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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

A Zero Waste family is possible!

Can an average person really create Zero Waste? The challenge was set and during the week 10-17 March 2008, one mother in Bury St Edmunds -UK- gave it a go.

Not being the typical greeny in the beginning she was sceptical about being able to reduce the rubbish to 50% but she managed in only 2 weeks. This motivated her to continue further. After a 8 weeks she only threw out a plaster!

This housewife is Karen Cannard, now an avid blogger in The Rubbish Diet. Karen is a housewife and now freelance writer, based in Bury St Edmunds, where she lives with her husband and two young children.  The blog was only intended to last for just 8 weeks, to chart Karen’s attempts at slimming down her bin for Zero Waste Week in March 2008.  However, having realised the importance of the issue it has since been impossible to shut the woman up and went on to inspire many others.  As a result, Karen’s work was shortlisted in the 2009 Media Guardian Awards for Innovation, in the Independent Media category and was also a finalist in the CIWM awards for Environmental Excellence in the category of Recycling Champion.

Karen now spends her spare time talking rubbish with anyone who will let her and challenges everyone, everywhere to undergo their own Rubbish Diet challenge.  She’s also a regular guest on BBC Radio Suffolk and makes frequent appearances on Heart FM as well as BBC Three Counties Radio and BBC Essex.

Karen is also a motivating speaker and workshop facilitator and in the last 18 months has presented at a range of events including: EERA’s Community Action on Climate Change; Norfolk Waste Partnership’s annual conference; Inspire East’s Community Development gatherings, the Waste Watch waste educators’ conference and more recently the Zero Waste Community event in Norwich.

Ironically, Karen was not particularly green when she started this blog and still insists that despite her sustainable tendencies, she is still an almost average member of the mainstream sector of society that is gradually greening up.

As therapy to her newfound busy life, she’s even busier penning her memoirs, which she hopes one day to turn into a book: “Almost Mrs Average’s Rubbish Diet: the confessions of an accidental eco-blogger“. With her tales of domestic disputes,  impersonations of Mrs Overall, interviewing a celebrity in her bedroom and being interviewed live on a landfill site for national TV, she hopes it will engage folk from far and wide, including those who haven’t even given a second thought to reducing their waste.

Can you do it too? Why not try your own Rubbish Diet and slim your bin? You’ll be amazed at how easy it really is and you could even save some money. If “Almost Mrs Average” can do it, you can too. See here for a plan to reduce your household waste in only 8 weeks.

It is true that most of the times consumers don’t have the choice for sustainable products but this is clearly a growing market and the example of Karen shows that it is possible to live a more sustainable life without much effort. In the following video you can see some ideas of how to turn into a Zero Waste family.

We beat the mountain!

Turning the waste into the raw material for a new product is one of the characteristics of the economy of the future. Less available and more expensive resources will inevitably mean that companies have to close the loop. “We beat the mountain” is one of these social enterprises that see resources where others see trash.

“We Beat The Mountain” is a Dutch organisation with the aim of creating, developing and producing cool functional products made from recycled trash.

The idea to create “We Beat The Mountain” was born as a reaction to the built obsolescence of the products that flood our economy.

In 2009 Han Hendriks, initiator and founder of the project, bought a Samsonite suitcase and after only one use, it broke… For the third time in his life! It was just another one in a row of many broken Samsonites, all of them made of “wrong plastic”. Because of his own reaction of frustration, anger and pure astonishment Han came up with the idea to develop a 100% cradle to cradle suitcase, to become a social entrepreneur and to build a serious company to beat the trash mountain.

“I believe that you need to do something useful with your talents by combining entrepreneurial and social goals. That’s what we’re doing with We Beat The Mountain.”  says Han.

“We Beat The Mountain” launched its first products in the end of 2010: laptop, iPad, smart phone covers (made out of recycled PET) & construction trailer (old sea container + interior designed with recycled materials). For 2011 they are planning to launch a flex baby bag and flex workers trolley also made of recycled materials.

The sales of “We beat the mountain” have been going up in these times of economic crisis and the goals for next years is to recycle 10.000 tonnes in 2011, 25.000 tonnes in 2012 and 50.000 tonnes for 2013.

Beyond the smart design of the products, “We beat the mountain” tries to use one material for every piece of their product so that it is easier to recycle it at the end of its life. Because of this it encourages its customers to return their products so that they can recycle them without losing quality of materials.

For more information see their cool video: and

Meeting in Brussels of NGOs promoting the Zero Waste strategy for Europe

On Monday 14th of March more than 30 people coming from 13 European countries –Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, UK, Czech Republic, Rumania, Spain and Hungary- got together in the first meeting to define the Zero Waste strategy for Europe. The event was organised by GAIA and EEB.

During the day there were debates about what does Zero Waste actually mean in Europe and the need for the NGO community to set the agenda for waste and resource management for the future. That is proposing to go beyond a recycling society towards a Zero Waste society. It was emphasized that Zero Waste is a journey, not a destination.

The main difference between a recycling society and a zero waste society is the emphasis put on reducing the residual fraction. Zero Waste means maximising recycling but it also means minimising the residual fraction, aiming at phasing out landfilling, incineration and any other disposal option.

Zero Waste is an alternative to traditional waste management because it aims not to manage waste but to phase it out so that the refuse of a process is the raw material for a new process. For this reason Zero Waste can also aim at social and economic regeneration, at bringing the carbon back to the soils, at guaranteing to the consumers the power to choose and at bringing environmental justice to the way we manage our common resources.

In the afternoon there were presentation of Zero Waste experiences from the Italian, UK and Catalan zero waste networks. In Italy there are already 25 municipalities commiting to zero waste and the Zero Waste Research center in Capannori is already in operation with succesful experiences in suggesting redesign operations.

This meeting set up the framework for future cooperation between european NGOs and replication of best practices. The Zero Waste strategy is starting to spread all over the EU!

Constitution of the Catalan Zero Waste strategy (Residu Zero) in Barcelona

Following the example of Italy and the UK, last Friday 4th of March took place in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, the succesful launch of the Zero Waste catalan strategy!

More than a hundred people representing local organisations, companies, universities and research centers gathered for a whole day to discuss the goals and aims and set up the forum for a Zero Waste strategy in Catalonia. Note that in Spain the waste management is a delegated competence and Catalonia –like any other spanish autonomous region can decide on waste management-.

This initiative was possible thanks to the colaboration of all catalan universities, the association of municipalities for door-to-door collection, municipalities already developing the model of “Residu Mínim” (minimum waste) and the local and international organisations such as GAIA, CAPS, Ecologistes de Catalunya, Cepa and other members of the steering committee.

In the conference we had the chance to learn about the best zero waste practices in the world (such as San Francisco in the US or Kovalam in India) as well as european best practices such as the first European Zero Waste town; Capannori. Rossano Ercolini from the Rete Italiana di Rifiuti Zero and head of the Zero Waste Research Center in Capannori was present to explain the success of the italian experience.

The “Estratègia Catalana pel Residu Zero” (the Catalan Zero Waste Strategy) will organise sinergies between academics, practitioners, policy-makers and civil society to channel the change of paradigm from a recycling society towards a zero waste society. In this sense, the catalan ZW strategy wants to advance in the direction of a more efficient management of resources, more environmental justice and de-carbonisation of the economy.

The Catalan Zero Waste strategy is born in a context of insustainability in the management of municipal, construction and demolition and industrial waste.

Catalonia, despite very good scattered practices of high separate collection in some towns, still sends 70% of its waste to disposal which represents a clear inneficient use of materials, a lot of avoidable GHG emissions and a threat for the health of the citizens.

The solution is not to build new incinerators or burn municipal waste in cement kilns but rather to work on the replication of the best practices of separate collection (in some cases above 80%) in order to increase prevention and recycling.
A change of paradigm is necessary and this is exactly what the citizen driven Catalan Zero Waste strategy pursues.

In the meeting it was discussed that Zero Waste meant:
– Advancing towards a circular economy in which waste can become the raw material of the future,
– Avoid the generation of any waste that can be avoided
– Ban the disposal of any waste that can be reused, recycled or composted
– The redesign and substitution of those wastes which can’t be reused, recycled or composted.

The Catalan Zero Waste strategy proposes to:

1. Invert the tendency and instead of disposing of 70% and recycling 30% reverse the trend and move towards recycling 70% and disposing of 30% for 2020. Zero Waste -less than 10kg of residual waste per capita- for 2030.

2. Set up a network of organisations, institutions, companies and universities to plan and implement this change of paradigm.

3. Promote the best local and international practices of source separation, separate collection, waste prevention, etc so that they can be replicated elsewhere in Catalonia.

4. Promote innovation in the production and legislative process in view of creating the right climate for a zero waste strategy.

5. Create a Zero Waste Research Center in which the residuals can be examined to detect failures in the design which justify a substitution for a newly designed recyclable product.

The most important thing of the event, besides the high attendance and motivation from all sectors of society, was the commitment of the participants and the concreteness on the next steps to take to make it possible to advance towards a Zero Waste future.