On the weekend of the 23rd and 24th of April, Zero Waste Europe held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) with the participation of most of the members of the ZWE network. Held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the first ‘Zero Waste European Capital’ and the European Green Capital for 2016, the event was co-hosted by Ekologi Brez Meja, the Slovenian member organisation of Zero Waste Europe.
The meeting opened with introductions from the various member organisation of Zero Waste Europe in attendance. The attendees had produced short ‘posters’ giving an overview of the work that their organisations had been doing.
This was followed by presentations from Joan Marc Simon, Director of Zero Waste Europe, on the activities and the financial position of the organisation. Then, the Zero Waste Europe staff gave an overview of their work areas and the upcoming events planned for the year ahead.
The plans were then presented in a plenary session to all of the attendees of the AGM, thus closing the first day of the AGM.
On the second day, the meeting began by discussing issues, problems and opportunities surround
‘Zero Waste Municipalities’. This discussion focussed on the regional and national differences in the use of the term, as well as national legislative implications for these variations. The current process was explained in detail and a number of different options for the future were discussed.
The penultimate session was the election of a new member to the Board of Zero Waste Europe. Flore Berlingen Director of Zero Waste France, stood for the position and after a brief deliberation was elected to the Board.
The 2016 AGM brought together the majority of Zero Waste Europe’s members for two days of reflection and strategy discussion as well as the approval of future activities, new members, and the election of a new board member. Across the weekend, members shared inspirational stories and ideas, as well as developing a stronger connection between members, facilitating cross-european work over the coming year.
The full minutes for the meeting will be distributed to members shortly.
This blog is the second article in our series on “Waste & Climate Solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution across the world for the next 3 days until 27 September. Yesterday we told the story of São Paulo’s household composting schemes which have resulted in a significant reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions from landfills.
Today, our article looks at the zero waste model of CERO in Boston, where the innovative worker co-operative had provided a strong economic boost for the local community whilst simultaneously working to reduce GHG emissions. Find out how below.
This following article is based on an interview with Alex Papali, an organizer with Clean Water Action and the Boston Recycling Coalition; and Lor Holmes, a cooperative worker-owner and business manager at Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO) in Boston.
Imagine a city where all products are reused, repaired, or recycled, and all workers make a family-supporting wage. Where local economic development projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate.
Boston, Massachusetts is on its way.
Last year, the Boston Recycling Coalition submitted a set of “Zero Waste Recommendations” to the city government detailing a proposal for Boston to vastly expand their recycling and composting programs, with the ultimate goal of a 90% recycling rate. The final Climate Action Plan adopted a zero waste goal, which the coalition is working to strengthen and implement.
Most of Boston’s garbage is currently burned in incinerators. Garbage incinerators (sometimes falsely named “waste-to-energy facilities) are major contributors to climate change—burning waste emits even carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. On the flip side, community-led zero waste solutions like recycling and composting have enormous benefits for clean air and the climate while revitalizing local green economies.
This model is already happening at CERO, a worker-owner zero waste coop in Boston.
While providing family-supporting jobs for the community, CERO works with businesses on separating out materials that can be recovered. They then collect this waste in a truck and bring it to facilities where it can either be recycled or returned to the soil as compost. The COOP diverts thousands of tons of waste per week from being burned or buried, and is still expanding.
CERO’s board members and employees are people like Guadalupe Gonzalez and Josefina Luna, who have been recycling informally for years or decades. Guadalupe Gonzalez used to do backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings during the day while picking bottles from the trash at night. She was one of the thousands of underrated recycling workers, earning precious extra money to support her family. Josefina Luna explains that, at CERO, “Now we can earn a living while protecting the environment.”
Dan Moche, Claudio Spinola and Magdalena Donoso*, September, 2015
Although landfills have not always been the main destination for waste in São Paulo, this practice was massively expanded until it reached a critical situation in 2013. Until then, 100% of the organic waste, 95% of dry waste and 100% of all residual waste would go directly to two specific landfills, the CTL Landfill (Central Waste Treatment Leste) and the Caieiras Landfill.
The motivation to reverse this situation was triggered by changes in legal obligations within the new Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS)i, and the urgency of extending the life of these landfills to save land space in the metropolitan region. Moreover, the solid waste management sector in São Paulo was the second largest source of GHG emissions (Municipal Inventory, 2012), being responsible for the 15.6% of the total GHG emissions in the city, 14% of those coming from landfills. In this way, reducing the contribution of the waste sector to the carbon footprint of the city was critical, and composting was a particularly well-suited opportunity, as studies showed that the practice of composting would potentially decrease 5-10 times the emissions of methane in landfills,ii integrate efforts to reduce leachate while increasing the benefits from retaining organic matter to provide nutrients and improve soil properties in the state of São Paulo.
The implementation of the Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS) began with citizens participating in 58 events with more than 7,000 participants, which was organised by the Public Administration of São Paulo. 800 delegates elected by thousands of São Paulo citizens and supported by experts and technicians from the authority ad hoc, agreed on the main guidelines as to what to do with the waste generated in the city.
These points formed part of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan of the city of São Paulo – PGIRS, published in early 2014, and determined the recovery, over twenty years, of 80% of all compostable waste and recyclable waste. Among the approved guidelines, source separation of organic waste, selective collection, composting, mechanical biological treatment (MBT) and promotion of home composting were included.
“Compost São Paulo”
Home composting began to be encouraged by the government of São Paulo shortly after the publication of the PGIRS in June 2014 by delivering compost bins to houses. In six months, 250 tons of organic waste were recovered.
The project called “Composta São Paulo” handed kits for home composting with worms to 2,006 households in the city of São Paulo. Through a public announcement, the project achieved 10,061 registrations in 40 days on the website, from various regions of São Paulo. Those selected were from 539 apartments and 1,467 houses in eight regions.
“Now I pay a lot of attention to my organic waste and also my neighbours waste. I’m more critical of how much food to buy. I have affection for worms”, said one of the participants in the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program.
The delivery of compost bins was accompanied by 135 training workshops for over 5,000 participants. Participants were encouraged to respond to scheduled polls and assume the role of multipliers of home composting.
After two months, the participants were invited to other workshops (88 workshops), where they received advice and techniques for planting in small spaces in order to use the produced compost. The questions and concerns raised were shared and addressed in a virtual community on Facebook. The community of “composters” (comunidad de “composteros”) finished the first year of the project with more than 6,000 members.
Subsequent information gathering on program results indicated that 89% of participants significantly decreased the amount of waste for collection. There were no significant differences in the evaluation of the practice of composting between social classes or between types of housing and only 47 households (2.3%) gave up the activity. Meanwhile, 97% of respondents of a survey to measure the level of satisfaction (1,535 people) were satisfied or very satisfied with the technique, 98% considered it a good solution for organic waste and 86% considered it easy to practice.
Strong economic basis
In its economic analysis, the Municipality of São Paulo found that the costs of delivery of compost, monitoring and technical assistance provided by the local government could be covered through the savings achieved in reducing the collection, transport and disposal of the organic waste in landfills. The study compared the (estimated) costs of collection, transportation and disposal of organic waste in landfills with the (estimated) costs that compost bins, delivery, communication, workshops, etc, would imply. Then, the calculation was made with what was actually spent to develop the above actions in the context of “Compost São Paulo”, working with 2006 households. Considering the “contagious” effect explained below, costs would be matched within 5 years.iii
The communication strategy and the contagious effect
Linking the practice of home composting with participation was an important part of the communication strategy developed for this program in terms of the involvement of the population. In addition to the novelty of the composting process itself, and the use of modern techniques of social communication aroused interest in the project, and the desire to “be a part”.
The multiplier effect was immediate. The results of the survey indicated that 29% helped others who did not receive compost bin, to make, install or manage one. Participants witnessed a contagious effect, which attracted 2,525 new people to try to assemble or buy their own composting system.
“We realized that every time we went to throw the waste into the compost bin we felt a deep sense of wellbeing … kind of like we had stopped making the city a dirty place and turned garbage into flowers. We exchanged ideas with other people who were doing composting and they had the same feeling! Composting is therapeutic!”, read the testimony of another participant at the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program.
27% of participants donated worms for others to start practice. Also, behavioural changes in other areas also came to light: 84% said they greatly expanded their knowledge of urban sustainability; 96% considered themselves far more diligent in handling properly the waste produced; and 54% said they began to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables.
The new “master composters”: dream big, start small, and act now!
The 2,525 new participants, excited by the project members themselves, are a sign of the potential for citizens to transition from mere objects of public policy to true subjects in the exercise of their citizenship: in this case, transforming themselves from “trained” to “master composters”. By attracting new participants and sharing their learning, project members should be recognized for what they really are: “master composters”.
On the other end, public managers are called to support what people can build. Just dream big, start small, and act now. Home composting is an empowering tool for public policy, and of collective commitments, with a multiplier effect that encourages responsible behaviour with base on joy, discovery and learning.
* Authors: Dan Moche Schneider, who coordinated the area of organic waste in the PGIRS of Sao Paulo / Claudio Spinola, ideologue and operator of “Compost São Paulo” / Magdalena Donoso, Coordinator for GAIA Latin America
i Obligation to recover waste under the National Solid Waste Policy – PNRS, approved in 2010.
iiInacio, Caio de Teves. O papel da compostagem de resíduos orgânicos urbanos na mitigação de emissão de metano. Caio de Teves Inácio, Daniel Beltrão Bettio e Paul Richard Momsen Miller. Embrapa Solos, 2010. 22 p.
iii Calculations estimated by Dan Moche, former Coordinator at the Organic Waste PIGRS of Sao Paulo. Internal economic analysis of the Municipality of Sao Paulo.
Combining the stories of dozens of local and regional groups, this study demonstrates the importance of learning from successful examples of climate finance in looking ahead into the future. With the creation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created to help transform developing country economies by supporting high quality investments in clean energy and climate resilience, it is essential that future projects are able to learn from a critical assessment of previous climate finance projects.
Previously concerns have been raised around the lack of criteria for the GCF investments. Earlier this year, civil society organisations demanded the GCF approve an exclusion list to ensure that none of this climate investments will end up financing dirty energy sources. In this regard, GAIA and Zero Waste Europe have been actively campaigning against the financing of incinerators by the GCF, Mariel Vilella, Associate Director of Zero Waste Europe said “Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the shrinking pool of public money, the health risks of incineration, and the availability of sound alternatives, waste-to-energy would be a bad investment for the Green Climate Fund”.
The new study consists of 22 examples of successful climate related projects, programs and policies, across three continents; Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The examples were identified by organisations from the Global South and North and follow a comprehensive list of overarching characteristics: all of them are deeply rooted in the local communities, are inclusive and encourage the participation of affected communities; recognize and respect people’s rights, with special attention on gender and relationships/partnerships building; and most importantly, all of them are fully grant-funded, which allowed for flexibility, experimentation and innovation. (See the full list)
One of the case studies featured in report, under the category of ‘mitigation’ is that of the Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) cooperative. Based in Pune, India the cooperative is ‘an autonomous social enterprise that provides front-end waste management services’, over 80% of SWaCH members are women from marginalised castes, and as a result of the cooperative worker-members can earn up to three times their previous daily income.
It is further estimated that the SWaCH program saves the city an estimated $2.8 million per year in waste collection and disposal costs, and is responsible for preventing 640,000 tons of greenhouse gasses annually. The story and success of the SWaCH workers has been well documented, and more details can be found in the GAIA report on Successes and Lessons from Around the World
The case ofthe Zero Waste Program at Bir Hospital in Nepal, with no external funding the hospital managed to successfully reduce dioxin emissions associated with medical waste incineration by 90%, whilst increasing the percentage of the total waste stream which is recycled to over 50% , a move which is responsible for supporting hundreds of recycling jobs.
Such incredible achievements were possible through sustained efforts and initiatives from vermicomposting to the redesign of thermometers and other medical technology to use non-mercury alternatives, with the support of the Health Care Foundation and international allies such as Health Care Without Harm. This project carried out with zero budget, demonstrates the huge potential for a GCF funded program which would have the capacity to improve waste management across hundreds of hospitals in the region.
The success of the waste workers of Pune, and Nepal, on comparatively tiny budgets make it clear that the GCF should be doing more to expand and develop such programs and that truly effective climate finance projects include a wide range of factors, which are deeply rooted in affected communities. Only with these lessons of past successes can we hope to make progress towards a strong and effective climate finance model which is equitable for everyone involved.
The world of arts and fashion maintains a very stimulating dialogue with the world of waste. Artists, eco-designers, and handcrafts professionals have found in waste materials a source of inspiration, a thrilling challenge to their creativity and even a conceptual pillar to build a whole new vision of arts, fashion and sustainability.
Katell Gelebart is an example of this wave of artists looking at waste as a treasure. A French independent, Katell is an eco-designer using arts and fashion to raise awareness about waste.
“My creations are born in different cultural environments around the globe, with whatever waste and unwanted material there is already there that can act as a social trigger to inspire and raise awareness amongst communities in their social and environmental choices”, says Katell.
Katell founded her workshop, shop and brand Art d’Eco & Design in Amsterdam in 1998 in a groundbreaking initiative in the world of ecodesign. Passionate about waste and giving a new lifecycle to any material, she is a pioneer in developing design articles from unwanted and waste materials: stationery, fashion accessories, women garment, toys, and home furnishing. In 2012, Gelebart was awarded the Kairos Prize for her special contribution to European culture, rewarding her “creative vision to revisit what’s already there”.
Apart from her redesign work in her Amsterdam base, Katell has been sharing her current knowledge on upcycling, recycling and ecodesign in lectures and presentations in various fashion institutes and design academies, as well as in primary and high schools. In short, her philosophy and vision around creativity and sustainability is introducing many different audiences into what she calls New Thinking for New Times.
Perhaps one of the most exciting experiences for the creative minds is her ecodesign workshops, in which participants experience a “hands on material” time. Participants themselves collect the waste and raw materials in their local environment, and learn to transform them with crafts techniques and low-tech means. Essentially, the workshop guides participants to explore the potential of any material to be given a second life, transforming it to another design item with the minimal intervention.
Gelebart’s current main concerns focus on big fashion company’s corporate responsibility. “According to Hasmik Matevosyan in her book Paradigm shift in Fashion, the production of a clothes collection wastes up to 30% of the textile materials, which will never be retailed,” says Katell. “This seems to me like a huge amount of raw material wasted that it has been processed for nothing.”
Gelebart is thriving to pursue a dialogue on this issue and support organizations and companies in rethinking their production systems to achieve zero waste. In other words, lots of residual waste items are waiting out there to be on Karell’s hands and be transformed into beautiful and useful solutions. Redesign, arts and creativity may be indeed, one of the most mind-blowing responses to our wasteful, throw-away society. Nothing less than lots of fun and truly sustainable change for us and the future generations.
Karell Gelebart’s upcoming book Trash is Treasure: ecodesign and conscious living will be published shortly.
South African Waste Pickers are amongst those organized communities that have turned the tide of their role in the waste management systems. Since the creation of their national organization SAWPA – the South African Waste Pickers Association with the support of groundWork in 2009, their empowerment as the de facto recycling system in South Africa has reached important political milestones and it keeps expanding. Their latest step: undertaking a Zero Waste Tour in Europe to learn about organic waste treatment, visiting the Zero Waste Best Practices in Gipuzkoa (Basque Country, Spain) and sharing their story of collective organizing with the informal recyclers in Barcelona.
Management of organics, a key pillar for zero waste success
The Zero Waste Tour started in Donosti with the International Training Course on Organics Management, which addressed the management of the organic fractions of waste, including collection and treatment. It also included a site-visit to the door-to-door collection system of Hernani and a composting facility plant. As it was pointed out by one of the trainees Enzo Favoino, Chair of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee, specific collection and treatment of biowaste is a must to move towards zero waste.
“With recycling of packaging we only go halfway”, Favoino argued. Biowaste still makes a significant part of the total municipal solid waste and therefore ambitious zero waste plans cannot be reached by collecting and treating only dry waste. “SAWPA supports a zero waste approach as it creates jobs, saves public money, and it combats climate change”, said Simon Mbata, national spokesperson for SAWPA. “Organic waste is a critical waste stream within a zero waste approach but it’s not included in the South Africa’s Waste Act (2008), so coming to this training it’s been really useful to start developing organic waste strategies back home,” he added.
First international meeting of waste pickers in Barcelona
Moving on to Catalonia, one of the most striking activities of the Zero Waste Tour was the meeting with the local waste pickers in Barcelona, most of them involved in the Cal Africa Moving cooperative. This was the first time that an international delegation of waste pickers visited Barcelona and so it was a key opportunity to exchange notes on working conditions and strategies for collective organizing to improve and demand recognition for their valuable work. Together with researchers from Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Research & Degrowth, Zero Waste Europe and GAIA, representatives from SAWPA and Cal Africa Moving joined for a whole day of strategy talks culminating in the public event “Informal recycling: ecological alternatives and socials rights” that opened up the debate in Barcelona about the inclusion of recyclers in the waste management system in the city.
Those conversations stressed the need to recognise the environmental and social contribution of recyclers to resource recovery and job creation. They collect, sort, clean and in some cases, process the recyclables, returning them to industry as an inexpensive and low-carbon raw material. Essentially, their work represents a huge opportunity to save resources and reduce GHG emissions through increased recycling rates, if given the proper recognition and support.
Precisely, one of the obstacles for the expansion of recyclers’ activities that were discussed in the meeting was the role of the intermediate positions in the trade channels of resources (commonly known as the ‘middle men’), which in Barcelona corresponds to some enterprises that maintain a privileged position over the street waste pickers and the scrap market. Moreover, for many recyclers in Barcelona, this obstacle is aggravated by their migrant situation and lack of resident or working permit, running the risk to be detained and deported.
“In South Africa we have received many brothers and sisters from our neighbouring countries and we have welcomed everyone in our organization, which in turn it’s linked to many other waste pickers cooperatives around the world,” said Simon Mbata. “Our Global Alliance of Waste Pickers is a key space to strengthen the international coordination and solidarity amongst waste pickers”, he added.
The public event celebrated in Can Batlló was a chance to bring these conversations on to the open space, giving a chance to bring forward many interested suggestions such as generating a census of recyclers in Barcelona and providing identity cards to enable their formalisation. The Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i Consum pointed out the challenge posed by the recycling of e-waste and the need for quality standards to improve the recyclability of products. Other participants lamented that the administration has implemented an extremely expensive waste management system, considering the low recycling rates in the city, and the consumer misinformation that hinders recycling at source and other good practices. Ultimately, there seemed to be much support to integrate the informal recycling into the formal system and take that as an opportunity to re-evaluate and transform the way of handling waste in Barcelona.
Last but not least, SAWPA met with a Barcelona City Council-led working group that is coordinating the start-up of a cooperative of recyclers in the city. Apart from learning the details of the project, it was a useful chance to exchange experiences and local knowledge. On the basis of their experience in the field, SAWPA warned about the potential division amongst communities of waste pickers if the new cooperative would not involve all of them and suggested the direct inclusion of waste pickers in all the phases of development of the project. On this point, SAWPA and Zero Waste Europe agreed it’s fundamental to create a working group with all the relevant stakeholders that can accompany this process.
All in all, it was a very productive and fruitful week, taking another step forward towards the transformation of our society with more inclusive, sustainable, toxic-free and resource-efficient waste management systems.
In view of the coming Clean-up actions planned for May 10, we issues a joint statement together with other European NGOs, calling for the European Union to implement 10 steps necessary to lead to a resource efficient Europe.
The 10 steps in full are:
Set a binding EU material reduction target based on the Total Material Consumption indicator
Set a zero residual waste target (the waste that is not reused or recycled) by 2025
Introduce binding waste prevention targets for municipal, commercial and industrial waste at the European and national levels
Set preparation for reuse targets for municipal solid waste and packaging, with targets for – at a minimum – textiles and furniture, based on the weight of material per capita put back on the market by approved reuse centres. The targets must not be combined with recycling
Increase recycling targets to at least 70 per cent of municipal solid waste, using only one harmonised methodology for all Member States to report on, based on the recycling output. Set an overall packaging recycling target at 80 per cent and boost plastic packaging recycling to at least 75 per cent
Set a binding quantitative marine litter reduction target of 50 per cent with an explicit definition of litter included in waste legislation, in recognition of the serious negative impacts on the marine environment
Introduce obligatory separate collection of waste by 2020, in particular for biowaste from homes and the hospitality sector as well as separate collection for materials including paper, cardboard, metals and textiles
Promote economic instruments that support the full implementation of the waste hierarchy, such as extended producer responsibility, pay-as-you-throw schemes and the taxation of resources where appropriate
Design out single-use, non-recyclable products and toxic materials such as microplastics and oxo-fragementable plastics
Ban landfill and incineration by 2020 for all recyclable and compostable waste. Ban the financing of incinerators and landfills via structural and cohesion funds.
An ambitious waste policy in Europe would help create more jobs by 2025 than the European Commission claims would be generated from its trade agreement with the US, according to a new report from the EEB.
The report launched today ‘Advancing Resource Efficiency in Europe’ points to the potential of creating 750,000 new jobs by 2025, and 860,000 by 2030, if the EU adopts ambitious new policies and targets for the prevention and recycling of waste as part of its upcoming Waste Targets Review.
Furthermore, the report finds that in an ambitious scenario for EU resource efficiency would also have important benefits for the climate.
A strong policy in food waste reduction could also help avoid cropland use of 57,000 km² by 2030 – an area larger than Croatia.
In brief, an ambitious scenario of 60% reduction in food waste by 2030 could reduce Europe’s burden of land-use, generate financial savings to European householders of over €73 billion and avoid over 80 million tonnes of GHG.
“This report underlines the massive potential for advancing resource efficiency in Europe. If the EU is ambitious, it could help create work for one in every six currently unemployed, young Europeans. It underlines that good environmental policies create jobs – and lots of them”, said Piotr Barczak, the EEB’s Waste Policy Officer.
The report comes out as the Commission is finalising a major Waste Targets Review that is expected to align key targets in upcoming legislation with goals outlined in its overarching strategy document – the Resource Efficiency Roadmap.
The Roadmap was approved in 2011 and it set the goal to creating a resource efficient EU in which landfilling without pre-treatment would be reduced to virtually zero and incineration would be limited to non-recyclable materials. Now it’s time to turn this declaration of intentions into effective policy.
It is time for the European Commission to limit overall disposal and energy recovery options – particularly incineration – of all reusable and recyclable waste and to set specific targets for preferable options within the waste hierarchy, such as waste prevention, re-use and recycling.
Member States have a number of levers at their disposal to meet the ambitious scenario outlined in this study. These include tax incentives for recycled or re-used goods, levies on disposed products, variable-charging schemes for households, such as Pay As You Throw, and reinforced Extended Producer Responsibility.
Moreover, successful zero waste strategies already implemented give clear practical guidance on how to incentivise the upstream options. In cities around the world, grassroots recycling workers, visionary local leaders, and innovative practitioners are showing that zero waste is an achievable goal whose day has come.
For those who don’t know what a Restart Party is, just imagine a big room full of people coming from all over the city to get some help or advice to repair their own electronic devices. Place and atmosphere, at the beginning, seem similar to a medical consultation but, instead of your bodies, you bring your stuff and your skills to be improved and cured.
Imagine also a group of volunteer repairers who are kind, skilful, good at teaching and full of patience… A table with some snacks and refreshments to share, some music in the background, a fun ping-pong table… and two busy people, Janet and Ugo (the Restart Project’s founders), watching over everything to make sure everybody has their turn, helping and taking notes of the mending solutions.
The first “turn” happened to the stuff itself: people there decided to repair their old devices instead of buying new ones, prolonging their lives. As one of the participants said, “it is not a question of money” because she could have bought a new and much higher performing printer for just £50. She wanted to surpass the electronic obstacles of her broken printer but also wanted to resist an economic system that leads her to buy it new instead of repairing.
Community in action
And here it comes the second “turn”: unlike a medical consultation, the Restart Party was not like a service that an expert offers to a silent patient or a passive client. Participants and Restarters (volunteer repairers) had a variety of knowledge and skills and these were shared equally amongst them. Without a lay/expert divide amongst participants, the Party managed to empower and encourage everyone to have a closer and more positive relationship with their (electronic) stuff. Somehow, this reinforced the community experience, as anybody could have a look at others’ repairs and learn from them.
This was the third “turn”: a spark of collective action that empowers communities against overconsumption and individualism. Precisely, in the Restart Party, many of the tables were surrounded by several heads peering in and paying attention to what was happening, regardless of who the owner was. Curiosity and inquiry were common features among participants.
This community spirit made of the Restart Party a very diverse event: a multi-age, multi-class, multi-knowledge, multi-borough and multi-people encounter. An opportunity to talk and meet up with some people who had not come across each other in their everyday routines.
It was not only about daring to open the ‘black box’ in an electronic device, but also about being helped and advised by a twelve year old boy or a non-’professional’ but experienced guy…
For three hours, we tried to fix and surpass certain material and electronic limits but also to fix and transform our relationship with our own devices. That’s it, we tried to fix and reverse some of the (social) codes, norms and barriers that rule our daily life, especially around electronics.
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.
One of the strongest points in favour of Zero Waste is the social impact not only on education but also on job creation.
In the EU we are approaching the sad figure of 24 million unemployed; in countries such as Spain almost one out of every four is jobless and this figures doubles if we look at youth unemployment. At the same time 86 million tons of waste are being sent to disposal in the EU!
The opportunities we are trashing with the current waste policies are just mind-blowing; especially when you think that half of these 86 million tons of household waste are recyclable and the other half represent a mistake of industrial design that needs to be fixed. In both cases there is a huge job opportunity; jobs in waste collection, jobs in reuse centres, jobs in repair shops, jobs in recycling, jobs in composting, jobs in designing better products, jobs in producing high quality products with recycled materials… all of these are jobs that cannot be delocalised and that we are destroying with every tone we send to landfills or incinerators.
The E. Commission explains how the underlying problem is that too many prices do not reflect the true disposal of goods and that many member states still lack adequate infrastructure. However, one thing the E. Commission always tends to ignore is that waste-to-energy incinerators –currently burning 20% of European household waste- also destroy not only resources but also employment. A study from Greenpeace proved how recycling generates 39 times more jobs than incineration.
But expereicne shows how those towns/regions implementing Zero Waste, are being able to create a lot more jobs than those claimed by the study of the European Commission. This is because the study considers only implementation of current legislation which for instance has targets of 50% recycling for 2020. The Zero Waste municipalities work well above 70% recycling and since they have extensive policies in repairing, reusing, consumption of sustainable proximity products, etc they are managing to create a lot more jobs than the current traditional waste management strategies.
The economic crisis in Europe is setting new priorities for our societies and job creation and sustainable resource management can only be at the core of it. This is exactly what Zero Waste is about; reduce the size of your waste bin, maximise separate collection and recycling, redesign the economy, build resilient social and material systems and channel the public investment into building natural and social capital and not into landfills and incinerators.