In the EU we are approaching the sad figure of 24 million unemployed; in countries such as Spain almost one out of every four is jobless and this figures doubles if we look at youth unemployment. At the same time 86 million tons of waste are being sent to disposal in the EU!
The opportunities we are trashing with the current waste policies are just mind-blowing; especially when you think that half of these 86 million tons of household waste are recyclable and the other half represent a mistake of industrial design that needs to be fixed. In both cases there is a huge job opportunity; jobs in waste collection, jobs in reuse centres, jobs in repair shops, jobs in recycling, jobs in composting, jobs in designing better products, jobs in producing high quality products with recycled materials… all of these are jobs that cannot be delocalised and that we are destroying with every tone we send to landfills or incinerators.
According to a study by the European Commission 400.000 jobs can be created in Europe only if we implement the current EU waste policies. Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “We need to see waste as a resource – and to bury that resource in the ground is worse than short-sighted. This report shows that waste management and recycling can make a big contribution to economic growth and job creation. And let’s not forget that recycled materials are cheaper than virgin ones – and that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on imports.”
The E. Commission explains how the underlying problem is that too many prices do not reflect the true disposal of goods and that many member states still lack adequate infrastructure. However, one thing the E. Commission always tends to ignore is that waste-to-energy incinerators –currently burning 20% of European household waste- also destroy not only resources but also employment. A study from Greenpeace proved how recycling generates 39 times more jobs than incineration.
But expereicne shows how those towns/regions implementing Zero Waste, are being able to create a lot more jobs than those claimed by the study of the European Commission. This is because the study considers only implementation of current legislation which for instance has targets of 50% recycling for 2020. The Zero Waste municipalities work well above 70% recycling and since they have extensive policies in repairing, reusing, consumption of sustainable proximity products, etc they are managing to create a lot more jobs than the current traditional waste management strategies.
The economic crisis in Europe is setting new priorities for our societies and job creation and sustainable resource management can only be at the core of it. This is exactly what Zero Waste is about; reduce the size of your waste bin, maximise separate collection and recycling, redesign the economy, build resilient social and material systems and channel the public investment into building natural and social capital and not into landfills and incinerators.