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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Zero Waste creates many JOBS!

One of the strongest points in favour of Zero Waste is the social impact not only on education but also on job creation.

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.

Overwhelming support in the EU for plastic bag ban

Over 70% of respondents to a European Commission public consultation have voted in favour of a ban on the distribution of plastic bags. Green groups such as Seas at Risk and EEB say the Commission should now act on this overwhelming support and implement a ban across Europe.

The public consultation was intended to explore options to reduce the use of plastic bags and options to improve the requirements of biodegradability under EU law.

Over 15,500 responses were gathered by the Commission with just over 15,000 replies from EU citizens.

The results of the consultation show that over 70% of respondents agree that a ban on plastic bags across the EU is needed with only 12% agreeing that current requirements on compostability and biodegradability in the Packaging Directive were appropriate.

Chris Carroll of Seas At Risk said: “Plastic bags are a menace to the marine environment and this consultation has shown that European citizens have had enough of them. The Commission must listen to this resounding support for a ban and implement one across Europe as soon as possible. The Commission must also now look at how to reduce the use of other single use and disposable products and packaging that often end up as waste in the marine environment.”

Stephane Arditi of the European Environment Bureau said: “With more than two thirds of respondents supporting a ban of single use plastic bags, a clear signal is being sent to European institutions: it’s time for longer lasting products and for effective legal instruments supporting waste prevention.“

Source: Seas at risk

Toxic Europe: How much is the EU doing to fight illegal waste trade – How much can Zero Waste do?

The recently awarded documentary “Toxic Europe” is a good piece of investigative journalism which uncovers a lot of dirty truths about waste management in Europe.
The documentary reveals how at least 225 million tons in the whole of the European Union escape legal treatment –it could be a lot more- and how that is linked to the low prices offered by the illegal dealers which sometimes is 4 to 5 times cheaper than the legal prices.


Indeed, the trafficking of waste traficking to internal EU borders or abroad faces lots of challenges; firstly, contrary to normal crimes, there is no interest from the parties to denounce the illegal practices because they all benefit from it. Secondly the waste flows mixed within the trade routs is so big that it is almost impossible to control. According to the documentary the customs of Antwerp, one of the biggest EU harbours, control only 2% of the waste that comes in and 1% of the waste that goes out (!).


It is badly needed that the EU takes over the control of its own borders if it is to manage illegal waste trade but once again the EU lacks the resources to do so and the member-states refuse to do so. Without more control at the borders –whose workers are very often are infiltrated by the mafia- the only way to stop waste from Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, etc from being shipped abroad is by managing it locally with transparent and traceable systems. And this can only be done if we change our relation with our waste; if we separate it at source and it is properly collected and measured it is very difficult that it can later “disappear”.

So we can see how Zero Waste is not about only about sustainability it is also about democracy and rule of law. A Zero Waste strategy makes all waste very visible which makes traceability possible and effectively fights ilegal practices. Whenever waste is not separately collected or the authorities claim that they make waste “disappear” what it means is that it will end up either in an incinerator/landfill or scaping the legal routes..



A Zero Waste month in Sweden: 4 people = less than 1kg of waste !

How much waste do you generate in one month? Pål Mårtensson is a Zero Waster from Sweden, where he runs the famous Kretsloppsarken reuse and recycle park, who decided to check by himself how much waste does his household of four generate.


During one month Pål separated, measured and weighed the different waste fractions and the result has been amazing in many ways: “It was very easy, didn´t smell (careful cleaning) and you got a very good view of your waste when you look att it almost every day and that you take care, handle it not as waste but as resources. Out of almost 60 kg “waste”, there were only 0,9 kg I couldn´t handle in a satisfied way (probably goes to burning or bury). I´m very happy that so little is left for the burners, there will be a lack of waste for them if everyone made my example as a habit.” says Pål.

Want to check the detail?

Item dec 5-12-2011 – 3-1-2012

Paper (kg) 4,3 Recycle
Plastic (kg) 5,3 Recycle
Glas (kg/pcs) 7,9 23 Recycle
Pet (pcs) 1,3 22 Deposit
Cans (pcs) 0,8 7 Deposit
Metall (kg/pcs) 1,4 23 Recycle
Food -mostly peels, cores, coffee/tea grounds, bones, flowers…- (kg) 20,5 Compost
Commercials(kg) 3,6 paper Recycle
Newspaper(kg) 2,1 Recycle
Magazines(kg) 0,3 Recycle
Old tea(lit.) 5,9 Drain
Old coffee (lit) 2,1 Drain
Bulb (pcs) 0,1 1 Recycled
Textile (kg) 1,4 Reuse
Envelopes (kg) 0,2 Recycle/Burning
Electronic (kg) 1,2 Recycle
Rest/leftover(kg) 0,9
Burning/Bury(0,9kg rest/leftover) (candles, dishcloth, strings, tampongs,glossy paper)
59,3 kg “waste” total in one month

Therefore for a household of 4 pers and a period of one month including Christmas and New Year Pål’s family has generated 60kg. 15kg per person in average where the part that could not be composted, reused or recycled was only of 1,6%!!

If we look at the Eurostat statistics for Sweden we see that in 2009 Sweden was burning 49% of its waste and landfilling 1%. This means that the average Swede generates around 40 times more waste than Pål or that most of what the Swedish waste management system is burning is actually recyclable. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle…

Of course, the experience mentioned above is not representative (besides being only one example, Pål’s family generates 180kg per person/per year when the Swedish average is 480kg) but it does show the possibilities to live in a more sustainable way and how if all Swedes would follow Pål’s example could afford to close down all incinerators and radically increase recycling and composting.

There are Zero Waste experiences around Europe that confirm that what Pål has done can be repeated and it shows that, after all, it is up to us to make Zero Waste possible!