Happy World Habitat Day!

Happy World Habitat Day, my fellow eco-friendlies! Today, across the world, the leading minds of sustainability will be discussing how exactly “innovative frontier technologies” can contribute to the efficiency of waste management worldwide. In 1985, the United Nations designated the first October Monday of each year to celebrate this holiday and create a space to discuss the future of sustainable cities, communities, countries, and ultimately, to create a sustainable world. In 2018, 61 countries celebrated over 300 events across the globe. Whereas last year’s focus was solely on managing municipal solid waste, this year the spotlight will shine on technological advancements in handling all types of waste created by humans to transform their “waste to wealth”. From air pollution on an industrial scale to water pollution on a commercial level, this year’s goal will be to identify frontier technologies, a.k.a. technologies like “automation, robotics, electric vehicles, renewable energy technologies, biotechnologies, and artificial intelligence [that] can transform the social, economic and environmental spheres.” 

This is just one of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals for 2030 – specifically, this year’s discussion concerns Goal 11 to create sustainable and resilient communities and cities. Moreover, the United Nations will continue to promote green cities throughout the entire month of October for their Urban October campaign. The main event is happening in Mexico City today hosted by the government of Mexico City but there are also celebrations and events in Cameroon, Canada, and Kenya, to name a few. 

Our planet’s cities collectively generate beyond 2 billion tonnes of garbage in a single year, but 25 percent of people today do not have a functioning waste collection system. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, the world will be generating 4 billion tonnes of waste a year. When waste isn’t collected or collected properly, disease, infection, flooding, and more plague humans and animals alike. According to the World Economic Forum, anywhere between 400,000 people and 1 million people die in a year because of mishandled waste. This problem only gets worse as more and more countries develop because, in modern times, prosperity and development are synonymous with the production of trash on an unfathomable level. Countries have begun making changes, banning plastic bags and promoting proper waste disposal, but a global effort like World Habitat Day could bring some more obscure and futuristic solutions to the forefront. 

What areas would benefit from innovative development? Improving recycling rates and effectiveness, route optimization, safety regulations, and modernizing landfill creation. Beyond this, how could artificial intelligence help create a healthier planet? How can water be recycled and cleaned for entire countries without breaking the bank? What biotechnology can clean oceans and save ecosystems? The United Nations will specifically be examining the technologies listed in the graphic below, including nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and drones. 

Graphic by the United Nations

In the words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.  

This World Habitat Day, we challenge you to consciously think about how much waste you form in just a single day and try to see your waste formation in a new light. From the Ziploc baggie you use for your lunch, to the water in your laundry machine, to the food waste you throw in the bin – we challenge you to think about where the final destination will be for whatever item you use, even if you only think of it for a day. Is there a way to change just one thing in your daily routine? Can you compost your orange peel, use a reusable coffee bag, make an effort to learn about the process of waste management in your community? Do you know where the nearest landfill is in relation to your neighborhood? Do you know where the water in your sink goes? Take today to change your thinking, even if only for 24 hours. 

Photo by The World Bank; Check out their website here to explore more topics such as waste generation, waste collection, waste treatment and disposal, financing models, operational models, technologies, citizen engagement, environmental impact, and informal sector impact. The database linked with this website includes information on 217 countries and economies as well as more than 360 cities. 
Catie Brown

Although I’ve always loved writing, I embarked on my journey into science journalism about three years ago. I am fascinated by all things water — oceans, ice, coral reefs, currents, extreme weather, sanitation, energy, and (of course!) climate change. I also love looking into the different ways we talk about climate change as a social, cultural, economic, spiritual, and political crisis. Big thanks to coffee and chemistry jokes for keeping me going. Happy reading!