Zero Waste is just the other side of the coin of a full waste valorization. Only by extracting the full economic value of municipal waste can local governments bring municipal waste landfills level to zero. The challenge then is to introduce equity and transparency within the rule of law of public sanitation and the modernization of urban waste management, in order to harmonize the new global business of recycling or emerging circular economy with the constitutional need of protecting the hygiene and sanitation of the city, without legally impoverishing the poor, but on the contrary, legally empowering them by a human rights approach and strengthening their social and solidarity economy organizations.

In CIVISOL we think that it is necessary to make the valorization of waste, the other side of the zero waste agenda, not only equitable through inclusive policy making in municipal solid waste management, but make it participative and transparent, so as to allow citizen to know who is extracting profit from the urban waste stream, and how this value is redistributed; know if waste is being legally and technically valorized, and that such new force of business is not jeopardizing the city service of public sanitation, nor relying on exploitative forced labor; understand how much does the waste recovered from each households represent in savings, and how much value is kept by the municipality, which has traditionally had the material ownership of waste left on the curbsides awaiting for public collection. All of these are questions that result from the intrinsic change in the legal nature of waste; its substantive transformation from garbage to gold, from refuse to commodities.

Without prejudice to all the democratic governance and institutional concerns around sanitation and the new recycling business, the core challenge of CIVISOL’s TGL project is to turn the new valuable urban waste economy into an opportunity to reduce the structural poverty of the waste pickers by occupation in countries of the global south. To secure the right of the poorest of the poor citizens to continue to live and to formally develop their recycling work into the mainstream economy of public sanitation and recyclable waste management now that recycling, which has been their source of life and livelihood, has become a multibillion business around the world. All while preserving and strengthening a real and true circular economy in each city so that the environmental promise of full recycling or zero waste is effective and truly capable of diminishing carbon emissions and global warming pressure on the planet.