Used once and then thrown away, 40% of plastic waste in the world comes from packaging. In light of this fact, many members of the humanitarian community are taking a close look at their own use of packaging and the waste it creates. On World Environment Day, find out how USAID and other humanitarian organizations are working together to create lasting change.
When a disaster or crisis strikes anywhere in the world, tons of food and other essential relief supplies needed to provide shelter and protection are transported to remote locations. These items are carefully packaged to get to the people who need them quickly and undamaged. But after emergency aid, packaging produces unintentional waste in communities that cannot always afford to dispose of it.
This is a major environmental issue for the humanitarian community: packaging is essential to ensure that lifesaving aid is delivered to those in need, but it also generates vast quantities of difficult-to-manage waste.
For some time now, many agencies have been actively working on solutions to this packaging challenge. For example, local recycling projects have been piloted by the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. Aid organizations are working with local entrepreneurs in Uganda and Colombia to use recycled materials to develop shelters and small-scale water, sanitation and hygiene supplies.
But the scale of this challenge is far too great for a single organization to handle. For this reason, USAID Humanitarian Assistance Office and 15 other organizations have joined forces to make the packaging of humanitarian aid more environmentally and socially responsible.
Our Joint initiative for sustainable humanitarian assistance Management of packaging waste was set up to allow the international community to collectively assume responsibility for packaging waste from humanitarian operations by coordinating our actions, pooling resources and sharing knowledge. Here are the three ways USAID is working with its partners to reduce packaging waste:
1. Work to reduce the problem at the source.
Humanitarian aid will inevitably create waste, so we need to work with suppliers to find better practices and better materials. We will not recycle or get rid of this challenge. We need more sustainably packaged products and the right processes in place, so organizations can buy them and get them to the people who need them when they need them.
2. Looking for ways to reuse and reuse.
Part of the solution is to look at waste differently, avoiding the paradox of “waste of waste”. In fact, packaging waste can become a resource for other productive uses and create opportunities in the midst of this challenge. For example, turning packaging waste – boxes, plastic bags, stretch wrap, and tins – into household items such as cribs, garden pots, backpacks and solar cookers can create decent jobs for people. even affected by seizures and help them get back on their feet. their feet.
3. Develop new ways to dispose of packaging waste.
Currently, not all packaging waste can be reused or reused. Some humanitarian aid items, such as medical supplies, must be disposed of separately.
Even though all packaging waste could be reused or recycled, we do not have the technologies and capabilities to do so. We work with innovators, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory, as well as the private sector to come up with new technologies and solutions to dispose of waste in greater quantities and at a faster rate that can be made available to communities receiving humanitarian assistance.
Ultimately, life-saving assistance cannot leave a legacy of environmental degradation in crisis-affected regions of the world. It is a global challenge that requires a global effort. Together, we can speak louder, share responsibilities and resources to handle our packaging waste responsibly and sustainably, and create large-scale solutions that all humanitarian organizations can use.
Members of the Joint Initiative are: Catholic Relief Services, Camp Coordination and Management Module, Danish Refugee Council, European Commission Humanitarian Office, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Global Logistics Cluster, Global Shelter Cluster, International Committee for Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Organization for Migration, Save the Children, United Nations Environment Program / Joint Environment Unit of the Office for the Coordination of humanitarian affairs, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, USAID, World Food Program