Annually, cities worldwide produce around two billion metric tons of municipal waste, nearly half of which fails to reach adequate treatment facilities. This problem is especially severe in the cities of the Global South, which often lack the infrastructure to handle waste effectively. In many of these cities, organic waste—which may constitute up to 70% of all waste—remains untreated, leading to significant methane emissions as it decomposes. A recent report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) forecasts a two-thirds increase in waste volume by 2050. The financial implications are daunting, with projected costs, including pollution, health, and climate impacts, rising from $252 billion to an astronomical $600 billion annually. UNEP’s report stresses an urgent pivot to zero-waste strategies and the enhancement of waste management to mitigate severe environmental, health, and economic consequences.

In contrast to the Global North’s emphasis on waste reduction and circular economy principles, the Global South faces a critical challenge in managing organic waste. Despite a strong culture of reuse and repair, organic waste management remains a crucial issue. C40 Cities, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, offers insights into tackling methane emissions through its “Pathway Towards Zero Waste” initiative. Cities engaged in this initiative, such as Dar es Salaam and Rio de Janeiro, have begun implementing effective organic waste management strategies, ranging from composting market waste to converting organic refuse from schools and supermarkets into compost and biogas. These efforts not only cut methane emissions but also yield societal gains like cleaner air and green job creation. Kerala’s decentralized waste management model showcases community-driven approaches that bolster environmental stewardship and local employment, highlighting the substantial role of strategic waste management in climate action.