Global Zero Waste Cities Summit

October 27, 2022 All day

Sign up for GAIA/Zero Waste Europe’s Global Zero Waste Cities Summit live virtual event with programming spanning all time zones. Meet with changemakers from around the world leading action in their cities and municipalities for climate resilience. Simultaneous translation will be provided in Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swahili.

The Global Zero Waste Cities Summit will be an opportunity to hear from fellow activists and GAIA/BFFP members, policymakers, and thought-leaders on such pressing topics as:

  • Cutting methane emissions through zero waste
  • Essential factors to build zero waste cities
  • Collaboration between local organizations and governments

Report: ‘Chemical Recycling’ Will Make the Plastic and Climate Crises Worse

Amid overwhelming plastic pollution and an exponential rise in plastic production, the fossil fuel industry has touted chemical or “advanced” recycling as a solution to the plastic crisis. “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan For a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America” by the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, unveiled on June 30th endorses “chemical recycling,” using much of the same language also pushed by the American Chemistry Council and other players. Similar language made it into the Federal RECOVER Act, and states across the country are passing or considering industry-backed bills that would pave the way for “advanced recycling” to take root.

However, a new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) reveals that what industry in the U.S. calls “advanced recycling” is largely the opposite turning plastic into fuel to be burned. This network of waste and burn facilities overburden low-income communities and communities of color. 

The report finds other fatal inconsistencies in how the industry markets “chemical recycling” versus the reality: millions of dollars have been invested in “chemical recycling” projects, yet based on public information, out of the 37 facilities proposed in the U.S. since 2000, only 3 are currently operational and none have been proven to successfully recover plastic to make new plastics on a commercial scale. The report follows a technical assessment of chemical recycling, which found the technology to be polluting, carbon intensive, and riddled with system failures, disqualifying it as a solution to the escalating plastic problem, especially at the scale needed. 

Denise Patel, GAIA US/Canada Program Director, states, “Plastics are the new villain of the climate fight, and elected officials can’t fall for industry’s claims that they have a silver bullet solution, especially when the evidence does not back up those claims. With the rising crises of climate change, pollution, and economic insecurity under the backdrop of a global pandemic, we have no more time or money to waste on dangerous tech-fixes. Policymakers need to fight climate change at the source, by pursuing policies that place limits on production and support zero waste systems.” 

Key Findings: 

  • Industry misuses the terms “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling,” when in fact, most facilities are not operational, and the few that are are primarily Plastic-to-Fuel (PTF). Plastic-derived fuels are fossil fuels that spend a very small portion of their lifecycle as plastic. This is not recycling, it is an expensive and complicated way to burn fossil fuels. 
  • “Chemical Recycling” is an industry greenwashing tactic, undermining real solutions to the plastics crisis. The fossil fuel industry is investing over $164 billion in expanding plastic production in the U.S., 35 times the amount that they claimed to invest in “chemical recycling.”
  • “Chemical Recycling” is a bad investment. “Chemical recycling”(aka plastic-to-fuel) is competing against, and losing to, virgin plastic production. High likelihood of technical failure has also squandered investment. As of 2017, similar technologies have wasted at least $2 billion of investments with canceled or failed projects across the globe.
  • “Chemical recycling” has a large carbon footprint, and poses a climate risk. Over half of the plastic that is processed in these facilities is released as climate pollution (CO2). That’s on top of the emissions from burning the resulting fuel.
  • “Chemical Recycling” is an environmental health risk, particularly to already overburdened communities. Every step of the process produces toxicants, from the sites themselves, where the product is burned, and at the facilities where the waste from the process goes, oftentimes in environmental justice communities. The chemical recycling industry is looking to expand into the same neighborhoods suffering from fossil fuel industry pollution. 

Dr. Andrew Neil Rollinson, chemical reactor engineer, specialist in alternative thermal conversion technologies, and author of a Technical Assessment of chemical recycling states, “Sound engineering practice and common sense shows that chemical recycling is not the answer to society’s problem of plastic waste. It represents a dangerous distraction from the need for governments to ban single-use and unnecessary plastics, while simultaneously locking society into a ‘business as usual’ future of more oil and gas consumption.” 

“Industry-promoted ‘chemical recycling’ gives the false impression that we can chemically recycle our way out of this crisis, and detracts from what the US should be doing:  reducing the use of plastics. This technology has not worked in the past, cannot survive without significant taxpayer subsidies, creates few jobs and brushes aside the serious climate change and air toxics issues associated with plastic production. We urge the authors of the House report to remove the chemical recycling recommendation if they are serious about addressing climate change,”  said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator.

According to the Association of Mission-Based Recyclers, “The fact that plastic-to-fuel is being labeled as “recycling” is just plain wrong, and threatens the legitimacy of the recycling industry. However, even if plastic-to-plastic chemical recycling was feasible, the sad truth is that 30 years of plastics recycling in the U.S. has failed to significantly stem the tide of plastic waste as more and more new plastics come onto the market. Chemical recycling is just another shiny new toy and is subject to failure for all the same reasons that plastics recycling has failed to scale to date.”

Read the report.

Read the fact sheet.


This Super Bowl weekend, 65,000 people will gather at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, and more than 100 million people will watch the game on television. Typical football games generate 80,000 pounds of trash, primarily single-use plastic, but this year’s biggest game is striving to change that.

SUPR (Single-Use Plastic Reduction), a program aimed at catalyzing sports teams to go plastic-free was developed by Oceanic Global, Nexus, and Accenture. The team at Hard Rock Stadium, host to Super Bowl 54, used the SUPR playbook to inspire their phase out of 99% of the game’s single-use plastic items and replace them with sustainable alternatives. Alternatives included compostable food ware from Footprint and reusable, recyclable aluminum cups, provided by Ball Corporation.

The aluminum cups alone will eliminate up to 500,000 plastic cups that would otherwise be used, discarded, and landfilled as part of the Big Game.

“All public events need to work toward becoming Zero Waste,” said Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “Programs such as #RefillRevolution and #BYOBottle have paved the way for large scale events to reduce plastic and encourage reusables instead of ‘disposables.’”

“Together with our Coalition members, we are on a journey towards a Zero Waste world,” said Cohen. “The time is now to go further to create new systems around reusable solutions and alternatives to single-use plastic that are better for the planet and human health.”

Join our global Coalition.

By Plastic Pollution Coalition member GAIA

What’s wrong with America Recycles Day? 

“America Recycles Day” and its host organization, Keep America Beautiful both have nice-sounding names, but that’s part of the problem. While the organization Keep America Beautiful seems like a friendly non-profit, in reality it is an industry-sponsored group that lends public credibility to corporate interests. According to investigations including a recent exposé in The Intercept, packaging and beverage industries formed Keep America Beautiful in the 1950s to stop fledgling regulations on single-use disposables from spreading.

Through a series of ad campaigns spread out over decades —including the infamous “Crying Indian” commercial, which uses racist tropes about indigenous peoples to co-opt centuries of indigenous environmental stewardship and land struggles — the organization built a narrative around “litter” that diverts responsibility the growing plastic pollution problem away from corporations and onto individual consumers. America Recycles Day is an extension of this industry greenwashing. Keep America Beautiful’s corporate partners currently include some of the world’s top plastic polluters, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle. Several of these have lobbied against much-needed waste reduction solutions, such as bottle deposit legislation and bans on single-use disposables. In positioning recycling as the ultimate solution to our waste problem, corporate producers have meticulously evaded responsibility for the waste they create by claiming their products are “recyclable.”

So Keep America Beautiful is a little dodgy… but recycling is still a good thing, right? 

Even with the best available recycling technology, the maximum recycling level for the current mix of plastics produced be somewhere between 36% and 53%. Municipalities are burdened with the massive, costly task of collecting, sorting, and processing recycled waste. This task has become more difficult now that more and more Asian countries are following China’s lead in rejecting imports of American recyclables. Our recycling systems aren’t equipped to deal with the staggering volume of plastic waste produced in this country. Much of this discarded plastic waste, including multi-layered plastics (such as potato chip bags), are extremely difficult and costly to recycle. Since they can’t, in a practical sense, be recycled, they end up in landfills, incinerators, and the environment. Domestic end markets for recycled materials are lacking, partly because the shale fracking boom makes virgin plastic extremely cheap: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle only use 9%, 3%, and 2% recycled content in their products, respectively. We’ve only recycled 9% of all the plastics ever produced, while plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050. Recycling is simply not enough. 

So should we even bother with recycling? 

Recycling is not enough, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about recycling altogether. We need to work with municipalities and mission-based recyclers to improve our recycling systems. Real recycling requires universal access to recycling and composting services, as well as the education, outreach, and incentives to help people separate their waste correctly. Policymakers should also require producers to use minimum recycled content, which would be one of many initiatives required to boost local economies by building domestic markets for recycled materials.

 We also need to make sure risky burn technologies promoted by some of Keep America Beautiful’s sponsors such as “chemical recycling” (usually meaning plastic-to-fuel) aren’t sold to cities as sustainable waste management strategies. “If it doesn’t protect our health and the environment and prevent the need for more resource extraction, it’s not recycling”, according to the Alliance of Mission Based Recyclers.

If recycling isn’t enough, what is? 

Recycling is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that must include upstream solutions to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. Communities and businesses across the world are working with local governments to get their municipalities on the road towards zero waste: they’re supporting initiatives around reuse and refill, organizing around product redesign, implementing bans on single-use disposables, improving collection services, and much more. Visit to find stories and case studies about these powerful, placed-based zero waste solutions that are supporting both environmental and social goals. Corporations need to play their part, too. They’ve profited by externalizing the costs of their waste onto our communities and environment  for too long — it’s time to force them to take real, measurable actions towards reducing their waste and sustainably managing the end life of their products. Keep America Beautiful’s stated mission of inspiring and educating “people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment” is best exemplified by the global movement of sanitation workers, small businesses, sustainability departments, and community-based organizations working to Break Free From Plastic and build holistic solutions towards zero waste.

Join our global Coalition.

Via PPC Member GAIA

Rep. Ilhan Omar Introduces Zero Waste Act 

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced the Zero Waste Act on July 25 to invest in solutions that address the waste epidemic plaguing our country. These funds will go towards reducing landfills and incinerators that emit toxic pollution into our communities, especially in low income communities or communities of color.

“We can imagine a future where we prioritize people’s health, the environment, and justice, knowing our fates are tied together,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar. “Today, we need elected leaders to champion solutions that match the scope of the challenges we face. Addressing the waste crisis is critical to preventing further damage to our climate—it’s integral to racial justice and a clean, equitable future.”

The bill will create a federal grant program to help local cities to invest in zero waste initiatives. These funds can go towards recycling infrastructure, or towards the creation of partnerships with local businesses aimed at reducing waste in their operations. The Zero Waste Act will create jobs, grow domestic manufacturing, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean waterways, protect our communities from health hazards, save energy, and further grow our economy.

Landfills were responsible for 103 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emitted as of 2011, or 18 percent of all methane emissions. Waste is also an environmental justice issue. Nearly 80% of incinerators are placed in low-income areas or near communities of color and indigenous lands—including North Minneapolis and the Phillips neighborhood in Minnesota’s 5th District. 

Original co-sponsors include Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Deb Haaland, Betty McCollum, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Ayanna Pressley, Chellie Pingree and Gwen Moore.

The bill is endorsed by the following organizations Plastic Pollution Coalition, City of Minneapolis, Eureka Recycling, Zero Waste Washington, US Composting Council, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Climate Generation, Surfrider Foundation, TakeAction Minnesota, Minnesota Composting Council.

You can watch the bill introduction here and find the full text here.

Join our global Coalition.