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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

A Zero Waste program by Patagonia: The Common Threads Initiative

Patagonia is a clothing and gear company that takes Zero Waste seriously. In these days of persistent corporate greenwashing it is a good example of how a company takes full responsibility for the products that it puts in the market.

First of all, in the production process Patagonia applies a system of transparency and traceability that takes into account social and environmental justice and as such works with organic cotton and wool and recycled PET bottles to produce the polyester and fleeces. In fact it has been using recycled materials since the 90s.

Most amazingly they offer a lifetime guarantee for their products which is a sign that they will not be selling stuff designed-for-the-dump with planned obsolescence like most do. Then when it comes the time to deal with the impact of the products at the end of their life look at what they do:

REDUCE: Don’t buy form us what you don’t need or can’t really use

This is the message from Patagonia to reduce waste generation. They acknowledge that everything anyone makes costs the planet more than it gives back and as such they don’t try to convince you to buy their clothes. Actually Patagonia has been running anti-consumerist campaigns in the most consumerist days in the calendar. For instance in the US consumption day, called Black Friday they paid a campaign to not buy their items. (See pic)


With the lifetime guarantee Patagonia also offers the possibility to get your stuff repaired for free, you just have to pay the transport costs.


The company encourages customers to donate the garments when they no longer want to wear them. In the US it even opened a platform in E-bay to help the second hand market of its own products. When most fashion companies send to landfill the stocks that they don’t manage to sell Patagonia donates its unsold goods to people who lose their belongings in disasters.


“Recycling is what we do when we’re out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first” says StoryOfStuff guru Annie Leonard. Indeed, recycling should be the last option but even then Patagonia offers a very interesting takeback program in which customers can bring back their old Patagonia clothes and gear to the shops that sell them. Like this Patagonia took back 45 tons of waste and produced 34 tons of new clothes.


All in all Patagonia is a very good example of how to bring the Zero Waste philosophy into practice and a good hint as to what real sustainability is about.

Common Threads Initiative (English version) from Patagonia Europe on Vimeo.


WE make useful gear
that lasts a long time
YOU don’t buy what
you don’t need

WE help you repair
your Patagonia gear
YOU pledge to fix
what’s broken

WE help find a home
for Patagonia gear
you no longer need
YOU sell or pass it on*

WE will take back your Patagonia gear that
is worn out
YOU pledge to
keep your stuff out
of the landfill
and incinerator

TOGETHER we reimagine
a world where we take
only what nature
can replace

Mallorca; sun & waste!

The tourists going to the island of Mallorca in Spain are invited to bring their trash along with them to burn it in the new incinerator which is succesfully fighting recycling, composting and reuse.

This is the –ironic- message that the local group GOB wanted to transmit in their latest action in front of the regional parliament upon the approval of the decree to import waste to feed the burner. Sadly, the European Commission is also supporting importing waste from many km away to the island despite being a contradiction of the proximity principle and the waste hierarchy.

In the beautiful island of Mallorca one can find the best and the worst of waste management in southern Europe. On one hand some zero waste municipalities (15% of Mallorca`s population) have implemented ambitious door-to-door source separation schemes which would allow them to recycle more than 75% of the waste. On the other hand the regional government through the company TIRME created to privatise waste management had built an incinerator with the capacity to burn 300,000tn of waste which represented 75% of all the municipal solid waste generated in the island.

After an obscure and dodgy process in 2007 this already overdimensioned burner was enlarged with an extra capacity to burn 432,000tn more. In total, Mallorca generates 542,094 tn and has an incineration capacity of 736,000tn in 2011. The biggest incinerator in southern Europe burns 84% of all municipal waste generated in the island; hence most recyclables and compostables are today incinerated. Madness.

Today in Mallorca the more you recycle the more you pay, the more you burn the cheaper it is.

There are at least three reasons why this is a bad practice of waste and resource management:

–          It contradicts the waste hierarchy: Instead of recycling targets Mallorca has incineration targets of 62% of MSW. Before recycling or reuse the first option for waste in Mallorca is incineration. Every ton of waste that is recycled instead of burned increases the fee for the citizen because the contract with the incinerator obliges to feed it during the next 30 years, if a municipality prefers to recycle or reduce waste they will have to pay for the tones that the incinerator will not receive.

–          It goes against the European Resource Efficiency Roadmap: because of the contract with the incinerator the incentives are all for burning and not for recycling. According to the Resource Efficiency Strategy by 2020 incineration should be only for what is not recyclable and compostable. In Mallorca according to the contract most recyclables and compostables are and will be burned during next 30 years.

–          It goes against the people: the citizens are already paying the highest prices in waste management in Spain to burn waste in an innefficient incinerator that doesn’t even recover the heat. At the same time modern recycling and composting plants partly financed with EU money have to be paid when not being used because waste is being sent to the incinerator.

The case of Mallorca illustrates with all cruelty how incineration –or any kind of disposal- competes with recycling and the upper levels of the hierarchy. Hence, it is unlikely that the targets set by the EU will be accomplished unless the economic and legislative drivers are changed to prioritise recycling.

There are good examples of islands in the mediterranean which have recycling rates above northern European standards (regions in Sardinia are above 60%). Mallorca itself has municipalities such as Esporles or Puigpunyent doing an excellent job (above 70% recycling) despite the adverse legislation and local conditions. With the right legislation and political will Zero Waste is possible in Mallorca, with current conditions sustainability is a mission impossible.

The Zero Waste movement asks the European Commission to intervene to cap the incineration overcapacity in cases like the one of Mallorca when recycling is directly hijacked. The current EU legislation gives all incentives to do the wrong thing and Mallorca is a clear example of it.


Is the EU missing the boat in ship recycling? CW2YQMTPZCNE

The EU could be generating jobs and local economy whilst preventing pollution and destruction in the global south if it got its policies right in shipbreaking.

Every year, about 1,000 ships are sent for breaking so that their steel and some of their contents can be recycled. Most of the ships contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, mineral oil, PCBs, mercury, etc. However, despite high unemployment rates and empty shipyards in Europe more than 200 European ships were sent for breaking on the beaches of South Asia in 2011, and the number of ships to be broken in 2012 is expected to beat all records.

This is because instead of selling their ships to recycling facilities that enforce strict downstream waste management, such as in the EU, Turkey, Canada, the US and Mexico, most shipowners prioritize maximum profits and sell them to the shipbreaking yards of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Out of all ships sent for breaking every year, 40% are owned by European companies, whereas only 8%are flagged in the EU. The Commission legislative proposal aims at regulating only EU-flagged ships sent for breaking, thus only covering 8% of all end-of-life vessels.

The European Commission claims that there are not enough recycling facilities in the OECD -let alone the EU- to recycle these vessels and hence it permits that recycling takes place in unacceptable conditions in the global south. According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform the claims from the European Commission are based on a flawed impact assessment, and it proves that in the OECD there is enough recycling capacity. The problem is clearly that the prices for proper recycling are a lot higher than those in the global south where recycling takes place in facilities considered unsound to health and the environment. The Basel Convention and EU Waste Shipment Regulation ban such export of hazardous waste to poorer, non-OECD countries, but this is easily circumvented, notably by reflagging ships.

The result of the commission’s assessment, published in March, was that the lack of recycling capacity meant the waste shipment regulation should no longer apply to ships (COM (2012) 118).

But NGO Basel Action Network (BAN) published a report proving that the commission “failed wholeheartedly” to consider both active and dormant recycling capacity in North America. Alongside EU and Turkish sites, this could easily handle the 1.64 million tonnes of old ships from the EU each year.

The final decision is in the hands of the EU member states in the council of ENVI ministers and some member states such as Germany, Finland, Denmark, Estonia,  Italy, Holland,The Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden are supporting the existing ban of export of end-of-life ships to the global south. It is sad to see how countries such as Spain with record unemployment levels and empty shipyards don’t see the opportunity to convert the old shipyards into ship recycling facilities. It would help Spain, it would help Europe and it would help the people in the south suffering from the European ecological dumping.

The Zero Waste movement stands committed to proximity principle and extended producer responsibility together with the principles of local economy and environmental justice. For these reasons it advocates for the construction of ship recycling clusters in Europe that boost depressed European economic sectors whilst removing the ecological and social burden from the global south. The European Commission should mantain the ban on the export of end-of-life vessels.



Nappy Ever After, a laundry service for nappies

Nappy Ever After is a company in London that offers a service to wash cotton nappies. This system is perfect for those parents who want to change from single-use to reusable nappies but don’t have the time or the energy to wash them.


The benefits of using washable cloth nappies are well-known;
– for the baby: gains in comfort and freshness, reduces the temperature in the genital area and the skin-problems and leave the use of nappies before than with single-use.
– for the parents; don’t need to go nappy-shopping and it can mean savings in comparison to single-use nappies,
– for the environment and the common good: every baby generates yearly more than half a ton of waste in single-use nappies –874kg in the UK-. It takes 500 years for a single-use nappy to degrade. If you calculate the nr of new-borns in your country times 1000-1500 kgs of waste each you will see how much can the local auhtorities save in landfill or incineration costs.


Nappies in Nursery

The functioning of the system is easy; nappies are delivered and picked up once a week to individual customers and nurseries. The customers decide how many nappies they want to receive –normally around 50 per week -. All the system is run at small-scale and local level, generating local jobs and sustainability.


Something observed in nurseries where this has been applied –also in individual cases- is that with reusable nappies the children feel when they are wet and they start to control themselves a lot before than others. So it has an important education component for the babies.
This laundry service for nappies is not unique, this system is wide-spread in the US and Australia with several succesful examples and there are similar experiences in The Netherlands or Italy.
Other laundry services in the UK: