The waste hierarchy is the main principle at the cornerstone of the European Union’s waste policy. It establishes the priority order Member States should apply when developing waste management legislation and policy. It envisions that waste should be in the first place prevented, then reused, recycled, processed for energy recovery, and finally disposed of.
Unfortunately, although waste prevention represents the top priority of the waste hierarchy, effective waste measures of this kind have rarely been yet developed by Member States. This delay in the implementation of the waste hierarchy principles is in part due to the lack of consistency among national waste policies: on the one hand, there are principles and other non-binding tools to promote more sustainability-oriented practices; on the other hand, Member States are free to subsidise the activity of burning mixed municipal waste, known as incineration.
When waste is not subjected to separate collection, it is called mixed or residual waste. This means that many materials (plastics, paper, organics), which could be recycled if they were separated at the source, are inexorably lost, because they will be burnt into incineration facilities.
The European Parliament is currently amending the European Directive on Renewable Energy, which will be implemented in the following decade. The legislation that emerges from this process will influence the choices of local policy makers and financial investors. This represents a major opportunity to offset unproductive investments and concentrate the efforts on the options that are the most sustainable, the most profitable, and generate the most jobs. In all these aspects, recycling makes much more sense than incineration, and here is why.
1. Recycling saves energy
The practice of incineration is bad for several reasons. On the first hand, it disincentivises citizens to care about what they consume. This is very dangerous in a world where more than 7 billion people live out of finite resources.
Not very long ago, recycling was considered difficult, even impossible, according to the most skepticals. However, nowadays recyclers run a business of millions of euros, while preserving materials in the economic loop. A combination of recycling and composting can save three to four times more energy than an incinerator can produce. 1
Moreover, recycling saves massive amounts of CO2 emissions and, if optimised, it can play key role in meeting the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement to contrast climate change. 2
Finally, when “embedded energy” is taken into account as an indicator (which, unfortunately, is not the case in many Life Cycle Assessments), the amount of energy that a high-quality recycling can potentially saves is astonishing when compared to incineration, as pointed out in a recent study.
2. Recycling is more profitable
Incineration of mixed municipal waste is an expensive practice which requires significant financial investments from local authorities. Unfortunately, the costs to build the facilities and to run them are are covered mainly by public funds with very little private contribution. Therefore, its costs are, in reality, to be paid by the citizens through higher taxes and bills for waste management.
On the contrary, the recycling sector has developed into a successful business. In Germany, its turnover increased by 520 per cent between 2005 and 2009.3 Agreeing to take the path to maximize recycling is particularly important for those countries that joined the EU recently and are currently building their waste management system. They have also the most to gain in terms of jobs and savings.
3. Recycling creates more job
Burning waste requires a lot of money but very little workforce. This means that incineration facilities create almost no jobs.
On the contrary, recycling benefits the whole economy by creatingat least ten times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. 4
In 2014, for the city of Treviso, Italy, the public company Contarina’s operational cost were contained and 26 new jobs were created. 5
It is estimated that, in addition to the nearly 400 000 direct jobs brought by the implementation of the existing EU waste legislation, 170 000 more jobs could be created, most of them impossible to delocalise outside the EU, and 30 billion euro could be saved by 2035. 6
When comparing the costs, one can see how good management and recycling save money for the taxpayers and create real and tangible wealth.
Incinerators are not flexible. This means that, in order to deliver a sound economic profit, they need from 40 to 50 years of activity, without taking into account the management costs. In 1998, when the UK’s Kent County entered into a twenty-five-year contract to burn waste, it thought it was making a wise economic move. But now, as the recycling economy has vastly improved, the County is losing an estimated €1.5 million a year.7 Rather than selling its recyclables for reuse, which would be both economically and environmentally efficient, it must send those valuable resources up in smoke. That is an unfortunate situation that will persist until the contract expires.
On the contrary, re-use and recycling activities are not only environmentally friendly, but they also deliver a far better result from the economic and social point of view.
Nevertheless, because of misconceptions and sometimes poorly transparent decision making process, incineration still represent a serious threat, while every year less than 40% of European waste is recycled or re-used. The best way to invert this trend is to implement effective source separation (of waste) and separate collection schemes. By doing that, it is possible to boost the percentage of recycling and the quality of recyclates, thus creating an added value for society and the environment, and finally moving beyond the practice of mixed waste incineration for good.
1 J. Morriss and D. Canzonieri, Recycling versus Incineration: An Energy Conservation Analysis, Seattle, Sound Resource Management Group, 1993. 2 E. Katrakis, Time to make a decisive difference for recycling in Europe, The European Files, N. 44, Page 15, December 2016. 3 K. Florenz, Time for Change, The European Files, N. 44, Pp 9-11, December 2016. 4 P. Connet, The Zero Waste Solution. Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time, Paul Connet, 2013. 5 J.M. Simon, Case Study #4.The Story of Contarina, 2015 6 D.C. Crespo, Ambition and realism – key ingredients for a future-oriented waste policy, The European Files, N. 44, P. 8, December 2016.
7 P. Connet, The Zero Waste Solution. Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time, Paul Connet, 2013.
Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
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:
This study provides clear evidence that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes in Europe are insufficient. In the Executive Summary, released on Wednesday 15, July, it has been found that despite 70% of municipal solid waste being product waste, only 45% of this product waste is currently covered by an EPR scheme and only 18% of the product waste is collected with existing EPR schemes.
In the full study to be released in October, there will be included a number of detailed and clear recommendations to the European Commission on improving the current EPR mechanisms and implementing truly effective EPR scheme with a broader definition which as the ‘father of extended producer responsibility’ Thomas Lindhqvist stated, would serve as “an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product”2.
For EPR thinking to fit into the circular economy, the study claims that it is necessary to connect waste managers with producers using economic instruments as well as the introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements that allow for better process and product design.
This study comes at important time for the European Commission who are currently conducting a review of waste policy and legislation. The aim of which is to “help turn Europe into a circular economy, boost recycling, secure access to raw materials and create jobs and economic growth”3. All ambitious targets which will need to incorporate strong EPR protocols to have achieve the desired goals, and move Europe towards a zero waste circular economy.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of Zero Waste Europe said “This study provides new evidence about the potential for improving EPR schemes in Europe and the need to use the upcoming waste package proposal to ensure that producers really take responsibility whilst providing the appropriate incentives to redesign systems and products”. It is clear that whilst EPR schemes across Europe do not manage to reach most producers there is real potential in the current review for their reform, and it is hoped that if the European Commission takes these findings into account. That would be a real step forwards for the circular economy and another step towards a zero waste Europe.
2Thomas Lindhqvist, “Mot ett förlängt producentansvar — analys av erfarenheter samt förslag” (“Towards an Extended Producer Responsibility — analysis of experiences and proposals,” in Swedish), 30 April 1992, published by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources ini “Varor som faror — Underlagsrapporter” (“Products as Hazardous — background documents,” in Swedish), Ds 1992:82. The definition was published in English for the first time in: Thomas Lindhqvist, “Extended Producer Responsibility,” in the proceedings of an invitational seminar at Trolleholm Castle, 4-5 May 1992: “Extended Responsibility as a Strategy to Promote Cleaner Products,” edited by Thomas Lindhqvist, Department of Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund, June 1992.
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
A group of progressive industries accounting for more than 2300 companies from all sectors, from multinationals to SMEs, have presented a joint manifesto calling for an ambitious renewed Circular Economy Package. This initiative has been led by De Groene Zaak, MVO Nederland and Circle Economy, but has been supported by other relevant stakeholders, such as the European Environmental Bureau or ACR+.
This manifesto stresses that “circular businesses are currently succeeding in spite of, rather than because of, the regulatory framework” and that further legislative and policy action is needed to bring circular economy. Among their proposals, we should highlight:
Strong leadership and political guidance: bringing circular economy means transforming the model of consumption and production we have had for 250. This requires a systemic approach and, thus, the new package should be an “integrated package of government measures providing systemic incentives that encourage companies to implement circular business models.”
Maintaineance of the initial targets and introduction of new ones: They recommend keeping the binding targets for recycling and landfilling, and create new ones on reuse. Economic incentives could complement these.
Discourage incineration: they recommend introducing stringent criteria to exclude incineration of household waste that can be recycled or materially recovered.
Shift on tax burden: the manifesto proposes shifting tax burden from labour to resources, incentivising ‘circular products’ via VAT, etc.
Europe’s material footprint, indicators beyond GDP: They “recommend using The Raw Material Consumption (RMC) per capita as a key indicator for resource productivity” and consider that GDP “is an inadequate linear measure of the economy”. Circular economy policies need new indicators, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator.
Creation of a European Institute for Circular Economy that would be based on existing national examples and could boost economic research, assist policy development, define transition paths, etc.
You can find here their manifesto. Zero Waste Europe supports these measures and would be very glad to see these proposals in the new Circular Economy Package.
Efficient material management, reduction of toxic substances, energy efficiency and economic incentives.
The Circular Economy could bring significant environmental, social and economic benefits to the European Union. In order to deliver resource efficiency, job creation, low-carbon prosperity, a healthy environment, clean production and sustainable consumption, it is necessary to take a holistic approach by working across a number of policy areas. Failure to address every aspect of the issue by developing only partial solutions will prevent the EU from enjoying the overarching benefits the circular economy can provide.
This paper highlights four key areas the undersigned NGOs believe must be addressed by the EU institutions to ensure a fully functioning circular economy, and some of the often overlooked benefits that can result.
Resource Efficiency and Zero Waste: the basis of a true circular economy
Although we live in a planet of finite resources, global extraction of resources has been rapidly increasing. The European Union is a net importer of natural resources; from precious metals to the water or land necessary to produce every product we consume. At the same time, our linear economic model results in 50% of Europe’s municipal waste being landfilled or incinerated, generating considerable carbon emissions. Our mismanagement of natural resources causes many environmental problems: climate change, depletion of resources, the release of toxics pollutants and marine litter, to name a few. It is estimated that fully implementing the EU’s waste laws could save up to €72 billion.
A true circular economy would reduce both inputs in the form of resources, and outputs, in the form of waste and emissions. The EU circular economy should aim to achieve high resource efficiency, zero waste and zero emissions.
The transition to a circular economy therefore requires fundamental changes across the entire economy based on the following interdependent pillars:
Material management from extraction to waste
Europe needs to radically increase the efficiency with which it manages its material resources, as measured by a continuing reduction in resource use per capita. This can be done by progressively closing the loop with effective product and waste policies.
To tackle Europe’s resource dependency, the EU needs to measure and reduce its material, water, land and carbon footprints. The material footprint (based on Raw Material Consumption, already measured by Eurostat) should be included as an indicator in the European Semester.
Product design is fundamental to reach the goals of the circular economy. Good design can improve product and process performance, phase out hazardous materials, enable and incentivise the repair and reuse of products, and can also ensure the use of recycled and recyclable materials.
Product design-related requirements should be set by the EU in four ways: (1) through the full implementation of the Ecodesign Directive, and also its extension and adaptation to non-energy related products; (2) through the Waste Framework and Packaging and Packaging Waste Directives; (3) through existing tools such as Ecolabel, Green Public Procurement and Energy labelling and (4) through certification and standardisation tools.
A credible long-term zero waste policy is not only crucial in eliminating waste but also in creating a feedback mechanism at the end of life-cycle that allows products to be redesigned and to re-enter the economy, thus preventing them from becoming waste. Therefore, an enforceable waste hierarchy that guides activities towards prevention, reuse and recycle with ambitious targets, while promoting zero landfill and zero incineration is an absolute necessity. In addition, it is necessary to have harmonised definitions and a single measurement methodology to allow Member States to monitor the progress of each of these activities towards the common goal of zero waste.
Toxics, chemicals and health
A circular economy cannot work without clean production. Toxic substances should be avoided at the design stage to allow products and materials to circulate in a closed loop without endangering the quality of materials and the health of citizens, workers and the environment. This requires changing our approach to toxic substances so that in a circular economy, hazardous substances will not hinder the processes of reuse, repair and recycling.
This requires stronger application of REACH, and potentially more product-specific requirements, with the example of the ROHS directive; restricting substances used in new electronic equipment, as a potential model. Stronger regulations are needed to trace and minimise hazardous chemicals in products which endanger the capacity of the product or material to circulate repeatedly in the loop.
When a temporary exemption or authorisation has been granted to enable the continued presence of hazardous substances in products made from recycled material, the material should be labelled and associated with a specific marking.
The circular economy can contribute a great deal to Europe’s energy efficiency drive. There is a huge potential in preserving the energy embedded in products and materials and preventing them from becoming waste; far more than can be generated by burning or landfilling them.
New methodologies must be developed to account for, and reward, the preservation of energy embedded in products or materials. Premiums for energy from waste incineration distort markets. Therefore they should not be considered unless there is a level playing field with embedded energy conservation, including taking into account the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from prevention, reuse or recycling during comparison.
This new approach to energy management should be included in the new Energy Union strategy and be incorporated in the renewable energy and climate policies through the clean development mechanism. Although this already exists, it is currently channelling public money to finance infrastructure developments that contradict the very concept of the circular economy.
Instruments: economic incentives
Maximising resource efficiency and keeping materials circulating in the economy should be cheaper and simpler than consuming virgin resources. To facilitate this, the EU needs to change the current economic incentives that drive our linear consumption pattern.
A circular economy will require policies to make it legally and economically viable to sell services instead of goods, to sell durable goods that are repairable, reusable and upgradable, to promote shared or leased ownership, and to have a return or reuse programme. Wasteful practices should be made more expensive than these efficient ones.
To further encourage resource efficiency and zero waste, resource consumption should be made more expensive in comparison with product service, maintenance and repair operations, which should become cheaper. This would mean taxation shifting from labour to resources, especially virgin resources, as this will help to increase employment in Europe and decrease resource use while incentivising businesses to move towards circular production and consumption patterns. Reduced taxes or tax allowances for repair, reuse and refurbishment businesses, and increased taxes on single-use and hard-to-recycle materials are a way to implement this.
In addition, the European Commission should explore the effects, impacts and options of extending minimum legal product warranties. This would oblige manufacturers to bear full responsibility for any product failure during a legally determined period after purchase.
Economic instruments such as incineration and landfill taxes are needed in order to move up the waste hierarchy. Burning and landfilling recyclable or compostable materials should be banned. Public funding, including public procurement and the €300bn Juncker investment plan should be used to fund prevention, reuse and recycling infrastructure as a priority. Deposit and refund schemes are useful for educating citizens on the value of recycling, as well as ensuring the collection of commonly littered items such as beverage bottles, and can be integrated within extended producer responsibility schemes.
Overarching benefits of working on the four pillars
The circular economy will help reduce costs related to extracting and transporting virgin resources. This will also reduce business resource costs; for example, the EU manufacturing sector could save up to $630 billion per year by 2025 thanks to resource-efficiency measures.
The full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year by 2020, and the waste package presented in July 2014 has the potential to increase these numbers significantly.
Job creation Full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would create over 400,000 jobs. The waste package presented by the European Commission in July 2014 was estimated to create an additional 180,000 direct non-delocalizable jobs by 2030. The thorough implementation of the other three pillars discussed here could increase these numbers significantly.
A shift from taxing labour to taxing resources will lead to reduced labour costs for the employer and/or higher take-home pay for the employee.
The significant investments necessary for creating incineration infrastructure could instead be redirected to developing re-use centres and networks, recycling infrastructure and renewable energy, all of which require more, better quality jobs than incineration and landfilling.
The circular economy will reduce the energy required for extraction of virgin materials and production. Processes that use secondary raw materials consume considerably less energy than manufacturing from virgin materials. For example, remanufacturing typically uses 85% less energy than manufacturing does. More durable and reusable products and materials will result in longer life-cycles and better retention of the embedded energy of products. Further, this will reduce the need to extract and produce new materials and products, resulting in radical energy savings in extraction and production. As a result, the EU will save energy, increase resource efficiency and will reduce its import dependence on energy from third countries.
Reuse of products and materials saves a considerable proportion of the resources needed to manufacture goods from virgin materials. For example, UK analysis suggests that remanufacturing saves at least 70% of materials compared to manufacturing new goods.
Climate Change Mitigation
The Circular Economy will represent a significant step towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy, advancing towards the EU’s objective for 2050.
The waste package presented by the European Commission in July 2014 was estimated to have the potential to reduce emissions by 443 million tonnes of greenhouse gas between 2014 and 2030, without taking into account the further changes discussed here.
Health & Well-being
Reducing hazardous chemicals in production and in products will consequently reduce the impact on human health caused by close daily contact, or from indirect exposure from emissions into the environment.
Eliminating wherever possible toxic materials at the design stage will make it easier to safely and efficiently reuse, repair and recycle those products.
Europeans will benefit from avoiding emissions caused by burning and burying waste. A reduction in crop loss, respiratory and skin diseases, infertility, certain cancers, metabolic diseases and neurological/mental health issues will result. A recent study of the health costs of certain toxic chemicals estimated an annual cost to the European Union of approximately €157 billion per year and noted that this was an underestimate as only some chemicals and some diseases were included.
Reduction in marine litter
80% of marine litter results from land-based activities and is a consequence of unsustainable production patterns and poor waste management. Marine litter also represents a threat to human and ecosystem health, as plastic particles are known to bioaccumulate up the food chain, and carry dangerous pathogens across oceans to new areas.
Turning our economy into a circular economy is the ultimate solution to this problem. A significant reduction in marine litter will bring about a multitude of benefits. The annual costs from marine litter in Europe have been estimated at between €259 to 694.7 million for the fisheries, tourism and recreation sectors, as well as clean-up costs for coastal municipalities. Less waste in the sea means less marine animals and birds suffering entanglement or ingestion of litter, representing savings of around €12 billion each year.
The costs to the marine environment from marine litter cannot be fully quantified, but considering waste has been found in the bodies of hundreds of species, and the remotest corners of the marine environment, urgent action must be taken to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Stability of supply
Improvement of resource efficiency, by measuring and reducing our material, land, water and carbon footprints will result in member states being less dependent on imports.
The EU could also benefit from improved trade balance due to reduced imports. The Waste and Resources Action Plan estimates them as €110 billion.
Greater security in resource supply, and reduced land and water consumption outside our borders, can lead to improved geopolitical relations across the world.
Closing the nutrients loop would allow vital components such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to return to the soil in the form of compost, effectively capturing carbon and improving crop resilience, along with increasing the water retention capacity of the soil.
Pesticide-free agriculture would allow for job creation, energy savings and potential health benefits.
Taking ambitious steps towards a circular economy would reduce Europe’s use of materials and energy, decrease the amount of hazardous chemicals entering our environment, and ensure a multitude of economic benefits while creating locally-based, stable employment for thousands of Europeans. A circular economy in which we not only use resources and energy more efficiently, but also consume less in total, will benefit the environment and reduce the European Union’s import dependency along with the likely threat of price shocks in the future.
Many of these ambitious steps are achievable in the short-term, and the sooner they are implemented, the greater the benefits will be. Any of these benefits would be enough on their own to commend a policy, but the positive, cumulative effects of each of these changes will be multiplied. Improving our material management will lead to greater energy efficiency, as well as economic, environmental and social benefits for European communities. The EU must not hesitate to spearhead the transition to a circular economy, for the benefit of both people and planet.
According to the SERI/WU Global Material Flows Database, global extraction has increased by 118% over the past 31 years http://www.materialflows.net/trends/analyses-1980-2011/global-resource-extraction-by-material-category-1980-2011/.
 European Environmental Agency, Environmental Indicator Report, 2014, 30.
 Eurostat 2014, env_wasmun series reported that in 2013, 41.8% of EU-28 waste was recycled.
 Bio Intelligence Service for European Commission DG Environment, Implementing EU Waste Legislation for Green Growth, 2011.
 McKinsey & Company, Remaking the industrial economy, 2014.
 Bio Intelligence Service for European Commission DG Environment, Implementing EU Waste Legislation for Green Growth, 2011.
 Commission Staff Working Document (SWD/2014/0207 final), Impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for reviewing the European waste management targets.
 Commission Staff Working Document (SWD/2014/0207 final), Impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for reviewing the European waste management targets.
 KTN, Supporting Excellence in UK Remanufacturing, 2014.
 Next Manufacturing Revolution, The Next Manufacturing Revolution: Non-Labour Resource Productivity and its Potential for UK Manufacturing, 2013.
 Commission Staff Working Document (SWD/2014/0207 final), Impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for reviewing the European waste management targets.
 Trasande et al, Estimating Burden and Disease Costs of Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2015 Apr;100(4):1245-55.
 GESAMP, The State of the marine environment ,1991.
 Arcadis for European Commission DG Environment, Marine Litter study to support the establishment of an initial quantitative headline reduction target, 2014.
In October of 2014 Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA)’s Chair Person, Mr. Richard Anthony, and Board Member Mrs. Ana Carvalho, organized, conducted, and presented a workshop for approximately 250 people at the World Resource Forum (WRF) in Arequipa, Peru. Presentations were also given by Mr. William Worrell of San Luis Obispo, and Ms. Colleen Foster, of Oceanside, both cities in California, USA. The workshop introduced the Zero Waste concept, the importance of it and how the concept can be achieved. Included in the WRF were examples from different communities and programs around the world. In one of the forum’s scientific sessions, Ms. Carvalho presented “Zero Waste: The World’s Sustainable Growth & Development Processes”. As a final document to the forum, Mr. Anthony and Mr. Worrell, also member’s of the WRF’s Scientific Committee, prepared a final summary of the Zero Waste Workshop.
This is an awakening moment for cities and countries that have invested heavily in incineration infrastructure in the last decades and that have not been able to consider a way out of a burning-focused system in all this time due to the strict 20-30 year contracts to provide stable amounts of waste to the incinerators (“put or pay” contracts). This has been the inheritance of the 80s and 90s, when well-resourced European governments relied on large industrial incinerator infrastructures to deal with their waste and decrease reliance on landfills as a first and only priority. Today, many of these old incinerators are arriving at the end of their life, opening up a door for municipalities to consider the opportunities in an incineration-free system. This is, a system aiming at zero waste that would minimise reliance on waste disposal by means of reduction, reuse, recycling and better design of products. Enough is enough!
The most remarkable examples of cities that are moving on from incineration and have committed to decommissioning the plants are in the North of Italy, that once more calls our attention for being at the frontline of zero waste development and innovation.
One of the most remarkable examples is the city of Reggio Emilia where the old incinerator that had been burning waste for the last 40 years was finally shut down in 2012. As is often the case, the incinerator had raised the alarms for its harmful emissions, the lack of pollution monitoring and the administration failure to provide adequate information to the population in the area. Such problematic performance had even been brought up to the European Commission.
Right now Reggio Emilia has tabled its exit strategy from its old ties to the incinerator through maximising separate collection and reuse. In regards to the management of residual waste, the city has developed a plan was to build a MRBT (Materials Recovery Biological Treatment) site, aiming at recovering further materials from residual waste, instead of burning or producing Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF) for co-incineration.
This approach, in combination with progressive policies to increase separate collection and recycling rates, keeps the system adaptable to ever-increasing recycling rates, hence it’s been regarded as an option towards embracing a zero waste vision and system. Indeed, one of the most important advantages of the MRBT site in comparison to the incinerator is that the former is a flexible system, meaning that it does not require a stable amount of waste to function as incinerators do, and it may deal with increasing amounts of materials coming from separate collection, so in this sense it does not contradict policies encouraging waste prevention, reuse and recycling.
Remarkably, the need to dismiss excess capacity for incineration and adopt options for the management of residual waste that are flexible and efficient, has been formally stated in a Resolution adopted by the Council of Region Lombardy, the most populated Region in Italy, with10 million inhabitants.
The Resolution, which was approved unanimously, states that there is a need to table a regional strategy for “decommissioning” of existing incinerators so that “(incinerator) sites shall be progressively shut down, consistently with the ongoing increase of separate collection, waste reduction, and the resulting minimisation of residual waste”. Moreover, “options for the management of residual waste that minimise landfilling by means of further recovery of materials (and not incineration) shall be promoted”.The local Zero Waste networks and NGOs are now engaged to make sure that the Resolution will be complied with in every specific case.
One of the first cases where the Resolution has prompted plans to shut down the incinerator is Busto Arsizio, where the Council is considering the decommissioning of the plant. If the incinerator was to be kept running, it would need a technological revamping to renovate the installation, which in a context of general overcapacity, increased recycling rates and less waste to burn, would be a high financial risk for the Local Authorities. Moreover, an incinerator technology upgrading could be far more expensive than dismantling the plant and investing in designing a new incinerator-free waste management system, which could then be more suitable to support a zero waste policy.
Similarly, the debate to dismantle existing incinerators or dismissing plans for building new ones has been tabled in the Region of Veneto, with a population of 6 million and the best separate collection rates – regional average already beyond 60%, with peaks around 90% in single Municipalities. The city of Verona, for instance, recently shifted to the incinerator-decommissioning trend. As a matter of fact, the Regional Council of Veneto has recently acknowledged that if good recycling policies are implemented and taken to their full potential (which may require far less time than building and running a new incinerator), there will not be enough waste to feed new incinerators. Following up this eye-opening vision, the City recently declared they might as well get rid of plans for the new incinerator and invest in a more resource-efficient path, maximizing recycling and putting emphasis on reduction and reuse.
Italy is today at the frontline of zero waste innovation, and yet many other countries may be following suite. We’ve recently heard important messages from Denmark, the European country with highest incineration rates: its latest report about Danish waste policy acknowledged that it needed an exit strategy from its old-fashioned waste management model if it was really going to care about being more resource efficient, never mind increasing its recycling rates that are currently far lower than elsewhere in Central Europe (and kept low in order to feed their ever-hungry incinerators).
Other ambitious incinerator projects are being abandoned due to the financial uncertainty of their investments, notably in Norfolk (United Kingdom), where a 500 million pounds contract has been cancelled, or in Guipuzcoa (Basque Country), where the long dispute over the incinerator plant was finally over with the dismissal of the proposal.
In brief, we may be staring at the beginning of the end of an era; a time of less waste travelling around Europe to feed the always insatiable beasts and more resource-efficient strategies to boost local economy, through separate collection, reuse and recycling.
Welcome to the age of decommissioning! Incinerators, it’s time to rest.
Note: do use the hashtag #ageofdecommissioning to keep list of ongoing stories on incinerators decommissioning.
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.