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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Retorna – When waste has a value it stops being waste

When something has a negative value there is no incentive to deal with it. It is then left in the environment and we all suffer the consequences. Partly, a Zero Waste strategy consists in creating markets so that the products find a use at the end of their life.

Littering happens when food or beverage containers have a zero or negative value at the end of its use. Hence, the best way to avoid littering is to give waste a value. An empty can or bottle can end up in the bin, in the streets or recycled depending on whether the item has a value or not. Experience in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark or the Netherlands shows that when the empty packaging is given some value (a deposit of 5 to 25 eurocents) the packaging will be recycled in more than 90% of the cases. Experience in countries without a deposit system shows that recycling happens in less than 50% of the cases. In those cases the waste ends up as liter or in a landfill or incinerator. is the campaign in Spain to reintroduce a deposit system for beverages. This campaign takes place under the umbrella of the Zero Waste strategy in the country and wants to replace the current system in which the recycling of beverage packaging falls under 40% -due to the lack of incentives for people to do the right thing- to a deposit system that would allow to duplicate the recycling rates -which would reduce emissions-, increase the purity -and hence recyclability- of the materials, create more green jobs, radically reduce littering, reduce costs for municipalities and consumers and enforce the polluter pays principle. This alternative system -which was in use in Spain until the 1980s- and which obtains better results in any European country that has implemented it, it is being fiercely opposed by the industry. It is interesting to observe how the arguments used by the industry today in Spain are the same sort of arguments that were raised also by the industry in countries such as Germany before implementation. These fears proved to be exagrated and the system has been very satisfactory allowing the industry to get back the materials.

To raise awareness about this topic the campaign is doing a tour around the country with a van that gives the opportunity to citizens to try the system. For every beverage container they bring they get 5 eurocents. This might look like a small amount of money but to the surprise of the organisers when the van set up the stand in the Rambla del Raval in Barcelona hundreds of people started queueing; during the two days the van stayed there the streets  in downtown Barcelona were cleaner than ever and almost 50.000 containers were recovered with only one machine. The success was such that the van had to be moved away from the location because people started queuing during the night with containers they had collected elsewhere. The deposit system proved to be not only a good way to reduce litter and recycle more, but also a way for some people to generate get an income that in these times of economic hardship is becoming more and more difficult to do.

In a Zero Waste economy we should deal with any waste that has a negative value and redesign it so that we create positive incentive or change the way we perceive it so that its value starts being positive. For instance, the company Terra Cyle started paying to garbage pickers in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, to collect chip bags -a priory non-recyclable-, suddenly chip bags disappeared from the landscape and chip bags automatically stopped being waste.

Zero Waste is about making waste visible so that we can identify the problem in the design or in the system. Giving waste a positive value so that it can generate markets is a way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill or incineration.

“Beautiful politics is when the politicians work with the activists” – Zero Waste international meeting in Capannori

More than 200 participants including mayors, councillors, enterpreneurs, artists, waste experts and civil society participated last weekend 8-9th October in the first international Zero Waste meeting for municipalities.


The path that started 4 years ago by Capannori, when mirroring itself with San Francisco decided to declare the Zero Waste goal for 2020, is now followed by 56 municipalities (the objective for the Zero Waste Italy network of municipalities is to reach 100 ZW municipalities for 2012) . What started as a grass-root movement that no political party wanted to support is gaining political momentum across the political spectrum. The last incorporation to the ZW network was the city of Naples, the vice-mayor of which attended the gathering and declared the commitment of the recently elected city-council to turn around the bad image of Naples. Indeed, the change has come to Naples where for the moment 165.000hab are being the first ones to experience the door-to-door separate collection system with encouraging results of 66% separate collection. The plan is to slowly expand the new system around Naples and show the world that if ZW is possible in Naples it should be possible anywhere.


The meeting included impressive presentations from the city of San Francisco but also succesful experiences from Sweden, Wales, Catalonia and the Basque Country, Spain. The town of Hernani in the Basque Country after only 2 years of implementation of the door-to-door collection system saw the recycling levels more than double and now stands at 80% showing the Zero Waste path in the Gipuzkoa region.


During the meeting the documentary “Zero Waste” from Victor Ibañez was screened for the first time and the plan is to screen broadly around Italy. Below you can see the trailer.


During the second day the meeting of the Zero Waste Research Centre focused on the topic of bad-design; following the composition analysis of the fraction that could not be recycled and has to be sent for disposal. The participants discussed with the experts possible alternatives to take out of the residual waste (the waste that cannot be recycled) nappies, shoes, coffee-capsules and some plastics.


Thanks to the Zero Waste strategy Capannori has been the cradle to successful experiences that are now being replicated elsewhere; packaging-free shops such as Effecorta (which is now opening in other places in Italy), reusable nappies companies such as Ecobimbi, reuse and repair centres such as the ASCIT center inaugurated this last weekend by the mayor of Capannori and the vice-mayor of Naples. The last initiative is the re-shuffling of the shoe-making industry, one of its most traditional ones, with the design of long-lasting, toxic-free shoes with biodegradable soles. The parts of these shoes can easily be separated in order to increase the recycling potential. The goal is to keep and increase local jobs with good salaries.

All in all, a very inspiring meeting that continued to increase the commitment, the motivation and reach-out of the Zero Waste thinking in Europe!

“Waste is a mistake, not a Resource” – ZW conference in Coventry, England

On September 9th, representatives from UK central government, local authorities and universities gathered together in Coventry along with social enterprises, multinationals, waste management companies, the third sector and environmental bodies, to explore how UK society can create a proper zero waste economy in line with aspirations for 2020.

For many, zero waste translates as ‘zero waste to landfill’, but a strong message that was made clear at today’s conference was that a zero waste goal should be exactly what it says…simply ZERO waste, achieved through innovations that design out waste during manufacture and a society that promotes reuse and technologies that enable precious resources to be properly recycled rather than the assumption that the simplest destination for residual waste is to be burned with no other opportunity for recovery.

Anyone who has any doubts over whether this zero waste vision could become a reality, should consult with American waste campaigner Professor Paul Connett, pictured above, who presents a strong case for product redesign, economic incentives, community empowerment and the development of separation & research facilities at landfill\incineration sites, as being vital components in making it work.

And the key to success is everyone in the chain working together to drive the results forward. Coventry University, which already runs 50 courses in sustainability and the environment, revealed plans to create a Zero Waste research centre, working closely with the local authority.

Today’s programme also presented examples of industry’s approach to creating zero waste through manufacturing processes and facilities management as well as examplers of community-based programmes and waste stream development.

The presentation by Garden Organic’s Myles Bremner particularly struck a chord, as it was one of the strongest case studies for how individuals can make a difference, not only regarding reducing their own waste, but by empowering their communities. Through the Master Composter scheme, Garden Organics has been successful in creating a peer-to-peer network, where members of the public are able to help others, by sharing their expertise locally.

Although this event was organised independently of National Zero Waste Week, it was a welcome coincidence and well-timed for this week’s calendar. It would have been news to most of those who attended today’s conference that this week is indeed the 4th national awareness week of its kind.

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs attended the event and stayed for a short while following her keynote speech. Although the government is placing waste prevention high on its agenda and has created a path towards a zero waste economy, the conference demonstrated that it needs to work harder and be tougher on manufacturing to design out waste and solutions for maximising the waste that remains.


Mal Williams, CEO of the Welsh community recycling network Clych, who also spoke at today’s conference, really couldn’t have put the point more bluntly.

“Waste is a mistake, not a resource,” he asserted and referring to how society goes forward, he added that it is time to move from a “Careless system to a CAREFUL system”.

And I have to agree, this should be the barometer against which a sustainable zero waste strategy should be measured and judged.

(This post is an adaptation from The Rubbbish Diet)