While it is clear from COP26 so far that waste and recycling are not on the agenda in any prominent way, it is ever-present in the background of talks and negotiations, particularly regarding electricals, textiles, landfills and more.
The first exhibit which COP26 delegates see is a waste-related one, on textiles and explains how much is wasted and not recycled, contributing to global warming.
Appropriately it is situated close to the vast cloakroom for thousands of coats, and the message from the online lobbying group comes from generationofwaste.com and is that around the world, fashion generates an “extortionate 140 million tonnes of textile waste every year. From production PRE consumer, to consumption of clothing post consumer, urgent action is required across the value chain to accelerate worldwide systemic change for fashion”
Generationofwaste says: “Most importantly we need world leaders to ACT NOW.” The organisation is a Scotland-based collective united for COP26 made up of Sustainable Fashion Scotland, Zero Waste Design Online Collective, Beira and individual collaborators.
However, it seemed unlikely that textile waste would be discussed during COP to any great extent although references were made to textiles with resource consumption, especially water usage in original manufacturing.
An area of concern for the developing world that continues to cause concern is the dumping of waste in the open without any landfill provision.
This came up in a session on cities around the world at COP26 organised by C40, a global network of mayors “taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis and create a future where everyone can thrive”.
The session heard from speakers from around the globe, including the UK’s Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, who is soon to become chair of C40.
Launched in 2020 it has 1,049 cities as members from 76 countries. David Miller, its director of international affairs, said that its members had the aim of reducing emissions by “14 Gita tons by 2030”.
Landfill was mentioned by mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer of Freetown in Sierra Leone. She described how the city had planted a million trees to help cool the air and reduce extreme heat. Then, she turned to waste and described how tackling open dumping through the construction of sanitary landfill and better waste management would cut methane generation and create hundreds of jobs.
In his statement, Mr Khan spoke of the need for the Northern Hemisphere to help meet the costs of the challenges faced in the Southern Hemisphere. And, he spoke of his support for green finance and how as Mayor he held “hundreds of millions of pounds in pensions”. Accordingly, investment is changing to green options: “It makes huge economic sense not to invest in fossil fuels,” the London Mayor said.
While the waste sector can usually talk in hundreds of millions of pounds, or even a billion or two, the sheer scale of the climate change challenge revealed at COP26 does mean that the waste sector is perhaps not surprisingly low down the pecking order in terms of discussion.
It was very clear from plenary sessions that there is a willingness and an interest from the developing world in tackling climate change, but that the cost is huge. Much will have to be spent on energy and transportation, delegates have been told.
Addressing a session on financing ways to limit climate change, John Kerry, the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, spoke of the need for public and private sector money to be used, saying that ‘trillions of dollars of blended finance” will be needed.
He noted that 20 countries equal 80% of all the emissions. “If we can get these 20 countries to work on an accelerated basis, we will win that race for sure”
The US envoy explained that the private sector will have to play its part in financing, @the power sector earns revenues and the transportation sector earns revenues and they have the ability to finance. Public finance is on the table, I am not taking that away.”
Another UK recycling campaign group that got its message on show at COP26 was Recycle Your Electricals, although discussion of WEEE – waste electrical and electronics recycling – was not on the agenda.
Delegates could read that in the UK 155,000 tonnes of waste Electricals are thrown away in general household rubbish each year. If this waste was recycled, 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved, the campaign claimed.
A set of large posters gave a bird’s-eye view of electrical waste in UK home with pictures taken by Gregg Segal as a photography project for the Recycle Your Electricals campaign.
Scott Butler, executive director, Material Focus said: “We were delighted to be invited to display our Hidden Treasures photography series by Gregg Segal at COP26 in the Blue Zone this year. The photos illustrate the sheer scale and growing challenge of electrical waste hoarded in UK homes, but also the positive impact on climate change that could be achieved by taking the simple steps of recycling. Waste electricals are the UK and world’s fastest growing waste stream, with some of the most precious materials on our planet being lost forever. We hope that all the attendees at COP26 are inspired to take action to reuse and recycle their own electricals.”