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!
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!
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.
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.
EU countries obstructing key measures that would bring the EU closer to a circular economy are revealed – and they are not your usual suspects.
The European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe asked member states whether they will support key proposals to boost EU waste policy in the negotiations taking place in Brussels in the coming weeks.
The proposals, already approved by the European Parliament in March, include higher recycling targets for municipal solid waste; targets for preparation for reuse of municipal solid waste and reuse of packaging; better separate collection of all waste streams, including biowaste; EU-wide rules for producer responsibility; and objectives to reduce waste generation by 2030.
The investigation shows that ambitious reform of EU waste laws is under attack by a number of countries. If a regressive position is to prevail in the negotiations, plans to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the coming years will most likely stall.
Recent leaks (paywall link) of the Council’s current common position show that the laggards are winning out, despite higher individual ambition by some member states in areas including recycling targets, extended producer responsibility and biowaste separate collection.
Ferran Rosa, waste policy officer at Zero Waste Europe said: “Member States all agree to go towards a circular economy, but when it comes to making it happen, many are reluctant. It is time for Member States to stop being short-sighted and push for a real transition”
Countries opposing most of the proposals include Denmark and Finland – often regarded as leaders in waste policy despite their enormous amount of waste generated. Other countries set to categorically reject higher ambition are Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia.
While eventually supporting a 65% recycling target, countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Luxembourg and Slovakia are expected to oppose plans to make preparation for reuse mandatory, set a 10% target for packaging reuse and set waste prevention targets–all top priorities in a circular economy.
On the other hand, southern countries that generally struggle with waste management such as Greece and Romania as well as Spain are calling for stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.
Other progressive countries supporting the reforms are France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
What happens next?
• High representatives from member states will meet before the end of the month to define the position of the Council of the European Union.
• By the end of May, all three EU institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – will enter the final inter-institutional negotiations before agreeing on the final text of the new waste laws.
Prior to the discussions on the waste directives at the European Parliament, Zero Waste Europe releases a position paper outlining the main challenges of current Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes and the solutions to make EPR a key tool for circular economy.
According to recent research (1), EPR schemes only manage to cover 31% of municipal solid waste and even these products which are covered are not necessarily successfully separately collected or recycled. At the same time, in most countries, EPR fees fail to take into account how products are designed, meaning that circularity is not incentivised.
Cover the full cost of products at the end of life
Support moving up the waste hierarchy
Are agents for closed-loop sectors
Bring greater transparency to waste management
Zero Waste Europe considers EPR schemes a key tool to bridge ecodesign and waste management and calls on to MEPs and Member States to implement the above guidelines.
“The current EPR tools are insufficient to meet the level of ambition set by a Circular Economy. Closing the material loops and keeping the value and the embodied energy in the system will require changing responsibilities, incentives and indicators; hence our 6 recommendations.” Said Ferran Rosa, waste policy officer at ZWE.
For immediate release: Brussels, November 30, 2016
In an extremely well attended conference held in Valencia on November 29th the regional government of Valencia (Eastern Spain) showed its commitment to forge ahead with the project of creating a law where beverage containers will be sold with a deposit across the whole region. With this law the government aims to reduce litter while significantly increasing the recycling rates for bottles, cans and cartons, which currently stagnates at under 30%.
The region of Valencia, accounting for 5 million inhabitants, is the first in Spain to move in this direction, following the successful examples of Germany and Norway and, more recently, Estonia and Lithuania. The government expects, after the approval in Parliament, to start selling beverage containers with a deposit as of January 2018. Other Spanish regions such as Baleares, Catalonia and Navarra have expressed an interest to follow suit.
Zero Waste Europe congratulates the Valencian government for this commitment to build a circular economy and for the reduction of litter both on land and in the ocean.
Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe said “Deposit systems have proven to be the most effective tool to implement Extended Producer Responsibility on beverages and we are happy to see Valencia joining progressive regions in Europe in increasing recycling and reducing litter.”
An analysis of the new EC proposal on Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD)
Joan Marc Simon – Director of Zero Waste Europe
On December 2nd the European Commission (EC) presented the new legislative proposal aiming to amend waste directives and move the EU towards a Circular Economy. However if one analyses the text of the proposal on Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) in detail one wonders whether this proposal is legislating for 2030 or for 2010.
Effective action in the field of packaging is as important as it is urgent. There are many reasons for this;
packaging is growing in absolute terms both in volume and in weight. Between 2000 and 2015 the share of plastic packaging has grown 5% annually and is now 25% of the market,
once it becomes waste most packaging (notably plastic but not exclusively) is generally disposed of, not recycled,
marine litter is global problem and 80% of it is made of plastic packaging and by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Moreover current packaging recycling schemes in Europe are generally inefficient. In a study we published in 2015 we demonstrated that in Europe 70% of the municipal waste is product waste, i.e. not biowaste, 45% of which is not covered by Extended Producer Responsibility schemes which only succeed to separately collect 18% of it. Hence the recycling system is not performing very well and leads to most product waste ending up in the environment, in landfills or in incinerators.
With this in mind the European Commission presented a proposal in December 2015 aiming to create an “economy that preserves the value added in products for as long as possible and virtually eliminates waste. It retains the resources within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, so that they remain in productive use and create further value”.
Hence, one would expect that the aim of the amended Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) is to go in the direction of increasingly preserving this value that we seem to be so inefficient at maintaining.
If we look into the current proposal from the EC to amend the PPWD we will see that it mainly proposes two things;
Firstly, it suggests that preparing for reuse rates can be counted as contribution to recycling efforts. One can understand the political reasons behind this move, help those countries which will see their recycling rates shrink with the new suggested methodology to account for the targets, but technically it is an objectively bad idea because it mixes apples with pears and will not help bring clarity and legal security to neither the recycling industry nor public authorities. If the EC wants to increase reuse of packaging it is a lot better to set separate preparation for reuse targets altogether.
Secondly, it reduces the targets of preparation for reuse and recycling by an order of 5 to 15 points from the 2014 proposal, although the targets proposed will remain above those of the PPWD directive of 1994. All in all this is to be welcomed but if preparation for reuse is to be counted together with recycling it might well be that many countries will be already meeting the recycling targets today.
However, before ranking the level of ambition of the EC proposal we need to zoom out and ask ourselves a simple but important question; if the aim of this legislation is to contribute to the creation of a Circular Economy which preserves the value added in products as long as possible… are the measures presented the appropriate ones?
Unfortunately the answer is a resounding no. The current proposal would have been appropriate for the discussions we had 10 years ago during the revision of the waste framework directive in which the aim was to “turn the EU into a recycling society” but not in 2016 in the framework of Circular Economy discussions.
Many stakeholders including the EC itself recognise that the real added value of products and resources is in prevention and reuse operations. A very simple example; if we recycle a mobile phone the value of the materials we will extract will not be above €2 whereas if we repair and resell it we have the possibility of getting several hundred euros. In this sense the proposals to amend the PPWD are not legislating for the future but rather for a situation which belongs to the past. Where are the proposals to reduce packaging waste? What about increasing packaging reuse? And deposit schemes? By focusing primarily on recycling the EC commits the same mistake of previous decades; work at the bottom of the hierarchy and ignore the biggest potential benefit which lies at the top.
Another sign that the proposal is legislating for the past is the fact that it does not address current market developments. The fastest growing packaging waste streams are composite packaging (multilayer packaging, pouch-ups, etc) growing at double digits rate yearly. They are difficult to collect and even more difficult to recycle yet completely absent in the directive. On the other hand we see the rise of online shopping which involves a lot of packaging which producers like Amazon put in to the EU market but for which they don’t take any responsibility… on top of evading most taxes these companies get another competitive advantage by passing the responsibility of managing their packaging waste to the public authorities. Where is the action from the EC on this front?
And what about coffee-capsules? They are a problem today which will continue to grow in the coming years and legally speaking they are not even considered to be packaging! We need a proposal that legislates not for the past but for the Europe we will have in 2025 and 2030.
Essential components to make the PPWD fit for the Circular Economy
If the objective is to build a Circular Economy which preserves the added value in the economy there are at least four instruments that the EC should be considering:
Prevention targets for plastic packaging
We need to stop the growth of packaging waste in Europe. This means that there should be prevention targets which in my opinion do not need address the totality of packaging waste but rather specific waste streams and at the very least have prevention targets for plastic packaging. There are three reasons for this; plastic packaging is the stream with lowest recyclability and the one with lowest recycling rates, it is the fastest growing packaging waste stream and it is a major problem for marine environment and hence human health. Moreover, because of its light weight it is hard to compare with metals, paper and glass and the EC is working on a strategy on plastics which needs to address plastic packaging. Why not start here?
The current PPWD directive already includes prevention targets for single use carrier bags which focus in reducing the units of plastic bags instead of addressing the stream by weight. A similar approach can be used to set prevention targets for plastic packaging.
2. Separate targets for preparation for reuse
If there are targets for recycling, there could also be separate targets for preparation for reuse or any other commitment to have refillables return to Europe. Otherwise there is the paradox that by trying to meet recycling targets by weight member states might decide to dismantle existing packaging reuse schemes. Over the past few decades the market for refillable and reusable packaging in Europe has been inexorably shrinking and without a clear sign and guidance from the EU level nothing encourages governments thinking this process could be reversed or even stopped. The current PPWD already includes good wording on packaging reuse but still lacks the teeth and targets to make it possible.
3. Modulate EPR fees according to ‘circularity’ of products
There should be a clear feedback mechanism that connects waste with product and process design. In a circular economy, waste and inefficient resource use anywhere along the value chain should translate into direct costs for business. In other words, less durable, reusable or recyclable products should be more expensive for the producer and for the consumer than the circular ones. A way to do this is by using modulate fees in the extended producer responsibility schemes as it is being used in some cases such as for paper in France. Luckily the current proposal to amend the Waste Framework Directive already dwells on this option but we need stronger legislation in order to give clear signs and legal security to producers.
4. More and better recycling, but as a last option
Recycling is very important as last stage of a circular economy but it cannot do the job alone. Yes, we need more recycling, yes we need separate targets for recycling, yes we need to have separate recycling targets for composite packaging and yes we need more directly enforceable legal formulations but recycling alone cannot bring about a Circular Economy.
To conclude, the effectiveness of the new PPWD will be judged according to two parameters; on one hand the measures to tackle plastic packaging and on the other one the measures to support reusable and refillable packaging. Both currently missing and which will need to be introduced during the co-decision process.
Disruptive legislation in this field will not be easy because of the economic interests that lay behind single-use packaging but if Europe is serious about becoming a circular economy and fighting marine pollution it will need to stop looking at the past and start legislating for the future.
This speech was delivered at Packaging & Sustainability Forum, 2/3/16.
Between 13 & 15 November, 2015, Zero Waste Europe co-organised with The Bridge Productions a Redesign Innovation Jam devoted to plastic.
Multi-disciplinary teams of experts & innovators met in Copenhagen, Denmark, to analyse municipal plastic streams, identify problematic products and redesign processes and products in order to advance towards a zero waste society. In 48 hours, they took on the challenge to re-design a number of products & services that could be delivered in a much more sustainable way to consumers.
The event began with a reception organised in Malmö, Sweden, on Friday 13 November and continued in Copenhagen until 15 November, it brought together participants and experts mainly from Denmark and Sweden although other countries such as UK, Spain, Switzerland, France and Russia were also represented.
A jury of experts awarded the best ‘re-design’ at the end of the weekend.
This is just the first of many redesign innovation jams to come in 2016 which will look into plastics and other waste streams in order to detect those products designed for the dump and offer bottom-up alternatives.
To learn more about the details of this great event watch the following video:
The study published today  analyses the waste composition of 15 European cities showing that 70% of municipal solid waste is product waste, and therefore not food or garden waste, and as such could be included under an EPR scheme. However, on average, only 45% of this product waste (by weight) is currently covered by producer responsibility schemes. This means that, on average, EPR schemes only cover 32.5% of total municipal waste, with coverage varying from 14.9% in Copenhagen to 47.6% in Paris. Furthermore, only 18% of product waste is collected separately through an EPR scheme.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of ZWE said “The current interpretation of EPR was useful to increase recycling rates in Europe over last 20 years but it will need updating for it to help move us towards a circular economy. We call on the European Commission to use the upcoming waste package to include incentives to redesign systems and products in order to drive prevention and reuse, foster a serviced-based economy, put recycling as last option and progressively phase out disposal.”
The report makes a series of recommendations to the European Commission. Among these it calls for a broader definition and a more comprehensive approach to producer responsibility which includes the use of economic instruments. The introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements as well as better EPR schemes with full-cost coverage, individualisation, targets for separate collection and considering expansion of the current EPR scope to include more products and incentivise reuse.
The study also finds that existing EPR schemes have been ineffective in driving eco-design, both because of its limited coverage of product waste and the lack of modulation of EPR fees based on eco-design. Zero Waste Europe urges the European Commission to develop minimum European-wide individualisation criteria based on eco-design.
1. Zero Waste Europe– Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
This study provides clear evidence that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes in Europe are insufficient. In the Executive Summary, released on Wednesday 15, July, it has been found that despite 70% of municipal solid waste being product waste, only 45% of this product waste is currently covered by an EPR scheme and only 18% of the product waste is collected with existing EPR schemes.
In the full study to be released in October, there will be included a number of detailed and clear recommendations to the European Commission on improving the current EPR mechanisms and implementing truly effective EPR scheme with a broader definition which as the ‘father of extended producer responsibility’ Thomas Lindhqvist stated, would serve as “an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product”2.
For EPR thinking to fit into the circular economy, the study claims that it is necessary to connect waste managers with producers using economic instruments as well as the introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements that allow for better process and product design.
This study comes at important time for the European Commission who are currently conducting a review of waste policy and legislation. The aim of which is to “help turn Europe into a circular economy, boost recycling, secure access to raw materials and create jobs and economic growth”3. All ambitious targets which will need to incorporate strong EPR protocols to have achieve the desired goals, and move Europe towards a zero waste circular economy.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of Zero Waste Europe said “This study provides new evidence about the potential for improving EPR schemes in Europe and the need to use the upcoming waste package proposal to ensure that producers really take responsibility whilst providing the appropriate incentives to redesign systems and products”. It is clear that whilst EPR schemes across Europe do not manage to reach most producers there is real potential in the current review for their reform, and it is hoped that if the European Commission takes these findings into account. That would be a real step forwards for the circular economy and another step towards a zero waste Europe.
2Thomas Lindhqvist, “Mot ett förlängt producentansvar — analys av erfarenheter samt förslag” (“Towards an Extended Producer Responsibility — analysis of experiences and proposals,” in Swedish), 30 April 1992, published by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources ini “Varor som faror — Underlagsrapporter” (“Products as Hazardous — background documents,” in Swedish), Ds 1992:82. The definition was published in English for the first time in: Thomas Lindhqvist, “Extended Producer Responsibility,” in the proceedings of an invitational seminar at Trolleholm Castle, 4-5 May 1992: “Extended Responsibility as a Strategy to Promote Cleaner Products,” edited by Thomas Lindhqvist, Department of Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund, June 1992.
Key findings from the new study covering 15 European cities have been published today , in advance of the publication of the full study in September. The study shows that 70% of municipal solid waste is product waste (waste that is not food or garden waste) and as such could be included under an EPR scheme. However currently only 45% of this product waste (by weight) is covered by the producer responsibility scheme. Furthermore, only 18% of product waste is collected separately through an EPR scheme.
The full study to be released in September will make a series of recommendations to the European Commission. Among these it will call for a broader definition and a more comprehensive approach to EPR which includes the use of economic instruments. The introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements as well as better EPR schemes with full-cost coverage, individualisation, targets for separate collection and the expansion of the current EPR scope to include more products.
Zero Waste Europe encourages the European Commission to take these findings into account in the up-coming proposal on the waste package which will be presented before the end of the year.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of ZWE said “This study provides new evidence about the potential for improving EPR schemes in Europe and the need to use the upcoming waste package proposal to ensure that producers really take responsibility whilst providing the appropriate incentives to redesign systems and products”
1. Zero Waste Europe– Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
The Zero Waste activist Danilo Boni started cycling the tour which will bring him to visit many Zero Waste experiences in the country.
The tour starts today Tuesday, May 27, in Milan in an event which acknowledge the efforts of 19 companies and start-ups who have distinguished themselves for promoting clean production processes in which all the outputs of the production are turned into inputs so that the materials remain in use.
With this initiative, Zero Waste Italy in collaboration with the Municipality of Capannori (LU ), the Zero Waste Research Centre, the Association AmbienteFuturo and many local groups and municipalities throughout Italy, aim to highlight and reward the commitment of businesses in achieving the goal of Zero Waste .
“More than 70 % of the waste problem can be solved by the citizens by separating waste for recycling. But the remaining 30% is waste which cannot be properly managed and needs to be redesigned upstream. This must be solved together with companies” said Rossano Ercolini, president of Zero Waste Europe.
In the morning of May 27, councillor Piefrancesco Maran welcomed the delegation of the Zero Waste movement , including Paul Connett , a global promoter of Zero Waste strategy, Rossano Ercolini , winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2013 and president of Zero Waste Europe and Enzo Favoino , a researcher at the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza and coordinator of the Scientific Committee of Zero Waste Europe.
The meeting, sponsored by the City of Milan, highlights the success in the separate collection of organic waste in this municipality, which in June will cover 100% of the population and represents the most extensive and successful experience of separate collection of organic waste worldwide.
In the afternoon the cyclist Danilo Boni, accompanied by a delegation of Zero Waste Italy, will start pedalling the electric bicycle Frisbee, provided by TC Mobility official sponsor of the tour.
Later in the afternoon there was a meeting in Busto Arsizio, to be attended by Paul Connett and Enzo Favoino . After the meeting the tour continues along the way from the Villa Tovaglieri to the headquarters of the incinerator Accam. The event is organized by local committees Zero Waste under the patronage of the town of Busto Arsizio.
The stages of the tour will be the following :
Bolzano ( May 31)
Este -PD (2-3 June)
Marzabotto -BO (4-5 June)
Florence ( June 6 to 7 )
Greve in Chianti – FI (8 June )
Montefiscone –VT (June 10 )
Rome ( June 12 to 13 )
Naples (June 15 )
Sorrento -NA (16-17 June)
Capannori -LU ( 20-21-22 June )
In parallel to the tour, Professor Paul Connett will be the protagonist of another tour that will take him on May 30 in Naples, where he will attend a meeting with the schools on the theme of “Terra dei Fuochi” (Land of Fires), and Saturday, May 31 he will join Rossano Ercolini in Sorrento for a meeting in the Conca Park Hotel as part of the “Hotels and restaurants Zero Waste.”
Ercolini will also participate in a panel discussion open to citizens of the Versilia with mayors and councillors of Seravezza , Pietrasanta and Forte dei Marmi. The meeting, scheduled for May 29, is organized by GAS di Pietrasanta and Seravezza .
How to distinguish a petrol-based plastic from a bioplastic? Are they all recyclable? What about degradable plastics?
These are questions that a normal citizen has to face when dealing with the myriad of plastic-made products, packaging and alike. Is it toxic? Is it recyclable? Is it biodegradable? In which bin does this plastic go? With the recyclables? With the organics? With the residuals? What do all these logos mean?
The answer is not easy; there are thousands of different plastics serving many different purposes, from flexible, air-tight and see-through to hard, thick and coloured. If well used its good properties can make our life easier, if badly used it can poison us or pollute the environment for the next 500 years…
The applications of plastic are unlimited and with this material the demand drives the production; in other words, factors such as toxicity and/or recyclability are very rarely taken into account when the plastic object is designed. On top of bad design one should also bear in mind that in Europe most plastic escapes separate collection circuits which causes that only one fifth of all plastic is separately collected for recycling.
– How to monitor the inflows of different kinds of plastic,
– How to stop plastic from entering the environment,
– How to make sure that we make the best use of plastic
Only 21% of EU’s plastic waste is recycled – How to increase it?
Following the waste hierarchy most plastic should be prevented, a good deal of plastic should be reused and an even smaller amount should be recycled at the end of its life. Sadly the reality illustrates the opposite picture; in the EU of the 25 Million of tones of generated plastic waste (2008) 48.7% was landfilled, 51.3% was incinerated, and only 21.3% was recycled.
Currently there are plastic recycling targets for municipal solid waste, construction and demolition (C&D) waste, end-of-life vehicles (ELV), Packaging, Battery and WEEE. If the targets were met it would mean that 16 Mt of plastic waste would have been recycled (i.e. 64%, three times what is being recycled now). Why is plastic recycling so low in the EU? How do we stop plastic from ending in landfills and incinerators?
First of all it is clear that the current legal and economic incentives are not strong enough to steer plastic recycling. The separate collection of waste is not efficient enough and too many plastics –and other waste streams- end up in disposal facilities. Moreover, the extended producer responsibility schemes for plastic waste are scarce and its performance uneven; Germany recycles 98,5% of plastic packaging whereas Spain collects less than 30%. Also, markets for recycled plastic are not yet fully optimised and the demand of this secondary material low. Some measures to fix these problems are:
– Ban or heavily tax disposal of recyclable plastic waste in landfills or incinerators,
– Encourage as much as possible separate collection of plastic waste –pay as you throw- and penalise mixed waste,
– Limit or promote replacing of toxic substances that contaminate the recycled pulp such as BFRs, POPs, PBB, HBCDD.
– Targets for quality of recycled output –such as end of waste criteria that equals high quality recycled plastic with virgin plastic- in order to provide a good market for the secondary product,
There are 1000s of plastics out there and many more are coming every year, no wonder many people are getting confused as to what can be recycled, composted or disposed of.
“Traditional” plastics are made of non-renewable sources such as oil or gas and if well designed they can be recycled. On the other hand bioplastics are plastics which can have the same properties as oil-based plastics but with the difference that they are produced from renewable biomass sources such as vegetable fats or corn starch. Bioplastics can be designed to be either recyclable or compostable, but not both. Moreover most compostable bioplastics do not decompose the same way, whereas some can biodegrade in the conditions of home-composting the big majority of biodegradable bioplastics require very specific conditions of temperature and humidity which are only fit for industrial composting plants.
To complicate things further there are petroleum-based plastics that claim biodegradability when what they do is fragment thanks to an oxidising additive; the oxo-degradable plastics. In other words, they don’t degrade but break into small pieces which can pollute soils, increase risk of ingestion for animals and endanger quality plastic recycling.
One can wonder why we don’t have a target of recycling 90 or 95% of the plastics when we know that they are all potentially recyclable but truth is that the different kinds of plastics and the many additives and toxics used make plastic recycling or composting difficult. Some ways to address this confusion can be:
– Restrict the use the real biodegradable plastics for the purpose of food packaging so that they can be collected with the organic waste and properly composted,
– Ensure quality recycling for the non-biodegradable plastics and promote design-for-recycling and not design-for-the-dump approach,
Plastic production comes at a high environmental and economic cost, yet it is still very cheap –and subsidised- in comparison with the alternatives. One of the results is the wide-spread use of single-use products, most of them made of plastic. Plastic bags are the best example of this practice.
From the design point of view it is quite stupid to use one of the most durable materials to produce the shortest lived products. And as we have seen one of the dangerous solutions in the market is to add additives such as the d2W to make plastic “disappear” when in reality it only breaks it into smaller pieces making impossible recovering it for recycling and endangering composting. See what the plastic recyclers and bioplastic associations say about oxo-degradable plastics.
It is a no-brainer that single use plastic bags –which represented 92% of the 95,5 billion carrier bags in the EU in 2010- should be phased out (with bans or with taxation).
Other packaging such as PET beverage bottles can be made subject to a deposit and return system which would motivate the holder to recuperate his deposit. For certain plastic items, new entrepreneurial models such as lease systems, where the producer remains the owner of the product, could be a useful tool to ensure that the item is collected and treated in an environmentally sound manner.
Another less known example of single use plastic that goes to pollute the environment are the micro-plastics and micro-beads which are present in personal care products such as soaps and creams. These micro plastics also end up in the environment and they enter the food chain.
Once in the environment – particularly in the marine environment – plastic waste can persist for hundreds of years, harm to the coastal and marine environment and to aquatic life follows from the 10 million tonnes of litter, mostly plastic, which end up in the world’s oceans and seas annually, turning them into the world’s biggest plastic dump. Waste patches in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans are estimated to be in the order of 100 Mt, about 80% of which is plastic. Plastic debris causes sea species to suffer from entanglement or ingestion.
Plastic is not inert
Conventional plastic contains a large number, and sometimes a large proportion, of chemical additives which can be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic or provoke other toxic reactions and can, in principle, migrate into the environment, though in small quantities. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as pesticides like DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can attach themselves from the surrounding water to plastic fragments which can be harmful and enter the food chain via marine fauna.
All in all, a strong and concerted action regarding plastic and especially single use plastic is necessary. The Zero Waste strategy works at three levels;
Better design is needed to make plastics non-toxic and recyclable or compostable,
Better organisation is needed to make sure recyclable plastics are not mixed up with the compostable ones and separately collected to be properly recycled or composted,
Better legislation is necessary to ban/tax bad products or bad use of products, incentivise good prevention and recycling practices and build markets for recycled materials.
In the future plastic will be an asset or a liability depending on our capacity to address the above-mentioned issues. Zero Waste provides a strategy to make the best use of this great human invention so that it continues to make our life easier without endangering life of other species and future generations.
We use so much plastic! Plastic waste that ends up in our oceans!
Fish eat plastic and we eat fish…… Buying less plastic = less plastic waste!
From Monday, 10 June 2013, 00:00 hrs, until Sunday, 16 June 2013, 23:59 hrs we are going to shop plastic-free! No new plastic for a whole week. You may use plastic which you already have, e.g., your toothbrush, sandwich bags, and your body scrub. But if it’s used up you will be facing a challenge!
This also includes food which is wrapped in plastic. You can make things yourself, a week without plastics or an alternative which is not wrapped in plastic can be a solution. Get creative and create plastic-free situations!
Share photos, movie clips, tips and tricks on Facebook and Twitter so that others can see what a fabulous Zero Plastic Hero you are.
Did you know that a new continent was discovered? A continent the size of France and Spain together. Without the presence of humans, animals, or nature, but only made from plastic! Have you already heard about this plastic soup? We have, and we are very concerned about the pollution of the Earth by increasing plastic waste.
Plastic needs 450 years to decompose, even though most plastic is only used for a very brief amount of time. Not very clever, is it? And seriously: Why does a cucumber or a pepper really need a plastic sleeve?
A lot of our plastic waste ends up in our immediate environment and ultimately in the ocean. Only a small amount gets recycled.
We want to make you aware of this global issue of concern and at the same time decrease plastic consumption.
What’s the plan? With as many people as possible we refuse to buy any plastic between 10 and 16 June 2013. A whole week without plastic – can you do it? Or: Do you accept the challenge? Will you participate in the Zero Plastic Week?
One of the most challenging fractions of waste in a zero waste vision is all that is left over after recycling—because it is either too toxic to be safely recycled or is made out of non-recyclable material. It’s the fearsome residual fraction.
It is also that fraction of waste that proponents of end-of-pipe technologies such as landfills or incinerators use as their failsafe excuse to expand, as if the residual fraction is inevitable, a given by nature that is here to stay.
Well, far from it. Instead of blind acceptance, if you take a good look at what this residual fraction is made up of, then you’ll be able to assess the most appropriate solutions. At a minimum, if something cannot be reused, composted, or recycled, it needs to undergo a proper redesign!
A good place to start is outing residual waste. Enter the People’s Design Lab, where you can nominate products that can’t be recycled, re-used or repaired; vote for the worst of the nominated products; and share better ideas. The People’s Design Lab was formally launched on April 27th at the gorgeous and inspiring Good Life Centre in London, where lots of zero wasters had a first go nominating the worst and best products for a zero waste future.
The four People’s Design Lab Award categories are self-explanatory and rather eye-opening:
– The Weakest Link Award for Products You Thought Would Last a Long Time, but broke and then couldn’t be fixed. Maybe these items are impossible to open or take apart without inflicting terminal damage to the product, or it could be that spares just aren’t available. Take, for example, affordable headphones, which break easily and are very hard, if not impossible, to fix. That’s a nomination for the Weakest Link.
– Award for all Other Products Needing A Redesign. If your nomination does not fit any of these categories, just submit it here! Small electronic chargers for example, just need to be re-designed. Why do they all have to be so different? So incompatible? Share with People’s Lab your discomfiture and join forces to rethink these products.
Get involved! There is no time to waste! The People’s Design Lab will be open for your nominations and votes until May 27th. Let’s all support this creative and fun strategy to raise awareness about our fearsome residual waste fraction.
When waste has a value littering disappears and recycling skyrockets. This is in a nutshell what the deposit system for packaging waste is about; one pays a deposit when buying the drink that will refunded when the used packaging is brought back to the store.
Between 15 April and 30 June, the Catalan town will be using a Deposit and Return System (DRS) pilot project for beverage containers.
Cans and plastic bottles of less than three litres of soda, water, juice and beer will have a five-cent deposit which will be refunded when the package is returned at any of the 10 partner establishments.
The pilot project opens a way to prevent the elimination in landfill, incineration or littering of 5.5 million beverage containers, out of the 9 million which are consumed every day in the Spanish region of Catalonia.
The current system of Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging in Spain is based on an extreme interpretation of the European Packaging Directive. Whereas in this directive it is adviced to implement a deposit system for packaging –and countries such as Germany, Sweden, Finland or Estonia already do it-, Spain decided to turn the exception into the rule and pass a law in which the packaging producer is not anymore responsible for the waste they place in the market but only of the waste that is separately collected. The result is a system that only collects 35% of beverage packaging for recycling when in Germany with the deposit system they achieve 98% collection rate.
The director of the Waste Agency of Catalonia, Josep Maria Tost, explained that the pilot project of Cadaques is aimed at finding solutions for the future. “In Cadaques, no more cans will be abandoned in the village or in the environment,” he added
Merce Girona, president of the Foundation for Waste Reduction and Responsible Consumption, said: “The pilot test comes at a perfect time now that Catalonia is planning the new General Waste Management Programme 2013-2020, which should provide new tools for waste management, such as Return Systems”.
The question at the end of the day is who is responsible for the waste, the European legislation and the Catalan Zero Waste network say the producer should be responsible for all waste they place in the market –and not 1/3 of it as it is today in Spain-. Hopefully this pilot project is the beginning of a new way of understanding producer responsibility in Spain.
Plastic represents one of the biggest contradictions of our society. One one hand it is a material that it is strong, cheap and light and hence its convenience means it is everywhere and use for almost everything. On the other hand the main advantages of plastic are also the problem why plastic is such a problem.
Because it is cheap it gets disposed a lot more than it should, because it is light it is often blown away and because it doesn’t biodegrade it pollutes forests, rivers and oceans and has already entered the food chain.
The wise thing to do would be to limit the use of plastic to what is necessary and make sure that there is a plan for all plastic that enters the market to maximise the time of use and then ensure that it is all collected and recycled.
For instance; as we can see in the graph below from Education Database Online Blog it takes 1/4 liter of oil and 3 liters of water to produce the plastic bottle that we will use only once and for a very limited amount of time to drink 1liter of water!
From the design point of view it doesn’t make sense to engineer a material that will take centuries to degrade to be used only during some hours in the best case. The wise thing to do is take advantage of the fact that the material is indestructible to design a system to collect and refill it like it is done in some deposit systems in Europe.
In 2009, Europe landfilled 45% of plastic (11,2 million tn, equivalent to more than 10 million tons of crude oil!), it burned 22% (5,5 Mtn) and recycled only 31% (7,6 Mtn). Landfilling and burning of plastics (even with energy recovery) is a waste of energy and resources. As we can see in the graph below producing a new bottle out of recycled material needs only 12% of the energy that would be needed to manufacture a new one.
Isn’t it time for the EU to gear up and design better plastics -with less toxics-, better products and better systems that allow us to make use of the advantages of plastic without having to suffer all the disadvantages?
Please Include Attribution to OnlineEducation.net With This Graphic
Patagonia is a clothing and gear company that takes Zero Waste seriously. In these days of persistent corporate greenwashing it is a good example of how a company takes full responsibility for the products that it puts in the market.
First of all, in the production process Patagonia applies a system of transparency and traceability that takes into account social and environmental justice and as such works with organic cotton and wool and recycled PET bottles to produce the polyester and fleeces. In fact it has been using recycled materials since the 90s.
Most amazingly they offer a lifetime guarantee for their products which is a sign that they will not be selling stuff designed-for-the-dump with planned obsolescence like most do. Then when it comes the time to deal with the impact of the products at the end of their life look at what they do:
REDUCE: Don’t buy form us what you don’t need or can’t really use
This is the message from Patagonia to reduce waste generation. They acknowledge that everything anyone makes costs the planet more than it gives back and as such they don’t try to convince you to buy their clothes. Actually Patagonia has been running anti-consumerist campaigns in the most consumerist days in the calendar. For instance in the US consumption day, called Black Friday they paid a campaign to not buy their items. (See pic)
With the lifetime guarantee Patagonia also offers the possibility to get your stuff repaired for free, you just have to pay the transport costs.
The company encourages customers to donate the garments when they no longer want to wear them. In the US it even opened a platform in E-bay to help the second hand market of its own products. When most fashion companies send to landfill the stocks that they don’t manage to sell Patagonia donates its unsold goods to people who lose their belongings in disasters.
“Recycling is what we do when we’re out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first” says StoryOfStuff guru Annie Leonard. Indeed, recycling should be the last option but even then Patagonia offers a very interesting takeback program in which customers can bring back their old Patagonia clothes and gear to the shops that sell them. Like this Patagonia took back 45 tons of waste and produced 34 tons of new clothes.
All in all Patagonia is a very good example of how to bring the Zero Waste philosophy into practice and a good hint as to what real sustainability is about.
How much is your waste worth? Are prices real? Sure you’ve asked yourself how can apples that have travelled 6,000km be cheaper than apples produced 20km away… What about salaries? What does this have to do with waste?
Well, waste markets, like any other market follow price signals. If the cheapest option is to landfill or burn waste it should not surprise anyone that recycling doesn’t take off. For instance, in countries such as Bulgaria, Portugal or Slovakia the average cost of landfill is below 20eur per ton which is a bad incentive to bother separating waste to recycle it.
Prices are a human convention that serve the purpose of sorting preferences. Therefore when we want to change the reality we can use taxes to get the price incentives change the preferences. This is why many EU countries have put taxes on landfill and incineration in order to make reuse and recycling more economically preferrable.
But Zero Waste is not only about waste; it is also about the material cycles. If resources are cheap the incentive to run a throw-away society is higher, if materials are more expensive the incentive go in the direction to build a circular economy. The usual thinking regarding economic incentives is that taxes should be placed on the scarce resources in order to limit its use whereas the abundant resource can remained untaxed. During the last century labour has been scarce whereas resources have been considered abundant and this is why traditionally the former has been taxed and the latter hasn’t. The current economic crisis in Europe shows that we are doing things wrong; as the unemployment statistics show labour is abundant -yet heavily taxed!- whereas resources are not taxed albeit growing increasingly scarce. Isn’t it time to shift taxation from labour to resources?
When that happens we will see an explosion in the reuse and repair market and the cost of materials will force built-in repairability, reusability, durability and recyclability in any product. It will also make the a lot more relevant the Extended Producer Responsibility concept because producers will be a lot more interested in getting the materials back and closing material and energy cycles.
In comparison to other world regions, the EU has almost exhausted its resources. The oil-peak took place in 2006 and the energy sources based on fossil fuels are in absolut decline; from now on importing products and resources from the rest of the world will become more and more expensive and the EU needs to prepare for this new economic climate. Waste is increasingly becoming a sign of inneficiency that we can no longer afford.
The growing scarcity of materials and fuels is calling for a taxation shift from labour to materials. It would generate employment, probably increase revenues for the state and surely help to redesign the economy and phase-out waste.
In this video below Walter Stahel explains how the new economy needs to move from taxing labour to taxing resources.
In many cases those who argue against reusing electric and electronic goods are the same companies that produce them and therefore have an interest in you buying a new a new one. But some other times it is true that some people just don’t want a second hand electronic appliance. What is for sure is that today there are plenty of electric and electronic goods which are discarded despite being still fully operative or easily reusable if fixed.
New data from recent studies on reuse in the EU indicate that:
However in October 2011 the Environment Committee in the European Parliament voted in favour of a 5% target for reuse in the collection targets, a requirement for producers to provide information free of charge about preparation for reuse and treatment of the appliances they out in the market, requiring all collection schemes to provide for the separation of reusable WEEE at collection points and the adoption of European standards for preparation for reuse (to be created in max 3 years).
This positive outcome still needs to be approved by the EU member states before it can enter into force. So far the member state have been very reluctant to these measures and if no agreement is reached during this month of December the negotiations will have to go to conciliation which would downsize the ambition of the targets.
Given the increasing prices of raw materials, the employment opportunities linked to the reuse sector and the high energy embodied in these products it is necessary to improve collection and reuse rates of goods to get closer to a Zero Waste economy.
When something has a negative value there is no incentive to deal with it. It is then left in the environment and we all suffer the consequences. Partly, a Zero Waste strategy consists in creating markets so that the products find a use at the end of their life.
Littering happens when food or beverage containers have a zero or negative value at the end of its use. Hence, the best way to avoid littering is to give waste a value. An empty can or bottle can end up in the bin, in the streets or recycled depending on whether the item has a value or not. Experience in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark or the Netherlands shows that when the empty packaging is given some value (a deposit of 5 to 25 eurocents) the packaging will be recycled in more than 90% of the cases. Experience in countries without a deposit system shows that recycling happens in less than 50% of the cases. In those cases the waste ends up as liter or in a landfill or incinerator.
Retorna.org is the campaign in Spain to reintroduce a deposit system for beverages. This campaign takes place under the umbrella of the Zero Waste strategy in the country and wants to replace the current system in which the recycling of beverage packaging falls under 40% -due to the lack of incentives for people to do the right thing- to a deposit system that would allow to duplicate the recycling rates -which would reduce emissions-, increase the purity -and hence recyclability- of the materials, create more green jobs, radically reduce littering, reduce costs for municipalities and consumers and enforce the polluter pays principle. This alternative system -which was in use in Spain until the 1980s- and which obtains better results in any European country that has implemented it, it is being fiercely opposed by the industry. It is interesting to observe how the arguments used by the industry today in Spain are the same sort of arguments that were raised also by the industry in countries such as Germany before implementation. These fears proved to be exagrated and the system has been very satisfactory allowing the industry to get back the materials.
In a Zero Waste economy we should deal with any waste that has a negative value and redesign it so that we create positive incentive or change the way we perceive it so that its value starts being positive. For instance, the company Terra Cyle started paying to garbage pickers in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, to collect chip bags -a priory non-recyclable-, suddenly chip bags disappeared from the landscape and chip bags automatically stopped being waste.
Zero Waste is about making waste visible so that we can identify the problem in the design or in the system. Giving waste a positive value so that it can generate markets is a way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill or incineration.
The coffee capsules from Nespresso, Lavazza and others have taken over the coffee market in the EU. Normally they are made of fully recyclable materials (alluminium or plastic + coffee grounds) but they are very rarely recycled. Why?
Is it bad design? is it bad take-back systems? Whatever it is the fact is that since the commercialisation of these items a lot more resources go to waste. This means more burden for the environment and more costs for citizens who have to shoulder costs which should be beared by those who introduced this product in the market.
The Cappannori Zero Waste Research Center identified the coffee capsules as the first item to remove from the residual waste after high separate collection has been reached. Indeed, coffee capsules is a new waste stream that was just non-existant only 5 years ago. Now it is yet another source of waste that could be avoided. In 2010 it was estimated that 10 billions of capsules where sold in the world, a tenth of them in coffee-loving Italy. Only in Italy 12.000 tones of capsules (plastic/aluminium + coffee grounds) were disposed of in landfills and incinerators.
The Zero Waste Research Center documented the evidence and sent a letter to Lavazza and Nespresso in which they asked for a meeting to discuss the issue. The companies’ reaction was quick and a meeting was set up not only with the presence of Capannori Zero Waste Research Center staff but also with the italian food industry. In this meeting Nespresso and Lavazza committed to find solutions to this problem.
The companies rightly claim that their products are recyclable (the capsule) and compostable (the coffee grounds), but the problem is that for that to happen the capsules need to be collected and the recyclables sepately treated. The companies have no incentive to do this and the authorities fail to make the producer pay for the waste they put in the market.
Nespresso for instance has a goal of reacing 75% recycling of its capsules for 2013 in the EU but with the current take-back systems and lack of incentives it is unlikely that recycling will go beyond 25%. A good way to make sure that coffee capsules would go back to the producer would be to set a deposit system that would encourage the consumer to get involved in the process. This would be good for the environment, for the consumers and for the local authorities… in the long run it would also be good for the coffee companies who would get back the raw materials but in the short term it is clear that the Nespressos and Lavazzas of this world prefer passing the costs to the consumers and the environment. However, these costs could be internalised only with a fraction of the budget they dedicate to marketing. Only political will is lacking to make polluter pay.
In a Zero Waste world there is no place for disposable coffee-capsules. If capsules are to stay it should be under the condition that the companies set up take-back systems that allow them to recover the coffee grounds to make good compost and the capsule to be reused –when possible- or recycled (not 75% but close to 100% like in deposit systems for beverages). In the meantime there is no better option than taking your coffee in the bar.
Turning the waste into the raw material for a new product is one of the characteristics of the economy of the future. Less available and more expensive resources will inevitably mean that companies have to close the loop. “We beat the mountain” is one of these social enterprises that see resources where others see trash.
“We Beat The Mountain” is a Dutch organisation with the aim of creating, developing and producing cool functional products made from recycled trash.
The idea to create “We Beat The Mountain” was born as a reaction to the built obsolescence of the products that flood our economy.
In 2009 Han Hendriks, initiator and founder of the project, bought a Samsonite suitcase and after only one use, it broke… For the third time in his life! It was just another one in a row of many broken Samsonites, all of them made of “wrong plastic”. Because of his own reaction of frustration, anger and pure astonishment Han came up with the idea to develop a 100% cradle to cradle suitcase, to become a social entrepreneur and to build a serious company to beat the trash mountain.
“I believe that you need to do something useful with your talents by combining entrepreneurial and social goals. That’s what we’re doing with We Beat The Mountain.” says Han.
“We Beat The Mountain” launched its first products in the end of 2010: laptop, iPad, smart phone covers (made out of recycled PET) & construction trailer (old sea container + interior designed with recycled materials). For 2011 they are planning to launch a flex baby bag and flex workers trolley also made of recycled materials.
The sales of “We beat the mountain” have been going up in these times of economic crisis and the goals for next years is to recycle 10.000 tonnes in 2011, 25.000 tonnes in 2012 and 50.000 tonnes for 2013.
Beyond the smart design of the products, “We beat the mountain” tries to use one material for every piece of their product so that it is easier to recycle it at the end of its life. Because of this it encourages its customers to return their products so that they can recycle them without losing quality of materials.
For more information see their cool video:
www.webeatthemountain.com and www.facebook.com/webeatthemountain.
Today more than 50% of the WEEE generated in Europe follows unofficial collection routes, sometimes leading to illegal export and improper treatments. E-waste contains hazardous substances such as heavy metals and chemicals which can damage human health and the environment especially when treated incorrectly. Unfortunately there are plenty of well-documented examples of the environmental and health damage that this exported e-waste causes in Africa and Asia.
But also, if we let 81% of WEEE escape Europe this means that with it we let a big amount of manufacturing industry and jobs escape. This is like having a gold mine and letting others come and take the gold away –albeit paying a high price in health and environmental damage- whilst at the same time complain that the economic crisis is taking the jobs away. Action is needed to reverse these figures.
Action has to go inte direction of setting standards for WEEE recycling but also incentives to redesign them. An important reason why e-waste is not recycled is precisely because electric and electronic items are not well-designed. If designed differently it would be a lot easier and cheaper to manipulate WEEE to extract the raw materials.
The problem is that in the current economic crisis most EU member states only think on cutting expenditure and sometimes fail to see the hidden benefits of economy booster that can represent investing in capturing more WEEE. The economic booster works in several ways: it creates local jobs in collection and reprocessing, it saves costs in buying new raw materials and saves extraction, processing and transport emissions related to new production.
Sending Zero Electric and Electronic Waste to landfill and incineration just makes sense but turning this waste into resource is an indispensable part of the new industrial revolution. Maximising material productivity is the way forward and Zero Waste is a vital part of it.
Tired of electronic devices that break some months after having bought them? This short film from Annie Leonard explains very well the problem with designing for the dump.
The current design of electronic appliances that are hard to upgrade, easy to break and unpractical to repair to the extend that it is cheaper to buy a new product than to repair it shows that there is something wrong in the process.
Zero Waste is about good design that maximises durability, reusability, repairability and recyclability of the products.
Throwing bottles and other beverage packaging in the bin? What a waste of resources and money! In a Zero Waste society all beverage container would be refilled many times before it would be recycled into a new container.
Not many decades ago beverages were generally bottled in refillable containers with deposits. Deposits are a sum of money we give as security for an item acquired for temporary use, once we give back the item we get back the money. In the last decades and years, this has changed; the trend goes towards throw-away one-way packaging. This is a very inefficient way of using resources.
There are three ways to deal with beverage packaging:
– Refilling (normally with deposit)– bottles/cans are used by the customer, transported back to the filler (producer), rinsed, refilled and transported back to the customer for use. Refillable glass bottles can be refilled over 50 times, refillable PET-bottles up to 15 times. The result is zero litter, minimum environmental impact and considerable cost savings for the municipalities.
– One-way deposit – bottles/cans are used by the customer only once, the producer can get back the materials or they will go directly to the recycling company that will produce brand new bottles which then need to be refilled and transported back to the customer. Zero litter but higher environmental impact.
– One-way without deposit – bottles/cans are used by the customer, the producer –in the best case- will pay a fee to an organisation to handle the waste or will just have nothing to do with their product once it becomes waste. The public authorities will bear the costs and a good amount of the beverages will need to be landfilled or burnt. High litter, high environmental impact but cheapest option for the producers.
Life cycle analyses (LCA) carried out by the German Environmental Protection Agency prove the significant negative environmental impacts of one-way systems regarding material (resource) consumption, energy consumption, global warming potential, acidification, ground level ozone and eutrophication compared to environmentally friendly refillables systems.
A recent LCA from the IFEU Institute shows that refillable bottles have 50-60% lower global warming potential than one-way beverage containers.
For instance, using only refillable bottles for all non-alcoholic beverages in Germany compared to the use of one-way packaging (100% refillables vs. 100% one-way packaging) could annually reduce the global warming emissions with 1.26 million tonnes CO2 equivalents (see figure).
The EU Packaging Directive (2004/12/EC) required recycling of beverage packaging of 50% of metal, 22,5% plastics and 60% of glass for 2008. Some member states decided to pass national legislation on deposit schemes which helped to largely accomplish the targets and reach collection rates above 80% (Germany, Scandinavia…) some others opted for other approaches without deposit which, lacking the right incentive, failed to deliver good results (Spain, France…).
Deposit systems allow for high collection rates and high quality of material which allows containers to be recycled into both food and non food applications – even bottle to bottle recycling. This makes it possible to use recycled instead of virgin material and reduces the need for extraction of new natural resources.
But deposit systems are not only good for the environment and an excellent tool to implement Extended Producer Responsibility, they also save lots of money to the municipalities by lowering the volume of household waste to be managed (in some cases up to 50%!), reducing the pick-up frequency, reducing the need for sorting and disposal facilities such as incinerators and landfills and by reducing the need for street cleaning. Less cost for the municipalities means less cost for the tax-payers! A win-win situation.
Good practices in Europe:
Germany had a well-functioning market for refillables until the 1990s when the refillable quota fell below 72% for the first time. This triggered the introduction of a mandatory one-way deposit system in 2003.
The deposit value was and is of 25 eurocent and it was applied to one-way deposit that included from non-carbonated to alcoholic mixture drinks, the only beverages excluded from the one-way deposit system being milk products, fruit and vegetable juices as well as dietetic products directly designed for babies.
The introduction of the deposit on one-way beverage packaging was a big success with 98,5% of refillable bottles being returned by consumers –highest in the world-.
The quality of the recovered material is good enough to guarantee that an old bottle will become a new bottle.
Zero littering of one-way beverages. The value of the containers has helped remove 1-2 billion one-way containers from Germany´s bins and streets.
Finally it had a good steering effect on some refillables’ markets such as beer containers.
SWEDEN The deposit system was introduced in 1984 for cans and 1994 for PET plastic bottles for one-way containers and it has reached recovery rates of 86% for cans and 77% for PET. The recovery company Returpack announced an increase in the deposit on metal drinks cans to 11 eurocents (1SKr).
As we can see in the picture the deposit system is being implemented in more and more countries in Europe and some are considering its introduction.
To summarise; modern deposit-refund systems for one-way beverage containers are working and can be designed to operate at insignificant cost (from €0c – €1c per packaging unit) while ensuring collection and recovery rates above 80% the challenge is how to move from one-way take-back system to a system that maximises refilling.
A Zero Waste system implies eliminating waste from beverage packaging and a system of deposit for refillable bottles is the best way to reduce not only waste but also the extraction of raw materials. If Europe is to be sustainable in the future we need to advance towards a system of refillable beverage packaging, just like it always worked!
– IFEU – Institut for Energy and Environmental Research. (2008). Life cycle assessment of refillable glass and PET bottles for mineral water and soft drinks.
– German Federal Government, (2008), Answer on a written question from the greens in the German Parliament
– Tomra – Deposit-Refund Systems, www.tomra.de