In June, the first Zero Waste Festival in Ireland took place. Building on the success of other Zero Waste Festivals such as Paris, and Roubaix the festival was a massive success. This festival and the others which have taken place over the summer represent a new activity in the burgeoning zero waste movement. Here Mindy O’Brien Coordinator of VOICE (a Zero Waste member in Ireland) shares her experience of the festival. If you would like to learn more about hosting a zero waste event or festival check out our ‘Zero Waste Events’ guide!
An organic movement has begun in Ireland to embrace zero waste. In only a year, a simple facebook page for people interested in zero waste has grown to over 6,300 members. A few people from this group decided to pull together a Zero Waste Festival to feature zero waste reusable products, bulk food vendors, second-hand clothes swap, environmental stands, demonstrations and talks, and delicious food.
The festival took place in a community hall one Saturday afternoon and attracted a great crowd. In fact, the event was completely sold out with organisers having to turn people away as the venue was at maximum capacity. This sounds familiar as the same community invited Bea Johnson to speak at Trinity College Dublin earlier this year and again the event was booked out with people sitting on the steps to hear the talk.
On a personal note, I bought bulk walnuts, balsamic vinegar, rice and cous cous, and was thrilled to avoid the pervasive plastic packaging that is used for such items (except the vinegar). I also bought a natural scrub for my kitchen and bathroom and bamboo toothbrushes.
There were also workshops on how to live a zero-waste lifestyle and how to make your own household cleaners. VOICE had a stand and spoke about Zero Waste Cashel, which is Ireland’s first zero waste town. Additionally, the Conscious Cup Campaign, which is urging consumers to use reusable take-away coffee cups and asking coffee shops to offer discounts when presented with a reusable cup, was launched.
Lovely vegan food was available for lunch and I was particularly impressed by the ingenuity of some teenage boys who rented out reusable plates and cutlery (€1/plate and €.50/cutlery) for the diners. Compostable containers and utensils were available for those who didn’t want to rent out the plates.
The festival was a huge success and there are plans afoot to take this concept to other parts of Ireland. Currently, they are looking to organise a week-long series of events in September, to look at different themes like food waste, clothes/fashion, responsible waste disposal, reducing food packaging (growing and making your own), cleaning, gifts and celebrations, and getting the community involved.
Enthusiasm for zero waste is catching on in Ireland!
Who said that Brussels and the European Institutions are places for cold bureaucracy and economic reasoning only? We met with Paolo, Ieva, Diego, Adrian, Karin and Nico, who prove that the seeds of ecology, sustainability and active citizenship can sprout everywhere – even in the not-so-sunny Brussels’environment.
During their traineeship within the European institutions, they launched the Plastic-Free Plux project to reduce the amount of single use plastic cups going to waste.
Every Thursday evening, some hundreds people, mainly young professionals from the EU bubble, gather in Luxemburg Square (the so-called Plux), right in front of the European Parliament. Some go there for a networking drink, some to celebrate a profitable week some others to forget a bad one. They all get their drinks in single-use plastic cups, and every Thursday a huge amount of plastic cups is thrown away. Paolo and his colleagues report: “after the first Thursday of ‘Plastic-free Plux’ we counted 50 trash bags full of plastic waste”. They know that single-use plastics is a major problem for the environment, since it is hard to recycle and it is used massively and in various forms in our everyday life.
The idea of the organizers of Plastic-Free Plux is to incentivise people coming to Plux to bring their own mug or reusable cup from home: if they do, they enjoy a discount of €0.50 in what they consume, thanks to an agreement with the bar owners.
At the beginning, their goal was to raise awareness about the single-use plastic and alternatives and, subsequently, for the fifth and last edition, of Plastic-Free Plux, they adopted an ambitious target: to attract 50 people with mugs on Plux, one for each of those 50 trash bags they found at the first edition. They reached the remarkable amount of 41 mugs that fifth night.
Besides the awareness-raising initiative, Plastic-Free Plux believes that the best long-term alternative is introducing a deposit scheme for solid, reusable cup system on Plux. Despite of the very short time-frame of the activity (from June to July 2017), they succeeded to communicate with the Mayor of Ixelles and gain the support of some environmental NGOs (Plastic Soup, Kot Planète Terre, Greenpeace Brussels, and of course Zero Waste Europe).
Despite the fact that many public events in Brussels are already eco-friendly, in the sense that they provide reusable cups on adeposit scheme, e.g. Bruxelles Les Bains and Brussels Summer Festival, on the average the city lacks a broader strategy for zero waste events. Thus, the majority of social gatherings, which take place at neighborhood level, characterized by the regularity in time and internalization into the everyday life, are still waste intensive.
The obstacles to change are numerous and fragmented, and therefore difficult to address. This is why the young change-makers’ action from Plastic-Free Plux is even more significant, and it is worth hoping that it will inspire many other people to do the same. The ingredients for a substantial impact are provided by Paolo and his colleagues:
“First, we suggest you start organising the event. One can adjust it and take care of the details in the aftermath. It is something that can be improved step by step, but the initial action is so simple that you do not need to think much about it. In our opinion, for these kinds of actions it is important to be brave and confident and start from somewhere; the rest will follow;
Second, communication is crucial! Spread the word, use all the tools available to you, and be regular and consistent in your communication strategy;
Third, you need to believe in the cause, that what you are doing is something good for the environment and for the people around you, and that it can be a success. If your attitude is positive and your actions show your confidence and your faith in the cause, people will notice it and join you as well. The support we received outweighed the inevitable negativity we sometimes observed”.
Supporters excited by step in the right direction but the strategy should phase out the continuation of waste incineration in London, if a true zero waste city is to be achieved
By Cameron Broome
Unveiling his environmental strategy for London, Sadiq Khan has pledged to make London a zero waste city.
Specifically, the London Mayor has suggested that “by 2026 no biodegradable or recyclable waste will be sent to landfill and by 2030 65 per cent of London’s municipal waste will be recycled”.
Mr Khan stated that “our linear economy (take, make and dispose) is unsustainable”, adding that “too much waste” is produced.
Further, the Mayor has suggested that he will “take a circular approach to London’s use of resources that designs out waste, keeps materials in use at their highest value for as long as possible and minimises environmental impact”.
The announcement is arguably indicative of the growing popularity of the concept of “zero waste” and “the circular economy”.
In Ireland, for example, a recently proposed Waste Reduction Bill has received cross-party support. Alternatively, a GAIA report, ‘On the road to Zero Waste’ indicates that the zero waste movement is gaining more and more momentum worldwide.
The policy document suggests that “around 7m tonnes of waste is produced each year from our homes, public buildings and businesses” in the capital.
Local Authority collected waste is suggested to be made up of 18% food waste, 44% main dry recyclables (e.g. glass, mixed plastics, paper, card, tins, cans), 10% other recyclables (e.g. electrical waste, textiles and wood) and 10% other (e.g. film, contaminated/broken waste, some drink cups, garden waste).
Alternatively, national food waste data published by in January 2017 WRAP estimating food waste arisings in the UK suggests that “London produces around 1.5 – 1.75m tonnes of food waste with a value of £2.55bn a year”.
In terms of recycling, the policy document suggests that in 2016, 52 per cent of London’s municipal waste was recycled or composted while around 37 per cent was sent to landfill or incineration.
The report also cites a 2016 WRAP plastic market situation report looking at the national picture, suggesting the “UK produces around 2.2m tonnes of plastic packaging with only around half (or 900,000 tonnes) recycled”.
Proposed Objectives And Strategy
Sadiq Khan has pledged to cut food waste by 20% per person by 2025, reduce plastic bottle and coffee cup waste, recycle 65% of London’s municipal waste by 2030 and send zero biodegradable or recyclable waste to landfill by 2026.
To achieve this, Mr Khan “wants to prevent materials from becoming waste in the first place by promoting more sustainable, circular business models that design out waste and ensures materials can be easily reused and recycled”.
Specifically, he has pledged to:
Work with Londoners, waste authorities, government and other stakeholders to significantly cut waste
Maximise recycling rates
Reduce the environmental impact of waste activities
Maximise local waste sites and ensure London has sufficient infrastructure to manage all the waste it produced
The London Mayor has pledged his support behind various waste-reduction campaigns including Recycle for London, Love Food Hate Waste, TriFOCAL and the Greater London Authority’s Foodsave programme.
Specifically of interest toin #breakfreefromplastic campaigners, the environmental strategy document has suggested that Sadiq Khan will “support campaigns and initiatives to cut the use of single use packaging”. The document states: “The Mayor will also take the following actions to reduce the amount of plastic bottles and single use cups:
Investigating the feasibility of a deposit return scheme for water bottles through the government’s litter strategy working group.
Working with stakeholders including environmentalenvironment groups, Transport for London and LWARB to improve access to tap water through community water refill schemes building on existing schemes.
Working with the GLA group to reduce plastic bottle sales and improve access to tap water on all our premises.
Working with the supply chain from manufacturers to retailers and waste authorities to trial and roll out coffee cup recycling bins across London”.
A step in the right direction?
The proposal is reflective of the broader growing popularity of zero waste initiatives across the UK. In October 2015, a 5p charge for single use plastic bags was introduced across England; this has been suggested to have reduced plastic bag usage by 85%.
In addition, the Liberal Democrats’ 2017 manifesto contained a “Zero Waste Bill” while Labour’s MP for Keighley, John Grogan, donated half of his first month’s MP salary to a local anti-incineration campaign.
Alternatively, there has been a growing campaign in the UK against coffee capsules; a March 2017 Metro article suggested that compostable coffee capsules could be set to become mainstream in the UK. Political parties (and the UK more broadly) have becoming increasingly sensitive towards plastic waste, and thus refill bottle schemes have spread across the UK.
Overall, in a UK context, this is arguably indicative of an increasingly positive towards the implementation of zero waste measures to reduce production of waste at source.
But ambition needs to be raised?
Though the London Zero Waste Strategy is argued to be evidence of the growing strength of the zero waste movement in the UK, critics point out that Mr Khan has pledged to reduce zero waste to landfill – something which allows for waste to be still send to incineration plants.
The environmental strategy policy document acknowledges incineration. It states that London “has the second highest incineration rate across the UK behind the North East at 50 per cent”.
The report claims that London will have “sufficient incineration capacity to manage London’s non-recyclable municipal waste once the new Edmonton and Beddington Lane facilities are operational”.
However, activists across London would rather incinerators didn’t exist at all. Shasha Khan is a local community activist leading the “STOP the South London Incinerator” campaign. Their website outlines their aims, rejecting the NIMBY idea instead claiming: “This isn’t about not wanting it in our back yard. We don’t want it anyone’s back yard.”
In 2015, UKWIN provided evidence as to why they believe incinerators should be opposed.
A recent Eunomia report suggested that incinerators could stop the UK from meeting its recycling targets. This is because incinerator capacity is increasing and incinerators need waste to function, and thus this may dilute incentives to recycle.
The Renewable Energy Directive is under review. In November 2016, the European Commission published a legislative proposal which establishes a common framework for the promotion of energy from renewable sources. In addition, the document defines a set of sustainability criteria that biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels, except from municipal and industrial waste and residues, must fulfil to be eligible for financial support or count towards renewable energy target. However, the Commission’s proposal is far from optimal, and here is why.
Subverting the waste hierarchy
Similarly to the current Directive, the proposal defines the biodegradable fraction of municipal waste as a source of renewable energy. Member States are consequently allowed to support various forms of waste-to-energy processes, both from the separately collected organics and from the mixed municipal and industrial waste, to meet targets set under the Directive.
Such support schemes which promote energy generation from mixed municipal waste are inconsistent with the cornerstone of the EU waste policy the waste hierarchy. The primary purpose of the waste hierarchy is to reduce waste generation at source, and to divert materials to re-use and recycling in order to minimise the amounts of waste going to other recovery (energy recovery) and disposal (landfill). Waste is therefore meant to be primarily prevented, then prepared for reuse, and then recycled.
Figure 1. The waste hierarchy and waste-to-energy processes. Source: Communication from the Commission on the role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy.
Conversely, by allowing renewable energy support measures for the energy recovery from mixed municipal waste, the current proposal is actually promoting the second least desirable option of the waste hierarchy.
Distorting the market
This subversion has so far resulted in a clear distortion of the market, whereby investment in waste infrastructure and operation costs are organised on the basis of subsidies for the extraction of energy from mixed waste, instead of sound environmental and economic performance. As a result, several Member States have overinvested in waste-to-energy plants, whilst underinvesting in separate collection and recycling facilities for the organics and recyclables. In fact, according to the European Environment Agency, there has been no increase in organics recycling over the last years. This was confirmed by a recent survey by the European Compost Network which indicated that only about a third of organics is separately collected and composted and/or digested.
Moreover, financial support for energy from mixed waste has risulted in renewable energy subsidies financing waste-to-energy processes, such as incineration and co-incineration, that are contributing rather than mitigating climate change (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Indicative Climate Change Impacts of Key Waste Key Waste Management Activities (excl. CO2 from biogenic sources). Source: Eunomia, The contribution of waste management to a low-carbon economy, 2015.
What can the European Parliament and Council do? 2 concrete solutions
Fortunately, the European Parliament and the Council can still make a difference and amend the flaws of the actual proposal by taking two concrete steps.
Firstly, they could introduce a derogation to explicitly exclude any finacial support to the extraction of energy from mixed municipal waste.
Secondly, they could set new sustainability criteria to ensure that the use of waste and residues for energy purposes is strictly guided by the waste hierarchy, so that only the separately collected biowaste are used for energy generation. These measures would foster the improvement of separate collection of organics in the EU, while at same time promoting the generation of truly sustainable energy. In addition, they would be in line with the recent Commission’s communication on “The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy”, which recommends Member States to phase-out public support for the recovery of energy from waste, as well as with the separate collection obligations and more ambitious EU recycling targets included in the legislative proposal on Circular Economy.
 Mixed waste (residual waste) is mainly composed of food and kitchen waste, plastics, and paper.
Plastic is a revolutionary material that lasts up to 100-500 years depending on its type. However, when we use this material to create something like a plastic bag, with an average life span on 25 minutes, we have a problem. Our oceans are heavily polluted and 80% of the marine litter is plastic. While the scale of our plastic pollution grows, we like to wait around for a prodigious solution that will make it disappear. This time, it seems to be worms that are coming to our rescue.
In case you haven’t heard, a study at Stanford University has found that wax worms eat plastic. The microorganisms in their gut biodegrade the plastic in the process, say the researchers. Those wax worms usually live of wax in bee hives. Digesting beeswax involves breaking down similar types of chemical bonds as in polyethylene (which is a type of plastic). Although much is still unknown, the study has been praised as a unique solution to plastic pollution.
It is not the first time such magical solutions have been presented. Although an interesting study, how are we going to use this information when it comes to the industry and consumers behaviour? At the rate of 1 million plastic bags used globally every minute, solutions such as feeding plastic to wax worms are not only costly and unrealistic to implement, but also a bad excuse. Worms won’t save us from our wasteful lifestyles, only we can do that.
The huge plastic pollution problem actually has a simple, straightforward solution: to have less plastic waste, we should just use less plastic. That involves producing, consuming and throwing away fewer plastic items, especially single-use ones.
And the change is much easier than one might expect. Refusing plastic bags and making sure you have a reusable bag at hand when you go grocery shopping is a great first step to reducing your plastic waste. You can use reusable bags for your fruits and veggies too!
Each July the 3rd, scores of organisations and citizens all over the world celebrate the International Plastic Bag Free Day, to raise awareness about the problems of using single-use plastic bags. Taking a reusable bag to the store with you is a simple and yet concrete first step towards a world free from plastic pollution. Let’s quit waiting for some worms to save us, and make everyday a plastic bag free day.