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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

“Getting Climate Finance Right” in the Waste Sector

At a historic juncture for climate finance, Friends of the Earth US and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) have co-edited a report showing that it is possible to get climate finance right.

In the report, which includes work from many global, regional and local organisations including the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), zero waste solutions are advocated as solid examples of successful climate programs, which should be the focus of further funding. This includes both the Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) cooperative from Pune who provide door-to-door waste collection for more than 400,000 households and the Zero Waste Program at Bir Hospital in Nepal, which has reduced dioxin emissions from medical waste incineration by over 90%.

Waste-pickers from SWaCH and the KKPKP in Pune
Waste-pickers from SWaCH and the KKPKP in Pune

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.

This report comes as the GCF accredited 13 new organisations to administer and distribute funds. Controversially this list included the Deutsch Bank who are the worlds 10th largest backer of coal, having invested €15bn in the industry since 2005, according to the BankTrack network. This decision sparked outrage from over 20 of the worlds leading climate organisations including GAIA, Friends of the Earth US, Action Aid International, and many others. In the statement the groups said they were “tremendously discouraged and disappointed” adding that the fund was at “real risk of losing credibility”.

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.

Bir Hospital
Bir Hospital in Nepal have undertaken an effective ‘Zero Waste Program’

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 of the 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.


South African Waste Pickers on a Zero Waste Tour

 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.

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SAWPA delegation visited the community composting facilities in Hernani, Basque Country. Photo: María Durán

“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.

 

hernani
The training was organized by Zero Waste Europe and the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and it gathered zero waste groups from all over Europe, a representative from China Zero Waste Alliance and SAWPA. Photo: María Durán.

 

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.

sawpa meeting
The meeting of SAWPA with informal recyclers in Barcelona was an opportunity to discuss strategies for collective organizing and recognize the social, economical and environmental contribution of recyclers.

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.

Cartel GAIA ING

 

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.

Audio of the public event available here: https://soundcloud.com/bcallen/mesa-de-debate-el-reciclaje-informal

 

 

can batllo
The event ‘Informal recycling: ecological alternative and social rights´took place in Can Batlló. Photo: Blanca Callén

 

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.