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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

MEPs seek answers over burning waste

By Ben McCormick

Waste incineration in cement kilns is being put in the spotlight in the European Parliament as concern grows over its impact on public health.

For years, the effects of air pollution on public health have been well documented. Increased cancer risk and immune system, respiratory, reproductive and neurological problems have all been linked to air pollution.

People living in urban areas have long been aware of the damage polluters such as traffic and heavy industry can have on their health. But fewer know of the issues caused by burning waste in cement kilns, despite the fact this practice is a persistent and growing problem. There are now encouraging signs that is changing.

Allowed under regulations aimed at reducing fossil fuel use in the cement-making process, burning ‘substitute fuels’ in kilns – also known as ‘co-incineration’ – has become increasingly controversial, especially in the affected communities nearest cement producers.

Understandably, those communities have mobilised against polluters and lawmakers. From a health and environmental risk standpoint, but also from the perspective of waste prevention. Once incinerators are operating, they need a constant flow of waste to continue, so initiatives to reduce waste are discouraged to keep those kilns fed.

Grassroots protests have had success raising awareness and in some cases halting the practice – notably in Slovenia, where local activism stopped cement giant Lafarge burning waste in its kilns at Trbovlje. Environmental pressure groups have brought the issue to the wider public’s attention as well, but they have achieved relatively little cut-through at a higher institutional level.

The LaFarge cement kiln in Trbovlje

That has now changed. MEPs representing local affected communities have been seeking answers from the European Commission about the practice; a huge and encouraging step forward in the campaign to change cement manufacturers’ damaging habits and bring the issue into the spotlight.

“I am deeply concerned about the negative effects of co-incineration in cement kilns on the environment and on human health,” said Italian MEP Piernicola Pedicini. “This issue was first brought to me by local communities in Barile after the Italian government passed a law allowing the burning of municipal waste as secondary solid fuel. Many cement factories now find it profitable to burn waste. I intend to continue this battle both at European and Italian level.”

Burning questions

Key issues raised by the MEPs focus on how co-incineration fits in with EU guidelines and regulations on waste and emissions and what the Commission will do to prevent further risk to public health.

In April this year, Pedicini and colleague David Borrelli asked the Commission what it will do to protect citizens from a practice ‘that increases the emissions of hazardous pollutants and endangers public health’.

Both, alongside MEP Ignazio Corrau, also inquired why refuse-derived fuels (RDF) are not covered by the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation.

Pedicini has also questioned what the Commission is doing to safeguard public health in Barile, where the Constantinopoli cement plant has been reported for breaching emissions limits.

Meanwhile, Florent Mercellesi of the Verts/ALE group quizzed the Commission over Spanish compliance with two emissions Directives and asked whether this needs investigating.

And in an impassioned written question about a permit to incinerate waste in Greece, MEP Sotirios Zarianopoulos challenged the Commission over the EU’s ‘green’ growth and ‘climate change strategy’ that, in his opinion, seeks to open up new profit margins for business corporations and ignores the harmful impact on the environment and people’s health.

Dual purpose

These pioneering MEPs have highlighted at an institutional level the struggles of local affected communities. And in doing so, they have reflected the tactics employed: challenge the legality and raise awareness.

For example, the neighbourhood group Can Sant Joan in Montcada i Reixac near Barcelona has been demonstrating and carrying out legal challenges against the Lafarge Cementos plant there since 1975.

Similar tactics are being used by the group Asociación de Vecinos Morata de Tajuña, which has partnered with national and international groups to publicise the issue of co-incineration and issue legal challenges against the Cementos Portland Valderrivas plant there.

A demonstration against the cement kiln in Can Sant Joan in Montcada i Reixac in 2013

There are hundreds more struggles around the world against co-incineration in cement kilns. Delegates from many will attend the Third International Gathering Against Incineration in Apaxco, Mexico on 24-26 November.

With an overall aim of finding local and global alternatives to incineration, the forum will discuss technological, economic, environmental and social waste management solutions in a series of talks, workshops, conference sessions and exhibitions.

Burn out

But what are the alternatives? Cement is already one of the most energy intensive industries globally and co-incineration is currently its preferred method of cutting down on fossil fuel emissions.

Uroš Macerl, grassroots winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize

Campaigners say burning waste in cement kilns is not the answer, arguing that policies and subsidies that support ‘waste-to-energy’ incineration should be shifted towards zero waste and clean energy solutions.

As grassroots campaigner Uroš Macerl said on picking up the Goldman Environmental Prize earlier this year: “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 – and is supported by lobbied legislation.”

One thing is clear: legislators and cement manufacturers have a fight on their hands as the co-incineration issue comes under ever more scrutiny at local, national, international and institutional levels.

Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick

Ben is a London-based freelance journalist and editor who has become acutely aware of zero waste principles since finding out more about the issues from a passionate zero waste advocate on a permaculture project in Catalunya. He now writes about waste for the nature and culture website Caught by the River and is a regular volunteer at his local community food waste recycling project, which provides meals from produce thrown away by supermarkets for disadvantaged people in the area.
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Zero waste leaders share best practice in Lithuania


Žiedinė ekonomika (Circular Economy) was founded by Domantas Tracevičius to actively promote the separate collection of biowaste to show that it is both economically and environmentally sound and that it is very good practice to be able to separately collect many other recyclables.

Žiedinė ekonomika’s team is particularly active in promoting waste management best practices and they wish to show to Lithuanians that they do not need a third incinerator in Kaunas. This article is translated from the original in Lithuanian.

On September 22, 2017, Žiedinė ekonomika (Circular economy) together with Zero Waste Europe organised an event dedicated to the dissemination of experiences and best practices in the field of bio-waste separate collection to Lithuanian civil society. The focus was on the experience from Zero Waste Cities, like Parma and Ljubljana, and Milan. More than 50 people from different municipalities and regional waste management centres participated.

On the day of the event, Domantas Tracevičius, described the concept of a “Zero Waste Municipality” and how it is common in the European Union.

Enzo Favoino, agronomist, one of the most prominent bio-waste management experts in the EU, and chair of the Zero Waste Europe scientific committee explained how the future policy was shaping in that area and presented the experience of bio-waste separate collection from Milan. According to Favoino “the EU’s top officers have highlighted that dissemination of good practices helps to bring the future forward and build confidence across Europe. In fact, there is evidence of the practicability of ZW strategies in a wide range of situations, from smallest villages to densely populated areas”.

Later on in the day, Gabriele Folli, the former Vice-President of the municipality Parma, Italy, showed the high achievements that are possible to achieve. He introduced a separate collection system for bio-waste and other materials, which is now able to collect over 80% of all waste. In his own words “Sharing and disseminating good practices on circular economy is the best way to help local administration to go towards sustainability with their communities. I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues before starting the Zero Waste programme in the city of Parma and now it’s a great pleasure for me to show our results to other communities”. Zero Waste and separate collection schemes are also drivers of the creative application of new technologies and various other amenities for the population.

More experience in the separate collection of bio-waste came from the Baltic State Estonia. Kristjan Mark, Head of the Waste Management Division at the Environment Department of the Tallin City Council, spoke of how bio-waste is currently being collected in Tallinn.

Joze Gregorych, head of the waste management project at Snaga, a Slovenian public company, outlined why Ljubljana is the greenest and best-performing EU capital in terms of kilos of waste produced per person per year.

Finally, Tomasz Wojciechowski, Head of the Local Wastewater Treatment Plant and circular economist from GWDA, Poland, presented the results of a pilot project at the family level. The project involved 25 families (58 people) and in three months Total 527 kg of waste was collected. On average, 908 kilograms of biowaste was generated per resident during the three months of the programme. The minimum percent of impurities in the collection was 0.25%, the maximum 10%, and the mean value was 2.63%. Major impurities were: foil bags, multi-material packages and plastic packaging.

At the end of the Day, Domantas said “We hope that Lithuania will have the first Lithuanian Zero Waste Municipality soon”. We cannot help sharing his wish and keeping on supporting municipalities across Europe.


Original article (In Lithuanian)→

Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick

Ben is a London-based freelance journalist and editor who has become acutely aware of zero waste principles since finding out more about the issues from a passionate zero waste advocate on a permaculture project in Catalunya. He now writes about waste for the nature and culture website Caught by the River and is a regular volunteer at his local community food waste recycling project, which provides meals from produce thrown away by supermarkets for disadvantaged people in the area.
Ben McCormick

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Letter to the European Parliament ENVI Committee on RED

Download the PDF version of this letter

To: Members of the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament

Subject: Why it is essential to set sustainability criteria for the use of waste, residues and (by) products for energy in the RED II


Brussels, 27 September 2017


Dear Members of the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament,

We urge you to support the amendments Nr 902 and related amendments (690, 695, 696) due to be voted October 11-12 in the ENVI committee, so that new sustainability criteria for the use of municipal and industrial wastes, residues and (by) products for energy are introduced.

Article 26 – paragraph 8 a (new) – Sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions saving criteria for biofuels, and bioliquids and biomass fuels

The production of biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels produced from waste, (by)products and residues, other than agricultural, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry residues, taken into account for the purposes referred to in points (a), (b), and (c) of paragraph 1 shall be in line with the principle of the waste hierarchy and avoid significant distortive effects on markets for (by)products, wastes or residues.

The Commission shall adopt a delegated act set in accordance with article 32 establishing detailed rules on the application of this paragraph.

This amendment is key to ensure that the use of municipal and industrial waste, residues and (by) products for energy generation are in line with the principle of the EU waste hierarchy, and to avoid any market distortion for waste, residues and (by)products.

In addition, voting in favour of the amendment Nr 902 is pivotal to ensure the alignment of the RED II with the circular economy package, as well as with the recent Commission’s communication on the role of the waste-to-energy in the circular economy.

Signed by:

Amigos de la Tierra (Spain)

Bond Beter Leefmilieu (Belgium)

2Celsius (Romania) Collectif 3r (France)

Ecological Recycling Society (Greece)

ECOS (European)

European Compost Network (European)

European Environmental Bureau (European)

Friends of the Earth Europe (European)

Društvo Ekologi brez meja (Slovenia)

Health Care Without Harm (European)

Humusz Szövetség (Hungary)

Institute for Circular Economy (Poland)

Polish Zero Waste Association (Poland)

Rettet den Regenwald (Germany)

United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (The United Kingdom)

VšĮ „Žiedinė ekonimika“ (Lithuania)

Za Zemiata (Bulgaria)

ZERO – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável (Portugal)

Zero Waste Europe (European)

Zero Waste France (France)

Zero Waste Montenegro (Montenegro)

Zero Zabor ibe Basque Country (Spain)

Zero Waste Europe to the European Commission: let’s use plastics only when it makes sense

Today ZWE published its position on plastic reduction targets, demanding a two-fold policy action by targeting plastic packaging and single-use plastic items of high concern.

The launch coincided with the Commission-organised conference Reinventing Plastics, which was used by the civil society alliance Rethink Plastic to stage a small action by giving away sustainable-sourced reusable cups to the attendees, and bringing visibility to the online petition demanding policy action, already signed by over half a million citizens.

Although plastic is among the fastest growing pollutants in the world, at the moment there is no legislation that aims to control and reduce this source of pollution.

In the paper, ZWE highlights that alternatives to fast-moving and short-lived plastic applications already exist, and if the right legislation were to be in place, the EU would be a leader on a sustainable use of plastics.

In addition, Joan Marc Simon, Director of ZWE, gave a key note speech at the conference where he stated: “If you have a flood at home what is the first thing you do? Do you start focus in shovelling water out more efficiently? You discuss with your family how to redesign water so that it evaporates at 25 degrees Celsius? Or you just go in and close the tap? It’s to time for Europe to close the tap of plastic pollution.”

Zero Waste Europe empowers communities to rethink their relationship with resources in order to achieve a world without waste.


For more information

Ariadna, Product Policy Campaigner,

Roberta, Communications Officer,


Additional information


Sign-on Letter to the Green Climate Fund

See bottom of page for the form to sign our open letter to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). 

photo: (cc-by-3.0)

Dear Members and Alternate Members of the Board of the Green Climate Fund:

We are writing to express our support for ambitious climate action in the waste management sector and urge you to prioritise resource-efficiency, sustainability and development of local economies, rather than projects aiming at using waste as a source of energy, such production of Refuse-Derived Fuels for waste-to-energy incineration or production of cement.

Our alarm has been triggered by the project “Sustainable Energy Financing Facilities”, funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Green Climate Fund. The project proposal, available at the Green Climate Fund website, includes as an example of renewable energy technology: “Advanced waste management with production of RDF (refused derived fuels)”, side by side to solar panels and wind turbines.

The production of Refuse-Derived Fuels is not a renewable energy project that deserves funding from the Green Climate Fund  – it is a false solution that is preventing the application of the Waste Hierarchy and appropriate waste management system aimed at preventing waste and expanding reuse, recycling, and composting programs — that is, aiming for zero waste.

Refuse Derived Fuel is made of mixed municipal solid waste, typically composed of approximately one third plastics (made of fossils fuels), another third of biomass materials such as paper, textiles or wood (which could have been recycled or reused), and one third unknown materials1. Refuse Derived Fuel is often used as fuel in the production of cement, or other combustion plants.

The use of RDF in cement plants or other industries cannot be considered a renewable energy project or one that fosters climate ambition for the following reasons:

  • The use of materials that could have been recycled or reused as fuel, represents a subversion of the Waste Hierarchy.
  • The use of plastics as fuels cannot in any circumstance be considered renewable energy, given they’re made of fossil fuels.
  • Waste-to-energy incineration increases GHG and toxic emissions with most severe impacts to the public health and environment of vulnerable communities in clear exacerbation of climate injustice.

Moreover, RDF is often used as fuel for cement production, even though cement plants do not have the means to filter volatile heavy metals (mercury, thallium, cadmium, etc.) that are present in waste, neither they can filter the toxic emissions with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans (PCDD/PCDF), which are banned under the Stockholm Convention.  POPS pose a global threat to human health and the environment due to their specific characteristics. They are toxic and persistent in the environment, can travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain.

In contrast, preventing waste and expanding reuse, recycling, and composting programs — that is, aiming for zero waste — is one of the fastest, cheapest, and most effective strategies available for combating climate change.

A zero waste approach — based on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, composting, and anaerobic digestion — reduces greenhouse gas emissions in all of the following ways:

  • Reducing energy consumption associated with manufacturing, transporting, and using the product or material;
  • Reducing non-energy-related manufacturing emissions, such as the CO2 released when limestone is converted to the lime that is needed for aluminium and steel production;
  • Reducing methane emissions from landfills;
  • Reducing CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from incinerators;
  • Reducing pressure on virgin materials from forests and therefore increasing its carbon uptake, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it as carbon for long periods (thus rendering the carbon unavailable to contribute to greenhouse gases);
  • Increasing carbon storage in products and materials; and increasing carbon storage in soils by restoring depleted stocks of organic matter

In conclusion, we urge you to develop a sustainability criteria for the projects to be approved in relation to the waste management sector, and ensure the principles of the Waste Hierarchy and Zero Waste are given priority.

We enclose our latest policy briefing Climate Finance for the Waste Management Sector – Guidance for Policy-Makers and Project Developers, to ensure you have enough tools and examples to guide your decision-making process.

Thanks you very much in advance for your consideration of these matters.



Zero Waste Europe
Aire Valley Against Incineration
Kentucky Environmental Foundation
European Environmental Bureau
Friends of the Earth Europe
Environmental Assocation Za Zemiata
Friends of the Earth Croatia
Zero Waste France
Institute for Policy Studies
Zero Waste Montenegro
Zero Zabor ibe Basque Country
Ethiopian Society for Consumer Protection
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Californian Communities Against Toxics
Work on Waste, USA
American Environmental Health Studies Project
Don’t Waste Arizona
CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network)
National Toxics Networks Austrailia
Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development
Friends of the Earth U.S
Mother Earth Foundation Philippines
Center for Participatory Research and Development (CPRD)
Friends of the Earth Malaysia
Consumer’s Association of Penang
Returning Organics to Soil
Calerdale Green Party
Let’s Do It Foundation
Sound Resource Management Group, Inc.
VšĮ “Žiedinė ekonomika” (Zero Waste Lithuania)
Ekologi brez meja (Ecologists without Borders)

  1. Currie, J. (2011), The valorisation of SRF in cement kilns, Workshop and sitevisit: Production and utilisation options for Solid Recovered Fuels, IEA Bioenergy Task 32 and 36, Dublin, 20-21 October 2011.


Cleaning our way out of our plastic crisis: coastal cleanups and beyond

Save the date! The 16th September 2017 is the International Coastal Cleanup Day. From an activity previously only carried out by a small group of  ecological frontrunners, coastal cleanups have become a big deal. Last year, a large US-based network involved almost 800,000 volunteers internationally and, since launching in 1985,  claims to have involved more than 12 million people in the cleanup effort. According to the survey by  Ocean Conservancy, over 8 million kilograms of trash were collected last year. During 2016, the top three items collected were cigarette butts (almost two million), plastic beverage bottles (just over one and half million ) and plastic bottle caps (over eight hundred thousand).

Are coastal cleanups the solution to the litter problem?

It is undeniable that coastal cleanups can work as a tool for awareness raising, since they  highlight how a significant amount of marine litter is created by our day-to-day products. It also demonstrates the sheer volume of plastics in the sea. Indeed, it is claimed that  by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the sea, and many of us are familiar with the pictures of sea life with stomachs full of plastic. What the debate does not cover enough is the economic consequences.

At this time, the spending on marine litter is most often used to cover the removal  of debris or recovering damage which marine debris has caused. This expenditure represents treatment of symptoms rather than cure. Conversely, the real impacts go beyond this as they include damage to other economic activities, such as the fishing or tourism industry. Hence, although probably cheaper than inaction, recent estimates show that such cleanups are not  a strategy fit for the future.  

On the one hand, plastic consumption levels play a big role in the whole picture of plastic litter both in the marine and the land environment, and they needs to be addressed. On the other hand, plastic production plays a role as big as, or even bigger than, that of consumption. The industry is the upstream source of marine litter and it must be regulated. Hence, governmental legislation can  help in reducing plastic pollution. The European Commission is expected to publish a Plastic Strategy in December 2017 and a movement is gearing up to demand an ambitious strategy, in particular with regards to a legally binding target on the reduction of plastic use.

How can we reduce plastic use in Europe?

An initial step would be to start reducing the production of single-use plastics, since in most cases alternatives already exist. For example, grocery shops selling locally sourced food and drink products in bulk, where local residents can buy pasta, wine, oil and many other necessities without having to throw away any packaging. This kind of business is getting more and more profitable not only in cities, but also in towns and villages. It is usually the result of proactive political nudges in the right direction, leading to residents becoming aware of and able to implement virtuous consumption habits.
Shortly, a substantial part of the civil society, made of individuals, business and organisations is already embarked upon the effort of reducing plastic overconsumption. Now it is time for governments to let these seeds sprout.

Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick

Ben is a London-based freelance journalist and editor who has become acutely aware of zero waste principles since finding out more about the issues from a passionate zero waste advocate on a permaculture project in Catalunya. He now writes about waste for the nature and culture website Caught by the River and is a regular volunteer at his local community food waste recycling project, which provides meals from produce thrown away by supermarkets for disadvantaged people in the area.
Ben McCormick

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4 reasons why recycling is better than incineration

The waste hierarchy is the main principle at the cornerstone of the European Union’s waste policy. It establishes the priority order Member States should apply when developing waste management legislation and policy. It envisions that waste should be in the first place prevented, then  reused, recycled, processed for energy recovery, and finally disposed of.

Unfortunately, although waste prevention represents the top priority of the waste hierarchy, effective waste measures of this kind have rarely been yet developed by Member States. This delay in the implementation of the waste hierarchy principles is in part due to the lack of consistency among national waste policies: on the one hand, there are principles and other non-binding tools to promote more sustainability-oriented practices; on the other hand, Member States are free to subsidise the activity of burning mixed municipal waste, known as incineration.

When waste is not subjected to separate collection, it is called mixed or residual waste. This means that many materials (plastics, paper, organics), which could be recycled if they were separated at the source, are inexorably lost, because they will be burnt into incineration facilities.

The European Parliament is currently amending the European Directive on Renewable Energy, which will be implemented in the following decade. The legislation that emerges from this process will influence the choices of local policy makers and financial investors. This represents a major opportunity to offset unproductive investments and concentrate the efforts on the options that are the most sustainable, the most profitable, and generate the most jobs. In all these aspects, recycling makes much more sense than incineration, and here is why.

1. Recycling saves energy

The practice of incineration is bad for several reasons. On the first hand, it disincentivises citizens to care about what they consume. This is very dangerous in a world where more than 7 billion people live out of finite resources.

Not very long ago, recycling was considered difficult, even impossible, according to the most skepticals. However, nowadays recyclers run a business of millions of euros, while preserving materials in the economic loop. A combination of recycling and composting can save three to four times more energy than an incinerator can produce. 1

Moreover, recycling saves massive amounts of CO2 emissions and, if optimised, it can play key role in meeting the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement to contrast climate change. 2

Finally, when “embedded energy” is taken into account as an indicator (which, unfortunately, is not the case in many Life Cycle Assessments), the amount of energy that a high-quality recycling can potentially saves is astonishing when compared to incineration, as pointed out in a recent study.

2. Recycling is more profitable

Incineration of mixed municipal waste is an expensive practice which requires significant financial investments from local authorities. Unfortunately, the costs to build the facilities and to run them are are covered mainly by public funds with very little private contribution.  Therefore, its costs are, in reality, to be paid by the citizens through higher taxes and bills for waste management.

On the contrary, the recycling sector has developed into a successful business. In Germany, its turnover increased by 520 per cent between 2005 and 2009.3 Agreeing to take the path to maximize recycling is particularly important for those countries that joined the EU recently and are currently building their waste management system. They have also the most to gain in terms of jobs and savings.

3. Recycling creates more job

Burning waste requires a lot of money but very little workforce. This means that incineration facilities create almost no jobs.

On the contrary, recycling benefits the whole economy by creatingat least ten times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. 4

Here are a few examples:

It is estimated that, in addition to the nearly 400 000 direct jobs brought by the implementation of the existing EU waste legislation, 170 000 more jobs could be created, most of them impossible to delocalise outside the EU, and 30 billion euro could be saved by 2035. 6

When comparing the costs, one can see how good management and recycling save money for the taxpayers and create real and tangible wealth.

4. Recycling is more flexible and dynamic

Finally, the technology involved in incineration is neither efficient nor exempt from problems: in Denmark, the kingdom of incinerators, the sudden breakdown of one of the two incinerators forced the operator to apply for an extraordinary permit to store huge quantities of waste. Needless to say, the breakdown costed approximately €15 million to the operator who will likely swap the bill to the taxpayers.

Incinerators are not flexible. This means that, in order to deliver a sound economic profit, they need from 40 to 50 years of activity, without taking into account the management costs. In 1998, when the UK’s Kent County entered into a twenty-five-year contract to burn waste, it thought it was making a wise economic move. But now, as the recycling economy has vastly improved, the County is losing an estimated €1.5 million a year.7 Rather than selling its recyclables for reuse, which would be both economically and environmentally efficient, it must send those valuable resources up in smoke. That is an unfortunate situation that will persist until the contract expires.

On the contrary, re-use and recycling activities are not only environmentally friendly, but they also deliver a far better result from the economic and social point of view.

Nevertheless, because of misconceptions and sometimes poorly transparent decision making process, incineration still represent a serious threat, while every year less than 40% of European waste is recycled or re-used. The best way to invert this trend is to implement effective source separation (of waste) and separate collection schemes. By doing that, it is possible to boost the percentage of recycling and the quality of recyclates, thus creating an added value for society and the environment, and finally moving beyond the practice of mixed waste incineration for good.

1 J. Morriss and D. Canzonieri, Recycling versus Incineration: An Energy Conservation Analysis, Seattle, Sound Resource Management Group, 1993.
2 E. Katrakis, Time to make a decisive difference for recycling in Europe, The European Files, N. 44, Page 15, December 2016.
3 K. Florenz, Time for Change, The European Files, N. 44, Pp 9-11, December 2016.
4 P. Connet, The Zero Waste Solution. Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time, Paul Connet, 2013.
5 J.M. Simon, Case Study #4.The Story of Contarina, 2015
6 D.C. Crespo, Ambition and realism – key ingredients for a future-oriented waste policy, The European Files, N. 44, P. 8, December 2016.

7 P. Connet, The Zero Waste Solution. Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time, Paul Connet, 2013.

Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick

Ben is a London-based freelance journalist and editor who has become acutely aware of zero waste principles since finding out more about the issues from a passionate zero waste advocate on a permaculture project in Catalunya. He now writes about waste for the nature and culture website Caught by the River and is a regular volunteer at his local community food waste recycling project, which provides meals from produce thrown away by supermarkets for disadvantaged people in the area.
Ben McCormick

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How a simple 40-day experiment rocked my world

As we reach the end of the Zero Waste Week, where various experiments have taken place in finding new ways to live without producing waste such in our daily lives. This account from guest blogger Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld, details her experiment of living without single use plastics for 40 days. Read about her trials and tribulations below…

Have you ever been struck by how much plastic there is? On many occasions over the years, friends and I would comment on the ever-increasing abundance of plastic packaging that we were recycling or throwing away every few days from our homes. It seemed wasteful. After considering the true cost of production, even recycling, which is considered by most to be a responsible solution, seemed energy-intensive compared to the few minutes of use for which the packaging was designed. Plus, we didn’t even know if the city had the processing facilities to recycle all of the odd mixes of plastic. In Grandma’s time, it wasn’t like this! Though troubled by the situation, we would undoubtedly give ourselves a pat on the back for talking about our concern for the environment. I realise now in retrospect that it was merely that: talk. There is a saying, “When all is said and done, more is said than done”.

Fast forward to 2016. While on sabbatical in the United States last year, a friend of mine told me that for Lent she was going to give up eating meat. I don’t practice any particular religion, just my violin, but I was inspired to give something up for Lent, too. What would it be? 40 days is a long time. What would be a challenge and, at the same time, help align my actions with my beliefs? I got it! I decided to give up plastic – all of those petroleum-based SUPs (Single-Use Plastics). So, what does that include? It’s the disposable plastic water cup, coffee cup and lid, water bottle, drinking straw, ice cream spoon, styrofoam, cling film wrap, produce bag, etc. The list goes on and on.

Could I buy what I wanted without plastic waste? I wasn’t sure.
What would I eat? Would I go hungry?
What could I buy within these guidelines?

I really didn’t know the answers to these questions, so I would have to see in person with my newly trained plastic-detector eyes. As motivation, I called this an “experiment”. Experiments are low-risk, in the sense that they allow for failure, and I would simply do my best, learning and adjusting each step of the way. I posted on social media in order to be held accountable and also to see if others would be interested in joining me. Immediately, over 70 friends and relatives responded with support and 8 people in different locations around the world even agreed to do the experiment with me! I also got comments such as, “I’ve tried this. I didn’t last a week.” Most agreed that there is too much plastic packing in general, but sensed little hope for a change, blaming the manufacturers for giving us no options. Others suggested shopping locally from farmers or at farmers’ markets. This has proven to be, in every location I have lived or traveled, the most viable option, as there is little to no packaging. While buying organic foods directly from the farmers, I also intentionally decided to extend my experiment to conventional supermarkets, where the vast majority shop. I chose to make a statement every time, voting with my money, buying the products which did not use SUPs; and for those which did use SUPs, I called the company, expressing to them that I won’t be buying those products because of my experiment. My calls were usually received by a shocked secretary who agreed to deliver my message. I bet they rarely got such calls!

In order to start my shopping experiment, I decided that I would have to prepare some items, namely reusable cloth bags:

My loyal durable, washable and lightweight shopping bag – always in my pocket or purse

Mesh bags with drawstrings – ideal produce bags for loose fruit or green leafy vegetables

Solid cloth bags for bulk items such as grains, nuts, seeds or dried fruit

Some shopkeepers hesitated putting food in my bags, saying that they might get stained. They can get stained and then washed! I would gladly accept a temporary stain in exchange for keeping a plastic bag out of landfill. (By the way, I advise washing new cloth bags before first use, just as you would new clothing before wearing.) A year later, this system works just as well in Europe, where in supermarkets, it is required to weigh produce and print a price sticker – stick it on the cloth bag and then checking out is effortless. I bought my bags but if you have fabric and a sewing machine, you can make your own!

So, how was my first shopping trip? I was overwhelmed by the size of the monster I had just challenged. It hit me suddenly, like a rude awakening. I saw the plastic. I saw it everywhere. Whereas before, I had focused on the product inside, now all I could see was the plastic prison on the outside. It wrapped carrots and celery. It clung to fruit. Cheeses suffocated in it. Cans were lined with it, I found out. Every kind of prepared and processed food was enveloped in it. You will understand, too, if you start looking.









And I did not want to buy it! My new experiment was a kind of game, but at a certain point of saturation, seeing so much unnecessary plastic was repulsive. By being prepared though, I managed to avoid consuming 2 plastic shopping bags, 5 thin plastic produce bags, plastic clamshells, styrofoam and plastic cling film! An encouraging beginning. Unsure of the reaction I would get in a store not accustomed to Zero Waste, I admit that I was a bit nervous at first, but as I got the hang of it, I even showed off a bit. I got some attention from fellow shoppers as well as from the cashier, noting with curiosity that this was something different from the norm. It was so successful that I was convinced to make it the new norm. With this mindset, I felt like a warrior on a mission!

Many times in subsequent shopping trips, honestly I felt disoriented and hungry, not being able to buy what I was used to buying. Crackers, chips and pasta all came in disposable plastic bags. Yogurt, juice, and prepared foods were in plastic containers. Sometimes I would even buy a food I didn’t know – just because it came in glass or no packaging at all – and then learn how to prepare it. A friend of mine who heard about my 40-day experiment recommended the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. I borrowed a copy from the local library. The book is a marvellous resource, with a multitude of recipes for a Zero Waste lifestyle. One of the first practical tips I could apply immediately was shopping the perimeter of a supermarket – generally where one finds unpackaged produce, fresh meat, cheese and fish, or bread and pastries, all of which one could ideally put in bags or glass containers brought to the store. Other bright minds, such as Michael Pollan, have also noticed this supermarket design. Take a look next time you go shopping.

A typical shopping trip, using mesh bags, glass jars, a thermos, and a reusable shopping bag

The first few attempts were clearly the hardest, but gradually I developed a routine, and store workers started recognising me. Each time though, I would still get a little pit in my stomach, not knowing what challenge I would have to face. For example, empty glass jars are heavy and require the tare weight to be calculated before filling – some registers could not subtract that. On other occasions, managers would run after me, questioning the sterilisation of my containers and bags. I assured them that they were sterilised by the high heat of the dishwasher and washing machine. On days when I was tired, I would go to the people who knew me and understood without explanation. On days when I had energy to burn, I would intentionally go to different workers, ask for help, explain what I was doing, make suggestions and enjoy the surprise, shock or understanding on their faces. For example, at the deli counter, when I asked for cheese to be sliced and put in my glass container, the worker paused for a moment, looked at me as she put the cheese in and commented, “Ya learn somethin’ new every day!”

So, I came to the end of the 40-day experiment. Could I have wasted less and been more prepared? Yes. But all in all, I was quite pleased with the results. This is all of the plastic waste I created:


Buying food without plastic packaging is possible and I ended up eating healthier and saving money! On day 41, with the relief of having concluded my experiment, did I revert to buying plastic packaging as I had before? No, I realised that there was no turning back. It was a simple decision. Even if it is easier in the short-term to use SUPs and other disposable items, I’m willing to make the relatively small effort in order to avoid undesirable, and potentially disastrous, long-term effects. Not only do they create waste, use excessive resources, energy and money, but they also leach into the food. Why voluntarily eat disease-provoking chemicals? Better not to buy unnecessary packaging in the first place! All that being said, I must clarify that, contrary to what you may deduce, I do value plastic for its amazing qualities. What I am opposed to is its overuse and abuse, financially profiting some greedy corporations while jeopardising the health of life on this planet.

Regarding “Zero Waste”, I have found it to be a lofty lifestyle goal. Intentionally following the principles has significantly improved my quality of life. By being an example of the change I want, I revel in changing people’s views (most importantly, my own) on what is possible, acceptable and ‘normal’. My parents raised me with a strong environmental consciousness, according to the philosophy of Zero Waste, though it had not yet been named. When talking with various people on this subject, quite a few respond that they remember, even in their own generation, the times of glass milk bottles and cloth bags. In fact, this is not a new lifestyle. It is a return to the wisdom of our elders. In the past 70-some years, stores have made it increasingly difficult to shop like this, so that is why I evaluated my 40-day experiment as a tremendous victory! Globally, we’ve reached a point at which the way we are consuming is neither sustainable nor intelligent. It is time to wake up and take action! Educating oneself and consequently aligning one’s actions with one’s beliefs is positively empowering. If you already are doing this, I commend you. Share your story and inspire others.

My recommendation to anyone wishing to do this experiment: focus on the concept, not necessarily the number Zero. My shopping partner, doing the experiment with me, was striving for a 75% reduction in wasteful packaging and was successful! If you can reduce consumption of SUPs by 50%, for example, that’s a marvelous step! Even a 20% reduction is something. You might start by simply noticing plastic around you, whether in the store, at a restaurant or the bags that people carry on the street. Every little bit does help. In the words of Dr. Robert Maurer, “One small step can change your life!” So many of us are in professions that demand precision and perfectionism. Striving for that same perfection, as in a perfect 0% waste score, can be paralyzing. My intention has become rather to reduce waste as much and as quickly as possible, but not to keep score. Being the type of person who has the best intentions and yet is not perfect, I jokingly mentioned to my experiment partner that we could form the “2% Waste” Club. Our simultaneous outburst of laughter initiated the club.

What had started as merely a 40-day experiment turned into a chain of experiments, one clue leading to the next. Each successful one has, in turn, led to a certain personal awakening, if you will, becoming another part of my chosen lifestyle.

Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick

Ben is a London-based freelance journalist and editor who has become acutely aware of zero waste principles since finding out more about the issues from a passionate zero waste advocate on a permaculture project in Catalunya. He now writes about waste for the nature and culture website Caught by the River and is a regular volunteer at his local community food waste recycling project, which provides meals from produce thrown away by supermarkets for disadvantaged people in the area.
Ben McCormick

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Scotland adopts a deposit for beverages that paves the way for the EU Strategy on Plastics

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 05/09/17

The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced this afternoon her commitment to introduce a deposit in all beverage containers sold in Scotland, in an effort to cut down marine and street litter. Consumers would pay a deposit to shops which would be refunded to consumers after the return of the containers. The so-called Deposit and Return Scheme (DRS) has been implemented and has been successfully working for over a decade in countries like Germany, Denmark and Sweden, who have managed to boost recycling rates for beverage packaging to over 90%.

Once implemented this system, Scotland will be the first region in Europe to introduce a DRS on its own, confirming its ambition in moving towards a Zero Waste society, and prevent marine litter. This decision comes at a key political moment, when the European Commission is considering measures to include in its Plastic Strategy, intended to combat plastic pollution in marine environment. Recent research has pointed at deposit schemes as the “single most effective measure to reduce plastic pollution in seas”.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes Scottish efforts to move towards a Circular Economy and reduce plastic pollution by securing an effective recycling of bottles, cans and cartons.

ZWE calls on the European Commission to take note of the benefits of deposit schemes, and to introduce the legal changes needed to facilitate DRS to extend across the EU.


Study on economic incentives for separate collection by Rezero, Zero Waste Europe and Reloop Platform

Joint letter on amendments to RED II by CEPI, EURIC, Plastic Recyclers Europe and ZWE

On the 4th of September, Zero Waste Europe sent a joint letter with representatives of the recycling industry calling for key amendments to be made to the RED II proposal. These amendments, to be voted on by the ENVI Committee on October 11-12 would bring the treatment of waste into line with the EU waste hierarchy. 

Dear Members of the ENVI Committee,

We the undersigned organisations urge you to support the following key proposals for amendments due to be voted October 11-12 by the ENVI committee:

  • Introduce new sustainability criteria for renewable energy from waste, to ensure any extraction of energy from waste is done in line with the EU waste hierarchy.
  • Remove the subsidies for energy from mixed municipal and industrial waste, to support separate collection and recycling targets.
  • Exclude waste-based fossil fuels from the scope of the legislative proposal: the use of renewable energy funding for these is a massive step backward for the deployment of renewable energy sources, and should therefore be explicitly excluded from the Directive.

These amendments are key to ensure the treatment of waste is done in line with the principle of the EU waste hierarchy. In addition, voting in favour of these amendments is pivotal to ensure the alignment of the RED II with the circular economy package, as well as with the recent Commission’s communication on the role of waste–to-energy in the circular economy.

We therefore recommed you to support the above amendments and guarantee a coherent and forward-looking approach to renewable energy, waste management and the circular economy.

Kindest regards,

Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director, Zero Waste Europe

Ulrich Leberle, Raw Materials Director, Confederation of European Paper Industries

Emmanuel Katrakis, Secretary General, The European Recycling Industries’ Confederation

Antonino Furfari, Managing Director, Managing Director, Plastics Recyclers Europe


3 ways the European Parliament can fix the Renewable Energy proposal

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is currently under revision in the European Parliament. Soon the committees responsible for the file will vote on the amendments, many of which cover use of waste for energy generation.

Just like the previous version, the new proposal (RED II) continues to promote energy recovery processes from the biodegradable fraction of mixed waste, thus circumventing the waste hierarchy. These processes not only undermine the waste management options with a higher circular economy potential, such as waste prevention and recycling, but also significantly contribute to climate change.

There are 3 key adjustments the European Parliament can make to align the RED II proposal with the EU waste and circular economy policies:

  • Firstly, the proposal should ensure that the promotion of energy from waste is strictly guided by the principle of the waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy ranks waste management options according to their sustainability, and it therefore prioritises waste prevention and recycling. In addition, the waste hierarchy also reflects the preferred environmental options from a climate perspective. To ensure that the Directive takes into account the principle of the waste hierarchy, new criteria for the use of waste for energy purposes should be introduced in the Directive.
  • Secondly, support schemes for energy from waste should be consistent with the goal of shifting upwards in the implementation of the EU waste hierarchy. Therefore, support measures for recovery of energy from the organics fraction of mixed waste processes (incineration and co-incineration), that undermine the waste hierarchy and discourage actions at the top of the waste hierarchy, should be phased out. This is critical to the achievement of higher separate collection and recycling rates of biowaste, in line with the requirements of the new waste legislation. Moreover, higher recycling of biowaste could produce the equivalent of over 12 large coal fire plants, or as much as the entire annual electric consumption of Austria for 2015 (60.813.000MWh).
  • Finally, the proposal should exclude any mention of the use of waste-based fossil fuels from the scope of the Directive. The renewable energy support schemes were developed to promote the use of energy from renewable sources in the EU. Therefore, the inclusion of waste-based fossil fuels (g. from plastics) within the scope of the proposal is a harmful distortion of renewable energy standards, and inconsistent with EU climate policies. Such a use of renewable energy funding is a massive step backward for the deployment of renewable energy sources in Europe and the achievement of a Circular Economy, and should therefore be explicitly excluded from the Directive.

Will the European Parliament fix the Renewable Energy proposal?

Find out more on why the current proposal is flawed in our previous blog.