five” – a reference to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Sounds good. But the fact is that those five are the world’s major producers and their corporations are dominating the global markets, making astonishing profits from destruction, being all of them the greater polluters.

For example, alongside oil and gas corporations, food companies more than doubled their profits in 2022 at a time when more than 800 million people were going hungry and 1.7 billion workers live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages, as reported by Oxfam International.

Meanwhile, the food industry continues to intensively use toxic chemicals in their products, some of them provoking heart diseases and death. Trans fat is just one of them, adding to contaminating fertilisers, pesticides, microplastics and a long etcetera, that end up in land, water and the air.

Shouldn’t such deadly practices be classified as “crimes against humanity”? And their perpetrators be taken to International Criminal Courts?


Baher Kamal, a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, is an Egyptian-born, Spanish national, secular journalist, with over 45 years of professional experience — from reporter to special envoy to chief editor of national dailies and an international news agency. Baher is former Senior Advisor to the Director General of the international news agency IPS (Inter Press Service) and he also contributed to prestigious magazines such as TRANSCEND Media Service, GEO, Muy Interesante, and Natura, Spain. He is also publisher and editor of Human Wrongs Watch.

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2 Responses to “Planet Garbage”

  1. I have now cited this piece in my earlier comment on:

    Earth as a Shithole Planet — from a Universal Perspective?
    Understanding why there are no extraterrestrial visitors