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As global population and consumption levels continue to rise unabated, waste is becoming an ever-increasing problem for communities around the world. At Expo 2020 Dubai, we understand it can be difficult to see how we — as individuals — can help stem the tide, but we also view this challenge as an opportunity to change the way we live.

This week, senior representatives from the Expo attended the World Green Economy Summit (WGES) in Dubai to discuss how we can work together, both locally and internationally, to advance the global development agenda. Through Expo 2020 and its theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, the UAE has an opportunity to create a sustainable impact whose benefits extend beyond national borders to the wider region and the rest of the world.

The Expo team knows it must lead by example if it is to have widespread influence, which is why we are working to segregate 85 per cent of all our waste for treatment and diversion from landfills. By achieving this ambitious goal, we can help catalyse national and global efforts to secure a sustainable future for all.

Of course, a ‘business as usual’ approach will not be sufficient to bring about wholesale change to economies of scale. Minimising the amount of waste that reaches landfill requires a shift in our collective mindset, so we have taken the old saying, ‘one’s trash is another’s treasure’, and have been applying it where possible in the planning of Expo 2020. This innovative strategy is based on the idea of a ‘circular economy’, where waste becomes a valuable resource for other activities. To bring this concept to life, Expo 2020 is following a simple yet effective waste hierarchy: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduction requires careful planning and consideration for all anticipated waste streams, so Expo 2020 has implemented waste minimisation strategies across all phases of work — from design, through construction and into operations. We have also worked to establish a culture of reuse throughout our organisation, collaborating with contractors and stakeholders to repurpose existing materials wherever feasible, including after the event.

Essential tool

When it is not possible to reduce or reuse, recycling represents an essential tool in our mission to divert waste from landfills. The Expo site will feature numerous facilities for the collection and storage of recyclable materials, and our event-time procurement strategy for disposable items targets those made from recyclable or biodegradable materials.

However, you do not have to work for an organisation the size of a World Expo to contribute to, and benefit from, a circular economy. On the contrary, one of the concept’s greatest strengths is that it is universally applicable. Whether you are the CEO of a multinational corporation or a student in a UAE school, everyone has the ability to reduce, reuse and recycle. In line with Expo 2020s three key subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, we aim to inspire millions of people from around the world to help turn the concept of a circular economy into reality.

The Sustainability Pavilion at Expo 2020 will explore the potential for buildings to be self-sustaining in water and energy by using innovative combinations of technologies to harvest electricity from the sun, as well as water from air. It will also immerse visitors in a fun and interactive experience that highlights the importance of responsible consumerism and corporate social responsibility. The Sustainability Pavilion will encourage us to question why our behaviour does not always correlate with our knowledge, and offer viable alternatives that could help us bridge this gap.

The Opportunity Pavilion will reinforce this message by showing millions of visitors how they can become individual forces for positive change. Framed around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a set of 17 global objectives that, if achieved, will ensure a good basic quality of life for everyone — it will put each visitor at the heart of our collective mission to support human development.

By demonstrating the impact of our personal choices and actions through decision-making and gaming activities, the Opportunity Pavilion’s journey will highlight how our individual, small actions can help solve problems faced by communities in every corner of the planet.

The Mobility Pavilion will connect this virtuous circle by exploring innovative ways of moving people, goods and ideas around the world more efficiently than ever before. We want to show visitors how technological breakthroughs in physical and virtual mobility can help meet our need for global connections without damaging the planet.

By reducing, reusing and recycling its waste, and through empowering millions of visitors to make meaningful improvements to their actions, Expo 2020 Dubai aims to produce a living example of a circular economy for others to follow.

The next World Expo is our collective opportunity to create a better future by turning trash into treasure. Let’s not throw it away.

Dina Mustafa is head of Sustainability Operations, Expo 2020 Dubai