What is the campaign about?

Two billion people in the world’s poorest countries are living and working among piles of waste, because they don’t have their rubbish collected. They have to burn their rubbish to get rid of it, or throw it in waterways, or live among it. That means they’re breathing toxic air, drinking polluted water and battling sickness. This leads to up to a million deaths a year: someone dies every 30 seconds. And each day the waste mountains are growing.

Multinational companies are making this worse by selling billions of single-use plastic products in countries where waste isn’t collected. Meanwhile, in the UK, it’s estimated that households throw away almost 300 billion pieces of mostly non-recyclable plastic each year.

This campaign is about calling on companies to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer communities and reducing our own plastic use too.

Why does Tearfund believe tackling waste is important?

Tearfund is passionate about ending poverty. It’s predominantly those in the world’s poorest countries who suffer the negative effects of waste because they don’t have waste collection or they live in places where waste isn’t managed properly. This creates a major health hazard for the people Tearfund serves, and up to a million people in the world’s poorest countries die each year from diseases caused by mismanaged waste. In cities in Africa and Asia (many of which lie in coastal areas), municipal solid waste generation is expected to double in the next 15–20 years, so this problem is only set to grow.

Why should I care about waste as a Christian?

God has blessed us with his gift of creation, and it is good. We are asked to look after it (Genesis 1:15) and treasure it. We see God reflected in all that he is made: it is a witness to his glory. When we care for and act to protect this gift, it is one way of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as Jesus taught us (Mark 12:30). In Romans 12:1 we’re urged to give all of our lives as worship, and being a good steward is part of that. When we throw away or do not value this gift, we not only risk being poor stewards of all that God has made, but our actions can bring harm too. We also know that our brothers and sisters across the world are struggling because of this waste problem. Jesus calls us to love them as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Taking action can be a loving act that cares for our global neighbours and honours God.

What can I do to support the campaign?

The first step is to sign our Rubbish Campaign petition to ask companies to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer communities. Add your voice at www.tearfund.org/rubbish or by signing one of our Rubbish Campaign action cards (which you can order by emailing us at campaigns@tearfund.org).

The second step you can take as part of the Rubbish Campaign is to make your own commitment to give up one type of single-use plastic for 40 days (or more!). Take the pledge at www.tearfund.org/rubbish, and you’ll find guidance for cutting your plastic use at www.tearfund.org/lifestyle

We’d also love you to get your church involved! You can download a range of resources to help you at www.tearfund.org/action

What are you asking companies to do?

We are asking four companies – Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – to take responsibility for the plastic waste mountains their products are creating in poorer countries by making four 'Not Rubbish' Commitments:

  • Report, by 2020, on the number of units of single-use plastic products they use and sell in each country
  • Reduce this amount by half, country by country, by 2025, and instead use environmentally sustainable delivery methods such as refillable or reusable containers
  • Recycle the single-use plastics they sell in developing countries, ensuring that by 2022 one is collected for every one sold. This means ensuring there are adequate systems for collection, re-use, recycling and composting in communities that currently lack these systems.
  • Restore dignity through working in partnership with waste pickers to create safe jobs

Many of us will be (or have been) customers of these companies so we have a powerful voice to urge them to do better. Their UK products include:

  • Coca-Cola: Sprite, Fanta, Costa Coffee, Innocent smoothies (as well as the obvious!)
  • Nestlé: Nescafé, Nespresso, KitKats, Smarties, Häagen-Dazs, Nesquik, Perrier water
  • PepsiCo: Walkers, Doritos, Pepsi, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, 7Up/p>
  • Unilever: Persil, Dove, Domestos, Ben and Jerry’s, Wall’s, Marmite, Magnum

Why are you targeting these companies?

Large, multinational fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are driving the demand and supply of plastic production (particularly cheap, single-use plastic). They’re selling billions of products in single-use packaging in countries where waste either isn’t collected or isn’t managed properly. The companies we are targeting all own multiple consumer goods brands and have significant influence. The reason we chose these four in particular is that they all have enormous revenues in developing countries and come up the most frequently in waste audits. If each made and fulfilled the four ‘Not Rubbish’ Commitments we are asking of them, it could transform the lives of millions of people in poverty.

What is single-use plastic?

Single-use plastics (SUPs) are plastic materials that are disposable and generally used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Plastic water bottles, plastic cups and plastic bags are the most common SUPs in the UK.Many high-income countries – despite having more developed waste management systems than low- and middle-income countries – have exported their waste to poorer countries as a key strategy to deal with domestic post-consumer waste.

How can I reduce my own plastic use?

The first thing we can all do is to reduce our use of SUPs such as plastic bags, coffee cups, plastic plates, cutlery, bottles of water and soft drinks. We can also use products without plastic packaging, such as bars of soap or shampoo bars. Reducing our use of SUPs will make the biggest difference. Sometimes, this can mean just going without them or choosing non-plastic options, or if that’s not possible we can use reusable products instead. If you can’t reduce or reuse, then recycling your plastic is the next best thing you can do.

If I reduce my plastic use, what impact does that have on people overseas?

We live in a world that is driven by consumption. As Christians, we are called not to conform to the patterns of the world, but to be transformed through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our personal efforts to reduce our waste can be both an act of worship and a powerful witness to a different way of life – one where our God-given resources are valued and preserved.

When we demonstrate by our actions that we want to live in a less wasteful world, we are also sending a powerful signal that we want decision-makers to act. We have the opportunity to use both our voices and our choices as citizens and consumers to urge governments and companies to make changes that will help people in poverty.

And our actions do have an impact. Each single-use plastic item we save is one less thing in a landfill site, ocean or incinerator – or one less thing shipped overseas for another country to dispose of. By choosing longer-lasting products rather than disposable ones, we are saving precious resources.

If we act, and encourage our churches, local communities, businesses and political leaders to act, together we can create the right environment for people in poverty to flourish.

Is it true that plastic ‘recycling’ from the UK gets shipped abroad and dumped?

Many high-income countries – despite having more developed waste management systems than low- and middle-income countries – have exported their waste to poorer countries as a key strategy to deal with domestic post-consumer waste.

Since China closed its borders to other countries’ recycling waste in January 2018, the UK has exported plastic waste to other countries in Asia, where concerns have been raised over inspections to ensure correct treatment of this waste. The UK’s Environment Agency has embarked on a major investigation into claims of fraud and corruption, including allegations that exported UK plastic waste is not being recycled.

At present, there is no mechanism for source countries to be held accountable for the impacts of plastic waste exported for recycling to other countries. We believe that high-income countries must ensure that export of domestic waste from their nations is minimised. Where any residual plastic waste is exported, we believe that source countries must ensure appropriate recycling facilities are in place in the receiving countries.

How does waste impact on climate change?

In developing countries, a lack of proper waste management leads to large amounts of waste being burnt in the open air. This is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions from poorer countries, and the amount of waste these countries produce is expected to double over the next 15 to 20 years. So the problem is set to grow.

Meanwhile, global plastic production emits 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year – more than the UK’s total carbon footprint. If the growth of plastic production continues at the current rate, by 2050 the plastic industry could account for 20 per cent of the world’s total oil consumption.

The problem of emissions does not end once the plastic is produced. Plastic waste is also contributing to climate change, as it comprises a growing proportion of solid waste. According to the World Bank, solid waste was responsible for a further five per cent of global emissions in 2016 – about 1.6 billion tonnes of CO₂-equivalent emissions. These figures are expected to increase to 2.6 billion tonnes by 2050. The true figure may be much higher as there are several sources of greenhouse gases not included in assessments of emissions from waste. Emissions from backyard burning of waste are not included, for example, despite research revealing that in several low-income countries they dwarf all other sources of carbon emissions combined.

What is Tearfund doing in poorer countries to help communities manage their waste?

The communities that Tearfund works with in poorer countries are increasingly identifying waste as an issue that needs addressing. As well as our advocacy work to call on governments and businesses to tackle the root cause of the problem, we are responding directly through the work of our partners on the ground.

Pakistan: In Islamabad Tearfund is working with Pak Mission Society (PMS) to create a social enterprise that collects and recycles waste from informal settlements. This project, which is already up and running, will prevent further environmental damage, protect people’s health and provide jobs. In Karachi and Hyderabad, Tearfund is working with the UK government and PMS to build ten new recycling hubs using the same social enterprise model.

Haiti: Tearfund is supporting a social enterprise in Port-au-Prince that is recycling plastic water sachets and other waste into handbags, rucksacks, shower curtains and other products. This creates jobs and removes plastic from the environment. We are partnering with the same social enterprise to develop a recycling hub that collects waste from informal settlements, processing it into paving slabs (for waste plastic) and compost. This is expected to generate significant health benefits in these communities.

Nigeria: In Nigeria, Tearfund supported the creation of the Jos Green Centre, a youth-led initiative that conducts a range of research and programmatic work. This has included starting a social enterprise developing fashion products out of waste and hosting a green jobs conference attended by 200 young people and government policy staff.

Brazil: In Brazil, the Tearfund-supported School of Faith and Politics (run by Tearfund partner Instituto Solidare) led to local pastors starting the Clean River, Healthy City campaign focused on the River Tejipió in Recife. This river is clogged with waste, including plastic, and floods annually, causing great suffering to local communities. The campaign has brought together churches, community groups, politicians, schools and the university in Recife. Thirteen thousand community members have signed a petition for local government action and hundreds attended a march covered by local TV and newspapers.These activities have resulted in numerous meetings with the municipality, and government and community both taking action to improve the situation.

What steps is Tearfund taking to reduce its own plastic waste?

In our head office, we’ve removed disposable cups and have mugs made from recycled materials for visitors to use and wash. We recycle paper, cans, plastic, CDs and batteries and we compost our food waste. In our canteen, the ‘grab and go’ food packaging is now compostable and the majority of food is unpackaged.

We print very little in the office, and when we do we use recycled paper from sustainably managed forests. All our printed publications use vegetable inks which cause much less environmental damage. Our magazine Tear Times now comes in compostable packaging.

We have a presence at a number of Christian festivals where we don’t have control over the food and drink that is provided. However, we’ve been working with event organisers to reduce waste at each event – including promoting the use of KeepCups, introducing metal bottles for musicians and speakers, and switching to compostable cups where disposables are still used.

How can I get my church involved in this campaign?

We’ve got lots of resources to help you get your church involved in Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign. You can download them at www.tearfund.org/action They include:

Rubbish Talks – all you need to share the campaign with your church, whether you’ve got two minutes or a whole sermon slot

Rubbish Event – a leader’s guide for those who’d like to get their church thinking more deeply about waste and consumerism

All-age Rubbish Activities – creative ways to engage your whole church in our campaign, including a waste walk, plastic-free picnic and Church Plastic Pledge

Who can I contact if I have more questions?

If we haven’t managed to answer your question above (we’ve done our best, promise), then feel free to contact us at campaigns@tearfund.org or by calling 020 3906 3390.