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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Alternatiba: grass-roots alternatives to climate change

After 5,637 km of cycling, the Alternatiba Festival finally arrived in Paris on the 26th September, having left Bayonne in early June and travelled through Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and most of France and gathered in these four months, more than 300,000 people in 187 cities and towns.

Zero Waste France's stall at Alternatiba Paris
Zero Waste France’s stall at Alternatiba Paris

Alternatiba was born two years ago in Bayonne, in the French Basque Country, hoping to present real and grass-roots alternatives to climate change. Two years later, it has become the largest ever environmental festival in France and it has raised awareness about climate change as a systemic problem, requiring systemic changes.

The weekend in Paris consisted of 14 different “neighbourhoods”, from ‘Energy’ to ‘Zero Waste’, but also ‘Banking’,and ‘Agriculture’, emphasizing that the fight against climate change is diverse in itself and requires efforts from all sectors. More than 60,000 people visited the stalls of NGOs, associations and civil society, attended talks, ate ‘un-wasted food’ at the Feed the 5000 event, and generally enjoyed the good mood and atmosphere of the people mobilized and engaged for the betterment of the planet, our present and our future.

Alternatiba Paris
The Alternatiba Festival in Paris

Zero Waste was particularly visible aspect of the Paris Alternatiba Festival thanks to the efforts of our friends at Zero Waste France who provided their expertise on how to minimize waste at the event: deposit and return cups, increasing the segregation of biowaste and compostable products, ensuring proper information, etc. At the same time, the Zero Waste neighbourhood stressed the importance in the fight against climate change of shifting from wasteful societies to zero waste societies. Zero Waste France presented their Plan B’OM, a citizens-led alternative plan to the construction of a big incinerator in Ivry (Paris region), organized workshops on how to make fabric bags and another on the importance of buying in bulk, and how to do so. Their rubbish autopsy was also a success, showing that there are still many non-recyclable products that need to be re-designed.

Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth France) presented a guide on re-use and participated in a debate on ‘planned obsolescence’ along with HAP, a new organisation created to fight the artificial limiting of a products life. Other stands offered training in composting and vermi-composting or presented warnings about the most useless big investments in waste facilities in France (mostly MBT plants and incinerators). Repair café demonstrated how to empower citizens re-use their products and other groups showcased upcycled objects.

Waste management at Alternatiba Paris
Waste management at Alternatiba Paris

The Zero Waste neighbourhood was very well complemented by the ‘Water’ neighbourhood, where Surfrider highlighted marine litter and plastics, the ‘Banking’ neighbourhood advocating for the divestment from environmentally toxic projects, such as incinerators, and by the ‘Housing’ neighbourhood that underlined the importance of green building and recyclable construction materials.

Overall, the Alternatiba Festival was successful in making the case that there are alternatives to climate change in addition to energy transition and that without them, it will not be possible to mitigate the effects of climate change.


Highlights from Zero Waste Week

This year saw a significant growth for Zero Waste Week, held between 7th – 13th of September. What has previously been a national UK based week expanded internationally drawing participants from across the world. The theme for this years Zero Waste Week, was that of ‘Reuse’. One of the ‘3 R’s’, reuse is an essential aspect of any zero waste strategy, and is near the top as one of the ‘most favoured options in the ‘Waste Hierarchy Pyramid’.

Prior to the start of Zero Waste Week 2015, many pledges were received from individuals committing to reducing waste. The website for the week, hosted the pledges from all around the world, including individuals in Poland, Tunisia, Wales, the United States, Mexico, Australia, Germany and many other countries.

Kornelia from Warsaw, Poland said “I started the Zero Waste project in my family in July 2015 and I try to respect all 5 rules of Zero Waste. I write about it on my blog”

Hana from Tunisia said “I pledge to make my own reusable bags”

In the UK, Zero Waste Week was celebrated in Parliament in an Early Day Motion recognising the hard work carried out by founder Rachelle Strauss, and the wide reach and success of the week. The week was further referenced by Kerry McCarthy MP who introduced a bill proposing a reduction on the ‘obscene amounts of food needlessly wasted through the food industry supply chains’, and making this waste available to charities and people in poverty.

#ZeroWasteWeek ideas for reuse
#ZeroWasteWeek ideas for reuse

Klaus from Munich, Germany pledged to “Buy no plastic packaging [and] recycle waste for different uses”

The massive online response to Zero Waste Week meant that many innovative, and exciting zero waste solutions and ideas were presented from around the world. Kate from Plastic is Rubbish, presented a detailed guide of how to safely drink water in China without resorting to plastic bottles.

Over 40 local authorities are on the Zero Waste Week mailing list and 12 councils joined in the week on twitter, and many businesses participated in the week by implementing new schemes and efforts to reduce their waste, collectively making a significant impact on the quantity of waste produced.

The increasing reach of Zero Waste Week stands as an exemplary model for moving towards a zero waste world. With participants in all levels of society, and increasing recognition from national legislative bodies, it seems that zero waste ideas are becoming popularised.

Valerie from Paris, France, pledged to “Avoid every kind of packaging”

Many more exciting events such as ‘repair cafés, smoothie bikes, roadshows, meals made from ‘waste’, swap events, and art projects’ also took place during the week, with a huge response on twitter under the hashtag #ZeroWasteWeek

With the EU currently in the process of preparing a the circular economy package, these efforts should demonstrate the potential and energy for waste reduction in our economy from across Europe, as well as the recognition of the importance of waste within our supply chains.


Alappuzha India, Zero Waste Town

This article is the third in our “Waste & Climate Solutions” series, detailing zero waste stories from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution from a different region for the next 2 days until 27 September. The other articles in this series are São Paulo’s Commitment to Household Composting, and Boston Builds Solutions.

In this article we hear about how the Indian town of Alappuzha, made drastic improvements in organic waste management, through the installation and community management of aerobic compost bins across the town. A move which will result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of landfilled organic waste. Whilst Alappuzha might be an exceptional case in India, it is hoped the model can be expanded to other towns and cities across the country. With the potential to revolutionise waste management as a climate solution in India.


Zero Waste Town – Alappuzha

Excerpts from Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac’s article on Alappuzha, an elected representative from the constituency of Alappuzha in Kerala. Edited by Zero Waste Europe & GAIA

 

No other Indian State has been able to revolutionise municipal solid waste management in the same way as Kerala. Kerala has historically enjoyed social advantages such as total literacy, better healthcare, effective land reform and decent housing for almost everyone. This may not be the situation in most parts of our country. Nevertheless, there are significant lessons to be learned from Alappuzha.

 

Alappuzha – A historic town

Alappuzha is a sleepy old town situated between the great Vembanad lake and the sea, nearly 60 kilometres south of Kochi. The port town, established by the king of Travancore in the late 18th century, had grown along the two trunk canals connecting the port to the great lake. The web of canals in the city and its surroundings earned Alappuzha the name, “Venice of the East”. It became the major port and industrial town in southern Kerala. But by the 1970s, it began to resemble a ghost town, as its port was eclipsed by Kochi’s and the coir industry moved out. This decline continued till the late 1990s, when backwater tourism gave it a new lease of life. But by then, the canals had got silted and become garbage pits. The town also began to rapidly lose its architectural heritage, a process that has been marvellously documented by Laurie Baker through his inimitable sketches and comments in Alleppey — Venice of the East (1991).

Photo by Evgeni Zotov licensed under creative commons
Alappuzha – Photo by Evgeni Zotov licensed under Creative Commons

 

The decline

The insanitary conditions made the town an abode of ill health. In the state with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality, we had a paradox of high morbidity, dominated by environment-related traditional diseases. Alappuzha became notorious as one of the most unclean towns in Kerala, seriously jeopardising its future as a tourism centre. Things came to a head in 2001, when the transport of solid waste from the town to its central processing plant in the neighbouring Panchayat was disrupted. Though called a processing plant, it was really a dumping yard and an environmental hazard. The local population rightfully protested and blocked the movement of waste. The streets of the town were littered with garbage. Finally, an agreement was brokered with the protesters, reducing waste movement from 50 tonnes a day to five tonnes. The municipality pursued an aggressive policy of landfilling within the town, an evidently unsustainable policy.

 

With centralised processing ruled out, at least for the time being, what was to be done? Scavenger’s Son (1947), the first novel of the Jnanpith award winner, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, an illustrious son of Alappuzha, held a clue. The novel, narrating the story of three generations of scavengers of the town, created such a social stir that it put an end to the century-old institution of manual scavenging in Alappuzha. The human excreta dumping yard in Sarvodayapuram was used for other solid waste from the town. The human excreta depot shifted to latrines within the town itself. Almost all the houses in the town now have latrines that are either inbuilt or in the compound. This raised a simple question. If human excreta could be processed in our own houses, why not the little bit of kitchen waste? The town folk usually lumped together all sorts of waste into a plastic kit and demanded that the municipal corporation collect and process the garbage. It was the duty of the present generation of sanitation workers in the municipality to segregate the waste. A new edition of Scavenger’s Son was in order.

 

Processing at Source

That was how a people’s campaign for processing waste at the source was born. A change in mindset was required. Normally, all government programmes consider sanitation to be merely an issue of technological choice. This was our major point of departure. Our pilot project for 12 wards was funded by the sanitation mission of the government of Kerala. But then it was converted into a popular campaign for better sanitation.

Coir Rope making - photo by Ajay Jain licensed under Creative Commons
Coir Rope making – photo by Ajay Jain licensed under Creative Commons

 

The approach was simple. Every household was to install a biogas plant or pipe compost to process its organic waste. Three wards have already achieved this. If, for some reason, a household was not able to process its waste, it should not be littering the street. Anybody caught doing so would be fined. The organic waste was to be brought to the collection points set up by the municipal corporation, which would compost it in aerobic compost bins installed in various parts of the city. The aerobic composting system in Alappuzha is an innovation by the Kerala Agricultural University where layers of organic waste and dry leaves are laid in a bin with sufficient ventilation. Inoculum cultured from cow dung is sprayed on dry leaves before a layer of organic waste is deposited over it. Each bin can process two tonnes of waste and in three months, high quality compost is ready. Instead of being garbage collectors and segregators, municipal workers now manage community compost bins.

 


Initial Opposition

Initially, wherever we attempted to put the compost bin, there was stiff local opposition and the plans had to be shelved. So we chose the worst garbage dumping areas in the town to set up our compost bins. Nobody objected. Nothing could be worse than the existing situation. These sites were cleared and the sheds housing the bins decorated with plants and murals. The artists of Kochi Biennale lent their support in setting up the largest community compost centre, WATSAN Park. All meetings of the sanitation campaign are normally held at this park. Visitors and curious onlookers are amazed that there is no smell. The place truly has been converted into a park, with a vertical garden, poly house and flower pots. Thus, we broke the backbone of the opposition to community compost bins.

 

There are two innovations worthy of mention in our biogas plant and pipe compost campaign. Heavily subsidised programmes have generally failed in Kerala and other parts of the country. There are two reasons for this. One, sufficient attention is not paid to user education. The service provider installs the plant, pockets the service charge and moves on. Even if user meetings are held, they are normally attended by the men who do not handle the waste processing. Because of faulty handling, most plants break down after some time. Second, there is no local maintenance team that could respond quickly to plant breakdowns. Sooner or later, the biogas plants and pipe composts are discarded and can become another hazard. Our campaign involves intense, targeted awareness programmes and also a maintenance team of two or three trained women in every ward.

Mural by Kochi Biennale artist (not one mentioned in article) - Photo by -Reji licensed under Creative Commons
Mural by Kochi Biennale artist (not one mentioned in article) – Photo by -Reji licensed under Creative Commons

 

Commercial establishments are to segregate their waste and either process the organic refuse themselves or enter into a contract with a service provider to remove it. Most of the waste is further segregated as feed for fish, chicken or pigs. The rest is composted. Just through systematic segregation, most of the organic waste can be transformed into inputs for agriculture. The plastic waste is periodically collected and given to contractors for recycling. We intend to collect the e-waste and store it till the government establishes a centralised processing plant.

 


Community Participation

The resident associations and the neighbourhood women’s groups of Kudumbashree are the main organisational support for the campaign. There is also a band of committed local resource persons, many of whom are experts with technical competency. Schoolchildren organised in WATSAN clubs are the main sanitation messengers to households. Every second Saturday, student leaders meet to chalk out certain simple activities that can be undertaken. Songs, street plays, exhibitions, marches and so on are effectively utilised for environment creation.

 

Currently, efforts are being made to scale up the Alappuzha experience to the rest of Kerala.

 

We cannot claim that we have achieved total sanitation in Alappuzha. But the difference between the situation two years back and the present is too marked for anybody to miss. Today, the transport of waste to the centralised processing plant has completely stopped. But the city is clean.


Boston Builds Solutions

This blog is the second article in our series on “Waste & Climate Solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution across the world for the next 3 days until 27 September. Yesterday we told the story of São Paulo’s household composting schemes which have resulted in a significant reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions from landfills.

Today, our article looks at the zero waste model of CERO in Boston, where the innovative worker co-operative had provided a strong economic boost for the local community whilst simultaneously working to reduce GHG emissions. Find out how below.


This following article is based on an interview with Alex Papali, an organizer with Clean Water Action and the Boston Recycling Coalition; and Lor Holmes, a cooperative worker-owner and business manager at Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO) in Boston.

Imagine a city where all products are reused, repaired, or recycled, and all workers make a family-supporting wage. Where local economic development projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate.

Boston, Massachusetts is on its way.

Last year, the Boston Recycling Coalition submitted a set of “Zero Waste Recommendations” to the city government detailing a proposal for Boston to vastly expand their recycling and composting programs, with the ultimate goal of a 90% recycling rate. The final Climate Action Plan adopted a zero waste goal, which the coalition is working to strengthen and implement.

Most of Boston’s garbage is currently burned in incinerators. Garbage incinerators (sometimes falsely named “waste-to-energy facilities) are major contributors to climate change—burning waste emits even carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. On the flip side, community-led zero waste solutions like recycling and composting have enormous benefits for clean air and the climate while revitalizing local green economies.

This model is already happening at CERO, a worker-owner zero waste coop in Boston.

While providing family-supporting jobs for the community, CERO works with businesses on separating out materials that can be recovered. They then collect this waste in a truck and bring it to facilities where it can either be recycled or returned to the soil as compost. The COOP diverts thousands of tons of waste per week from being burned or buried, and is still expanding.

CERO’s board members and employees are people like Guadalupe Gonzalez and Josefina Luna, who have been recycling informally for years or decades. Guadalupe Gonzalez used to do backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings during the day while picking bottles from the trash at night. She was one of the thousands of underrated recycling workers, earning precious extra money to support her family. Josefina Luna explains that, at CERO, “Now we can earn a living while protecting the environment.”


São Paulo’s commitment to household composting

Zero Waste Solutions to Climate Change

This blog is the first in our series on “Waste & Climate solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution from a different region for the next 4 days until 27 September. This edition covers the municipal composting scheme implemented in São Paulo, which gathered large numbers of participants and was responsible for preventing 250 tons of food waste from going to landfill and thereby preventing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the landfilling of organic waste. To find out more about the ‘Power of Compost’ have a look at our post for International Compost Awareness Week or our report back on our organics management training. Read our second post in the series, on Boston’s worker co-operative recycling company.


Dan Moche, Claudio Spinola and Magdalena Donoso*, September, 2015

 

Although landfills have not always been the main destination for waste in São Paulo, this practice was massively expanded until it reached  a critical situation in 2013. Until then, 100% of the organic waste, 95% of dry waste and 100% of all residual waste would go directly to two specific landfills, the CTL Landfill (Central Waste Treatment Leste) and the Caieiras Landfill.

The motivation to reverse this situation was triggered by changes in legal obligations within the new Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS)i, and the urgency of extending the life of these landfills to save land space in the metropolitan region. Moreover, the solid waste management sector in São Paulo was the second largest source of GHG emissions (Municipal Inventory, 2012), being responsible for the 15.6% of the total GHG emissions in the city, 14% of those coming from landfills. In this way, reducing the contribution of the waste sector to the carbon footprint of the city was critical, and composting was a particularly well-suited opportunity, as studies showed that the practice of composting would potentially decrease 5-10 times the emissions of methane in landfills,ii integrate efforts to reduce leachate while increasing the benefits from retaining organic matter to provide nutrients and improve soil properties in the state of São Paulo.

 

Composting workshop with officials from the city of Sao Paulo
Composting workshop with officials from the city of Sao Paulo

Participatory implementation

The implementation of the Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS) began with citizens participating in 58 events with more than 7,000 participants, which was organised by the Public Administration of São Paulo. 800 delegates elected by thousands of São Paulo citizens and supported by experts and technicians from the authority ad hoc, agreed on the main guidelines as to what to do with the waste generated in the city.

These points formed part of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan of the city of São Paulo – PGIRS, published in early 2014, and determined the recovery, over twenty years, of 80% of all compostable waste and recyclable waste. Among the approved guidelines, source separation of organic waste, selective collection, composting, mechanical biological treatment (MBT) and promotion of home composting were included.

Delivery of compost kits to selected households
Delivery of compost kits to selected households

“Compost São Paulo”

Home composting began to be encouraged by the government of São Paulo shortly after the publication of the PGIRS in June 2014 by delivering compost bins to houses. In six months, 250 tons of organic waste were recovered.

The project called “Composta São Paulo” handed kits for home composting with worms to 2,006 households in the city of São Paulo. Through a public announcement, the project achieved 10,061 registrations in 40 days on the website, from various regions of São Paulo. Those selected were from 539 apartments and 1,467 houses in eight regions.

“Now I pay a lot of attention to my organic waste and also my neighbours waste. I’m more critical of how much food to buy. I have affection for worms”, said one of the participants in the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program. 

The delivery of compost bins was accompanied by 135 training workshops for over 5,000 participants. Participants were encouraged to respond to scheduled polls and assume the role of multipliers of home composting.

After two months, the participants were invited to other workshops (88 workshops), where they received advice and techniques for planting in small spaces in order to use the produced compost. The questions and concerns raised were shared and addressed in a virtual community on Facebook. The community of “composters” (comunidad de “composteros”) finished the first year of the project with more than 6,000 members.

Subsequent information gathering on program results indicated that 89% of participants significantly decreased the amount of waste for collection. There were no significant differences in the evaluation of the practice of composting between social classes or between types of housing and only 47 households (2.3%) gave up the activity. Meanwhile, 97% of respondents of a survey to measure the level of satisfaction (1,535 people) were satisfied or very satisfied with the technique, 98% considered it a good solution for organic waste and 86% considered it easy to practice.

Strong economic basis

In its economic analysis, the Municipality of São Paulo found that the costs of delivery of compost, monitoring and technical assistance provided by the local government could be covered through the savings achieved in reducing the collection, transport and disposal of the organic waste in landfills. The study compared the (estimated) costs of collection, transportation and disposal of organic waste in landfills with the (estimated) costs that compost bins, delivery, communication, workshops, etc, would imply. Then, the calculation was made with what was actually spent to develop the above actions in the context of “Compost São Paulo”, working with 2006 households. Considering the “contagious” effect explained below, costs would be matched within 5 years.iii

The communication strategy and the contagious effect

The mayor of Sao Paulo at the first delivery
The mayor of Sao Paulo at the first delivery

Linking the practice of home composting with participation was an important part of the communication strategy developed for this program in terms of the involvement of the population. In addition to the novelty of the composting process itself, and the use of modern techniques of social communication aroused interest in the project, and the desire to “be a part”.

The multiplier effect was immediate. The results of the survey indicated that 29% helped others who did not receive compost bin, to make, install or manage one. Participants witnessed a contagious effect, which attracted 2,525 new people to try to assemble or buy their own composting system.

“We realized that every time we went to throw the waste into the compost bin we felt a deep sense of wellbeing … kind of like we had stopped making the city a dirty place and turned garbage into flowers. We exchanged ideas with other people who were doing composting and they had the same feeling! Composting is therapeutic!”, read the testimony of another participant at the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program. 

27% of participants donated worms for others to start practice. Also, behavioural changes in other areas also came to light: 84% said they greatly expanded their knowledge of urban sustainability; 96% considered themselves far more diligent in handling properly the waste produced; and 54% said they began to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables.

The new “master composters”: dream big, start small, and act now!

The 2,525 new participants, excited by the project members themselves, are a sign of the potential for citizens to transition from mere objects of public policy to true subjects in the exercise of their citizenship: in this case, transforming themselves from “trained” to “master composters”. By attracting new participants and sharing their learning, project members should be recognized for what they really are:  “master composters”.

On the other end, public managers are called to support what people can build. Just dream big, start small, and act now. Home composting is an empowering tool for public policy, and of collective commitments, with a multiplier effect that encourages responsible behaviour with base on joy, discovery and learning.


* Authors: Dan Moche Schneider, who coordinated the area of ​​organic waste in the PGIRS of Sao Paulo / Claudio Spinola, ideologue and operator of “Compost São Paulo” / Magdalena Donoso, Coordinator for GAIA Latin America

i Obligation to recover waste under the National Solid Waste Policy – PNRS, approved in 2010.  

ii Inacio, Caio de Teves. O papel da compostagem de resíduos orgânicos urbanos na mitigação de emissão de metano. Caio de Teves Inácio, Daniel Beltrão Bettio e Paul Richard Momsen Miller. Embrapa Solos, 2010. 22 p.

iii Calculations estimated by Dan Moche, former Coordinator at the Organic Waste PIGRS of Sao Paulo. Internal economic analysis of the Municipality of Sao Paulo.