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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

3 Positions the EU Must Take To Stay Clean on the Circular Economy

Live from the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) to the Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam conventions – Geneva

There is a group of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that it is critical to address to ensure we are moving towards a clean circular economy. Although the EU is continuously setting the tone towards more circularity internally, it has clearly lacked ambition and clarity on the issues at stakes in Geneva this week. This post goes through the details of the negotiations around the global regulation framework of the Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and outlines the positions the EU must take to safeguard a clean future for the circular economy.

A ban on decaBDE without exemptions

On Tuesday, the listing of decaBDE in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention for an immediate ban was discussed. DecaBDE is a toxic flame retardant which is primarily found in the plastics of electronic devices and in some textiles and upholstery. Most countries supported this ban, but several delegations are asking for exemptions to allow for the continued production and use of this toxic POP in certain sectors. The EU in particular is asking for exemptions in the automotive and aviation sectors, despite leading companies in these sectors having already stated that a complete ban would be feasible in a very short time frame (see our latest policy briefing).

End the recycling exemptions for pentaBDE and octaBDE

On Wednesday, the debate turned to the recycling exemptions for pentaBDE and octaBDE which were adopted at a previous COP until 2030. Pakistan, Gabon and Norway in particular held very strong position to end the recycling exemption immediately, to protect the life and health of millions of kids in the global south contaminated by toys and other products made of recycled plastics containing these substances. Canada strongly opposed the immediate termination of the recycling exemptions. EU did not take a clear stand to support Pakistan, Gabon and Norway’s proposal, which is an endorsement by abstention of Canada’s proposal and an incompatible positioning in the context of the clean circular economy that EU is advocating for within its frontiers.

GAIA & Zero Waste Europe delegation meeting with EU delegation leader, Bjorn Hansen Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

Impose strong limits on the levels of POPs in waste

Last but not least, an intense debate is currently taking place about the Low POP Content level (The concentration threshold above which wastes are considered POPs waste) of waste containing PBDEs allowed to be exported under the Basel Convention. In the debate, EU’s is defending a weak limit for POPs in waste which can result in toxic waste being exported outside its borders without effective controls, this represents a clear double standard and an irresponsible position.

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste Europe policy officer made an intervention from the conference floor calling on the European delegates to support the immediate end of the recycling exemptions for octaBDE and pentaBDE, and the inclusion of decaBDE in Annex A of the Stockholm conventions which prohibits production, use and recycling of the chemicals, calling for no exemptions to be made

Delphine Lévi Alvarès making her intervention to the conference floor

The intervention argued that such a ban was essential to prevent the recycling of waste which contains toxic chemicals at the ‘expense of the health of children or recycling workers in the informal sector or other end users of such products globally’. Recently released reports such as IPEN’s Toxic Toys have shown that the recycling of products containing toxic chemicals such as octaBDE and decaBDE has resulted in toys made from recycled plastics which contain extremely high levels of these toxic POPs.

Delphine went on to say “To achieve a circular economy, we need to close the loop of materials by building trust in a toxic-free secondary material market so that both producers and consumers are willing to use them.” Increasing recycling in Europe is critical to reduce the use of virgin resources, but this aim cannot supercede the rights of children, recycling workers and other end users to a safe and healthy environment. In addition, authorising the inclusion of these banned toxic substances in recycled products seriously threatens the credibility and economic model of the entire recycling industry.

Zero Waste Europe calls on the EU to support international policies which are consistent with a clean and safe circular economy today, and take a clear stand on banning POPs at the source and against recycling exemptions of POPs containing materials.


IPEN PRESS RELEASE: At UN meeting, Canada and Chile stand alone trying to legitimize e-waste dumping and promote recycling of toxic chemical into children’s products

Geneva: Today, at the Stockholm Convention 8th Conference of the Parties, Chile and Canada surprised delegates by proposing to allow recycling materials containing a toxic flame retardant widely found in electronic waste (e-waste). The proposal violates the Stockholm Convention which explicitly prohibits recycling and reuse of substances on its list.

DecaBDE is used in the plastic casings of electronic products and if it is not removed, it is carried into new products when the plastic is recycled. Toxicity studies indicate potential adverse developmental, neurotoxic, and reproductive effects, and DecaBDE or its degradation products may also act as endocrine disruptors.

Ironically, a new IPEN study1 shows that the toxic recycling policy advocated by these countries widely contaminates children’s products. In fact, in Canada all sampled toys made of recycled plastic contained both OctaBDE and DecaBDE.

“How can these countries advocate a policy that potentially poisons children?”said Pam Miller, IPEN Co-Chair. “Recycling materials that contain toxic chemicals contaminates new products, continues exposure, and undermines the credibility of recycling.”

The treaty’s expert committee has warned against toxic recycling and explicitly recommended to eliminate these substances from the recycling streams “as swiftly as possible” noting that, “Failure to do so will inevitably result in wider human and environmental contamination… and in the loss of the long-term credibility of recycling”

The proposed recycling exemption also is tantamount to legalizing electronic waste (e-waste) dumping in developing countries which is cynically described as “recycling.”

“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream and now it seems these countries want to make it legal and dump even more,” said Tadesse Amera, PAN Ethiopia. “OECD countries already sends us lots of e-waste and now it seems they want to increase our toxic burden – exactly opposite to the treaty’s goal.”



Bjorn Beeler, IPEN

+46 3179 99 474




IPEN is a global network of public interest organizations working in more than 100 countries to reduce and eliminate toxic substances.   twitter: @ToxicsFree

Press Release

In defense of clean air: Slovenian community defeats multinational cement company

This article was written and produced for the GAIA website, and covers the victory of European GAIA member on the cement kiln issue. 
Thanks to Uroš S. Macerl and Eko krog, the Zasavje region of Slovenia has a reason to celebrate. These grassroots leaders stopped the world’s largest cement company.

Zasavje has the nation’s highest cancer rates, and the multinational cement company Lafarge had long polluted the area. When Lefarge began burning toxic waste in the Trbovlje cement kiln — a disastrous move for human health and the climate — Uroš and the others at Eko krog decided that enough was enough. They organized, and after 10 years of tireless battle, they won.

Today, Uroš is awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his commitment to grassroots organizing in defense of the human right to breathe clean air.

The Story of a Grassroots Victory

Uroš Macerl built and operated one of the largest organic farms in Slovenia on the hill above the Lefarge cement plant. Using his rights as a local land owner, Macerl worked with the community organization Eko krog to legally challenge Lafarge’s permit.

After Lafarge purchased the cement plant, the company began using toxic petrol coke (petcoke) as fuel, causing emissions of carcinogenic chemicals to skyrocket, and posing a serious threat to the climate (petcoke has even higher carbon emissions than coal). Then, the plant obtained a permit to co-incinerate waste in the form of car tires, waste oils, and plastic in 2009 — leading to even more emissions of cancerous chemicals. Burning plastic is known to release dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to man.

Lafarge tried to get away with this pollution through greenwashing and deception. After looking at the results of the emissions monitoring that Lafarge submitted to the Ministry for Environment, Eko krog found that Lafarge had been self-monitoring, without any outside oversight. Throughout the decade long battle, Lafarge would continually doctor its emissions numbers, even going as far as deleting data, or claiming a typing mistake when the emissions were much higher than allowed.

But the truth prevailed. Over time, Uroš was able to grow the campaign to become a large, people-powered movement. In 2010, members of his organization Eko krog blocked the road the Slovenian Prime Minister was travelling on to visit Trbovlje, and would not let him pass until he had heard their concerns about the plant. The Prime Minister would not hear them at the time, but promised to meet them later. He never did. So a few months later over 3,000 protesters demonstrated in front of the government, demanding that the Prime Minister not privilege corporations over people. In 2011 a group of mothers from Zasavje delivered a powerful message to Lafarge management to make their emissions data public. Meanwhile, Eko krog kept up legal pressure, holding government institutions accountable for continuing to allow Lafarge to endanger the lives of Slovenian citizens.

When the ever-deceitful Lafarge was caught using petcoke without permission, the campaign was able to close the plant for good, and instigated legal procedures against the Republic of Slovenia for allowing Lafarge Trbovlje to continually operate without a permit.

A global movement against waste burning in cement kilns

Waste burning in cement kilns has been wrongly heralded by industry as an “alternative fuel” and climate-friendly alternative to coal, and the industry has even claimed climate subsidies meant for clean energy like wind and solar power. These ‘alternative facts’ hide the true cost of these supposed energy-efficient solutions: that waste burning emits high levels of dioxin (a powerful carcinogen) , carbon dioxide, and other pollutants, and has been linked to cancer, respiratory illness, crop loss, and other such devastating effects. It is a step backward for climate progress and prevents us from pursuing much-needed zero waste solutions.

“Burning waste is madness because it destroys natural resources. And burning waste in cement plants is even worse: it is a crime because it poisons people and environment – the crime is supported by lobbied legislation. Zero Waste is an already implemented alternative in many communities around the world,” says Uroš.

Throughout the grueling decade-long fight, Uroš’s persistence and the community’s collective power created a blueprint for countless other regions around the world who are suffering from the injustices of co-incineration in cement kilns. In speaking about the countless setbacks and ultimate victory, Uroš stated, “We do have an advantage. The truth is on our side. We’ll never allow this story to repeat itself again in Zasavje region.”

All over the world, communities are fighting back against the cement industry and their dirty practices and calling for zero waste solutions. Zero waste means setting a new goal for how we live in the world—one that aims to reduce what we trash in landfills and incinerators to zero and to rebuild our local economies in support of community health, sustainability, and justice. It means valuing life over profit, and fighting tirelessly for the right to breathe clean air. Today, we honor Uroš, Eko Krog, and all of the grassroots heroes in similar rights around the world.

The Goldman Environmental Prize is a prestigious award reserved for grassroots environmental activists and is considered a “green nobel prize.” For more information on the prize visitš. For more information on waste burning in cement kilns and organizing around the world, see

The Solution: Zero Waste Conference, Madrid

Joan Marc Simon at The Solution: Zero Waste

Friday 31st of April saw the 150 people gather in the Medialab Prado in Madrid for the Solution: Zero Waste conference. The conference brought together Zero Waste Europe network members, university academics, zero waste activists and municipal representatives to discuss a wide range of zero waste strategies and examples.

The event took place in Medialab Prado, a citizen laboratory of production, research and broadcasting of cultural projects that explore the forms of experimentation and collaborative learning that have emerged from digital networks. The space, provided a great backdrop to an engaging day of talks and discussions. Throughout the day Carlotta Cataldi provided live hand-drawn illustrations of depicting the conversations taking place, producing a lasting visual representation of the conference. Luke Blazejewski also took excellent photos documenting the success of the event.

An illustration by Carlotta Cataldi from the day. Click to enlarge.

The event was opened by José Antonio Díaz Lázaro, General Coordinator of the Environment Programme of Madrid City Council, who explained the importance of good waste management for a city such as Madrid. This led into the first session raising the question of ‘Zero Waste at the Local and Global Level: Utopia or Reality?’ which saw Joan Marc Simon, Zero Waste Europe Director highlight the successes and growth of the Zero Waste Municipalities Network whilst Diana Osuna from the Madrid Zero Waste Platform talked about the challenges and opportunities of organising for zero waste in and around the city.

The next session looked at the significance of the collection of organic waste to a zero waste strategy with presentations with speakers presenting progress in a variety of contexts. The case of the large city of Milan (1.3 million people) was presented by Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee Chairman, Enzo Favoino, whilst not a ‘zero waste city’ has made major progress with separate collection of organics. Ainhoa Arrozpide Landa from Zero Zabor in the Basque country talked about the evolution of their campaign in Gipuzkoa. Other talks in the session examined the myriad of ways that organic waste can be managed at the local level, from the goats of El Boalo – Cerceda – Mataelpino municipality in Madrid to the steps being taken in Catalonia and Pontevedra. The session ended with Beatriz Martín from the Compost Network emphasising the importance of decentralised composting at a municipal level.

An illustration by Carlotta Cataldi from the day. Click to enlarge.

Session 3 was a glance into the world of repair and reuse with hearing stories from repair shop Millor que Nou in Barcelona, the social and environmental benefits repair and reuse processes and the imperative for reuse in Spanish Waste Legislation.

The fourth session of the day highlighted some of the emerging victories in Deposit Return Systems (DRS). From the exciting initiative happening in Valencia put forward by Julià Álvaro fro to the nascent schemes and progress being made in the UK and Scotland as explained by Samantha Harding of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). The session also looked at the bigger picture for DRS schemes and manufacturers responsibilities.

An illustration by Carlotta Cataldi from the day. Click to enlarge.

The final session for the day looked at the challenges and opportunities facing zero waste municipalities and those aspiring to joining the zero waste path. The session was opened by Gabriele Folli from the Environmental Council of Parma, Italy, where a city of 200,000 has just reached a milestone separate collection rate of 80%. The session then looked at issues faced by Madrid as they attempt to overhaul their waste management system. This was followed by stories of grassroots projects in Agro-Composting in Madrid from Franco Llobera and the Vegetable network and local composting by Raúl Urquiaga.

As the day drew to a close, the floor was opened for questions with a number of interesting contributions from the public. Joan Marc Simon then concluded the conference