Between the 24th of April and the 5th of May, Zero Waste Europe will be in Geneva, attending the ‘super-COP’ (Conference of the Parties) covering 3 major global conventions on toxics: the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. At the conference, Zero Waste Europe will be promoting our newest policy briefing opposing exemptions for decaBDE.
The COP will be an important forum for the discussion of policies that could determine the global future of the circular economy.
Despite the significance of this meeting it remains largely unknown, an inaccessible policy arena shrouded in jargon and secrecy. The meeting covered largely by trade journalists rarely makes headlines, but the decisions made here affect the lives of millions of people.
What is worse is that in this largely unreported conference EU delegates and representatives are actively pushing for the implementation of policies which could jeopardise the creation of a clean circular economy in Europe and around the world.
Toxic chemicals, watered down legislation
A significant point of concern for observers of the conference are the substances which are listed to be banned under the Stockholm Convention. These substances include hormone-disrupting chemicals which are extremely resistant to breaking down in the environment. Known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) many of these chemicals have already been banned under the convention. However whilst the effects of these chemicals on the environment and human health is well documented, when it comes to a chemical used as a flame retardant called decaBDE, the EU has continued to lobby against increasing regulations.
EU delegates at the conference are actively pushing for less stringent regulation and specific exemptions for the recycling of waste containing decaBDE. The position of the EU is significantly weaker than the recommendations from the conventions expert committee which calls for no recycling exemptions and an immediate ban of decaBDE.
Time to act for a clean and safe economy
As recycling increases it is a matter of time before a scandal about toxics in recycled material explodes damaging the image of recycling and of the Circular Economy strategy. For this reason it is imperative to move quickly in the restriction of hazardous substances and organise a proper tracking of polluted waste streams to ensure a reliable and safe secondary market for raw materials.
The EU needs to ensure that their delegates advocate for strong international policies on toxics including decaBDE which fully align with the European Circular Economy. A large proportion of Europe’s electronic waste (WEEE) is exported to countries in the Global South ostensibly to be recycled, however it can often end up in dangerous dumping sites, where toxic chemicals can harm the environment and human health. If the EU continues to argue for these exemptions it will be recycling and waste workers in these countries who will bear the full burden of toxics in our recyclables. The EU needs to be consistent in eliminating toxic chemicals from our products, including those which are going to be recycled and lead the way to a clean and safe economy.
A new petition asks large supermarket chains in France to stop using non-recyclable plastic in their own-branded milk bottles. The bottles are causing mayhem in recycling plants and stalling the country’s circular economy goals.
What’s in a circle? Well at first glance we might think nothing of it. Its simplicity evokes plainness, but as we look deeper we discover harmony at its core. Harmony in the form of completeness and sustainability. Harmony in the form of collaboration and sharing. Harmony in the form of life as we know it. There’s much more to a circle than meets the eye. Just like with a circular economy. Although the concept seems simple, creating a truly sustainable economy means careful planning, attention to detail, and that every section of the economy works together in harmony.
While across Europe, the circular economy concept has taken root, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone is entirely on board with circular design.
Recently, Zero Waste France discovered that many of France’s large supermarket chains who stock their own branded milk on the shelves use bottles made from the non-recyclable polymer commonly known as opaque PET. That equates to millions of non-recyclable bottles in the French marketplace alone. And with the implementation of proper recycling methods far from being ready, the presence of opaque PET in recycling centers disrupts the entire process because it can’t properly be identified by current machinery. This has led to the unnecessary allocation of manpower and resources to handle this difficult material, the costs of which fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer.
We can all help solve this problem while also checking one for mother earth by signing Zero Waste France’s petition which aims to stop the usage of opaque PET among supermarket chains in France.
Although a small effort, the signing of the petition not only pinpoints a major sustainable ‘no-no’ in the bottling industry, but also contributes towards the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system. As a tool that can be used to provide economic incentives for producers to better design their products, EPR schemes are designed to penalize non-circular products, ensuring that the polluter pays, not the people.
The idea behind it is to create a closed-loop economy and incentivize producers to either create products that are durable, reusable, repairable, and recycle or pay the price.
EPR schemes can be one of the essential cornerstones for transitioning to a circular economy, however, it’s clear that there’s much room for improvement regarding their performance and implementation here in Europe.
With your help and support, we’re one step closer to closing the loop on that circle and building a future fit for both the environment and the people living in it.
Graph showing results of recent research showing the gap between amount of EU municipal waste eligible under an EPR scheme (70%), and how much is actually covered (45%). Source: Zero Waste Europe, Extended Producer Responsibility: Creating the Frame for Circular Products, January 2017.
This blog was written by Christopher Nicastro for Zero Waste Europe
An article from Zero Waste Tunisia, part of the developing Zero Waste Mediterranean network. If you part of, or want to join a zero waste group in the Mediterranean contact us to find out more.
The beginning of the end for the plastic bag?
It’s created in just a few seconds, serves a purpose for a only few minutes and takes more than 400 years to completely breakdown. It is, of course the plastic bag that Tunisians particularly adore for their shopping. However despite this disastrous love affair recent developments, including an agreement between the supermarkets and the government could herald the beginning of the end for the single-use plastic bag.
Plastic bags are a real scourge. In fact, they are harmful to the environment and kill thousands of animals each year. They are dumped our countryside and beaches releasing their poison everywhere and ending up in the soil.
Tunisians consume one billion plastic bags each year, of which 30% (approximately 315 million of them) come from the large supermarkets. Those 315 million bags are equal to 10,000 tons of plastic waste according to the ministry.
In an effort to phase plastic bags out, the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment has recently signed an agreement with the supermarket union chamber. This agreement, which was effective from the 1st of March, prohibits the distribution of single-use plastic bags.
The alternative is not difficult to find, in fact we could use the traditional Tunisian basket (the Koffa) or other ecological bags.
The minister describes that approach as “gradual” and which in a few months will result in a total ban on the manufacture and sale of plastic bags in Tunisia.
The idea is to encourage the factories to produce, using the same technologies, reusable bags that will be sold for use several times. It is also about changing the behavior of the consumer to control the use of plastic bags and think about alternative solutions.
The ministry has therefore opted for a progressive approach, in several stages instead of a global and radical approach which will not work.
So, will these plastic bags completely be eliminated by the end of the year? Will the environmental police control this issue, especially outside supermarkets? The coming months will provide an answer.
Find out more about the work of Zero Waste Tunisia on their website, and get involved in & find out more about zero waste activities in the Mediterranean via our contact form.
Scientists predict that without urgent action there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, threatening marine biodiversity and posing a risk to human health. Yet, despite the danger that plastic pollution poses to our planet and to Human well-being, governments and industry have so far failed to face up to the systemic change required to solve the issue.
At the European level, the development of the Circular Economy Package and the EU Strategy on Plastics present a major opportunity to fundamentally tackle the use of plastic and prevent the creation of plastic waste. This cannot be done without policy makers addressing the full life-cycle of plastics from oil extraction and design, to end-of-life.
“This is the first time that groups from all around the world have come together to find a common solution to the problem of plastic pollution. It is the beginning of a movement which will lead to governments, cities and companies taking major action to tackle this ever-growing problem” said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste Europe policy officer and coordinator of the European plastics alignment process.
European governments and multinationals need to face up to their responsibility for driving the irresponsible use of plastics and for the resulting environmental damage around the world, which often most affects the most vulnerable globally. It is clear that without a strong and coordinated effort and impetus by policy makers, businesses will continue to use plastic indiscriminately and the pollution will intensify.
The NGOs below call on the European Commission and Member States to strive for ambitious policy changes to lead the way to a future free from plastic pollution.
The 7th Annual Plastic Bag Free Day 2016 took place on July 3rd, seeing hundreds of actions take place around the world. With scores of organisations and hundreds of citizens taking part in events and awareness raising activities highlighting the environmental impact and hazards of single-use plastic bags.
In Dhaka the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO) launched electronic posters to raise awareness for the campaign.
These actions represent only a fraction of the total activities which took place around the world calling for a ban for the bag. Considerable progress has been made over the past year by many organisations and campaigners. However, with the recent revelations regarding the impact of ocean plastics on wildlife and human health the issue of plastic waste has rarely seemed more urgent. The success of Plastic Bag Free Day is central to raising awareness of this problem, and pushing for an effective ban on the non-compostable bag!
Written by Zero Waste Europe Policy Officer, Delphine Lévi Alvarès after experiencing the incredible amount of plastic waste on beaches in the Philippines.
On the morning of Saturday 16th of July some of Zero Waste Europe’s staff took part in their first Philippines beach cleanup. It was only 8am, and a swarm of volunteers were already in action on Freedom Island’s beach, armed with bags and gloves to clear the sand from layers and layers of garbage carried downstream into the Manila bay from all the small canals and rivers crossing the megalopolis.
Our first impression when we arrived at the beach was shocking. It was almost uniformly covered by little used sachets of shampoo, detergent, and instant coffee… an ocean of colours and brands among which many were recognised by the sharp eye of a western consumer. Nescafé, Maggi, Ariel, Palmolive, Colgate, Head & Shoulders, Mentos and many others, directly coming for the marketing brains of American and European multinationals such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
Why such a flow of single use sachets in this region of the world, to package the same products that we have in bigger containers in Europe and the US, and how do they end up in the rivers and the ocean? Speaking with our colleagues from South East Asia, we understood that behind the false affordability (the so-called ‘pro-poor’) argument made by the companies manufacturing these products (i.e. that for people with low income it is cheaper to buy these products on a daily basis than buying larger quantities despite the fact that the total cost they will end up paying is higher) there is a more significant marketing argument. Hence the appealing colours and glossy packaging. And even if it’s not part of their strategy, the absence of sound waste collection and management systems in most of the places where people use these sachets leads to massive littering both on land and in waterways increasing their brand’s visibility even more than the market stalls.
Yet the solutions to replace these sachets exist and many Zero Waste groups have been promoting them in front of these brand’s corporate leaders. In low-income areas they should be replaced by dispensers from which people could get one pump of their required product (oil, shampoo, detergent, etc.) in small returnable and reusable containers. It would be even cheaper to buy on a daily basis, because a large part of the product’s price is in the cost of the packaging itself. Improving the waste management systems in these areas is of course of high priority, but in regardless case it’s better to prevent than manage waste, and even more so because these sachets, made of multilayered material, are not recyclable.
The response of the brands to this proposal has been a resounding ”no”.
It is necessary for the producers to take responsibility for the products they put in the market and if they are sold in places where the means to manage this waste are not available they should -at the very least- shoulder the costs of collecting and treating this waste. If they do it in Europe, why can’t they do it in Asia?
Only 4 months away from the transposition deadline of the EU Plastic bags directive, environmental NGOs celebrate today the 7th edition of the International Plastic Bag Free Day. 2016 is a pivotal year which will pave the way towards what NGOs hope, a European plastic bag free future.
EU governments have until the end of November to adopt national legislative measures to drastically reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags. While many initiatives have popped up locally, some Member States are still lagging behind in engaging in the fight against plastic bag pollution. At the same time, some EU countries such as Italy and France already have, or are planning bans on plastic bags and are paving the way ahead.
More than 100 billion bags are used annually in Europe and most end up in landfills, incinerators or as litter in aquatic environments. In addition to harming the marine environment, producing these bags requires millions of barrels of oil per year. Moreover, plastic bags can take centuries to degrade and are responsible, together with other litter items, for the deaths of an estimated 100,000 marine mammals every year.
The International Plastic Bag Free Day, celebrated over the World on July 3rd, is a unique occasion for Fundació Prevenció de Residus, together with NGOs Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste Europe, and the undersigned organisations to spread the word that a plastic bag free world is possible and that sound environmental alternatives to single use plastic bags are available.
NGOs ask governments to show ambition and caution, recalling that paper bags and biodegradable bags remain single use options and should be avoided. They call on the European Commission to speed up the two reports promised in the Plastic Bags directive on very-lightweight and oxo-degradable plastic bags, as they are still far too common in the European market. Oxo-degradable bags, in particular, have proven to be extremely harmful for the marine environment, as they break into small pieces impossible to remove.
European citizens expect national governments to seize this opportunity for action. NGOs too call on governments to set an example, and take ambitious action: “We are glad that more and more regions, municipalities and Member States are taking on what Italy has started in 2011 with its ban on single use bags. It is now time for all EU Member States to take their responsibilities and stop the plastic bag flow – whether they are used as carrier bags or for the transport of fruits and vegetables- into the environment and eventually into the Ocean”.
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:
Plastic has permeated every corner of our oceans and rivers, leaving virtually no inch of ocean plastic free.1 But all around the world, communities and cities are showing that another way is possible. From Manila to Montenegro, people are saying no to plastic pollution and calling for a world without plastic bags.
On Friday the 3rd of July groups and organisations from across the world took action for the 6th International Plastic Bag Free Day. The day saw creative events across five continents, in a unified call for reusable, responsible alternatives.
Montenegro saw a ‘plastic bag monster’ roaming the streets of Podgorica, the capital city, as Zero Waste Montenegro raised awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and informed people of the alternative zero waste solutions. Hungarian campaigners from Humusz held a flashmob and trolley race to from a central square to a nearby market, highlighting the alternative solutions to plastic bags, such as shopping trolleys. In Sofia, Bulgaria, there was a ‘plastic bag free party and fotomarathon’ with theatre, music and drinks. A German group held a film showing of ‘Trashed’ in Konstanz. And in Slovenia a trade in scheme was held, where people could swap 10 disposable plastic bags for a re-usable cotton bag. In addition to having fun and raising awareness, groups in Europe had concrete policy goals. In Europe, groups including; Zero Waste Europe, Fundació Prevenció de Residus, Friends of the Earth Europe, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and the European Environmental Bureaurenewed their call for for EU Member States to put into effect the new EU directive to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, and make this policy a reality.
In Manilla, Philippines, a forum was held by a number of organisations exposing the truth behind many types of ‘degradable’ plastic bags and their impacts on the environment. Sonia Mendoza, President of the EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines, said “Degradable plastic bags will not help solve our environmental problems concerning waste and pollution, as their use will merely instil and promote further the throwaway attitude and culture that have so permeated modern society,” and called for a ban on plastic bags in the Philippines.
Members of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Networkworked to raise awareness in front of the Seoul Jongno Tower Saengtegye, encouraging South Koreans to stop using single-use plastic bags, and instead use reusable shopping baskets. And in Hong-Kong and Taiwan groups encouraged people to “Say no to plastic bags!” and reduce their use of disposable bags.
In Botswana, Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), called upon the Botswanan government to enforce their levy on plastic bags, which officially came into force in 2006 and use the proceeds to fund environmental activities in Botswana, saying “We also call on the government to use the levy as it was intended to create a cleaner Botswana,”.
The Kicking the Bags Out campaign in Zambia lobbied for a plastic bag ban or fee across Zambia as part of a community solution to the issue of clogged drainage systems from plastic bag waste and donated reusable bags to legislators and ministers.
In Canada volunteers on Vancouver Island offered reusable bags by donation and held a voluntary plastic bag ban, where shoppers were encouraged not to use single-use plastic bags as part of their daily shop.
In Argentina a comedy event was held where monologues highlighted the ‘pointlessness’ of plastic bags.
More and more people on every continent are choosing to take their reusable bags to the shops, and ditching disposable plastics. But we don’t have time to wait for everyone in the world to follow this trend. The disastrous effects that single-use plastic bags are having on our environments, means that we need bold policies to tackle the issue of destructive disposable plastics and begin to move towards a world where single-use plastics are completely eliminated.
Many of the events and actions which took place are available to view on world map at http://www.plasticbagfreeday.org/ where you can read stories, view actions and add any of your own actions which may be missing.
1Doyle, Christopher, “No part of the ocean untouched by plastic rubbish.” ABC Environment, 11 December 2014.
Brussels, July 3, 2015 – On International Plastic Bag Free Day, a coalition of environmental and waste prevention organisations  urge EU Member States to take measures on environmentally damaging single-use plastic bags in accordance with new EU Directive requirements.
Every year, the average EU citizen uses an estimated 500 plastic bags , 92.5% of which are single-use. Around 90 billion single-use plastic bags were used in the EU in 2010 . Plastic bags make up around 40% of all the marine litter across UK waters and the North Sea , and a 2009 study showed that in the Bay of Biscay over 90% of waste items found on the seabed were plastic . These petroleum based products contain toxic additives such as endocrine disruptors and carcinogens, which can migrate into marine environments and enter the food chain via marine fauna.
European citizens think it is time to take action. A 2014 survey carried out by the European Commission, found that 92 % of respondents agree that measures should be taken to reduce the use of single-use plastic items, such as shopping bags .
There has been recent progress by EU institutions on tackling this issue. In May, a new European Directive, 2015/720/UE,to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags entered in to force. The Directive requires Member States to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags with a thickness of below 50 microns by either:
– taking measures to reduce annual average consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags to 90 per person by the end of 2019, and 40 by 2025;
– or by ensuring that by the end of 2018, no more lightweight plastic carrier bags are handed over free of charge to shoppers.
Member states have a 18-month limit to transpose it into their national law.
However, this law allows oxo-degradable bags to continue to be used in Europe despite their disastrous impact on the marine environment, where they degrade into smaller pieces of plastics impossible to remove from the environment.
Joan-Marc Simon from Zero Waste Europe said: “Plastic pollution is a global problem waiting for a global solution. As an international player, the EU should lead by example and not lag behind other countries in reducing usage of single-use plastic bags. The EU has now a target for reduction in the use of plastic-bags, we call on member states to put in place necessary measures to make this a reality.”
Marta Beltran from Fundació Prevenció de Residus said: “Our society can not afford the waste of resources and the environmental, social and economic impacts of plastic bags, including the oxo-degradables bags whose impacts on the trophic chain must be avoided. We want Zero Plastic Bags everyday; it’s time for reusables.”
Meadhbh Bolger from Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Single-use plastic bags are an iconic example of how Europe is stuck in a linear economy, dependent on the continuous extraction of scarce virgin resources for throwaway products. EU decision-makers need to ensure that the new Circular Economy Package makes sure we keep resources in the economy for as long as possible and that reduced consumption, reuse and recycling are the norm across the continent.”
Antidia Citores from Surfrider Foundation Europe said:“29 European cities have already committed to ban single-use plastic bags within our “Ban the plastic bag campaign”. The European directive recently adopted now gives the possibility to EU member states to legally ban single use plastic bags. We now call on Member States, cities and citizens to engage themselves in our campaign and say no to disposable plastic bags which affect so strongly the marine environment.”
Piotr Barczak from European Environmental Bureau said: “The case of unnecessary plastic bags clearly shows that improving environmental performance and waste management does not rely only on modern solutions, but is often about societal change. Very often we just need to look at the modes of consumption that were present decades ago and that had much less impact on the environment, like, in this case, reusable packaging.”
The sixth edition of International plastic bag-free day sees groups from all over the world organising activities to raise awareness on the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and to demand that governments act to stop marine littering.
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
GAIA –Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives- is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries working for a world without waste. www.no-burn.org
Surfrider Foundation Europe is an environmental association, statute 1901, created in 1990 in France (Biarritz). During its existence, it has achieved real expertise in the areas of research, local action, as well as the creation and diffusion of educational tools. Today, it consists of a network of 1,700 volunteers, 10,000 members and 100,000 supporters in forty local offices that are active in twelve European countries. Find out more: www.surfrider.eu
The European Environmental Bureau is Europe’s largest federation of environmental organisations with more than 140 member organisations who gain their membership from the general public. The EEB is guided by the voices of 15 million European citizens, and acts as the ears and voice of its members towards EU decision makers and beyond. http://www.eeb.org/
Friends of the Earth Europe is the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe, uniting more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups: http://www.foeeurope.org
Fundació Prevenció de Residus i Consum -Catalan Foundation for Waste Prevention and Responsible Consumption- is a nonprofit organization driven by environmental organizations, universities, companies and municipalities. It promotes campaigns (like the International bag-free day, that begun in 2008 as a Catalan scope and leaded to the annual celebration worldwide) and projects in order to shift to a circular economy and a resource efficiency society. www.residusiconsum.org
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.
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.
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.
On the 10th and 11th of May, tens of thousands of volunteers from communities all around the Mediterranean Sea and from three continents gathered to participate in simultaneous Clean-Up Events that took place in 15 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, becoming the most widespread civic-led event ever organised in this area.
With this project, Let’s Do It! Mediterranean aimed to draw attention to the pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and motivate communities to work together to change the situation. Studies show that the contamination of the Mediterranean Sea is very high and the level of plastic waste is beyond critical. In certain places the volume of micro plastic in the water exceeds that of plankton.
Faisal Sadegh, the project coordinator of Let’s Do It! Mediterranean emphasized that the impact of marine litter and waste in general goes beyond national boundaries. “Pollution does not stop at a country’s border, and the problems are spreading to affect the Mediterranean region in more direct ways than ever before,” Sadegh said.
Eva Truuverk, Head of Partners and Finance with Let’s Do It! World explained further; “for example, huge landfills can be found on Lebanese beaches, and trash is carried into the sea by winds and due to the currents reach the shores of other countries”, she said.
Precisely, Sadegh pointed out that this is exactly the reason why Let’s Do It! Mediterranean invited the whole region to participate and clean up together.
“There have been separate cleanup actions, but the scale and scope of this project is unprecedented. We need to work together for the environment we all share.” Indeed, Let’s Do It! Mediterranean invited everyone to participate with their families, neighbors, colleagues, and make this event a truly community empowering experience. “It simply works better and is much more fun together,” encouraged Sadegh.
Moreover, actions were supported by fishermen, schools, local people, tourist groups, and most importantly by diving organisations. One of the coordinating organisation for underwater actions, the Greek diving club Samos Divers, has the experience of removing trash from even 40 meters deep.
“Living on an island, the sea has been my ‘playground’ for four decades. I have been scuba diving for 20 years. The comparison of my childhood memories of the sea and its current state often saddens me. The truth about marine debris is that just because we often cannot see it, does not mean it’s not there,” said the leader of Samos Divers, Alexandros Malagaris.
“My deepest motive for getting seriously involved with underwater cleanups is so that my son Philippos, age 6, and my daughter Olympia, age 3, will be able to enjoy the wonders of the sea the way I did as a little boy. Abundant sea life in crystal clear waters, with the absence of tires, boat batteries, bottles, cans and plastics,” expressed Malagaris.
In Croatia, more than 5000 people took part in 30 Clean-Up Actions on the Mediterranean coast. During the Clean-Up action in Split, on the Croatian coast, more than 40 Estonian volunteers joined 300 local people, including 100 divers and marines, and together cleaned up the sea bottom from waste. As a result of this cooperation, four tones of waste were collected from the sea and beach in Split. Other actions took place in Egypt, Montenegro, Estonia, Malta, Lebanon, Tunisia and many other countries, as reported by Let’s Do It! Mediterranean.
The Let’s Do It! Mediterranean campaign is run and organised by volunteers, and the team plans to organise massive actions in concentrated periods until 2018. The “Let’s Do It!” movement started in Estonia in 2008, when a country with a population slightly over 1 million brought together 50,000 people to clean up the entire country in just five hours. By today, almost 10 million people and over 100 countries have joined the Let’s Do It! network. Find out more about Let’s Do It World and join in!
In Berlin, Biosphäre is a social, non-profit organic shop, which started offering cleaning products without packaging in 2013 and bulk food products this month – both with excellent results. During the usual learning period, paper bags are used to fill dry food products from large dispensers (“bulk bins”), though more and more customers are starting to purchase reusable cotton pouches and to bring their own containers to the shop. Thus the amount of disposable packaging is steadily decreasing.
The shop is located in Berlin’s Neukölln district, and the goods have two prices: the cheaper one reserved for customers with low incomes. All products in the shop are high quality and organic, and priority is given to the small producers in the region.
Hence it is a shop that generates sustainable jobs inside and outside the business, it has a low ecological footprint because most of the products have not travelled long distances, doesn’t leave waste behind and it is also a good opportunity for the locals to eat local and healthy food without having to pay more than in other shops. The concept for Biosphäre’s packaging-free food section was developed by the new company, unverpackt-einkaufen, (“shop unpackaged”), which aims to integrate packaging-free alternatives within existing grocery businesses in Germany.
During 2014 new shops selling in bulk will be opening in Berlin and elsewhere, stay tuned for the good news!
One model of Zero Waste business is really cleaning up in Italy – refill detergent stores.
The idea is simple, and given its rapid expansion, seemingly recession-proof: customers bring their own empty cleaning product containers to stores and refill them from bulk dispensers. Bottles are also available to buy. It fits with the Zero Waste principle of avoiding the production of waste at source, before considerations of disposal and recycling.
According to Antonio Fico, marketing and communications manager of one such chain, Detersfuso, not only is this an environmentally sound approach to consumption, it also has a positive impact on household budgets at a time when many families are reducing outgoings.
In a 2011 study by the Italian National Consumer Observatory, it was found that a family of 4 could save €205 a year by buying the same cleaning products loose rather than packaged. These savings are attracting custom and boosting expansion, with the franchise-based chain already at 140 stores across central and southern Italy.
Its founder, Carmine Manna, was inspired to take his industrial detergent company in this new direction in 2009, after witnessing the dramatic breakdown in his home city of Naples’ waste collection system. He has taken a firmly Zero Waste approach to his venture:
“It’s essential to reduce waste at the production stage. Today, recycling rates are still very low. If we want to convert our economy, create new areas of employment and contribute to protecting the environment, we have to reduce waste and industrial discards to a minimum and encourage people to choose refill products”.
The bulk chain is proud of its contribution to reducing waste. Since 2011, according to Fico, Detersfuso has diverted 5 million plastic bottles, or 300 tons of plastic from landfill. Given that Naples has signed up to become a ‘Zero Waste City’ by 2020, initiatives such as this play a vital role in helping cities achieve their goal of diverting 100% of waste from landfill and incinerators.
Another Italian chain, Goccia Verde, goes a step further and provides only ecological cleaning and personal care products on tap. They have a total of 17 stores and have even expanded internationally, now with 6 outlets in Spain including 2 in Barcelona.
Some of their stores feature coin-operated automatic dispensers, helping to reduce retail prices even further. They estimate that customers can make savings of between 20 and 60% on the price of cleaning products compared with buying a new bottle every time.
At a time when many small businesses in Europe are struggling to maintain profits, turning to a Zero Waste distribution model could help them wipe the floor with the competition and contribute to a cleaner environment.
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.