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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Zero Waste is a Climate Solution at the COP20

 

The UN Climate Conference (COP 20) concluded in Lima last 13th December after 12 days and 33 extra hours of negotiations, with a far more disappointing agreement that the more sceptical-minded would have dared guessing. Yet still, this was an important space to bring up our community-led climate justice solutions for the waste sector, which as much as it is often part of the climate problem, it can definitely be turned into a great climate solution.

 

An agreement with no real teeth

Following-up on previous commitments, countries meeting in Lima were meant to frame the new legal, binding, global agreement that is supposed to be adopted in the next COP 21 in Paris. This new treaty is expected to ensure climate action from 2020 onwards to keep the planet’s temperature rise below 2Cº.

The outcome from Lima, far from bringing countries closer to a legally binding global treaty, delayed all the important and most controversial decisions and produced a shy ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’, a document that puts forward a number of key recommendations, without any real mandate for countries to pursue them.[1]

Apart from the big picture negotiations, the COP20 was a very relevant space to monitor and analyse specific country efforts to implement climate action in the waste sector. Precisely, several experiences have shown that whereas waste is part of the climate problem as a source of GHG emissions, it can definitely be turned into a key climate solution with greatest emission savings and further co-benefits.


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Zero Waste – Key Solutions for Climate Justice

“Zero waste solutions—including waste reduction, redesign, composting, biogas, producer responsibility, consumption transformation, and recycling—could be implemented today, using existing innovations, with immediate results.” (Excerpt of the GAIA Declaration towards the COP20)

As done in previous years, GAIA organized a delegation of representatives of grassroots recycling workers, visionary local leaders, and innovative practitioners that showed that zero waste is a key strategy for climate justice and to develop a low-carbon economy. Throughout a week of action both inside the COP and also outside at the People’s Summit for Climate Change, the delegation engaged in promoting community-led climate solutions in the waste sector and also challenged the misleading assumptions around waste burning as a clean energy and/or renewable energy source.

Starting the week with a colourful and exciting public action at the heart of the COP, the delegation pointed out at the current lack of environmental criteria in climate finance, most noticeable in the under-construction policies of the Green Climate Fund. This institution, which has received financial pledges from developed countries to up to 10 USD billion during the COP20 and that may be approving project proposals as early as next summer 2015, has refused so far to commit to an ‘exclusion’ list of projects which would ensure that none of this eventual money ends up burning fossil fuels, municipal solid waste, biomass or producing any sort of dirty energy. Several civil society organizations have joined efforts to raise this demand, yet to be considered by the GCF Board.

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Specific action was taken to put the Mexico government on the spotlight, as it has recently granted permission to use municipal solid waste as fuel in cement plants all over the country. Doña Venancia Cruz, representative of the Indigenous Community of Santiago de Anaya in México, appealed directly to the government representatives bringing the testimony of her impacted community by this polluting practice.

As mentioned above, the COP20 was an excellent context to show the key achievements of zero waste strategies in reducing GHG emissions, air pollution, providing livelihoods and restoring the soils. A press conference was held to showcase the specific examples.

Dan Moche and Beth Grimberg from the Aliança Resíduo Zero Brazil presented the progress made in Sao Paulo, which as recently implemented source separation of organic waste and domestic composting for 10.000 homes. Compost from green waste — everything from household food scraps to dairy manure — avoids methane emissions from waste disposal and most importantly, it contributes to soil restoration and helps increase its capacity to act as carbon sinks. The effect is cumulative, meaning the soil keeps absorbing carbon dioxide even after just one application of compost, as compost decomposition provides a slow release fertilizer to the soils leading to an increase in carbon sequestration and increased plant production.[2]

Special attention was given to the contribution of the recyclers community, represented by Denisse Moran from REDLACRE. The recycling sector, with more than two million informal recyclers in developing country cities, offers climate-smart urban solutions to sustain and strengthen livelihood development, improve local environmental health, and strengthen local economies.

Last but not least, representatives from the Coalición Anti-incineración Argentina stressed the need to work at the local and national level and root climate solutions on the basis of communities and national coalitions of civil society organizations.

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Monitoring national climate policies in the waste sector.

As mentioned above, the COP20 is a very useful space to monitor and analyse national climate mitigation policy – aka NAMAs, Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, in the UNFCCC jargon. As the global agreements have not offered any solid environmental guidance, the current situation shows a wide variety of climate mitigation policies, often in the wrong direction. This is particularly obvious when looking at the waste sector in countries such as Colombia, Indonesia and Dominican Republic.

Colombia for example, which is known to host one of the most vibrant grassroots recyclers movements recognized internationally, presented a climate mitigation policy that will entail the implementation of an MBT plant in two cities, with the subsequent production of Refuse-Derived Fuel to be burnt in cement plants as an emission reduction strategy. The polluting impacts of waste burning in cement kilns have been thoroughly reported.

Worryingly enough, Dominican Republic also presented a climate mitigation project with the support of GIZ consisting in burning of used tires in cement kilns, arguing that it would not only reduce GHG emissions but it would also benefit the local population via job creation. Likewise, the climate mitigation policy presented by Indonesia also makes a reference to developing 5 waste-to-energy projects in 5 different cities, even thought it’s unclear what kind of technology it will be.

On the other hand, the Dominican Republican also presented a project to apply anaerobic digestion to pig farming, which could indeed contribute to GHG emissions if done appropriately. In this sense, it was made clear that when it comes to climate mitigation policies in the waste sector, the UNFCCC is unable to provide any solid environmental and social criteria and it needs close monitoring to discern the good, the bad and the ugly.

In conclusion, as Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, put it in her presentation about climate policy in the waste sector in the People’s Climate Summit: “Let’s not rely on misleading concepts. Biomass and waste cannot be the “new coal” because they are not clean energy, and they are not renewable. There is a critical need to develop environmental and social criteria for climate action in the waste sector, to ensure that we take advantage from its enormous opportunity to mitigate climate change and reach further co-benefits in air pollution reduction, green jobs, and the empowerment of resilient communities,”

 

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Next steps – toward Paris COP21

The COP21 in Paris will take place next December and the National Climate Coalition 21 is already gearing up to it. International networks had a chance to discuss plans at the People’s Summit in Lima and put forward a calendar of decentralized mobilizations for the whole year. Once again, community-led zero waste solutions will be at the front of the mobilizations, showing the work done throughout the whole year at the local and national contexts.

 

[1]For a comprehensive analysis of the COP20 outcomes, we recommend the following article by Oscar Reyes, at Institute for Policy Studies, and also this article by Lili Furh, Liane Schalatek and Maureen Santos at Heinrich Boell Foundation.

[2] See http://www.marincarbonproject.org/marin-carbon-project-science for the latest bibliography on this work.


From China to Spain: all the way to Zero Waste

From December 8th to 12th, Zero Waste Europe welcomed Yimin of Eco Canton, an association based in Guangzhou, South-East of China, member of the China Zero Waste Alliance. Yimin, who has been taking part of a twinning exchange with Zero Waste France for the last weeks, travelled all the way to Spain, in order to learn more about waste management and reduction systems in Barcelona and the Basque Country.

 

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Yimin during her visit, learning about the community composting bins in Gipuzkoa

Her trip, supported by GAIA, started in Barcelona, where Yimin met ZWE Director Joan Marc Simon. They visited a Community Compost Site, a Reuse and Recycling Centre and Yimin got useful insights on how waste collection works in Barcelona. Yimin was positively impressed in particular by the color-based waste separation system (brown bins for organic waste, yellow bins for packages, blue bins for paper, green bins for glasses and grey bins for residual waste), as well as by the recycling rate of the city (around 40%). This is of course still far from the Zero Waste goal, but already much higher compared to Guangzhou, where waste is mostly sent to landfill, and sometimes incinerated. Waste picking is a common phenomenon in China and it is also increasing in Barcelona, due to the economic crises and the rise of unemployment: this is surely a common topic for future cooperation between Zero Waste Communities in China and Spain!

 

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Yimin and Zero Zabor members during their Zero Waste Tour

Yimin then travelled to the Basque Country, where the local Zero Zabor (Zero Waste in Euskera) association guided her around several villages to discover pro and cons of their different waste collection, separation and compost systems. She learnt in particular about the door-to-door waste collection scheme in Usurbil, the first town to implement such a system in the Basque Country. Usurbil also introduced an innovative Pay-As-You-Throw method (PAYT), providing additional incentives for citizens to reduce, separate and recycle waste. Although the schemes implemented in the Basque villages might not be adapted for Guangzhou, a city of 15 million inhabitants, their experiences are of the utmost interest for the villages in the outskirts the Chinese megalopolis. The following days the visit continued at a compost plant, a landfill, and at a quarry site in Gipuzkoa. The quarry has in fact been identified by GHK, the provincial waste management organization in the Basque country, as a potential dump site for residual waste.

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Yimin with the Zero Zabor members during their visit in Usurbil

 

Yimin appreciated GHZ’s commitment to close all landfills and explore innovative ways to deal with residual waste in the future. But what probably struck her the most during her visit, it was the citizens’ awareness of the importance of waste avoidance and separation, and their involvement in community initiatives, being them compost sites, city farms, or reuse centres. Zero Waste Europe looks forward to welcome more foreign visitors in the future, to exchange best practices and create synergies, on the road to Zero Waste!

 

 

See press reports (in Basque):

Noaua – news article

Ataria – news article

28 KanalaTV report


Zero Waste illuminates the Low-Carbon Development Path in China

There is ample scientific evidence warning of the imminent dangers of climate change and inaction – not only the last 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC has been clear on these projections: while the UN Climate Change COP20 negotiations were taking place in Lima, another typhoon called Hagupit hit the Philippines.

In other words, there is no time to waste for climate action, and municipal solid waste sector can be not only a place to reduce GHG emissions, but also to provide clean air, clean water, clean energy, healthy food, healthy people, healthy wildlife, and the availability of resources for future generations.

Precisely, this was the spirit of the Zero Waste and Low Carbon Forum celebrated in Shanghai last 4-6 December 2014, which brought together Chinese policy-makers, city officials from Shanghai and San Francisco (US), university professors and the members of the China Zero Waste Alliance, amongst other allies, to discuss the specific ways in which Zero Waste Strategies can contribute to this low-carbon future.

 

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Moreover, some of the international speakers took the chance to visit some cities and learn further about the potential of the waste sector in China, which was reported in the media in several articles, such as this.

 

An International Panel to introduce the Zero Waste vision

The Forum counted with the celebrated interventions of Professor Paul Connett, professor emeritus at St. Lawrence University in New York, and Rossano Ercoloni, Zero Waste Europe President and Goldman Prize winner, both visionary leaders that have inspired the international zero waste movement with their energy and enthusiasm.

Prof. Connett explained how Zero Waste solutions can directly reduce GHG emissions and toxic pollutant releases from waste disposal facilities, which are a significant source of both. “Burning waste feeds a linear system that drives a climate changing cycle of new resources pulled out of the earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then wasted in incinerators, landfills and combustion plants that use it as fuel, such as cement kilns”, said Prof. Connett. “With zero waste we turn into the circular system”, he added.

 

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Ercoloni presented the main zero waste experiences in Europe, with special emphasis on the organic waste separate collection system in Milan, which is an example of a very high-condensed city that has successfully diverted tones of organic waste from landfill and thus reduce large amounts of GHG gases.

Precisely, the Forum put especial emphasis on the climate benefits from treating organic waste. Calla Ostrander from the Marin Carbon Project, presented their research on the matter, showing that compost avoids methane emissions from waste disposal and most importantly, it contributes to soil restoration and helps increase its capacity to act as carbon sinks. Ostrander’s research showed that if compost was applied to just 5 percent of the California state’s grazing lands, the soil could capture a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s farm and forestry industries. The effect is cumulative, meaning the soil keeps absorbing carbon dioxide even after just one application of compost, as compost decomposition provides a slow release fertilizer to the soils leading to an increase in carbon sequestration and increased plant production.[1]

Jack Macy from the San Francisco Zero Waste Program presented the very successful progress made in the city in the last decades since they started with the zero waste strategy. According to Macy, the key elements of their strategy were to establish convenient source separation with processing, conduct extensive outreach and education, provide incentives, and implement producer and consumer responsibility policies.

Moreover, the City believed that its zero waste and climate action goals would not likely be achieved under voluntary participation programs alone, so it develop a city ordinance to make recycling and composting mandatory for everyone in San Francisco.

“Before the Mandatory Ordinance we were collecting about 400 tons of compostables a day, and thanks to the Ordinance since it passed in June 2009 we’ve seen almost an overnight a 25% increase of collecting about 500 tons of compostables a day!”, Macy explained.“Today San Francisco has the goal of achieving zero waste by 2020. We are getting close by being at a current diversion rate of 72%”, he concluded.

 

The Zero Waste Experience in China

 

One of the main highlights of the Forum was the opportunity to learn from the local experiences on the ground, places in China that are already making difference by changing the way they handle waste.

One of the most inspiring experiences has been developed in Xiao Er Township in Gong County, Yibing, Sichuan Province. Facing a waste generation peak without proper systems to sort it in 2006, the local government collaborated with the local NGO Partnerships for Community Development (PCD) and undertook a pioneer pilot project on waste separation was launched in 2007. After six years of trial, most people of Xiao Er Township now give greater importance to waste treatment and they are much more aware of the issue than before. Moreover, the volume of greenhouse gas emissions of Xiao Er has gone down which in turn contributes to improving the environment.

Read here the full story of Xiao Er Township.

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A climate policy challenge

Even if these local experiences are illuminating the path towards a Low-Carbon, Toxic-Free development for China, the Forum devoted special attention to the policy obstacles that may be hindering further progress. Mao Da from RREI presented its research about the national renewable energy subsidies given to waste incinerators. The full report is available here, in Chinese.

“Waste incinerators receive benefits for every kilowatt of electricity put on the national grid. In this sense, there is a strong economical interest in burning waste and this is an uneven playing field for policies aiming at waste prevention, reuse and recycling which would offer higher climate benefits”, Mao Da said.

His research, which is planned to be published in early 2015, recommends the cancellation of the renewable energy subsidies for trash incineration, as well as its classification as a low-carbon technology. Moreover, it suggests implementing Pay-As-You-Throw system (see examples such system in Europe here) and shift subsidies towards waste management systems that can be truly low-carbon, such as recycling and composting.

Overall, the Zero Waste and Low Carbon Forum was an excellent opportunity to explore the potential of such development in China, opening up new exciting connections, conversations and projects for the future.

 

[1] See http://www.marincarbonproject.org/marin-carbon-project-science for the latest bibliography on this work.


New book about Zero Waste in France

On the eve of the European Week for Waste Reduction 2014, Zero Waste France unveiled its scenario for zero waste territories and described it in a book. The book, published by Rue de l’échiquier, is a toolkit for all those willing to take action at different levels: citizens, associations, companies, and of course elected officials in charge of public policies for waste prevention and management.

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THE ZERO WASTE SCENARIO: AN ANTIDOTE TO INACTION

“We thought this book as a gateway to action, allowing everyone to become aware that a change is needed, but also to see what is already going on in many places in France, Europe and beyond” says Flore Berlingen, Zero Waste France director and book coordinator. “The obstacles on the road are not few, but they are not as insurmountable as we may think.” The proof: some are already achieving extraordinary results, close to us in Italy and Spain. These achievements are widely highlighted in the Zero Waste Scenario, which also presents many French exemplary initiatives.

The excuses for inaction are many ignorance of existing solutions, the stubborn prejudice that changing behaviors is impossible, the transfer of responsibility to the public administration, the enterprises, or even the citizens, but they can no longer be accepted. Waste reduction requires a strong commitment from all stakeholders, but we should not forget that there are also many benefits: lowering pollution and greenhouse gases emissions, protecting natural resources, but also creating employment in new industries, which can contribute to revitalize the economy.

The European Week for Waste Reduction is the opportunity for Zero Waste France to strongly reaffirm this ambition, and to contribute, through the publication of this book, to reach this goal.

More info: http://lescenario.zerowastefrance.org /

Launch Party, Friday, November 21 at REcyclerie: practical information and registration

A BOOK AWAITED BY SEVERAL HUNDREDS OF FINANCERS

The book was financed through a crowdfunding campaign which reached more than 250% of its original goal with 858 financers supporting its publication. This is a proof of the curiosity and expectations of the general public on the topic of waste reduction, as well as a sign of a growing interest in the Zero Waste approach.


Don’t bin it! Europe needs the waste package

80% of Europeans want their country to waste less and an ample majority wants Europe to recycle more whereas business leaders warn about rising resource prices and need for increasing resource efficiency. So far the European Union was responding to this need with the Circular Economy package which was promising to create jobs and economic growth, boost recycling, promote new business models and reduce emissions.

Yet, according to leaked documents the new European Commission led by J.C.Juncker which took office in November wants to withdraw proposals on a number of issues including the waste package. And all in the name of growth and jobs, shaking off unnecessary legislation and easing the approval of the files.

How solid are these arguments?

Jobs and growth

According to the “old” European Commission:

“Achieving the new waste targets would create 180 000 new jobs, while making Europe more competitive and reducing demand for costly scarce resources.”

But the new EC wants to withdraw this and stay with what we have; a system that wastes resources and job opportunities.

Recycling is stagnating in Europe; we need the waste package!

The current Waste Framework Directive approved in 2010 was supposed to turn the EU into a “recycling society” yet for a number of reasons the recycling rates have stagnated and in 2012 the situation was the same as in 2009 –see graph-.

If the EU is serious about recourse efficiency it needs to improve current waste legislation and this is what the waste package was planning to do. Don’t bin it!

Disposal vs recycling EU 2008-2012

In contrast with the disappointing results at European level municipalities adopting Zero Waste goals are proving that it is true that a Zero Waste package increases jobs, recycling and economic activity, reduces waste and saves money. Examples here and here.

Realistic chance of adopting legislation

Juncker’s Commission argues that it will withdraw legislation that has not “realistic chance of being adopted”. The truth is that the initiative of the European Commission to withdraw the waste package has been opposed by 11 member states, most of the business community -except for reactionary group Business Europe-, cities and regions organisations and all NGO and civil society community.

The EC argues that the withdrawal is reasonable when “no agreement between EP and Council is foreseen”, yet this is a normal situation in the beginning of any negotiation process! If the new EC is to launch proposals for legislation only when agreement between EP and Council are guaranteed, prior to any political negotiation, it sets the bar of ambition to move the EU forward unacceptably low.

Why wait to propose the alternative?

The EC spokesperson claims that “the EC believes in the objectives of the proposals” and that scrapped proposals will be proposed again, but in a different and more effective way“. If this is true it is procedurally wrong to withdraw legislation without presenting the alternative plan to get to the same goal or, at very least, commit to present the alternative proposal by a certain date. It is irresponsible to park action in this field when the EU is running against the clock in the field of resource efficiency and job creation.

All in all, if the decision of the new EC to withdraw the waste package is confirmed one can state that:

– it is politically contradictory because it harms the potential of job creation and economic activity that the same EC claims to want to pursue,

– it is not based on facts. Objectively the EU needs measures to increase recycling and resource efficiency,

– it is procedurally questionable that an important piece of work is withdrawn without presenting an alternative. As long as the alternative is not presented the EC cannot claim that it supports the objectives of the Circular Economy.

 

The decision to withdraw the waste package would be against what the European citizens want and against what European citizens need. It also sends wrong sign to those in the world who regard the EU as leader in resource management
The waste package should be kept or a credible alternative to reach the same aims should be presented soon. Europe needs the waste package.

 

Joan Marc Simon

Executive Director
Zero Waste Europe


Zero Waste present in World Resources Forum in Peru

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In October of 2014 Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA)’s Chair Person, Mr. Richard Anthony, and Board Member Mrs. Ana Carvalho, organized, conducted, and presented a workshop for approximately 250 people at the World Resource Forum (WRF) in Arequipa, Peru. Presentations were also given by Mr. William Worrell of San Luis Obispo, and Ms. Colleen Foster, of Oceanside, both cities in California, USA. The workshop introduced the Zero Waste concept, the importance of it and how the concept can be achieved. Included in the WRF were examples from different communities and programs around the world. In one of the forum’s scientific sessions, Ms. Carvalho presented “Zero Waste: The World’s Sustainable Growth & Development Processes”. As a final document to the forum, Mr. Anthony and Mr. Worrell, also member’s of the WRF’s Scientific Committee, prepared a final summary of the Zero Waste Workshop.