Executive Director’s Message on the occasion of World Environment Day, 5 June 2018

By on 06/05/2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my privilege to be here today and to make these remarks in behalf of Madame Maimunah Mohd. Sharif, USG of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

At UN-Habitat we often talk about an important milestone that was reached a few years ago: More than half the world’s population lives in cities. Foremost among the environmental implications of this unprecedented urbanization is the phenomenon of solid waste generation, an inevitable result of human activities.

Currently, 2 billion people across the globe do not have access to regular waste collection. Uncollected garbage pollutes our living environment and threatens our health and well-being, and is the main cause of marine pollution – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, floating trash between Hawaii and California, twice the size of Texas, is just one illustration. Each year, 8 million tons of plastic – the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute – ends up in the world’s oceans.

Poor and absent local solid waste management and infrastructure systems are a major cause of planetary scale plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is another reminder, alongside climate change, of the serious global impacts generated by millions of inappropriate local actions and inactions. Plastic constitutes 10% of all the waste humankind generates, and in the past decade alone, we have produced more plastic than in the entire past century.

The New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals lay out the visions and goals for a pollution free society and circular economy. UN-Habitat will continuously work with partner governments and communities to establish sound solid waste management systems on the ground, not least because the impact of poor waste management is felt most acutely by the urban poor communities which have limited access to potable water and sanitation systems, and who often live and work in close proximity to landfill sites, small and large waste dumps, and drains. Open dumpsites are also major sources of air, water and soil pollution as well as Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

Over the years, we have been working towards providing appropriate solutions for integrated solid waste management in many cities across the world. Here in Africa, our home, through the Lake Victoria Water and Sanitation Project, UN-Habitat has supported 15 towns in East African Community to strengthen capacity of local governments to improve access to waste management services. We built a pilot sanitary landfill with 300 waste pickers and helped the county government to formalize informal recycling in Kiambu, which enabled waste pickers to have a stable income. In Kisii County, where the unemployment rate is as high as 60%, UN-Habitat introduced innovative microscale plastic recycling machines and trained 11 youth groups. Today, they are demonstrating the plastic recycling process and selling their beautiful products made from waste plastics they collected in Kisii, in the UN-Habitat booth.

At the same time, we also work closely local governments and citizens in better integrating sustainable infrastructure development and basic service management with the right urban planning, policy formulation and design, all of which have a direct relationship with building cleaner and greener cities. It is vital that local governments and city leaders incorporate environmental management and pollution control into urban policies and plans, in order to ensure long-term, sustainable transformations in cities and communities.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us be the change we wish to see! UN-Habitat is happy to join the pilot waste source separation initiative led by UNON, as a starting point to establish a circular economy in Gigiri and eventually in Nairobi. Let us join hands to achieve the goal of recycling 90% of waste generated in the UN compound. On this World Environment Day, for cleaner cities and seas, healthier landscapes and communities, let us pledge to work with our partners and communities to beat plastic pollution, and make cities and human settlements clean and green!

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