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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Climate Finance for the Waste Sector: What is it About?

Inter-linkages between waste and climate change issues are not always self-explanatory to the common eye. Apparently it seems that the former deals with the rubbish bin and the latter deals with reducing CO2 and typhoons, doesn’t it?

Well, if you still think this way, please feel very welcomed to check out our previous post about how we can bridge the two campaigning fronts and create mutually reinforcing positive drivers: zero waste solutions offer a very easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while creating green jobs, cutting down waste disposal pollution and building a more resource-efficient society.

The relevance of the connection between the two fields of action increases when we look at the money flows, especially money that is meant to support the mitigation and adaptation of climate change (aka, climate finance) and instead may end up supporting waste incinerators, cement kilns burning used tires or landfill gas capture in open landfills. Precisely, the kinds of projects that contribute to climate change rather than fighting it.

These very unfortunate examples of counterproductive climate finance investments in the waste sector just keep popping up. For example, the GIZ in Germany has donated 4,5 million EUR to República Dominicana to implement a NAMA, i.e. a climate action project, that consists in facilitating the burning of industrial and municipal solid waste, including used tires from all over the country, in cement kilns, on the grounds of reducing fossil fuels and helping the informal recyclers. This information was presented in the NAMA Day at the COP 20 in Lima, last December 2014, in which GAIA/ZWE took the chance to participate and promote zero waste solutions. As it’s been argued elsewhere, burning industrial and municipal solid waste in cement plants will only increase climate change, pollute local communities and displace the recyclers.

neumaticos usados 2
Burning used tires in cement plants instead of fossil fuels can receive climate finance even if this practice is actually increasing climate change.

Another similar situation has emerged in Indonesia, where the national climate plan (Indonesia NAMA plan) has also encouraged cement plants to substitute the use of conventional fossil fuels and burn waste instead, and it’s seeking international financial aid of 2.063 million EUR to do so.


While this news are distressing, one could expect the United Nations Convention on Climate Change or the recently established Green Climate Fund would have endorsed a criteria to ensure that no climate action or climate finance could actually end up increasing climate change. And believe it or not, that’s actually the very real case: no environmental criteria, no exclusion list of projects. As Karen Orenstein cleverly put it, it’s like a torture convention which does not forbid torture.


Alerts levels continue raising as we hear from multilateral development banks and top international finance leaders from the International Development Finance Club that waste-to-energy is one sector they could invest in in order to mitigate climate change. These global chiefs have recently published their Common Principles on what projects will be fit to receive climate finance. As said, waste-to-energy (e.g. incineration of waste, landfill gas capture, and landfill gas combustion) are amongst the eligible candidates.

compost carbon
Large-scale composting and application to soils has proven to be a climate mitigation and soils repair strategy with huge potential.


It must be acknowledged that the Common Principles do refer to recycling projects as potential climate finance investments. Specifically, it reads as “Waste-recycling projects that recover or reuse materials and waste as inputs into new products or as a resource (only if net emission reductions can be demonstrated).”

Thus this may remind us that climate finance is a tool to mitigate climate change in the first place, and it’s up to all of us to ensure it goes to the right places. It’s about time that these financial institutions agree on an environmental criteria, certainly one for the waste sector is badly needed.

As developed countries are committed to provide USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to support concrete mitigation actions by developing countries, we should wonder, keep watching and taking action when necessary if much of that money ends up actually driving waste disposal projects and jeopardizing zero waste strategies that could deliver a much higher quality climate action.

The zero waste agenda for the Catalan elections

In the context of the upcoming municipal election in Catalonia the next 24th of May, the Estratègia Catalana de Residu Zero (Catalan Zero Waste Strategy) has activated its political influence to put pressure on all political parties and request their commitment to a zero waste agenda.




The Estratègia Catalana de Residu Zero was created in 2011 to promote comprehensive waste management plans that would aim at closing the cycles of materials and reducing the production and disposal of waste. The Catalan ZW Strategy has been key in the promotion of alternatives to the throwaway society and it has led the constitution of a network of 60 municipalities committed to Zero Waste principles.






Knowing the importance of working at the municipal and community level to implement Zero Waste solutions, the Estratègia Catalana de Residu Zero has put forward 10 proposals that could feed the zero waste agenda of all political parties. The 10 proposals would be:


  • The approval of a local zero waste plan
  • The establishment targets of waste prevention and separate collection aiming at recycling 70% of municipal waste and at producing less than 100 kg per inhabitant and year of residual waste in two electoral terms.
  • Evaluate the construction of composting facilities.
  • Study the viability of introducing door-to-door collection for household waste.
  • Analyse the production of commercial waste and collect it via a door-to-door system.
  • Take measures on waste prevention and green public procurement within the city council.
  • Promote reuse and repair and facilitate the access to reused products.
  • Implement economic incentives to promote waste prevention and a more effective and better separate collection.
  • Increase the cost of landfilling and incinerating whenever these are municipal facilities.
  • Oppose to any type of incineration of the residual waste of the municipality.


Mercè Girona, president of the Fundació Catalana de Prevenció de Residus i Consum Responsable, (Catalan Foundation of Waste Prevention and Responsible Consumption) in charge of the Catalan Zero Waste Strategy, presented the call for commitment along with the mayors of Cruïlles and Sant Jaume de Llierca and two local councillors of Girona and Celrà.

“In order to fully achieve the Zero Waste objectives, it is essential to count on political will and a legal framework promoting good practices and discouraging those that are unsustainable”, said Girona in her intervention.

The next election on May 7th may be the beginning of a renovated political scenario in Catalonia, may it be one that shows a stronger commitment to building a zero waste future.

Zero Waste France on its Way to COP21

France is preparing to host the 21st session of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), a.k.a. the COP21, and so does Zero Waste France.


The COP21 will take place in Paris from November 30th to December 11th, and the French government will be in charge to facilitate this high-level international negotiation to bring governments to agree on a plan of action to tackle climate change; not an easy job, but certainly one that can’t be postponed, given the urgency to mitigate climate change and support vulnerable  countries and communities that are already suffering the consequences of climate change on the ground.


In this context, Zero Waste France is taking the chance to put waste issues in the climate change agenda and underline the important linkages between these two fronts of action. The team has published a monthly newsletter with a thematic focus on climate change and waste, a brief for MPs is on its way out, and since last week, it has started a series of training for communities and general public.

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, in charge of  Zero Waste France’s Institutional Relations said “Climate change and waste have been treated conceptually as two separate issues within environmental thinking, but in practice they are closely linked. We believe that it is essential for citizens and policymakers to understand better these linkages and the COP21 is an excellent opportunity to work in that direction ”.

Last 25th April 2015, three members of the Zero Waste France team, Delphine, Manon and Anna travelled to Lyon to provide training on Waste and Climate to a newly formed local Zero Waste group.



The aim of this training was to show the impacts of waste management on the climate and how zero waste strategies can help reducing GHG emissions and build a resource-efficient society to stop climate change. In a more practical sense, the training provided communities with tools to reduce waste while fighting climate change.

The training was attended by sixteen members of Zero Waste France Lyon. First, they were given a general explanation on the impact of waste management on climate change, particularly looking at waste disposal options (waste incineration, landfill and related transport), over-consumption and food and product waste. The potential of Zero Waste strategies to reduce  GHG emissions was also underlined. After breaking up in small groups, participants worked on the climate impacts of a product (a mobile phone, a plastic bottle, amongst others) and followed up with a planning session of actions to be carried out in Lyon.


Some of the participants expressed: “It’s very interesting to picture the lifecycle of everyday items” and “There is a lot to be done, it’s a huge responsibility but the COP will be a good opportunity to change things”.

The Zero Waste France team were very happy with this first experience and are planning to repeat this Waste and Climate training in May near Paris and Nantes.

The Circular Economy and REACH – an essential partnership

EEB Chemtrust FoE ZWE

The interaction between product, waste and chemicals legislation is a key aspect of the circular economy. It is an important part of a successful transition to sound material loops, and to our protection from hazardous substances.

It’s important to note that once something becomes waste it is exempted from REACH chemicals law[1]. Instead, EU waste legislation controls who is responsible for the discarded material, who can deal with waste, how it should be processed and restricts its trade around Europe and beyond. This is necessary because of the particular risks posed by waste, including the risk of criminal activity.

If waste is to re-enter the economy, as recycled material incorporated in new products or as a secondary raw material to be traded, it needs to be ensured that it has been processed in such a way as to create a safe product. It is only once a material is no longer waste that REACH chemicals law will apply. This can be established through an end of waste process, e.g. as explained by the UK Government here[2]. Reaching end of waste status requires compliance with chemical legislation to ensure protection of the public and the environment, and to ensure a level playing field with the requirements for virgin raw material.

Particular issues emerge when discarded products contain substances which have since been restricted or otherwise controlled through EU chemicals laws such as REACH. This creates a legacy that recyclers and converters have to deal with. The default position is that these chemicals will also be restricted in end of waste or in new products made of recycled material. Most of the objections to chemical legislation among the recycling industry are related to this issue. In some cases the complaint is based on lack of understanding of how the system works, and the rationale for it. In other cases this is a dispute about the safety and advisability of allowing a specific restricted substance to be incorporated into new products made from recycled material.

The question is therefore about finding the right balance between encouraging recycling and avoiding re-injecting hazardous substances into the economy.

Our KEY principles for a clean, effective and sustainable circular economy

  • A clean, effective and sustainable circular economy requires the removal of problematic substances from products at the design stage. This requires stronger application of REACH, and potentially more product-specific requirements, with the example of the ROHS directive, restricting substances used in electronic equipment, as a potential model. The circular economy and chemical legislation are clear partners in this. The first stage of the waste hierarchy is prevention, which includes avoidance of hazardous materials.
  • Once recycled material re-enters the economy due to it receiving end of waste status, by complying with specific end of waste criteria or being incorporated in a new product, it must be fully compliant with chemical legislation. There is a mechanism under REACH authorisation process to provide exemptions, g. cadmium can be present in certain applications of recycled PVC, in spite of a restriction being in place[3], and we are currently discussing a proposed authorisation for DEHP in recycled PVC[4]. We generally oppose such exemptions, and should they be considered in the future, they must be as limited as possible in scope and time.
  • When a temporary exemption/ authorisation has been granted to enable the continued presence of hazardous substances in products made from recycled material, the material should be labelled and associated to a specific marking. This will ensure easy identification of contaminated products and a clear difference established compared to non-contaminated products. At the moment it is not possible to identify a PVC product containing cadmium.
  • Research and development of processes to remove hazardous substances from waste materials should be encouraged, to assist in cleaning up the circular economy. Also note that granting exemptions and derogations for re-injecting hazardous substances in the economy will negatively affect those European businesses working on safe disposal and elimination of hazardous substances
  • Companies making products should be aware of the chemicals they are using, and which are likely to be restricted in the future, for example by using the SIN List[5]
  • The claims made regarding the impact of REACH on recyclers, particularly SMEs, are not backed by good quality data. A subjective survey was used, asking companies what legislation they thought to be more burdensome without need for any other data and facts to back up their opinion[6]. It is worth noting that the recent “Cry Wolf” report[7] finds large differences between the exaggerated economic costs claimed for new legislation versus the real outcome.


The EU should focus on creating a clean circular economy – without this there is a major risk of a future loss in public and market confidence in recycled material while creating an endless legacy. The main burden for recyclers is the presence of hazardous substances in material, and not REACH and the chemical policy. The focus of the EU should be on getting these hazardous substances out of products and waste, and not endangering public health and the environment by exempting certain classes of businesses or products from safe requirements and by making it impossible to identify those contaminated materials in the future.

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[1] REACH does not apply to waste, as stated in Article 2(2) “Waste as defined in Directive 2006/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council is not a substance, mixture or article within the meaning of Article 3 of this Regulation”

[2] Turn your waste into a new non-waste product or material

[3] REACH helps the circular economy clean up, facilitating sustainable recycling

[4] Replacing chemicals with safer alternatives – or protecting dirty industry?

[5] ChemSec’s ‘Substitute it now’ list of problem chemicals, see

[6] Public consultation on the TOP10 most burdensome legislative acts for SMEs. Available at:

[7] ChemSec report on how companies “cry wolf” in the face of new environmental laws