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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

6 ways embodied energy could shape policy in Europe

There are many methods for calculating the embodied energy contained in a product. In our latest briefing paper, based on research by Eunomia we explore how an embodied energy indicator could be applied to European product policy to drive the circular economy forward, increasing the retention of valuable resources within an increasingly closed loop. 

Embodied energy is a widely used and well developed concept, defined a the ‘the sum of energy requirements associated directly or indirectly with the delivery of a good or service’. For the circular economy in Europe, the recycled content of products, or their durability and life-cycle is rarely considered from an environmental perspective in the design phase. By including the concept of embodied energy in product policy it could be used to encourage the redesign of consumer goods to retain embodied energy through the use of recycled materials, extended lifecycle, durability or repairability.

This briefing puts forward 6 initial proposals on how this concept could be included and used to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the energy embodied in our products, and to encourage improvement in the circular economy:

  1. A per household embodied energy indicator for municipal waste
  2. Indicators set for packaging waste based on cumulative energy demand
  3. An indicator (as above) could reflect the level of recycled content in a product
  4. An Indicator could also consider climate change impacts in combination with the other factors
  5. Develop Combined Indicators Covering Embodied and energy in use for specific products – particularly consumer electronics
  6. Industry benchmarks on embodied energy for specific products. Developed alongside the Product Environmental Footprint pilot studies

The use of embodied energy in product policies could also reinforce our recent calls for the increased use of economic incentives in circular economy policy. Our report ‘Rethinking Economic Incentives for Separate Collection‘ highlights a number of different products which could be subject to new incentive based return schemes. 

The full briefing on embodied energy which goes into more detail about these recommendations is available for download on our website.


#Designed4Trash award: Styrofoam Containers

Styrofoam containers have been voted the 2nd most wasteful item at the Designed For Trash Awards, organised by the People’s Design Lab during last May 2017. Participants on this popular contest have also suggested sustainable alternatives to replace these problematic containers, which are responsible for an increasing amount of plastic pollution on the environment.

Styrofoam – what do we know about it?

Styrofoam comes in all shapes and sizes for purposes ranging from packing material to holding your soda pop, most of us have grown up with it yet what do we know about it?

Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic. Its history is surprisingly old, dating back to 1839, when German apothecary Eduard Simon, isolated polystyrene from natural resin. Over 100 years later, a process was invented to commercially manufacture polystyrene (including the foam version “styrofoam”) and the world of products, food and packaging was forever changed.  

Styrofoam has an increasingly bad rap as it has an impressive lifespan i.e. forever.  Because of this, it is now taking up vast amounts of space in landfills across the world, or is afloat at sea, where it is often accidentally eaten by a hungry turtle, sea bird, fish, whale, or whatever else mistakes it for food. In fact, Styrofoam has been labeled one of the top sources of marine litter. And all the while, this buoyant white substance is leaking harmful chemicals. It’s main component – styrene- is a carcinogenic substance.  Prolonged exposure can cause irritation the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, and has also been linked to fatigue, depression, lymphoma, and leukemia.  Disturbingly, styrene residue has been found in 100% of human fat tissue (source).

Many restaurants, events, and companies still resort to styrofoam, often due to a lack of awareness about alternative disposable dishware.

Needless to say, we must make some adjustments for sake of our health and our environment. Fortunately, it’s 2017 and intelligent, inspired people have come up with a variety of plant based food containers to mitigate the styrofoam apocalypse.


Never too late to move on!

Reusable Alternatives to Styrofoam

The best alternative to styrofoam containers, and other “single-use” take-away containers, are the reusable options. Simply, you can start changing the styrofoam trend by bringing your own food containers when eating out. The options are many, from stainless steel tiffins, to the classic glass tupperware or the innovative Boc’n roll (a plastic sack that you can securely bundle your takeaway in).  For restaurants that use plastic tupperware, wash and return them next time for your next meal there. They will likely be happy to re-use it!

        Boc’n roll

More and more options seem to emerge. In Switzerland, the company reCIRCLE has invented the very first system which provides restaurants with reusable containers for take-away customers. When the customer buys food in their take-away container, they pay a “deposit” on it and once they have used it, they can bring it back to the restaurant next time, and get another reusable containers for no extra fees, or simply get their money back. This is system is spreading out quickly in Switzerland and hopefully it will land in more countries!


Not only are these options more sustainable, they just sound like more fun to eat and drink out of!


Single-use Alternatives to Styrofoam

However, when these reusable options are not available and there is no way to avoid the use of a single-use item then there are several biodegradables solutions that in terms of “end-of-life” of the product are less problematic than styrofoam or plastic.

Corn starch – Essentially, corn starch based food containers use corn-based polymers (PLA) instead of petroleum based.  Because of this, these food containers look and feel similar to traditional styrofoam but can be composted.

Plant leaves – These leaf based food containers are rapidly growing in popularity because of their durability, biodegradability, and also, they just look really cool.  The process uses the pulp of fallen palm leaves and represses them into dishware.

Edible – Various companies have been making headlines as of late for producing edible food containers.  The company Loliware uses a seaweed base to create flavored drinking cups and the company Munch bowls has designed a wheat based bowls.

From the most preferred reusable options to the biodegradable single-use containers, we could see that in this day and age the negative impact of styrofoam is simply unnecessary. Making changes in our own lives, while also demanding change in food industry standards, is the way forward to a foam free world.

If you want to check out all solutions suggested by the People’s Design Lab users click here!

Matt @ Zero Waste Europe

I am the Communications & Programme Officer for Zero Waste Europe. I joined Zero Waste Europe in July 2015, moving to Manchester, UK after living in Bologna, Italy, and working as a freelance campaign communications consultant. Before Bologna I worked for People & Planet as a Corporate Power Campaigns Co-ordinator, supporting UK student groups campaigning around workers’ rights in the garments and electronics industries. I have been long been involved in grassroots social movements, and campaigns for social and environmental justice. I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in Anthropology and Classical Literature & Civilisations.

Environmental NGOs join forces for a Mediterranean free from plastic pollution

Environmental organisations from all around the Mediterranean are launching the Break Free From Plastic Movement in the region, to save the cradle of human civilisation from a plastic pollution crisis. At their first meeting in Barcelona last June, they agreed on a manifesto calling for systemic change along the whole plastic value chain to prevent plastic pollution at source.

The Mediterranean sea is affected by one of the highest concentrations of plastics in the world. Plastic litter accumulates from the sea surface to the seafloor, on the shorelines of even the most remote islands, and in the deep sea. It conveys non-indigenous and potentially harmful organisms, transfer toxic chemicals and fragment into microplastics, that can subsequently be ingested and may end up poisoning the food chain. Plastic pollution in the Mediterranean must be stopped before it’s too late.

Most of the plastic pollution in the Mediterranean comes from land-based activities. Far from being a purely marine issue, it is rooted in our unsustainable production and consumption patterns, ranging from bad product design and consumption habits, to inappropriate solid waste management practices at all stages on land and at sea, to discharges of inappropriately treated or untreated municipal sewage and industrial waste. This is why end-of-pipe solutions such as marine litter cleanups are not enough: as pointed out by Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic Movement, “to prevent the Mediterranean sea from turning into a ‘plastic soup’, we need to adopt a holistic approach which focuses primarily on prevention rather than cure.”

In October 2017, the European Commission will host the Our Ocean conference in Malta, which will also touch upon the future of the Mediterranean. At the same time, the Commission is working on a Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy. This conference is a tremendous opportunity to take ambitious commitments to break free from plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, and the EU Strategy for Plastics must reflect these commitments: the time to act is now!

Download the Manifesto of the Break Free From Plastic Movement in the Mediterranean

The Break Free From Plastic Movement was created in September 2016 by 90 organisations from all over the world willing to tackle together the issue of plastic pollution. The movement has developed regional cooperation dynamics across Africa, America, Asia and Europe, and within just a few months it has been joined by  800 organisations. Find out more, and join the movement!


Sardinia demonstrates that islands can achieve zero waste

Over the years, the island of Sardinia has served as model for Zero Waste thanks to their incredible recycling efforts and local initiatives. By challenging our perception of what we can achieve by working together, Sardinia has shown us that Zero Waste is possible on islands too.

Comprised of nearly 2000 kilometers of white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise hued waters and vast mountains touting peaks as high as 1 800 meters, on the surface Sardinia has all the paradisiacal characteristics to make for a breathtaking getaway. From that perspective, it might seem like Sardinia is simply an island of superficial beauty, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What lies behind those spectacular sights is just as extraordinary.

Through active collaboration between the people and the government, Sardinia has taken major steps in tackling waste head on. It’s an impressive feat, especially when we consider the fact that the island faces some of the largest roadblocks in terms of setting up zero waste initiatives, those being their remote location away from the mainland and the large volumes of tourists passing through at any given time.

Their efforts make Sardinia one of the brightest examples of municipal Zero Waste management for high density touristic locales. Yes, it can be done.

Backed and pushed by Zero Waste Sardinia and Zero Waste Italy, Sardinia has implemented a door-to-door separate collection system where the municipalities themselves are held accountable and are either punished or rewarded for the amount of waste they bear. Through this initiative, Sardinia was able to achieve a regional recycling rate of 56% back in 2015. The 2015 report on Sardinian Urban Waste Management shows that, out of 377 municipalities, a staggering 206 have achieved a recycling rate above 65% while 47 hold a rate above 75%. It’s clear that because of these efforts, Sardinia’s overall amount of waste sent for disposal is decreasing. But by how much?

Track record of the production of municipal waste in Sardinia (figures expressed in tonnes/year)

Incredibly, Sardinia has reduced waste generation by 16% (143 724 tonnes) over a span of just 9 years. If that’s not worth shouting from the mountaintops, I don’t know what is!

When delving into the specifics of the 56% from the 717.242 tonnes that have been separately collected, we can see that Sardinia displays considerable growth in collection efforts on almost all fronts.

Comparison of the amount of material separately collected in 2015 and 2014 (tons / year)

Each year, through greater municipal effort and increased community involvement, more Zero Waste learning opportunities are available in schools, more locally organized meetings centered around waste are popping up, and more information about Zero Waste is being shared between Sardinians, ultimately leading to their success in continually reducing their overall MSW.

Sardinia has shown the world that no matter the insularity or the tourist pressure, achieving Zero Waste starts at the local level. They’ve shown us that by incentivizing local governments to tackle waste, a country’s Zero Waste goals become more ‘tangible’ for the people as they’re able to feel a direct connection with what’s happening in their very own community and in turn, are more motivated to make the extra effort.

This is a wakeup call for many countries in Europe that are spending large sums on waste management but still underachieving when it comes to recycling. It just goes to show that it’s not about the money you spend, rather, it’s about the message you spread and the people you empower. Sardinia proves that there’s truth in that.

Let’s join them!

On October 4-6 2017, Zero Waste Europe and Zero Waste France invite you to join a study tour to explore Sardinia’s best practices in terms of waste management. The study tour will take place in French and Italian. Find out more and get inspired!

Matt @ Zero Waste Europe

I am the Communications & Programme Officer for Zero Waste Europe. I joined Zero Waste Europe in July 2015, moving to Manchester, UK after living in Bologna, Italy, and working as a freelance campaign communications consultant. Before Bologna I worked for People & Planet as a Corporate Power Campaigns Co-ordinator, supporting UK student groups campaigning around workers’ rights in the garments and electronics industries. I have been long been involved in grassroots social movements, and campaigns for social and environmental justice. I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in Anthropology and Classical Literature & Civilisations.

ZWE’s response to public consultation on Chemicals, Products and Waste

Recycling Toxic Solvents” by Public.Resources.Org is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the frame of the policy discussions to transition towards a circular economy, the European Commission intends to produce a Communication on the interface of Chemicals, Products and Waste legislation. This should analyse and prepare policy options on how to address the interface of chemicals, products and waste legislation, including how to reduce the presence and improve the tracking of chemicals of concern in products.

ZWE has responded to the public consultation as it reads:


Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the stakeholder consultation of the European Commission’s work on the analysis of the interface between chemicals, products and waste legislation and identification of policy options.

From ZWE’s point of view, in this interface between the chemicals, products and waste regimes, several elements are needed to be addressed:

  1. Firstly, a qualitative prevention of hazardous chemicals from entering the material cycle. The development of non-toxic material cycles was already included as an objective of the 7th EAP and this is clearly needed both to transition to a non-toxic environment and to secure a circular economy in which high quality and clean materials can keep circulating. For that matter, and following the position of the European Parliament on the Waste Directive, the European Commission is urged to present a legislative proposal on waste prevention that also drives qualitative prevention of waste.
  2. The lack of sufficient information available for recyclers and waste operators on the toxicity of wastes, which brings in potential risks all along the value chain: including the employees of the recycling industries and the consumers of products with secondary raw materials who may be exposed to substances of concern or of very high concern without knowing it. The problems associated with the lack of traceability are further increased in the case of those materials being recycled outside of the EU, often in sub-standard conditions. An example of this was highlighted by IPEN who alerted that toxic flame retardant coming from recycled plastics was found in toys in the EU, giving an evidence of the total lack of traceability of materials.
  3. The need for Member States to have an easy way to meet European targets on recycling comes at the cost of less transparent calculation methods which bring in a lack of traceability of waste. This insufficient traceability is often translated into the recycling of European wastes containing toxic substances and the re-introduction of these secondary raw materials back in Europe’s economy without due information of the presence of these substances. A divergence between European standards and international ones does not only prevent a level-playing field between European and foreign operators but it is a real threat to Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. Two main solutions appear to this: on the one hand, the calculation method on recycling needs to get as close as possible to the actual recycling (thus closer to the balance of mass), so as to improve the traceability of the management of waste. On the other hand, the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions should level up the criteria, so as to avoid the re-introduction of toxic substances into the economy through sub-standard recycling in countries of the South, in line with the point expressed above.

In order to improve the rules included on these conventions, the EU’s role needs to be significantly improved, so as to avoid the double standard role the EU has played in the past, by which the EU was promoting the recycling of toxic substances in countries in the South. In case a level-playing field is not finally reached through these conventions (next one in 2019), the European Union should set clear rules guaranteeing that the import of secondary raw materials or products with secondary raw materials does not contain toxic substances.

  1. Additionally, this communication should acknowledge the need to ensure that the legal framework is not less protective of human health and the environment when products are made of recovered materials. This means notably requiring appropriate decontamination of waste before it can be recovered and avoiding restrictions of hazardous chemicals that are less protective when applied to recovered materials.
  2. Lastly, the lack of clearer rules for circular design of products and packaging hampers Europe’s transition to both a circular economy and a non-toxic environment. In this regard, the European Commission should complement the legislative proposal on Waste with guidance on how to modulate EPR fees to disincentive the use of toxic and potentially toxic substances. Additionally, in line with the European Parliament’s position on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the European Commission should update the essential requirements for packaging, so as to make sure that packaging put in the European market is free from toxic substances. Similarly, the European Commission is urged to accomplish the Communication ‘Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy’ and “promote the (…) recyclability of products by developing product requirements relevant to the circular economy in its future work under the Ecodesign Directive”. These product requirements should contain clear rules against toxic substances hampering the circularity of materials.

How to save the world, one reusable bag at a time

The results are in.

Everybody seems to agree on the fact that plastic bags are probably the most wasteful product on the market. The Redesign Europe Challenge 2017, launched by the People’s Design Lab, just confirmed it, and plastic bags are facing an uncertain future.

Plastic bags are increasingly being replaced by the the most accredited solution: reusable bags made out of organic cotton, canvas and even old clothes, and an increasing amount of people all over the world is supporting this transition. Last 3rd July, Zero Waste Europe and the People’s Design Lab celebrated the Plastic Bag Free Day, a day of action to #breakfreefromplasticbags and #rethinkplastic with collective actions all over the world and a viral support in social media being the 3rd trending topic of the day.  

Plastic Bags: the most wasteful product

The Redesign Europe Challenge is a contest launched by the People’s Design Lab to identify wasteful products and propose sustainable alternatives.

Participants nominated plastic bags as the most problematic #Designed4Trash item. While the average lifespan of a plastic bag is of 20 minutes, it takes 500 years to disintegrate in nature. In fact, plastic bags are among the top 10 plastic items trashed in the ocean and constituting a big share of the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris that are in the ocean now. According to Euroactive, the average European citizen uses 198 plastic bags in one year, which means that in European Union only we use more than 100 billions plastic bags per year!

What comes to mind when you think of a possible alternative? A reusable bag. Voters shared this as one of their favorite zero waste solutions, along with taxes and bans on single-use plastic bags and deposit systems for reusable bags. While all of these are possible, bringing a reusable bag to the store is the simplest option, being the most effective and immediate to implement.

Imagine you are running out the door to get to work, class, or to drop off your kids at school. You grab the essentials: keys, money, phone. Life is often too busy to slow down and realize that there may be one more essential item: an empty bag. Remembering to bring that one item could be the little step that leads to a positive global change. Well-designed shopping bags already exist. What we may need to redesign is our thinking.

Celebrating the International Plastic Bag Free Day

On July 3rd, the International Plastic Bag Free Day, scores of organizations and thousands of citizens took action to raise awareness on the environmental impact and hazards of single-use plastic bags, meanwhile promoting sustainable solutions. You can still join the global campaign! Are you ready? Here’s a great chance to make a big impact with little effort! Join the online event and send us your photo, shopping with your favorite bag. You can also invite your friends to join, and give them a reusable bag if you have an extra one. Never underestimate your ability to inspire.

Further reading: 

Matt @ Zero Waste Europe

I am the Communications & Programme Officer for Zero Waste Europe. I joined Zero Waste Europe in July 2015, moving to Manchester, UK after living in Bologna, Italy, and working as a freelance campaign communications consultant. Before Bologna I worked for People & Planet as a Corporate Power Campaigns Co-ordinator, supporting UK student groups campaigning around workers’ rights in the garments and electronics industries. I have been long been involved in grassroots social movements, and campaigns for social and environmental justice. I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in Anthropology and Classical Literature & Civilisations.

New study presents plan for Circular Economy using existing economic measures

Press Contact:
Joan Marc Simon, Zero Waste Europe, +32 (0) 2 503 64 88

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 12/07/17

A new study released today by the Reloop Platform and Zero Waste Europe, and produced by Rezero, demonstrates that existing economic instruments can bring Europe to the next stage of the Circular Economy. The study examines existing measures and incentive schemes, which have been used successfully for products such as beverage containers, and identifies additional key waste streams that could benefit from such measures.

It is predicted that the implementation of measures such as deposit refund schemes, refundable taxes and buy back schemes would lead to a major reduction of littering and a significant reduction in plastic pollution. Such instruments are already widely used in the private sector, but have yet to be fully utilised from a public policy perspective.

This study highlights the fact that, despite widespread support for the circular economy across all stakeholders, current fiscal policies continue to support a linear economy model. This is evident in the unacceptably low collection rates for textiles (<20%), cigarette butts (<35%), batteries (<40%), and even lower rates for other waste streams such as coffee capsules. Without strong economic incentives for collection, it is unlikely that these numbers will change.

Joan Marc Simon, Director of Zero Waste Europe, said:  “The move from a linear to a circular economy will require changing the economic incentives. This study provides a great toolbox to double or even triple collection rates for a variety of materials, including waste streams with existing EPR (extended producer responsibility) schemes.”

Clarissa Morawski, Managing Director of the Reloop Platform: “Deposit return have been used to capture high quantities of empty beverage containers for decades. With more than 35 successful systems around the world and growing, maybe it’s time for governments to consider this economic instrument for their own countries or regions. Just look to the best practice programs and follow their lead.”

The study proposes a number of economic instruments to increase the collection and recovery of various waste streams including:

  • A deposit system for mobile-phones: Proposes to complement the current EPR systems for WEEE with a refundable deposit applied on mobile phones in order to provide incentives to increase the collection rates of a product that contains a high number of scarce and strategic materials.
  • A new EPR system for carpets, which would help increase the currently low recycling rate (<3%) of this waste stream.
  • A deposit system for coffee-cups to promote the use of reusable cups, which will reduce the more than 15 billion units of disposable coffee-cups going to waste in Europe each year.

To achieve the ambitious goals of the Circular Economy it is essential to consider all possible measures. This study highlights the key steps that can be taken immediately, under existing legislation, to make Europe take a major leap forward towards a Circular Economy.



  1. Download the full study: Rethinking economic incentives for separate collection
  2. Zero Waste Europe:
  3. Rezero:
  4. Reloop Platform:

Roundup International Plastic Bag Free Day 2017

Zero Waste Montenegro’s plastic bag monster

This year the International Plastic Bag Free Day turns 8 and we have seen some spectacular actions! The movement to rid the world of environmentally destructive single use plastic bags continues to grow, and their ultimate replacement with clean, reusable and cool alternatives looks ever more possible. Across the globe we have seen an incredible range of actions, from sand sculptures in Catalonia to upcycled furniture in Uruguay with many more in between. Check out our round-up of just some of the actions which caught our eye!

A joint statement was released by a coalition of organisations including Zero Waste Europe, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and others calling for the European Member States to take the final step and ban the use of plastic bags, replacing single use options with more sustainable and reusable alternatives.

In Barcelona, Spain, activists and campaigners from Fundació Prevenció de Residus celebrated the 10th anniversary of the campaign they started “Catalonia free from plastic bags”. The event, where artists made sand sculptures of a sea free from plastics, included a collection of pictures of people preferring to use reusable alternatives.

In Zagreb, Croatia campaigners from Friends of the Earth went into the street to raise awareness of the people about problems with plastic bags​ and existing alternatives using​ a 2.5 meters large reusable bag with the quote (“Plastic bags are problem, I am the solution”​ and sharing reusable bags to people.

Campaigners from Polskie Stowarzyszenie Zero Waste put all of their efforts in many activities during the whole week. They organised a public picnic dedicated to children and their families in Warsaw. They collaborated with Eco-Polka, a local company that offered ecological education games for children. Furthermore, they creatively exploited the power of Social Networks to raise awareness among people by launching a series of “green talks” where activists and experts promoted healthy lifestyles.

Furniture designed from plastic bag waste in Uruguay

In Maldonado, Uruguay, you can find Alma Verde, that is a platform for reflection and generating ideas around sustainable design. They are currently investigating different ways to integrate re-used plastic bags into furniture design. For this propose they carried out a collection campaign in several points of Maldonado, like dreamdays college and startup co-work café.

Campaigners in Trinidad and Tobago distribute canvas bags

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Ministry of Planning and Development and the Environmental Management Authority staged a free canvas bag giveaway on the nation’s ‘Brian Lara Promenade’ in the capital city of Port-of-Spain. Volunteers also walked around the city handing out canvas bags to interested people and asking them to take the pledge to reduce plastic use. Members of the Public were also encouraged to personalise their bags by utilising a decorating table set up with stencils and paint for participants.

Campaigners from Zero Waste Montenegro launched a petition against plastic bags and in order to promote their activity, they took pictures of the plastic bag monster in the most scenic and touristic viewpoint of Montenegro, sharing them.

Sikkim was the first state in India to understand the long term disastrous consequences of plastic bag use and bring about a state wide ban in 1998. With the ban on plastic bags, during initial years shops turned to paper bag use. But now in recent times, this has been completely replaced by the PP (Poly-Propylene) bags which look like cloth but is in reality plastic, and just as harmful as the common plastic carry bag. Therefore, the use of this bag has watered down Sikkim’s plastic bag ban and made it ineffective. In this regard, campaigners from Sikkim are trying to bring a resolution for banning use of the Poly-Propylene (PP) carrier-bags within its jurisdiction by shops, hotels and households.

The autographed bag, with commitments to use reusables!

In Valencia, our talented zero waste blogger Mirabai and the owner of the organic store Flor d’Azahar gave away reusable cloth bags to the first 20 customers as a joint venture for a sustainable future. In exchange, those people autographed the campaigner’s bag as an agreement/confirmation that they will reuse their cloth bag instead of buying new plastic bags.

These actions represent only a fraction of the total activities which took place around the world calling for a ban for the bag. Considerable progress has been made over the past year by many organisations and campaigners. However, taking into account the impact of plastics on wildlife and human health the issue of plastic waste has rarely seemed more urgent. The success of Plastic Bag Free Day is central to raising awareness of this problem, and pushing for an effective ban on the non-compostable bag!

Rethink Plastic launches a summer challenge for the European Commission

Rethink Plastic has sent an open letter to the European Commission calling on them to propose strong and harmonised EU legislation within the EU Strategy on Plastics in the Circular Economy – due to be published at the end of 2017.

We call for concrete policy action on reducing, redesigning and better managing plastics, and challenge the Commission to think broader and bolder, including trying to live plastic free for a day. #RethinkPlastic!

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs with one common aim: a future that is free from plastic pollution. We represent hundreds of thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. We bring together policy and technical expertise from a variety of relevant fields and are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, consisting of over 800 NGOs and millions of citizens worldwide.

Read the letter


Ditching Plastic Bags: A Lesson from Africa

By Zero Waste Europe guest blogger, Christopher Nicastro

Ah, the dreaded plastic bag. We see them almost everywhere we go – outside our homes, on the side of the street, at the park, in the ocean. It’s a remnant, and token, of convenience at its worst.

But the times, they are a changin’.

Citizens and organisations around the world are working towards finding solutions to mitigate the use of plastic bags, as can be seen by the vast representation of ‘Break Free From Plastic’ members. Moreover, there’s no better time than today, on International Plastic Bag Free day, to shed light on some of those progressive countries that have bid adieu to the synthetic receptacle.


On the European front, Italy placed a complete ban on plastic bags back in 2011 and France a partial one in 2016, which disallows the use of lightweight plastic bags less than 50 microns thick. And while no other European countries have come to terms with a complete ban on plastic bags, countries like Belgium, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Finland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands have opted to place a tax on them instead, which has produced some promising results. According to a recent European Commission report on the matter, Ireland has experienced incredible success since placing a tax on plastic bags in 2002, reducing overall usage by nearly 95%.

Nevertheless, although we’ve seen success in taxation, it’s important to remember that we are creatures of habit, and unless plastic bags are ridden of altogether we might very well adjust to the tax as old habits resurface in the long run, as the Guardian points out.

On the other side of the spectrum, acting as the catalyst to the plastic bag ban movement, Africa has been making waves over the years as more and more countries put bans in place.

According to John-Paul Iwuoha, a Huffington Post writer and African entrepreneur, “while plastic shopping bags are popular around the world as a cheap and effective means of transporting small items, my findings reveal – quite surprisingly – that Africa is making more progress than others in getting rid of plastic shopping bags, and replacing them with more sustainable and environment-friendly alternatives.”

He’s absolutely right. Africa is leading the pack on the plastic bag ban revolution, and handily so. This is mainly due to their direct experience with the dark side of plastic bags, which pose a grave threat to their livestock and wildlife while also contributing to increased pollution levels, leading to clogged drainage systems, which later serve as birthing grounds for Malaria carrying mosquitos.

Of Africa’s 55 recognised states, at least 7 – Rwanda (2004), Eritrea (2005), Tanzania (2006), Mauritania (2013), Morocco (2015), Senegal (2016), and Kenya (2017) – have implemented a complete and total ban on the usage of plastic bags, while over 15 countries from the land of the Sahara apply either a partial ban and/or tax.

A market in Morocco where plastic bags have recently been banned. Photo by Tom Graham (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Africa’s not an isolated case either. Asia is also feeling the ill effects of plastic bag usage and as a result, countries like India (2002), China (2008), Myanmar (2009), and Bangladesh (2002) have instituted partial to full bans.

The EU is waking up to the grave issues that plastic bags pose on our environment and is working towards solutions. In fact, the EU’s response to reducing plastic bag usage is Directive 2015/720, otherwise known as the Plastic Bags Directive. Launched in April of 2015, the Plastic Bags Directive has the goal of empowering EU Member States to mitigate their consumption of lightweight (thinner than 0.05 millimeters) plastic bags, through a means of their choosing, in order to reach the following targets:

By enacting this mandatory directive, the EU hoped see ambitious initiatives and innovative solutions ooze from its cherished Member States, however, the results after more than 7 months are far from gratifying with many Member States doing the bare minimum or, in worst cases, not even following through on their commitments.

One thing’s for certain, if we really want to escape this plastic nightmare, banning, not taxation, is the key. This is especially true since there are simple, readily available sustainable alternatives like reusable cloth bags at our disposal today.

The fact of the matter is that we here in Europe need to follow Africa’s lead and ban the use of plastic bags outright, not put a Band-Aid on the situation.

That’s why today, on International Plastic Bag Free Day, let’s show the EU and our respective Member States that a plastic bag free world is what we want. Grab your cloth bags and spread the word!

Matt @ Zero Waste Europe

I am the Communications & Programme Officer for Zero Waste Europe. I joined Zero Waste Europe in July 2015, moving to Manchester, UK after living in Bologna, Italy, and working as a freelance campaign communications consultant. Before Bologna I worked for People & Planet as a Corporate Power Campaigns Co-ordinator, supporting UK student groups campaigning around workers’ rights in the garments and electronics industries. I have been long been involved in grassroots social movements, and campaigns for social and environmental justice. I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in Anthropology and Classical Literature & Civilisations.

Press Release: Enough excuses: it’s time for EU Member States to break free from plastic bags

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 03/07/17

Brussels, 3 July 2017 – More than 7 months after the transposition deadline of the EU Plastic bags directive, environmental NGOs celebrate today the 8th edition of the International Plastic Bag Free Day. In this important year where plastic pollution of ocean is considered a priority global concern, the compliance and ambition levels of EU Member States to reduce plastic bags fall short of expectations.

The 2015/720 Plastic bags directive was adopted in April 2015 to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags in Europe. Member States were to transpose it into their national legislations by 27 November 2016, and introduce measures to achieve the still modest but vital reduction objectives of 90 bags per person per year by 31 December 2019, and 40 bags by 31 December 2025.

More than 100 billion bags are used annually in Europe, and most end up in landfills, incinerators or as litter in and alongside aquatic environments, taking centuries to degrade and creating unprecedented damages to marine ecosystems. In addition, producing these bags requires millions of barrels of oil per year, significantly contributing to climate change.

The International Plastic Bag Free Day, celebrated around the World on July 3rd, is a unique occasion for our organisations and the whole Break Free From Plastic movement to spread the word that a plastic bag free world is possible, where sound environmental alternatives to single-use plastic bags are used and reused.

More than 7 months after the transposition deadline, the result has been disappointing, with many Member States showing a lack of reliability to the commitments they have made. Some have only taxed plastic bags, set voluntary agreements with the private sector, or simply relayed the Commission’s message about the risk posed by plastic pollution. It is unfortunate that Member States have demonstrated no audacity, ambition nor effectiveness in transposing this mandatory directive, to the detriment of the environment.

While the European Union is aiming at strengthening its profile as a leader against plastic pollution at the regional and international level, some of its members are undermining its efforts by inhibiting it from delivering on this topic of major importance, repeatedly praised by European citizens.

On this International Plastic Bag Free Day, we urge EU Member States to take more ambitious measures against plastic bag pollution, ensuring full compliance with the Plastic bags directive, and opting for the phasing out of single use plastic bags.


Gaëlle Haut

Coordinator for the ‘Ban the Bag’ Campaign, Surfrider Foundation Europe
Delphine Lévi Alvarès
European Coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement, Zero Waste Europe

#EnoughExcuses: link to Surfrider Foundation Europe’s video and report
#BreakFreeFromPlastic: link to the Break Free From Plastic movement


Ecological Recycling Society
Ekologi brez meja
Environmental Investigation Agency
European Environmental Bureau
Friends of the Earth Europe
Humusz Waste Prevention Alliance
IGOZ (Institute for Circular Economy)
Let’s Do It Foundation
Plastic Soup Foundation
Polish Zero Waste Association
Polski Klub Ekologiczny
Surfers Against Sewage
Surfrider Foundation Europe
Za Zemiata – Friends of the Earth Bulgaria
Zaja Briviba (Green Liberty)
ZERO – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável
Zero Waste Europe
Zero Waste France
Zero Waste Poland
Zero Zabor i.b.e (Basque Country)
Žiedinė ekonomika – Circular Economy (Zero Waste Lithuania)

Zero Waste Romania

Zero Waste Croatia and Zelena Akcija