Why waste needs to be on the World Economic Forum’s agenda at Davos

Alisa Pritchard

Alisa Pritchard

Jun 4, 2024

3 min read

World Economic Forum at Davos - Greyparrot opinion piece

A long-term climate strategy was on the table at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. As their Global Risks Report for 2024 revealed, no climate strategy can be complete without addressing waste, which threatens the lives of one million people every year as a result of pollution. Without action, annual solid waste flows will exceed 3.8 billion tonnes by 2050 — and present an even greater existential risk to our population and planet.

Waste’s environmental impact threatens Davos sustainability targets

The waste crisis threatens to exacerbate three of the report’s top ten risks: Pollution, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are a direct result of the way we use (and re-use) resources. Without a more sustainable approach to the way we produce and consume materials, the crisis will worsen and those risks will grow more threatening.

The waste and recycling sector has the power to address both the symptoms of the waste crisis, and its root causes. No sector acts more directly to prevent waste material from polluting the natural environment, and none has more insight into the fate of our resources once they’ve been consumed.

It was encouraging to see net-zero targets as a priority at Davos this year, but the waste sector’s potential contribution to that effort still requires more attention. Recyclables already save over 700 million tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere annually, and efforts to reduce production of virgin plastics that contribute to 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

Advances in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) have empowered recovery facilities to recover more material, more efficiently — ensuring less of it goes on to threaten biodiversity and human health.

How applying AI helps meet net-zero targets

Most recovery facilities are only able to gather data on 1% of the material they process. Manual sorting and sampling processes don’t provide full visibility into waste streams, making it incredibly difficult for operators to maximise the amount of material they divert from landfills and incinerators.

AI waste analytics systems like Greyparrot Analyzer automate the waste monitoring process, and gather real-time data on the remaining 99% of material. Facility operators act on that insight, adapting their operations as waste composition fluctuates to recover more resources. Our Greyparrot Analyzer system analyses over 25 billion waste objects a year in global recovery facilities, collecting waste data that plant operators use to divert more material from landfills and incinerators.

Intelligent, data-driven resource recovery has a major role to play in the journey to net-zero. As our co-founder Ambarish Mitra often explains, the worlds of AI, sustainability targets and climate tech are converging to change the way entire value chains manage their resources.

We’ve already seen AI make its impact on recovery facility operations, and how that transformation is influencing the production and consumption ecosystem. Stakeholders beyond waste management are increasingly using it to guide policy, packaging design, and materials engineering — in short, the entire value chain.

At the 2025 Davos conference, we hope to see waste form a pillar of global climate strategies — and more examples of AI accelerating our ability to overcome vital environmental challenges.


If you’re part of the waste and recycling sector, you’re part of the solution to the waste crisis. Let us know how your facility, technology or strategy is reducing waste’s environmental impact on LinkedIn 👇

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