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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Zero Waste Christmas – Rethinking consumption

We all want to show our love and appreciation to our loved ones and sometimes presents are a good way to do that. However, can we make sure that our love for something doesn’t imply the destruction of something else?

Some hints that can help to stay sane during the busiest shopping time of the year are:


Dematerialise your gifts;

When preparing your presents try to avoid material stuff. Give a voucher for a massage, or tickets to the theatre, or a dinner to a local restaurant, or a yoga lesson… there are hundreds of non-material presents that can make your loved ones happy without putting an extra burden on the environment.



Your present can be material but it doesn’t need to be 100% new, for it will have implications in the extractions of new materials, transport, energy and water-use. For instance you can refurbish –upcycle- old clothes into something new, or used plastic packaging to do the Christmas decoration, or buy presents in vintage clothes stores and antique shops. Like this you make sure your presents are unique!


Responsible shopping;

Sometimes it is necessary to buy something material and new but watch out because the choices are not neutral. Things that you should especially watch are:

  • santa landfill

    the toxicity of most stuff; there are many products which contain toxics which can cause cancer, infertility, asthma, allergies, etc. For instance, when possible choose plastics that are BPA free, avoid PVC, etc.

  • the source of the materials and choose those from renewable sources; for instance wood is better if certified FSC.
  • the hidden costs; some things might look cheaper than average but they will break before, consume more energy during its use or have a worst post-consumer service. When you buy cheap ask yourself why is this product cheaper than the others, if you don’t find a plausible explanation it might not be that cheap after all!



When it comes to food, Christmas holidays is the time for family meals and we should watch what we buy, what we eat, how we eat as much as what ends up in the bin.

Before going shopping do some planning in order not to over-stock stuff you will not need. If you are not sure about how much food you may require, check out a helpful serving calculator such as LOVE FOOD Hate Waste site

Also, try to buy locally grown and seasonal products which support the local economy, need less packaging and have smaller ecological footprint.  If you see Christmas as a tradition think that European traditions are built on what was available, hence seasonal and local, no need to consume food coming from the other end of the planet.

Remember to serve food in reusable tableware, with cloth napkins and avoid disposable stuff.
If for any reason you need to use single-use items make sure that they are biodegradable so that they can be composted together with food waste.

Talking about food waste, remember that our ancestors generated almost zero of it. Left-overs were reused to prepare filling for croquettes, cannelloni, ravioli, cakes or was given to pets. By the way, domestic pets are a very good manager of food waste and until not too long ago they were fed to pigs and cattle. Have you heard of the Pig Idea?

Only when it can find no other better use consider the food-waste for home composting, community composting or to be separately collected by the municipality. If you don’t have separate collection of food waste in your town, put pressure on your representatives to set it up!


more consumption

It is time to rethink how we spend our Christmas holidays; media commercials will always insist in linking happiness to consumption when experience and scientific evidence proves that this is untrue in most of the cases. After all it’s not rocket science, just reflect on what builds your long term happiness and think how much of that is related to compulsive Christmas shopping… not much, uh?

Christmas holidays is the perfect time of the year to rethink our life-style and plan 2014. Let’s just use the common sense and focus on what makes us happy without having to trash the planet!

Here you have some other practical advice of ways to enjoy happier Christmas:
Zero Waste Guide by Zero Waste Brussels
Pour feter Noël autrement by Fondation Nicolas Hulot
Rethink Christmas – Reduce & Rejoice by Zero Waste Canada
Give a Gift, Not More Stuff by the Story of Stuff Project

EU funding might hijack next 20 years of waste policy in Bulgaria

History repeats itself; 100 millions of EU money might be poured into the construction of a new waste incinerator which will add to the 80 millions of structural funds already invested into a MBT plant in Sofia. In the meantime most of the recycling in the city continues to be done by informal recyclers who far from being rewarded for their work might be pushed aside soon.

Currently the city recycles only 13% of the waste, most of it by the informal sector. After years of struggling with the elements a EU-sponsored mechanical-biological treatment plant (MBT) is starting to be built and will take in all what is now going to the landfill and separate it to recycle only 3% (!), send 28% to landfill, stabilise the organic matter for landfill cover (17%) and produce 38% of Refuse Derived Fuel –a mix of paper and plastic- which is used to justify the construction of a new incinerator. All in all, 180 millions of EU money to increase recycling by 3%!?

Wasted opportunity

Sofia is the capital and biggest city of Bulgaria and what happens there has a big impact on the rest of the country. The waste management plan is a blatant contradiction of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap that the EU has set for 2020 and a very biased application of the EU waste hierarchy. Yet EU money will go to co-finance a system that will be expensive, inflexible and polluting, effectively delaying the prospects of a resource efficient Bulgaria 20 years into the future.

Most of what will be treated in the MBT plant and then sent to landfill or incineration are perfectly recyclable and compostable materials. In a country where recycling rates are so low from the Zero Waste point of view it would make sense to start with a good separate collection scheme which allows to progressively recover those materials that are easily recyclable. Then after some optimisation it would be the time to assess what kind and size of disposal infrastructure is needed. Instead the authors of the waste management plan prefer to put the cart before the horse.

Why investing 300 million euros in infrastructure dedicated to destroying resources instead of investing a lot less money into source separation, reuse centres and recycling, composting and biogas plants?


During the whole process the civil society has been given very little information let alone granted the possibility to participate in the process. Negotiations about the new plan have been arranged behind closed doors and the final deals are ambiguous in the best case. For instance the incinerator is planned to have a capacity of 180,000 tonnes per year when the generation of RDF will amount to only 150,000 tonnes. Why?

Another important issue is that there is still no information system or data management to monitor waste flows which means that the most inflexible infrastructure is being planned without having a clear perspective of what is needed…

Bad example

Sofia is a perfect example of a place which needs an overhaul of the waste collection system, establishing source separation and providing the right legal and economic incentives. Some argue that this cannot be otherwise in Eastern Europe but reality has been dissipating prejudices and many southern municipalities are doing very well.

For instance, Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, offers a very good example that good source separation and prevention can take place in central-eastern Europe. Also Milan, a city of similar size of Sofia, is expanding separate collection of organic waste and starving out incineration.

Homecomposting EU

Not everything is grey

The municipality of Sofia has done some timid efforts to promote home composting; since 2006 7000 composters have been distributed but unfortunately there hasn’t been much follow-up.

A more interesting experience is the initiative of some neighbours in Sofia to organise community composting to treat the food and garden waste locally and which has been praised by the EU.

On the other hand the informal recyclers in Sofia would be happy to have more access to the resources that today end up in the landfill and in the future will end up in the incinerator.

As usual with these kind of cases the problem with Sofia is not technical, it is political.

Of course, the EU cannot oblige Bulgaria to invest in separate collection schemes or recycling and composting plants –and this would not help when there is no political will to facilitate recycle- but the least it can do is refuse to be accomplice to the crime.