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Waste Not
Better Resource Management Is the Key to Achieving All SDGs

Whether the eradication of poverty, or the support of climate positivity, all of the SDGs are about creating a balance of resource flows. Responsible production and consumption are essential to this — and achievable through connection, community and a bit of creativity.

As the adage goes: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. Just under five years ago, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were set for the year 2030: 17 targets for "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production is the concept touching all of the Goals. The earth is a finite cradle, but there can be more balance with enough to go around. Systems thinking to support responsible use of materials (such as through recycling) and equitable access to resources will give way to a more connected world.

Collaboration across the Goals is integral to responsible consumption

We at TerraCycle are of the position there is no such thing as waste — only misplaced resources. But the world doesn’t currently see it that way, which is why there is so much discarded material; especially plastic — a substance that is nearly indestructible, takes eons to break down; and could potentially be used for a great number of things, such as building housing or repairing roads.

Where the human-made concept of waste is sort of black and white (something is valuable or it isn’t); collaboration across industries, governments and business sectors can bring valuable perspectives together for more opportunities to capture resources.

For example, the higher up the waste hierarchy you move (landfilling to incineration to recycling to reuse), more jobs are created to keep resources such as water, natural gas, even information cycling around and used in production. This supports SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; which has many of the same priorities as SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Radical breakthroughs start with the achievable

One of the most straightforward targets of SDG 12 is to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. The importance of keeping one eye on ideal situations (such as more consumers investing in durable goods, governments passing producer responsibility laws, or businesses designing for recyclability) while doing actionable, everyday work on the ground cannot be stressed enough.

We work with global brands, retailers and municipalities to offer the world ways to consume more responsibly; it is through these partnerships that we are able to fund programs and work around the gaps in public recycling. But one of the most interesting solutions we provide is the ability for people to make a difference on their own. 

For the many types of packaging and products that don’t have a sponsored program or a home in municipal recycling, our Zero Waste Box division empowers people to take matters into their own hands. Consumers advance more circular use of material by working to support each aspect of the recycling system — access, participation, separation of materials, and end-markets (which we find) — with a personal investment in the global recycling network.

We can drive more action by losing gaps in data

It is difficult to put stock in responsible consumption activities when there is little or no data to support it, especially at the consumer level. Individuals look for positive impact metrics, as well as incentives, for activities such as recycling, buying secondhand, or conserving water and gas at home. 

More macro gaps in data on food loss and waste go hand-in-hand with incomprehensive nature systems globally. Resources must be placed against quantifying progress as systems for responsible consumption of resources improve. Better data equals better solutions and more accurate stock of policy needs and the change towards a circular economy.

For example, accompanying the banning of single-use plastics in a city, country or even a school with metrics of litter reduction per mile conveys to stakeholders what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve.


A rising middle class, a world population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and a planet approaching the limit of its ability to provide make responsible consumption not just a buzz topic, but a matter of survival. 

Whether the eradication of poverty, hunger or illness (SDGs 1-3); or the support of economic growth and climate positivity (SDG 8 and 13), all goals for sustainable development are about creating a balance of resource flows. Responsible production and consumption are essential to this — and achievable through connection, community and a bit of creativity. 

 

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