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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

The Renewable Energy House in Brussels goes Zero Waste!

The Renewable Energy House (REH) headquarters 20 associations working in Brussels to promote renewable energies in front of the European Union. It currently houses 100 people and it preaches by example running the whole house completely on renewable energies. Now it also decided to be the first office building in Europe to go Zero Waste!


The REH knows better than anyone else that waste is, before anything else, a waste of energy.

Recycling vs producing anew from raw materials saves 95% of the energy for aluminium, 70% for paper & cardboard and 30% for glass. Going Zero Waste makes sense from the energetic point of view; the energy –and money!- savings will add to those already implemented in this office building by going renewable. Indeed, it is unlikely that in the short term renewable energies alone will be capable to solve the problems of energy supply in a world with soaring fuel prices, therefore zero waste complements perfectly the renewable energy sector for it saves vast amounts of energy  that otherwise would be required in the extraction, production, transport and disposal process.

       Following a study run by Greenovate! and Novociclo[1] and after auditing waste arisings in the building, a serie of measures were proposed to increase waste diversion –waste that is not sent to disposal to the Brussels inncinerator- to 90%. Among the measures to be applied in the next 3 years will be:

  • Replacement of the plastic bottles with glass-jars,
  • Sorting the organic waste and composting it in the courtyard,
  • Making sure that caterers serve food with reusable non-single use packaging and avoid buying single-use plates, cups or cutlery,
  • Maximise paper use –print both sides- and promote not crushing paper (1kg of crushed paper occupies 10-100 times more space than flattened paper),
  • Replace the 14 km/year of paper towels currently used in bathrooms with an alternative,
  • Reorganising the waste collection points,
  • etc

 As a result of this combination of measures the REH should be reducing the amount of residual waste to less than 10% by 2015 whilst reducing the total amount of waste generated and saving money and energy.

 On Tuesday 24th of April, after the presentation of the study and after having agreed on the proposals and targets for 2015 the terms of commitment were signed by the President of the REH, Jan Geiss, the Secretary General of the REH, Kim Vanguers, the director of Greenovate!, Astrid Severin, the President of Novociclo, Rodrigo Sabatini and the coordinator of Zero Waste Europe, Joan Marc Simon.


The application of the Zero Waste terms of commitment are now going to be monitored on a yearly basis to make sure that the targets are met and REH can be a certified Zero Waste building by 2015.


 The Press Release from REH:


The Renewable Energy House (REH) commits to becoming the first Zero Waste Office Building in Europe.


Brussels 24th April 2012. Launch REH Zero Waste Commitment in the REH, Brussels.


Today, Zero Waste Europe in conjunction with Greenovate! and Novociclo Ambiental SA and the management structure of the Renewable Energy House, REH asbl, met at the Renewable Energy House in Brussels to sign a joint commitment to Zero Waste by 2015. The REH asbl officially stated its commitment to meeting the basic principles of a Zero Waste company, aiming at avoiding, reducing, reusing and recycling waste.


“We’re looking forward to best using this innovative framework and cooperation with specialized actors for making the REH a best-practice example of a Zero Waste Office Building in Europe” said Jan Geiss, REH President and Secretary General of the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources.


Greenovate! sprl in collaboration with Novociclo S/A, a Brazilian company specialised in Zero Waste Management, carried out an analysis of the waste generation and disposal at the Renewable Energy House. Zero Waste targets for 2015 as well as an Action Plan to achieve them were based on this analysis.[2]


“I’m eager to implement the first actions towards Zero Waste Management. This commitment marks a new important step for the Renewable Energy House!” said Kim Vanguers, REH Secretary General.


By using 100% Renewable Energy Sources for heating, cooling and electricity, the Renewable Energy House has rapidly become a shining and undeniable example of integration of Energy Efficiency measures and Renewable Energy Technologies in a refurbished building since its inauguration by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) in 2006.


To achieve the Zero Waste targets by 2015, the REH will integrate the Zero Waste principles in its management practices while raising the awareness of the 100 staff employed by the 20 associations who, interlinking under the REH roof, are the very core of the Renewable Energy House.



[1] To see the PWP presentation of the study click here.

[2] Greenovate! Climate Solutions, Belgium and Novociclo, Brazil, “Development of a Zero Waste Management Plan for the Renewable Energy House Brussels, Analysis and recommendation”, Brussels, March 2012.


Annual Zero Waste Europe meeting in Gipuzkoa – 11-13th May 2012

The European network of Zero Waste groups will be meeting in Donosti (San Sebastian), spanish Basque country, from 11th to 13th May 2012.

This meeting will bring together activists, waste experts & policy-makers from all over Europe with the participation of observers from outside the continent.

This event will combine site-visits with public events and internal debates.

We will visit the best-practices of Hernani and Usurbil, municipalities who pioneered door-to-door separate collection in the basque country and now collect more than 85% of its waste separately allowing for very high recycling and composting rates.

There will be public conferences with experts in Zero Waste strategies such a Dr Paul Connett, Enzo Favoino or Rossano Ercolini who will share the experience and the details of a Zero Waste with citizens and policy-makers.

And last but not least there will be the meeting of the Zero Waste network in Europe where we will discuss strategy for the next year, approve indicators to measure progress to Zero Waste, present best practices from different local experiences and prepare common cross-border projects.

If you are running a Zero Waste project, if you are interested to know more about Zero Waste, if you want to link to other Zero Waste networks in other countries you are most welcome to join. Places are limited. May you want to participate you can register here. Deadline is April 16th!

To check the programme of the meeting click here.

Organised by:

Castelbuono – the town where even donkeys’ walk the Zero Waste path

Creativity is at the core of a Zero Waste strategy. Sometimes this implies creating new processes and using innovative technologies but some other times it just requires combining the existing tools to create a low-tech win-win situation to reduce waste, create occupation, save money and increase sustainability. The example of Castelbuono is a good prove of this.

Castelbuono is a Zero Waste town of 10.000hab in Sicily, Italy, which has managed to develop an innovative system to marry sustainability, social work and economics. The mayor, Mario Cicero, decided to link the recovery of a traditional donkey-breed from Sicily –called Ragusa- with the challenges of the waste collection in narrow streets and the social work to reintegrate people into society… and all of this without scaring off the big number of tourists that visit the fantastic medieval castle or buy local products of this Sicilian town.

This is how Mr Cicero decided to use the donkeys to do the door-to-door separate collection. On one hand it makes donkeys useful so that recovering this breed stops being a cost to become an asset, on the other hand it becomes a way to reintroduce socially excluded people -with mental or addiction problems- thanks to using contact with animals as a therapy –onotherapy– and finally it turns waste collection into a tourist attraction and an education tool. A win-win situation!

Economics for donkeys

Mr Cicero explains how buying a small truck to collect waste costs more than 15,000eur and lasts 5 to 10 years whereas a donkey costs less than one tenth and last longer. Plus the maintenance costs of donkeys are a lot lower and they don’t need oil or electricity to run which makes them more cost efficient in a world of ever rising oil prices.

Besides, donkeys can be useful when they are not working collecting waste; on one hand their milk is considered to be the closest to human milk and hence very much valued. On the other hand onotherapy –therapy with donkeys- is proving wonders on mentally disabled people. Finally from the cultural point of view it makes cost-neutral recovering this important element of Sicilian and Mediterranean culture which is now once again participating in ceremonies and other local festivities.

It is difficult to make a cost-benefit analysis of this practice because it overarches on different fields but the fact is that;

–          money-wise the municipality has balanced accounts in waste collection and treatment,

–          the municipality has less expenses in subsidies to socially excluded people and has very high rates of integration to society,

–          the municipality is recovering an important part of its culture and even creating a tourist attraction at zero cost.

As a comparison; since 2008 –when the system was introduced in Castelbuono- the neighbouring municipality of Cefalú, which is following the “modern” system of waste collection with road-containers and trucks, has generated millions of euros in debts to the regional public waste company whereas Castelbuono is one of the few municipalities in the region with balanced accounts.

Moreover, the region of Sicily has spent 1,5 million euros to reintroduce the Ragusa donkey but is not doing anything with them –it is a net cost-; instead Castelbuono started with 4 and now has 45 of these donkeys which are self-financing themselves.

But even when they are collecting waste donkeys work wonders; tourists in Castelbuono appreciate this silent and gentle creatures and stop to play with them.

The personal story – donkeys help communities

It is impressive to observe how neighbours in Castelbuono know the donkeys by the name and many stop to feed them when they pass by. When we visited them we accompanied one of the workers who does the tour with the donkey “Valentina”. Having had problems with depression & addiction in the past, before the introduction of donkeys he will not show up for work 5 days in a row. Since he started working with Valentina in 2008 he has not missed a single day of work and he has managed to reorganise his life. The bind between him and the animal and the daily contact with neighbours and tourists has managed to bring him back to society.


This personal story is just the top of the iceberg of a successful story of integration, education, creativity and sustainability in Castelbuono. Separate waste collection rates in this municipality are higher than in any of the neighbouring towns, they host a composting plant that treats the separately collected organics of the province and they are a proud member of the Italian network of Zero Waste municipalities. Many other ZW municipalities with similar characteristics inside and outside Sicily are studying importing this successful ZW practice.