Slide background
Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting in Ljubljana

On Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd Ljubljana, the 2016 European Green Capital, and first Zero Waste European Capital, played host to municipal representatives, entrepreneurs, zero waste campaigners and experts as part of the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting.

Erick Oblak opening the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting Foto: Maša Kores
Erick Oblak opening the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting Photo: Maša Kores

The conference was opened by an introduction to the history of Ljubljana and the implementation of zero waste policies in the city, from Erika Oblak of Ekologi Brez Meja. From the early struggle against the construction of an incinerator and the subsequent referendum, with overwhelming opposition in 1999 to just a few years later, having the neighbouring town of Vrhnika already leading the way with recycling rates as high as 50% as early as 2003.

When in 2012 another incineration plan was proposed, Ekologi Brez Meja with Zero Waste Europe’s support, successfully countered the plan with a zero waste alternative, which has led Ljubljana to being the waste management success story that it is today.

This was followed by Zero Waste Europe, Director, Joan Marc Simon expressing how amazing it was that such significant progress had been made by the city in only 2 ½ years.

The first discussion panel focused on reusable nappies, featuring Elizabeta Zust, from a nursery in Vhrnika that only uses cloth nappies and Hilary Vick, from Nappy Ever After, a nappy laundry service in London. The panel also included Joan Crous from the Eta Beta/Lavanda cooperative in Bologna, Italy, where 1,100 to 1,800 nappies are washed and delivered every day.

The panel covered the environmental and social benefits of reusable nappies as well as technical and commercial difficulties and issues surrounding the issue. This provided highly informative, inspirational and technical discussion by the participants.

Tourism was the focus of the next panel discussion. With Nina Kosin from the Ljubljana Tourism Board opened with a focus on the significance of the Green Capital award for the city, as well as the introduction of reusable crockery at the Christmas market with a deposit scheme in place.

Antonio Esposito spoke about Conka Park, the first zero waste hotel in Sorrento, Italy. With a wide range of initiatives promoting zero waste in the hotel, they have found significant success, and positive reactions from the hotel guests.

The afternoon of the first day covered the topic of food waste. Involving food waste entrepreneur Joris Depouillon from the Food Waste Entrepreneur Network, Laura Chatel, from Zero Waste France, and Albin Keuc, from Food Waste Reduction a Slovenian initiative which has provided 16 DIY tools for food waste reduction.

The participants emphasised the importance of differentiating between ‘food waste’ and ‘food surplus’ with the larger portion remaining fit for human consumption, the highest level of the ‘food waste hierarchy’.

The second day was opened by Zero Waste Europe’s President, from Capannori, Italy – Rossano Ercolini. Before hearing speeches from Zoran Janković, the Mayor of Ljubljana, and Irena Majcen, the Slovenian Minister for the Environment and Spatial Planning, offering their insights on Ljubljana’s success as a environmental leader across Europe.

The keynote speaks for the day was from Paul Connett, internationally renowned campaigner on zero waste, with over 30 years of experience in working on incineration and waste issues. Dr. Connett used his time to speak on zero waste as stepping stone to sustainability. His speech presented an inspiring vision of citizen action for the creation of a world without waste, a sustainable future and a better planet.

Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores
Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores

This was followed by a discussion of policies on a local level, with Tihana Jelacic, from Prekom, the Croatian waste management company for Prelog and the surrounding municipalities, who have recently adopted a Zero Waste Strategy, and are working to implement zero waste policies and practices. Stojan Jakin, from Vrhnika, the first Zero Waste Town in Slovenia spoke about how ranking towns by the recycling rates can be misleading when towns like Vrhnika are reducing the amount of residual waste year-on-year despite a less dramatic increase in recycling rates.

Matteo Francesconi, the Deputy Mayor of Capanorri spoke about how Capannori was first launched on the road to zero waste by the anti-incineration fight led by Rossano Ercolini, and now has a holistic approach to waste, with a system that adapts to the local reality and, therefore, integrates local people at every level.

In the afternoon. Mitja Praznik, from Snaga, the waste management company in Ljubljana went into great detail and depth on exactly how Ljubljana has become the best performing capital in waste management in Europe

This was followed by Mariel Vilella, Associate Director of Zero Waste Europe explaining the immense impact which waste management has on climate change, and how current accounting methods downplay this impact. Emphasising that it is time that we harvested this ‘low-hanging-fruit’ when it comes to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

The full presentation by Mariel is available online, with visual slides making a strong case for ‘Zero Waste’ as ‘Climate Action!’. The route to moving towards this low-carbon economy through zero waste is detailed in Zero Waste Europe’s recent report, ‘The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy’. Mariel, made the strong and compelling case that cities are at the forefront of this effort to move away from carbon intensive waste management practices, with cities being uniquely positioned to implement effective and efficient policies.

David Franquesa, then took to the stage to present eReuse, an open source reuse platform for electronic waste, which can be used to dramatically extend the use life of electronic products, as well as ensuring the traceability of the items from reuse through to recycling.

The final speaker at the conference was from the ECO-PULPLAST project which works with the paper industry in Northern Italy to recycle pulper waste from the recycling of paper to make ‘eco-sustainable plastic pallets’. This project has significant support from key players in the paper recycling industry where it forms a major alternative to waste incineration and offers a way to reduce costs.

The conference incorporated a wide range of expertise and experience. With inspiring and informative talks from politicians, industry representatives, social entrepreneurs, activists, and innovator. The focus on local action towards zero waste presented a number of concrete actions which can be taken by different municipalities in following the path to zero waste.

‘Management of organics, A Fundamental Pillar For Zero Waste Success’ – Focus of Next International Training

One of the pillars of Zero Waste is source separation of organics –the only way to obtain clean, high-quality compost. The most successful experiences within the Zero Waste network, those places that have achieved separate collection percentages above 80% such as Capannori, Hernani, or the region of Contarina, have implemented a source separation of organic waste to ensure the maximization of this material and avoid the contamination in other waste streams. Morever, a growing number of Zero Waste municipalities are separately collecting biowaste and other waste fractions and already achieve high recovery rates combined with job creation.

In this way, source separation of organic waste offer the biggest potential for improving recycling rates, reducing waste going to landfill and incinerators and providing a good source of nutrients to be brought back to soils via composting. Alternatively, organic waste is an untapped energy source to create biogas through Anaerobic Digestion technologies.

In any case, organic waste represents 30 to 40% of our household waste in Europe, thus solving the collection and treatment of organic waste is key to ensure the financial and environmental feasibility of a Zero Waste Strategy. Furthermore, the tendency to maximise material recovery of biowaste is a growing one and this is confirmed by the roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe (2013) and the communication Towards a Circular Economy (2014). New EU recycling targets will –directly or indirectly- make separate collection of biowaste mandatory in order to achieve the ambitious benchmarks the EU is aiming for in 2030.

How shall we implement a successful organic waste management system?

The management of organic matter from MSW is an essential part of sustainable management of resources and all European municipalities need to get up to speed with this. And yet, municipalities may be faced with a number of questions as to how to implement a user-friendly, efficient and economically feasible system. Whether it is a city, a town or a village; whether there is more or less population density; whether inhabitants live in terraced houses or high-rise buildings…all of these circumstances will need to be taken into account when designing a solid organic waste management system.

Fortunately, after decades of experiences and with consolidated practices in the field of collection and treatment of organic waste, today it is possible to assess any given situation and design a system to capture most of organic waste present in MSW and ensure high quality output, saving costs to the communities and bringing the nutrients back to the soils.

Banner training without adverts

With the aim of contributing to the development of well-designed and efficient organic waste management systems, Zero Waste Europe organises the first International Training Course on Organics Management. This hands-on high-profile course will empower waste managers, policy makers and activists with all necessary tools to design and implement cost-efficient high-quality programs for biowaste management.

The course will be given by Dr Marco Ricci, Dr Enzo Favoino and Dr Alberto Confalonieri from the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza, all of them pioneers in the separate collection and treatment of organic waste in Italy and in Europe. Moreover, it will be an excellent opportunity to network with European zero waste groups and be part of strategic discussions and vision development.

Register now for the International Training Course on Biowaste Management- Donosti, 13-15 October.

Looking forward to seeing you in Donosti!

Reusable nappies, a Zero Waste solution to an European problem

We all use or have used nappies in a time of our life. Nappies are a fairly recent invention that has eased the workload to many generations of parents –specially mothers-. Consequently, nappies are here to stay. The question is how to make its production, transport, use, re-use and disposal sustainable? What kind of nappies are suitable for a society that aims to phase out waste?

Why are single-use disposable nappies a problem?

Ca 4000 to 5000 nappies are used per child until its 3rd year of age, which equals 1tn of waste per child. Seniors also use nappies and hence generate vast amounts of highly putrescible waste. In fact, even though nappies represent only between 1 and 2% of total municipal solid waste, in the places with highest separate collection rates they represent almost the biggest fraction left in the residual waste. For instance, in Capannori , the first Zero Waste municipality in Italy , nappies represent almost 15% of the waste fraction that can’t be recycled or composted. With the increase in diversion of other waste streams and increase in the age of the Europeans that will need nappies we shall see an increase both in percentage and weight in the next years in Europe.
The problem with nappies is its high fermentability combined with the composition of the nappy –combination of plastic, cotton, creams and faeces-. This means that, firstly, disposal of the nappy in the waste bin (as mixed waste) and, secondly, forces a very frequent collection of the garbage bag -because of smells and other hazards caused by its putrescibility-.
If we could solve the problem of nappies in the waste bin it would be possible to reduce the frequency of collection which would reduce the collection and disposal costs. Moreover less nappies in landfills means less methane in the atmosphere and less impact to human health.

How to get nappies out of the waste bin?

The best way is to avoid using disposable nappies by expanding the use of reusable nappies. If we want to keep on using single-use nappies another way is to find a way to seal them so that they don’t smell and therefore can endure more time in bin. However this doesn’t solve the disposal and sustainability problems.

Another solution is to facilitate special bins/collection days for nappies so that they don’t contaminate the other waste in the bin and hence reduce the frequency of waste collection. This is done in most door-to-door collection systems.

Lastly, another option if we were to continue using the single-use disposable nappies would be to produce nappies with compostable bio-plastic. This does seem a solution at first hand for our busy societies. However, studies have shown high levels of zinc present in the compost, which originate from hand-creams and other additives used to avoid nappy rash. Toxins in compost speak against the option of compostable nappies.

The advantages of reusable nappies

Reusable cloth nappies have many advantages:
– they save money for the user (from 1000€ to 2000€ per baby) and to the community (less putrescible waste = possibility to reduce the frequency of collection = lower collection costs and odours). Moreover, these nappies can be re-used when the baby has grown up, meaning that they could be sold, passed on to the next child or friends/relatives!

It is also important to note that single-use nappies externalise the costs of collection and treatment to the public administration and hence to the consumer. In other words, the price of single-use nappies in the supermarket doesn’t include the costs for the society and the environment once the product leaves the shop. In the end we all end up paying for it when the company, following the polluter pays principle, should be the one shouldering these costs. If these costs would be internalised in the price the economic advantage for reusable nappies would be even bigger.

– reduces the environmental impact: 1000kg of non-recyclable waste is prevented during 3 years. Plus the production and use of reusable nappies use less than half the water, need only one eigth of non-renewable and 90% less of renewable materials, use one third of the energy and the use of soil is from 4 to 30 times less intensive.

– reduce chemical exposure for the baby: the cellulose that touches the baby’s skin is produced and bleached with chemical products that are in contact 24h with the skin which favours the occurrence of hypersensitivity.

– helps de local economy – in many cases the reusable diapers are produced locally by the community in contrast with the industrial production of single-use nappies. For instance in Capannori, Italy, local women are working from home to produce the nappies of the company. A similar case we find in Reus, Spain.

In Europe there are several good experiences of implementation of reusable nappies:

– In Flanders, Belgium, the administration co-finances the purchase of reusable cloth nappies,


– In the UK a waste minimisation campaign (The Real Nappy Campaign) was very successful in bringing this issue closer to the people. 80% of municipalities in the UK support the use of reusable nappies and effective service of nappy laundry is in place,
– in Austria 10 to 15% of the people confirm the use of reusable nappies,
– in Italy the use of reusable nappies is widespread in those communities adhering to Zero Waste,
– In Catalonia, Spain, there has been several tests to introduce reusable nappies in kindergartens which have proven to be a saving for the school –decrease in nappies use of 37% and reduction of 147kg/year per baby- and a way to promote reusable nappies among parents –many of whom decide to adopt the system at home-


It is estimated that in Europe 20% of the population uses reusable nappies -15% for economy and 5% because of environmental reasons-. The use is uneven between EU countries, some with high percentages and some with very low. What is clear is that this is a growing trend and we are going to see more of these if we are to advance towards sustainability. From the waste point of view, replacing single-use nappies with reusable nappies is the way to go if we want to reach a Zero Waste society.