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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Climate and waste talks in Bonn

On the run-up to the COP in Paris, GAIA, Zero Waste Europe and Zero Waste France participated in the UNFCCC intersessional conference that took place on Bonn, June 3-11. The talks did not deliver significant progress on the deal that is expected to be shaped and agreed by the COP 21 in Paris in 6 months, but nevertheless it was a chance to raise important issues in regards to waste and climate finance.


Zero Waste Europe co-organized together with Carbon Market Watch a side-event on “Effective stakeholder engagement in NAMA development and implementation”. Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, highlighted that the waste sector can make a major contribution to the reduction of GHG emissions and that NAMAs can be an effective policy tool to drive the appropriate investments. NAMAs is the abbreviation for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, which comprise GHG reductions projects in all sectors in all developing countries, as reported in the NAMA Database.

“At this point, thought, we see that the NAMAs in the waste sector do not have a vision for resource efficiency and circular economy” Vilella remarked. “Some NAMAs include incineration of used tires in cement plants as a climate strategy, which shows there is a lack of environmental criteria and vision for the sector”. Burning of waste in cement plants has reportedly been a major concern for communities all over Europe and internationally.

“There are sustainable, toxic-free and resource-efficient ways to reduce GHG in the waste sector, that can also create jobs and stimulate local economies”, Vilella highlighted in her presentation, in regards to several zero waste case studies that have shown major contributions to GHG reductions, both in the North and Global South.

Another important target in these negotiations is the Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to channel financial contributions from the developed countries to the Global South, following a commitment to support vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change and drive transformational change to reduce GHG emissions within principles of sustainable development.

Yet, it is unclear how exactly this will happen, if it may at all. On this regard, GAIA collaborated with Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Friends of the Earth US (FOE), Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America, and Jubilee South Asia/Pacific, on the side-event “Green Climate Fund: How can it support transformational change?”.

This event looked at projects and programs that GCF should and should not support in developing countries, with a particular focus on the role of GCF in energy financing. Another crucial aspect was the role of GCF in ensuring effective multi-stakeholder participation at the national level and the actions that are needed to increase direct access to GCF resources.

The Bonn talks were a mid-term meeting on the way to the important conference in Paris this December, at which governments are hoping to sign a new global pact, to take effect from 2020, when current commitments from developed countries to limit their emissions are set to expire.

European Parliament calls for ambitious circular economy

Last 17th June, the Committee on the Environment, Publich Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament approved the Own Initiative Report “Resource Efficiency: moving towards a circular economy“. Although the report still needs to be approved in the plenary on July the 7th and isn’t legally binding, the European Parliament gives a strong signal on what it wants to see in the future Circular Economy Package, to be presented in the fall.

Sponsored by the Finnish MEP of the EPP Sirpa Pietikäinen, the report addresses the main elements needed to bring a circular economy and to tackle the existing barriers. It is structured in four main areas: resource efficiency, product policy, zero waste and fiscal policies.

When it comes to resource efficiency, the report urges to develop indicators on resource use and resource efficiency and to mainstream them in all EU policy areas. It also proposes to include these indicators in the European Semester. Besides, it proposes a binding resource efficiency target of 30% by 2030 compared to 2014 levels.

On the field of product policy, the Environment Committee’s Own Initiative Report calls, among others, to end up with planned obsolescense, to phase out toxics from products and to favour repairability and recyclability of products.

Other of the proposals are thought to set Europe on track towards zero waste. The report calls for binding targets on waste prevention by 2025, a 70% recycling target of Municipal Waste by 2030 and an 80% recycling target of packaging by 2030. It also includes other targets, such as marine litter reduction target of 50% by 2025 compared to 2014 levels or a foodwaste reduction target of 30% by 2025. Environment Committee also urges to strictly limit incineration to non-recyclable and non-biodegradable waste by 2020. The report also proposes to improve the existing policy instruments, such as EPR schemes, mainstream pay-as-you-throw schemes and taxes on landfilling and incineration; and to make separate collection of biowaste compulsory by 2020.

Other proposals are meant to improve governance and monitoring of EU policies, such as common and clear definitions of municipal waste and of the methodology to calculate recycling and preparation for re-use.

The last of the areas is fiscal policy, where the report suggests to relax VAT for products and services driving circular economy, such as 2nd hand products, repair activities, recycled products, etc. It also underlines the importance of phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies, such as those on incineration.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes this report and calls on Members of the European Parliament to support it on the Plenary vote taking place on July 7th and on the European Commission to take note of this report.



For more info, the report here.

Fill in Bellies Not Bins – Disco Soup in Manchester

Have you heard of Disco Soup? You may, as this event is spreading out throughout Europe as a celebration of taking food waste out of the bins and filling lots of bellies instead. What is used to be known as skip diving, urban gleaning, salvaging, or just recycling perfectly edible food that happened to be in the bins, is now an organized effort that brings together hundreds of volunteers to collect food waste, cook it collectively and eat it to the sound of funky music, positive vibes and a conscious awareness that food waste has no place on a finite planet.

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In Manchester, Disco Soup was a ground-breaking event organized by the Real Junk Food Project Manchester, that brought together more than a hundred volunteers last Saturday June 20th for a day of healthy, nutritious meals for anyone and everyone, on a pay-as-you-feel donation basis. Only for this event, they saved about 700 Kg of food that would otherwise gone to waste from supermarkets, restaurants and a number of other sources that collaborated with the event.

Corin Bell, Director of the Real Junk Food Project Manchester said “we are absolutely thrilled of the response of people in Manchester today and we are hoping to open a Café that will open 3 days a week following the same Disco Soup recipe”. Bell explained that most of food waste had been collected in collaboration with FairShare Greater Manchester, an organization that fights hunger and re-distributes surplus food to charities, food banks and schools in the region

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The popularity of food waste related type of events has only been increasing in the last years, as more and more people is taking action to respond and end the wastage of perfectly edible food. Campaigns and events such as Disco Soup, FairShare Greater Manchester, the Feedback campaign, which includes the Gleaning Network amongst others, are definitely playing a key role not only in increasing awareness, but in actually reducing food waste as a matter of fact.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out in its Global Food Losses and Food Waste report that “roughly one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion ton per year.”

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Moreover, the contribution of food waste to climate change is outstanding, manly from two sources: the GHG emissions related to the production of food and the GHG emissions related to their waste disposal.

To have an idea of how many tons of GHG emissions are related to food production that is never eaten, Tristram Stuart offers an eye-opening figure in Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (2009): assuming that wastage levels by consumers is of around a quarter of all food is representative – as found by WRAP’s study in the UK and by the Department of Agriculture in the US – it can be said 10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in these countries come from producing, transporting, storing and preparing food that is never eaten.

Moreover, the resources devoted to produce food are very significant: every year, according to the FAO, the production of food uses up to 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 per cent of the world’s agricultural area. Similarly, the blue water footprint for the agricultural production of total food waste in 2007 was of about 250km3, which is more than 38 times the blue water footprint of USA households.

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At the end of its life cycle, food waste can be a major source of GHG emissions, most notoriously methane,which has a heat-trapping power 25 times higher than CO2 over a 100-year period. When food waste is landfilled as part of mixed waste, not only it produces GHG, it also can contaminate the soils and water sources with leachates.

If not used for feeding purposes, the alternatives to food waste disposal have been widely explored in Zero Waste Europe’s training on organic waste and various materials, making strong recommendations for composting and anaerobic digestion.
Good news is that awareness is increasing and food waste is decreasing as a matter of fact at least in the UK: since 2007 there has been a 21% reduction according to WRAP. Still British households waste around 22 per cent of all the food they buy. Hopefully the downward trend will continue speedily.



Engaging Hong Kong on the Road to Zero Waste

By Emma Stokking – The Unpackaged Coalition
Pictures Credit – Chandni Chotrani and Bronwen Chan


On June 11th, Hong Kong hosted its first-ever Zero Waste Global Summit to publicly address the issue
of waste reduction in the region and explore possible paths to a greener future. Organized by Ecozine, this
event gathered more than 150 participants and featured very diverse speakers, including local and international experts, government and business leaders, environmental activists and conscious citizens, all determined to make Hong Kong a cleaner, more sustainable place. Here are the highlights of this inspiring day.

Let’s start with a number to help contextualize: 9,000 tons. That’s the quantity of municipal solid waste produced every single day in Hong Kong. A rather alarming figure for a city where recycling and composting facilities remain very limited. According to the Environmental Protection Department, 67% of this trash currently ends up in one of the three landfills of Hong Kong. As this percentage has kept rising for the past five years, these landfills are close to reaching their full capacity, urging the government to find another way to treat all the disposed waste. A potential solution put forward by the authority is to build a giant incinerator with the capacity of burning 3,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day. But zero waste experts from all parts of the world unanimously denounce the many downsides of this project. According to them, this incinerator would not make any economic sense: it would be extremely expensive – costing about 18 billion HKD (2.05 billion €), and ridiculously inefficient in terms of energy produced and number of jobs created. Moreover, it would be devastating for the environment, generating highly toxic bottom ash, and being built close to the breeding area of pink dolphins, a highly endangered species endemic to Hong Kong bay.


It’s with this controversial context that Dr. Paul Connett, best-selling author of The Zero Waste Solution, launched the summit with a fairly animated inaugural note. His message: waste is a human invention and a visible proof of inefficiency. Incinerators are lazy and costly solutions. The solution is to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, both as individuals and communities, to turn our linear economy into a sustainable and efficient circular one. He claimed that, instead of considering incineration, Hong Kong should convert its existing refuse centers into modern recycling and compost facilities.

Skyping in from Brussels, Joan Marc Simon, director of Zero Waste Europe, described how European countries were themselves gradually divesting from incineration and opting for zero waste strategies that prove cheaper, faster to implement, better for the economy and the planet altogether. He presented the successful examples of Ljubljana, the first European capital that declared a zero-waste goal, and Capannori, an Italian city that has one of the highest municipal recycling rates in Europe.


In a much-awaited talk, Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment for the Hong Kong government, acknowledged the learning from these cities and the need to target a circular economy in the long run. But she reaffirmed that Hong Kong’s physical and organizational constraints make the incinerator project the best solution to its urgent needs. However, she ended her speech reminding the audience that her door was open to welcome alternative solutions, providing that every stakeholder commits to taking concrete actions, individuals and businesses alike, as they enjoy more flexibility than the government.


The series of short presentations that followed the debate on incineration proved that many actions have already been taken at all levels of the society to shift towards more sustainable practices. NGOs and grassroots initiatives have been paving the way for a long time, from Plastic Free Seas, an advocacy organization that promotes waste reduction initiatives and education of the public, to Designing Hong Kong, a non-profit organization that focuses on preserving Hong Kong’s biodiversity, safety and quality of life.


Even students took part in the panel discussions, such as 16 year-old Ike Jin Park from Project O2, a student-led organization that aims to promote the use of recycled paper in Hong Kong. Individuals had very inspiring stories to share as well: Claire Lancelot, founder of the blog Zero Waste Hong Kong explained to a captivated audience how she gradually became addicted to living a zero waste lifestyle, growing her own herbs, getting second-hand clothes and toys for her children and giving her compost to a local farmer.

And if efficiency and green arguments were not enough, business leaders were present to remind participants that zero waste practices also represented strong opportunities for innovation. In this regard, ASB Biodiesel is a great example of Hong Kong based clean tech startup that thrives on converting cooking oil into biodiesel. Larger groups are also starting to seize opportunities generated by the spread of zero waste practices: BASF presented Ecovio®, a new technology for compostable bioplastic bags that could prove very useful in a city dominated by tiny spaces where people lack incentives to compost.

Therefore, the summit ended on a very hopeful note. Strong civil society, engaged citizens, business innovations, support from global networks… most of the ingredients to make the city zero waste-ready are already present. What Hong Kong needs is not an incinerator, but a well-coordinated movement that would channel the energy displayed by all these admirable initiatives to fuel an efficient zero waste strategy.

New case study: The story of Gipuzkoa, the fastest transition towards Zero Waste in Europe

This case study proves that a fast transition to meet EU recycling targets is possible in less than 5 years

Zero Waste Europe publishes a new case study and video showing the transition of Gipuzkoa towards zero waste. This province located in the Spanish Basque Country has almost doubled recycling rates in five years and made investing in an incineration plant obsolete.

In 2011, the Province of Gipuzkoa decided to scrap the plans to build an oversized incineration plant and took steps towards Zero Waste, arguing that the plant was highly resource-consuming and it heavily endangered the circularity of resources. On top of saving € 250 million, Gipuzkoa has managed to meet EU targets 5 years earlier than expected.

Today, the province separately collects 51% of its municipal waste and plans to meet 70% by 2020. These improvements are even more significant when considering that only one fifth of Gipuzkoa’s population live in municipalities that have followed a transition, which prove that the results of these municipalities are outstanding, some of them above 80 or even 90% of separate collection.

Executive Director of ZWE, Joan-Marc Simon said “the transition we are seeing in Gipuzkoa proves that reaching the EU target of 50% recycling is completely feasible in only 5 years. Therefore, with enough political it should be possible for laggards to meet the targets for 2020 and aim at more ambitious targets for 2030.”

The drivers behind this change have been: political will, citizens mobilisation and participation, prioritisation of biowaste collection, intensive separate collection at source and not having built incineration capacity which would hijack prevention, reuse and recycling.

In less than five years, Gipuzkoa has moved from pushing for an outdated finalist treatments for waste to become Spain’s leading province in recycling, being above EU’s 2020 targets, and 12 points above Spanish average. Gipuzkoan towns have also proved that kerbside collection remains cheaper than roadside containers, while creating jobs and local economic activity.

Today, these case studies show that, in contrast with the outdated idea of burning or burying our waste, preventing, reusing and recycling it create jobs and resilience, save money, and protect the environment and public health.

You can download the case study here.

Watch the video of this case study



Joan Marc Simon

+32 25034911

Zero Waste Europe was created to empower communities to rethink their relationship with resources. In a growing number of regions, local groups of individuals, businesses and city officials are taking significant steps towards eliminating waste in our society. Read more about us here.

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This is the last of 6 case studies published by Zero Waste Europe. If you want to learn about these amazing practices download the case studies of Capannori (Italy), Argentona (Spain), Vhrnika (Slovenia), Contarina (Italy) and Ljubljana (Slovenia), and review the stories of their successes to date, providing an analysis of the key elements that allowed such impressive transition.

Pope Francis Embraces Zero Waste

The Chief of the Catholic Church just published an encyclical warning about the risks of wasteful societies and calling for Zero Waste.

Two years ago, Pope Francis posted a video on youtube praising waste pickers for their task. At that time, he said that “we live in a wasteful culture in which, we not only waste stuff, but also people”. Alternatives to this culture of waste preserve the environment, create jobs and dignify human lives.

Pope Francis has expressed in several occasions its support to environmental fights.
Pope Francis has expressed in several occasions his support to environmental fights.

More than an isolated case, truth is that, in two years and a half as a Pope, Francis has met waste pickers of India, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, and has certainly addressed environmental issues in his speeches in the past. Early this year, visiting the Philippines he recalled the devastating effects of climate change and how environmental destruction is a source of global suffering. In his speech of January in Manila, Pope Francis warned about the negative implications of wasteful societies and stressed the need to care for the environment.

Today, the Vatican just published Laudato Si, an encyclical in which the Pope goes through major global environmental problems, calls for strong action on climate change, advocates for phasing out toxics and embraces zero waste.

According to the encyclical, “the Earth, our home, seems to turn more and more into a huge garbage dump”, which “is intimately linked to the culture of waste, affecting so much the human beings left behind when the things turn quickly into trash”. The Pope argue that natural ecosystems manage to create closed loops of nutrients and energy, while human beings “have not yet succeeded in adopting a circular pattern of production which ensures resources for all and for the future generations”. He calls, therefore, for limiting the use of non-renewable sources of energy, moderate consumption patterns and increase reuse and recycling.

The encyclical also pays particular attention to the role of toxics and their risk for human health and to the environment, and to climate change. In both cases, the Pope highlights how most vulnerable communities people tend to be affected the most by environmental problems, being, hence, not only an environmental problem but also a social justice one.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the encyclical of Pope Francis and is pleased to see that there is a growing consensus on the need to transform our wasteful societies into zero waste ones. As Paul Connett once said, “God recycles, the devil burns”.


For further information:

Full text of Laudato Si here.

Inspiring and powerful Zero Waste Gathering in Sofia

From Friday 5th to Sunday 7 June, dozens of zero waste campaigners, experts and supporters from across Europe gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria for 3 days of discussion, planning and strategy at the Zero Waste Europe Annual General Assembly, hosted by Zero Waste Europe’s member in Bulgaria, Za Zemiata.

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the Zero Waste Conference opened with a speech from Ivelina Vasileva, the Bulgarian Minister of environment and water

On Friday 5th, the Zero Waste Conference opened with a speech from Ivelina Vasileva, the Bulgarian Minister of environment and water. This was followed by a passionate speech from Enzo Favoino, the Chairman of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee, who told the audience that “we must never surrender to the idea that there is something which is not reusable or recyclable”.

The Director of Zero Waste Europe, Joan Marc Simon (ZWE) emphasised in his speech that zero waste is about “asking the right questions: not ‘Is it better to landfill or incinerate?’ but rather ‘How do you mainstream the support to re-use, recycling, and redesign?”.

On the Friday afternoon there were talks from regional zero waste groups, including Erika Oblak from Zero Waste Slovenia, who presented their success in Ljubljana, the first Zero Waste European capital. Marco Mattiello spoke about the successes of the zero waste strategy in Contarina, Italy, the best performing region in Europe as outlined in the ZWE’s case study about their experience.


Camille Duran in his presentation about zero waste and circular economy

In a series of short presentations, the conference heard the story of a variety of different campaigns and their successes and strengths. These included Camille Duran, from Green White Space, who

examined the economic context for zero waste as part of a larger “sharing economy” in a globalised world. Dimo Stefanov spoke about his challenges in creating a zero waste compost farm, and creating a viable zero waste business in Bulgaria.

Delphine Lévi spoke on behalf of Zero Waste France about the incredible speed at which their campaign has grown, and how zero waste has become “trendy” in France, with the possibility of many significant gains on the horizon.

Victor Mitjans from the Barcelona-based Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i el Consum Responsable, highlighted the use of ‘deposit schemes’ for recyclable materials as a financial incentive to increase the recovery rates of one-way packaging, and put forward the idea for this to be further extended towards other waste streams including precious metals and other pollutants. Csilla Urban, from Humusz in Hungary told the audience about the zero waste events they had held, as well as their plans for the future of Zero Waste in Hungary.

In the next presentation the conference heard from Sofia resident Irena Sabewa who had pioneered a community composting scheme called “living together” bringing together neighbourhood residents and using “community effort to produce community results”.


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Final group picture of the Zero Waste Conference, Sofia.

The presentations ended with a talk from Ilian Iliev from the Bulgarian Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. This talk tied together many of the key aspects of the Bulgarian zero waste movement. With a wide range of community projects focussing on addressing problems with collection, tackling low levels of knowledge and fighting incinerator projects. His closing remarks made clear challenges of tackling the various stakeholders of the zero waste project in Bulgaria, and claimed that it is only through working with these groups that Bulgaria can begin to move up the European ranking for waste management.


Alodia Pérez from Amigos de la Tierra, Zero Waste Europe member organization based in Madrid, Spain.

Saturday saw members of the Zero Waste network looking ahead to the coming years, discussing the priorities for the campaign and strategy for growing, developing and increasing the ‘Zero Waste Cities’ across Europe. The final day of the ZWE Annual Meeting saw a summary of the ideas presented over the previous two days as well as the administrative tasks of the AGM.





Working groups sessions reporting back in plennary.

The meeting closed with an inspirational presentation from Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, Mariel Vilella who highlighted the global scale of zero waste campaigns, covering the work of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the changing landscape of global campaigning.

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Working groups reporting back in plennary at the ZW Europe Annual General Assembly


Throughout the meeting, hundreds of conversations took place, experiences were shared, tactics discussed and strategies developed setting the groundwork for increased pan-European actions and co-ordination. Hearing about the successes and struggles of groups organising for zero waste, left the Zero Waste network enthused, inspired and ready to drive the campaign for zero waste forward.

If you couldn’t make it the ZWE Sofia Meeting, or have only just heard about the ZWE network and want to get involved or help out, you can get in touch via email or have a look to see if there is a local group in your region by checking the Our Network section of the website.