Zero Waste

Comment: The Zero Waste Cities Challenge

WasteAid shares waste management and recycling skills with partners in lower- and middle-income countries. Founded in 2015, the UK-based international NGO has delivered positive impact in 17 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, working with businesses, municipalities and grassroots organisations to drive sustainable resource management.


In the locations where WasteAid works, waste management is either completely lacking or has significant gaps, with consequences including the spread of disease, the destruction of ecosystems and significant economic losses. Open burning of waste is commonplace, impacting local air quality and releasing global carbon emissions estimated to
be up to double that from aviation – yet it remains a largely ignored cause of cli- mate change.

In 2020, WasteAid launched its Circular Economy Network, an initiative funded by Huhtamaki, a Finland-based global provider of packaging solutions. Its aim is to connect and support innovators, businesses, designers, environmental champions, producers, associations and institutions, who together can drive the circular economy.

The Circular Economy Network brings a fresh and inclusive approach, aiming to support locally appropriate innovations that keep materials in the loop, prevent pollution, and provide green employment opportunities. WasteAid has launched the network in three hub cities, Johannesburg in South Africa, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and Guwahati in India.

Activities include a web based platform for all stakeholders to connect, share knowledge and identify mutually beneficial opportunities, Webinars including innovators and entrepreneurs working hard to advance the circular economy such as Pizza4P and PlasticPeople in Vietnam, Recykal in India and RecyclepaperZA in South Africa and a Zero Waste Cities Challenge, with 10,000 euro prizes and business incubation support for innovations that accelerate an inclusive circular economy.

Why Zero Waste Cities?

By 2050, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities, where after buildings and transport, waste is often the third largest source of climate change emissions. Urban waste generation is also growing rapidly, especially in the global south. Unsurprisingly, the way waste and resources are managed in cities has a significant impact on the environment, economy, employment, resilience and sense of community.

There are many different ways that cities can take steps towards a circular economy, such as reducing single-use items and non-recyclable materials, keeping products and materials in use for longer, and improving segregated waste collection and recycling. WasteAid’s Zero Waste Cities Challenge has a particular focus on inclusive circular economy innovations that create livelihood opportunities for poor and marginalised communities.

Each Zero Waste Cities Challenge winner will get the chance to showcase their business through the Circular Economy Network and WasteAid’s extensive network and media platforms.

The Circular Economy Network is a scalable model and WasteAid is in discussions with businesses in the waste, packaging and FMCG sectors to extend its reach and impact. With dedicated project managers embedded in the hub cities, long-term, sustainable impact at scale remains the overarching goal.

Michelle Wilson is Network Director of the WasteAid Circular Economy Network