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Blog, Circularity 101

The Critical Nature of Waste Reduction

Exploring the Urgency of Waste Reduction

This version of our circularity learning journey dives into the urgent need to reduce waste. Across the world, landfills are overflowing, while oceans and marine life are being choked with plastics. The alarming consequences of excessive waste generation can no longer be ignored.

How did we end up here?

The origins of the waste date back as long as humans have lived and gathered. Before the industrial revolution, the amount of waste generated remained small. However, with the onset of the industrial revolution, waste generation increased exponentially. Finding energy sources took precedence, leading to the rapid usage of coal and fossil fuels. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the World Wars, up until the 1960s, the environment bore all the burden of waste disposal.

The 1960s and 1970s were defined by an increased worry about the planet’s limitations and the criticism of the industrial setup. Waste generation became the consequential symbol of urbanization and population growth. Eventually, the trend spread from developed to developing countries, creating a global cause for concern.

Today, the world generates 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, of which at least 33% is not being managed in an environmentally friendly way. The graph below showcases the projected waste generation by region from 2016 – 2050.

The World Bank – Trends in Solid Waste Management

As the global waste crisis escalates, businesses and industries must take responsibility and implement sustainable solutions.

  • Greif is at the forefront of driving positive change by implementing waste reduction measures, acting with environmental stewardship, and embracing circular economy principles and resource efficiencies.
  • Greif has 43 zero-waste-to-landfill facilities and is actively minimizing waste generation, promoting recycling, and optimizing material usage.

Why is Waste Reduction Important?

The generation and eventual landfilling or mismanagement of waste results in air and water pollution that impacts ecosystems, marine life, and biodiversity. Additionally, there are health and safety concerns because of runoff chemicals into the environment. Thirdly, waste management is a large public cost to our economy.

But in just five words, the main reason we need to reduce waste is to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

Around 51 billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are added to the global atmosphere every year because of waste generation. As waste slowly decays in landfills, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (a GHG even stronger than CO2) are generated and released into our atmosphere. Every increase in GHG emissions we put into the atmosphere adds to the greenhouse effect.

GHGs trap heat, creating a rise in the average surface temperature of the earth. The more GHGs increase, the more the temperatures rise.

GHGs stay in the atmosphere for a very long time (one-fifth of the carbon dioxide currently present will still exist 10,000 years from now).

The hotter it gets, the harder it will be for us to survive. The plot below shows how much the temperature might go up as GHG emissions grow.

Bill Gates – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster


What can we do?

It is imperative for us to act now and work towards a circular economy. 

Looking ahead to 2050, global waste is predicted to grow to 3.4 billion tons annually. Developing a “Circular Economy” mindset is essential to ensure conscious and efficient usage of available resources through constant reuse, reduction, and recirculation.

Consider plastics as an example. Plastic is woven into every aspect of our lives and tricky to stop the demand. A circular economy mindset led to the development of reusable plastic water bottles that are durable, easily refillable, and made from recycled plastic instead of single-use PET bottles. This minimizes waste, conserves resources, and reduces the environmental impact of plastics.

Through our Protecting Our Future mission of the Build to Last Strategy, Greif serves as an exemplary partner in sustainable transformation by reducing operational packaging, minimizing landfill waste, and prioritizing closed-loop practices from production to consumption.

Greif’s Circularity Goals for 2030:

  • Make 100 percent of Greif products recyclable1
  • Achieve an average of 60 percent recycled raw material content across our products2
  • Recover an average of 80 percent as much material from the market as we ship to the market3


  1. Working across a vast portfolio of raw materials and products, our recyclability targets will be benchmarked by weight, and consolidated at a company level. 
  2. Recycled content targets for our products are minimum averages, benchmarked across a portfolio of materials and products by weight, and consolidated at a company level. 
  3. Recovery targets for Greif products are minimum averages benchmarked across a portfolio of materials and products by weight, consolidated at a company level. 

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