Language shapes our thoughts. And our thoughts influence our actions. So the words we use and the way we use them also say a lot about what we are doing. And ‘waste’ is a case in point. The English word has its origins in the Proto-Germanic ‘*wōstinjō’, meaning ‘wasteland’, and is related to the Modern German ‘Wüste’, or ‘desert’. However, we could simply call it something else – a ‘base product’, for instance, or a ‘reusable’ or ‘recyclable‘ material. As soon as we stop referring to it as something ‘to be wasted’, it becomes a product, a good, a thing of value, and we would think twice before carelessly casting it aside.
And this is precisely what needs to be our goal, first through our words, then through our actions. Because the mountain of waste is growing all the time. Another 500 million tonnes will have been added in the three months or so it has taken to produce this magazine. We are throwing so much away, we are drowning in it. Rubbish is everywhere: in the deepest places on Earth – in the Mariana Trench – and on top of the highest mountains – in the Himalayas. Rubbish is now turning up in the stomachs of fish and birds, in empty salt domes and even in outer space. And nothing will change as long as we cling to our throwaway mentality and fail to see the value in things just because we no longer need them. After all, ‘waste’ is a foreign concept in nature, which knows only natural cycles. Only we humans put the system under strain with our excesses.
HOW MUCH WASTE we are producing and where, and what problems this is causing for developing countries in particular – these are the questions we will be focusing on in this issue. It is clear that, alongside climate change, tackling waste is a major challenge of our times. Unlike climate change, however, which has the Paris Agreement, the issue of waste still lacks a prominent international strategy, a regulatory framework to support recycling and curb disposal.
In a guest article, Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Environment Ministry, therefore makes the case for a consistent switch to circular material flows. In his essay, prizewinning environmental journalist Joachim Wille examines the growing mountains of rubbish around the world and takes a critical look at previous (in)activity to tackle the issue. In addition, Italian marine researcher Maria Cristina Fossi explains in an interview how marine life is suffering at the hands of a foreign body – plastic.
At GIZ, we want to make a constructive contribution too: not only in this issue, in which we look at the topic from a wide variety of angles, but also in the projects we implement around the world to help prevent waste and kick-start recycling schemes. And, ultimately, within the company itself: even in procurement, we make sure that as little waste as possible will eventually be left over and we favour reusable solutions. Our toner cartridges are recycled and, in the tender process for our IT equipment, we check whether the equipment can be repaired. Our field offices also contribute: the office in Thailand has taken part in beach clean-ups and now consumes much less paper. GIZ’s Civil Peace Service in Kenya has launched a campaign to collect and recycle its rubbish in cooperation with a local partner. Admittedly, these are not comprehensive circular systems, but they are important first steps that we can build upon. Or, in other words, measures that we plan to ‘upcycle’.