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.
It is estimated that Italians drink 14 billion espressos every year. While many enjoy their daily espresso, they may never consider the waste – an estimated 380,000 tons of coffee grounds – left behind by such a large amount of coffee production. The Italian startup Funghi Espresso has developed an innovative system that closes the loop of coffee production – recycling the waste to create a new product.
Funghi Espresso was born in 2013 out of an environmental education pilot project that taught children to cultivate mushrooms using coffee grounds as a substrate (the substance that the mushrooms gain nutrients from). The success of this project led to the development of an innovative and sustainable model of resource reuse and production inspired by the principles of Blue Economy. Funghi Espresso collects discarded coffee grounds from bars and restaurants in the territory, and uses them as a substrate for cultivating mushrooms, which are then sold to local restaurants and consumers. Since its inception in 2014, the company has recovered over twelve tons of coffee grounds, and used them to produce over one ton of fresh mushrooms. The process does not stop there – after
use in mushroom cultivation, the now twice-used grounds are repurposed yet again as compost to enrich agricultural soils. The company also produces “Do it Yourself” kits for growing mushrooms at home using the same coffee ground substrate.
Funghi Espresso has been recognized and rewarded for its creative approach in numerous ways, including being selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIPAAF) as one of the 25 most innovative agricultural startups in Italy.
It is a simple, yet brilliant idea; an example of “thinking outside the box” to solve a problem that many people never even realized exists, and create a system of sustainable, local and circular production from which everyone benefits.
An analysis of the new EC proposal on Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD)
Joan Marc Simon – Director of Zero Waste Europe
On December 2nd the European Commission (EC) presented the new legislative proposal aiming to amend waste directives and move the EU towards a Circular Economy. However if one analyses the text of the proposal on Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) in detail one wonders whether this proposal is legislating for 2030 or for 2010.
Effective action in the field of packaging is as important as it is urgent. There are many reasons for this;
packaging is growing in absolute terms both in volume and in weight. Between 2000 and 2015 the share of plastic packaging has grown 5% annually and is now 25% of the market,
once it becomes waste most packaging (notably plastic but not exclusively) is generally disposed of, not recycled,
marine litter is global problem and 80% of it is made of plastic packaging and by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Moreover current packaging recycling schemes in Europe are generally inefficient. In a study we published in 2015 we demonstrated that in Europe 70% of the municipal waste is product waste, i.e. not biowaste, 45% of which is not covered by Extended Producer Responsibility schemes which only succeed to separately collect 18% of it. Hence the recycling system is not performing very well and leads to most product waste ending up in the environment, in landfills or in incinerators.
With this in mind the European Commission presented a proposal in December 2015 aiming to create an “economy that preserves the value added in products for as long as possible and virtually eliminates waste. It retains the resources within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, so that they remain in productive use and create further value”.
Hence, one would expect that the aim of the amended Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) is to go in the direction of increasingly preserving this value that we seem to be so inefficient at maintaining.
If we look into the current proposal from the EC to amend the PPWD we will see that it mainly proposes two things;
Firstly, it suggests that preparing for reuse rates can be counted as contribution to recycling efforts. One can understand the political reasons behind this move, help those countries which will see their recycling rates shrink with the new suggested methodology to account for the targets, but technically it is an objectively bad idea because it mixes apples with pears and will not help bring clarity and legal security to neither the recycling industry nor public authorities. If the EC wants to increase reuse of packaging it is a lot better to set separate preparation for reuse targets altogether.
Secondly, it reduces the targets of preparation for reuse and recycling by an order of 5 to 15 points from the 2014 proposal, although the targets proposed will remain above those of the PPWD directive of 1994. All in all this is to be welcomed but if preparation for reuse is to be counted together with recycling it might well be that many countries will be already meeting the recycling targets today.
However, before ranking the level of ambition of the EC proposal we need to zoom out and ask ourselves a simple but important question; if the aim of this legislation is to contribute to the creation of a Circular Economy which preserves the value added in products as long as possible… are the measures presented the appropriate ones?
Unfortunately the answer is a resounding no. The current proposal would have been appropriate for the discussions we had 10 years ago during the revision of the waste framework directive in which the aim was to “turn the EU into a recycling society” but not in 2016 in the framework of Circular Economy discussions.
Many stakeholders including the EC itself recognise that the real added value of products and resources is in prevention and reuse operations. A very simple example; if we recycle a mobile phone the value of the materials we will extract will not be above €2 whereas if we repair and resell it we have the possibility of getting several hundred euros. In this sense the proposals to amend the PPWD are not legislating for the future but rather for a situation which belongs to the past. Where are the proposals to reduce packaging waste? What about increasing packaging reuse? And deposit schemes? By focusing primarily on recycling the EC commits the same mistake of previous decades; work at the bottom of the hierarchy and ignore the biggest potential benefit which lies at the top.
Another sign that the proposal is legislating for the past is the fact that it does not address current market developments. The fastest growing packaging waste streams are composite packaging (multilayer packaging, pouch-ups, etc) growing at double digits rate yearly. They are difficult to collect and even more difficult to recycle yet completely absent in the directive. On the other hand we see the rise of online shopping which involves a lot of packaging which producers like Amazon put in to the EU market but for which they don’t take any responsibility… on top of evading most taxes these companies get another competitive advantage by passing the responsibility of managing their packaging waste to the public authorities. Where is the action from the EC on this front?
And what about coffee-capsules? They are a problem today which will continue to grow in the coming years and legally speaking they are not even considered to be packaging! We need a proposal that legislates not for the past but for the Europe we will have in 2025 and 2030.
Essential components to make the PPWD fit for the Circular Economy
If the objective is to build a Circular Economy which preserves the added value in the economy there are at least four instruments that the EC should be considering:
Prevention targets for plastic packaging
We need to stop the growth of packaging waste in Europe. This means that there should be prevention targets which in my opinion do not need address the totality of packaging waste but rather specific waste streams and at the very least have prevention targets for plastic packaging. There are three reasons for this; plastic packaging is the stream with lowest recyclability and the one with lowest recycling rates, it is the fastest growing packaging waste stream and it is a major problem for marine environment and hence human health. Moreover, because of its light weight it is hard to compare with metals, paper and glass and the EC is working on a strategy on plastics which needs to address plastic packaging. Why not start here?
The current PPWD directive already includes prevention targets for single use carrier bags which focus in reducing the units of plastic bags instead of addressing the stream by weight. A similar approach can be used to set prevention targets for plastic packaging.
2. Separate targets for preparation for reuse
If there are targets for recycling, there could also be separate targets for preparation for reuse or any other commitment to have refillables return to Europe. Otherwise there is the paradox that by trying to meet recycling targets by weight member states might decide to dismantle existing packaging reuse schemes. Over the past few decades the market for refillable and reusable packaging in Europe has been inexorably shrinking and without a clear sign and guidance from the EU level nothing encourages governments thinking this process could be reversed or even stopped. The current PPWD already includes good wording on packaging reuse but still lacks the teeth and targets to make it possible.
3. Modulate EPR fees according to ‘circularity’ of products
There should be a clear feedback mechanism that connects waste with product and process design. In a circular economy, waste and inefficient resource use anywhere along the value chain should translate into direct costs for business. In other words, less durable, reusable or recyclable products should be more expensive for the producer and for the consumer than the circular ones. A way to do this is by using modulate fees in the extended producer responsibility schemes as it is being used in some cases such as for paper in France. Luckily the current proposal to amend the Waste Framework Directive already dwells on this option but we need stronger legislation in order to give clear signs and legal security to producers.
4. More and better recycling, but as a last option
Recycling is very important as last stage of a circular economy but it cannot do the job alone. Yes, we need more recycling, yes we need separate targets for recycling, yes we need to have separate recycling targets for composite packaging and yes we need more directly enforceable legal formulations but recycling alone cannot bring about a Circular Economy.
To conclude, the effectiveness of the new PPWD will be judged according to two parameters; on one hand the measures to tackle plastic packaging and on the other one the measures to support reusable and refillable packaging. Both currently missing and which will need to be introduced during the co-decision process.
Disruptive legislation in this field will not be easy because of the economic interests that lay behind single-use packaging but if Europe is serious about becoming a circular economy and fighting marine pollution it will need to stop looking at the past and start legislating for the future.
This speech was delivered at Packaging & Sustainability Forum, 2/3/16.
Since 2006 the seven municipalities of the lower Međimurje (The City of Prelog and the municipalities of Kotoriba, Donja Dubrava, Donji Vidovec, Sveta Marija, Goričan and Donji Kraljevec) have been developing a joint waste management system. Organised by the municipally owned company Pre-Kom, waste has been separately collected in the region since 2007. With the region currently ranked top in terms of separate collection within Croatia, it seemed the next logical step was the creation of a society without waste, or the implementation of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’.
Zero Waste 2020 commitments
By the adoption of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the municipalities of the region have committed to meeting the following waste management conditions by 2020:
70% of useful waste to be extracted, processed and recovered (recycling, composting, anaerobic processing, or other acceptable means of useful waste recovery) through separate waste collection.
The amount of bulky waste and combined waste will be reduced from the current (2015) level of 98.8 kilograms per capita per year to 50 kilograms per capita per year by 2020.
The priorities in the field of waste management (prevention of waste, reuse and recycling) will be reinforced to the fullest extent, waste incineration will be avoided, the amount of waste deposited on landfills will be reduced to the lowest possible level.
An analysis of useless waste will be conducted yearly, and an operative strategy and campaigns for further improvement in waste management will be defined based on the results of the analysis.
In addition to the initiated activities in waste management, and according to Waste management plans of municipalities of lower Međimurje, the municipalities commit to start and take part in the following activities:
Organising educational sessions related to sustainable development and waste management and to promote the zero waste development strategy.
Work on projects related to reuse of the collected waste (clothing, shoes, etc.).
Promote separate waste collection of biodegradable communal waste and the composting of it.
Promote the use of compost given back to users.
Promote increasing the amount of households included in the waste management system.
Introduce a billing system based on the volume of collected waste.
Start projects on all levels of development, or public and private initiatives in order to secure improvement of living standards and sustainable development in their areas.
Encourage green construction using environmentally friendly materials.
Take part in sustainable mobility (car sharing, walking, bus transport, etc.).
Promote new lifestyles (tourism, catering, Fair trade commerce, etc.).
In order to track their progress, the municipalities have formed the ‘Council for Waste Management in Lower Međimurje’ which will track the fulfilment of the goals of the international strategy for “Zero waste”, this council will consist of:
The president of the Council is a Director of PRE-KOM, and the council will meet at least once every six months.
In adopting a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the region of Lower Međimurje will join an international community of municipalities moving towards zero waste. This community includes; New Zealand (the first country in the world to include the Strategy in its national legislation), New Scotia, British Columbia in Canada, Buenos Aires in Argentina, San Francisco in California, Canberra in Australia and many other local communities, regions and cities across the EU.
The municipalities of lower Međimurje are becoming a key example of good practice in waste management, and an exemplary model for other local communities in Croatia and around the world in the struggle towards a zero waste society.
Current waste management practices & infrastructure
In the area of lower Mešimurje, mixed communal waste is collected in black containers, biodegradable communal waste is collected in brown containers, bulky waste is collected after a phone call, paper and carton are collected in blue containers or bags, plastics in yellow containers or bags and metal and glass are collected in free bags. Aside from the gathering infrastructure, Pre-Kom. manages a composting plant, a sorting plant and a recycling yard.
Amounts of bulky and mixed communal waste disposed on a landfill per household:
2011 2,888 t — 424 kilograms per household (128.5 kg per capita)
2012 2,801 t — 409 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2013 2,794 t — 407 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2014 2,862 t — 412 kilograms per household (124.8 kg per capita)
2015 2,299 t — 326 kilograms per household (98.9 kg per capita)
Amount of separately collected, processed and recovered waste:
2011 16.93 %
2012 19.04 %
2013 19.63 %
2014 22.39 %
2015 49.58 %
By completion of the separate waste collection system and by introducing containers for biodegradable waste, Pre-Kom. has already significantly increased the amount of separately collected waste in 2015, compared to 2014. Analysis show an increase in other materials collected separately door-to-door. In 2015, 49,58% of waste has been collected and processed separately, which is a better than EU average of 43%. The results weren’t achieved quickly, they were achieved by continual investments and upgrades to the waste management system.
Considering what has already been achieved, municipalities of lower Međimurje aspire to demonstrate some of the best waste management practices in the world and to lead the way a zero waste society.
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:
The report was commissioned by Zero Waste Europe, in partnership with Zero Waste France and ACR+. The report finds that the role of waste prevention and improved waste management can play in reducing GHG emissions and the development of a low carbon economy has previously been significantly understated, partly due to the structure of the national inventories of the UNFCCC.
The report further provides an accurate examination of the true impact of waste management on climate change and carbon emissions. It confirms that actions at the top of the waste hierarchy – including waste prevention initiatives, reuse and recycling – have considerable scope to reduce climate change emissions.
As the report states “A climate friendly strategy, as regards materials and waste, will be one in which materials are continually cycling through the economy, and where the leakage of materials into residual waste treatments is minimised”. For example, recycling 1 tonne of plastic packaging can be a saving of 500 kg CO2 eq, whereas using one tonne less plastic packaging results in avoiding 6 times more emissions (3 tonnes CO2 eq).
In the report 11 key recommendations are made, calling for waste policies to be redesigned in order to prioritise the higher level options of the ‘Waste Hierarchy’ (waste prevention, reuse and recycling) and immediately reallocate climate finance subsidies which are currently supporting energy generation from waste. These recommendations put a strong focus on correcting methodological issues that are currently preventing Member states and the European union from implementing waste policies that are efficient in terms of GHG emissions.
The report shows that in the decarbonising economy required to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, technologies such as incineration will become less attractive options and ultimately present an obstacle to a low carbon economy.
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director said “For far too long the climate impact of waste management has been overlooked. Now it’s clear that waste prevention, reuse and recycling are climate change solutions that need to be fully integrated into a low carbon economy. Both at the EU and international level, it is time to shift climate finance support to these climate-friendly options instead of waste incineration, which in fact contributes to climate change and displaces livelihoods of recyclers worldwide.”
Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste France’s Advocacy Officer,said: “With France hosting the COP21 in December, it is a real opportunity to raise decision makers’ awareness about the real impact of waste management on climate change and the extent to which Zero Waste strategies have to be put on the agenda of solutions to climate mitigation supported by the French government.”
Françoise Bonnet, Secretary general of ACR+ said: “Efficiency and smart waste management is key for a low carbon economy. Still, it is only the tip of the iceberg as a much bigger impact can be achieved through resource efficiency and adopting a life-cycle perspective”.
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
Zero Waste France – Zero Waste France (formerly Cniid – Centre national d’information indépendante sur les déchets) was founded in 1997. As an independently funded NGO and a member of Zero Waste Europe, it has been advocating for waste reduction since then, talking to local and national public officials as well as citizens groups or businesses. In 2014 the organization changed its name to Zero Waste France to emphasize its ambition but also the links with the other groups involved in this issue worldwide. Zero Waste France works closely with local stakeholders – among them its 2,000 members (individuals and groups) to encourage and implement Zero Waste strategies at the local level. www.zerowastefrance.org
ACR+ – The Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and sustainable Resource management (ACR+) is an international network promoting sustainable resource management through prevention at source, reuse and recycling. Through its activities, ACR+ strives to develop the expertise and skills of public authorities in effective waste-product-resource policies. Building on a 20 year experience, ACR+ launched in November 2014, the Circular Europe Network, a multi-stakeholder platform aiming at supporting local and regional authorities in adopting aspiring circular economy strategies. www.acrplus.org
This year saw a significant growth for Zero Waste Week, held between 7th – 13th of September. What has previously been a national UK based week expanded internationally drawing participants from across the world. The theme for this years Zero Waste Week, was that of ‘Reuse’. One of the ‘3 R’s’, reuse is an essential aspect of any zero waste strategy, and is near the top as one of the ‘most favoured options in the ‘Waste Hierarchy Pyramid’.
Kornelia from Warsaw, Poland said “I started the Zero Waste project in my family in July 2015 and I try to respect all 5 rules of Zero Waste. I write about it on my blog”
Hana from Tunisia said “I pledge to make my own reusable bags”
In the UK, Zero Waste Week was celebrated in Parliament in an Early Day Motion recognising the hard work carried out by founder Rachelle Strauss, and the wide reach and success of the week. The week was further referenced by Kerry McCarthy MP who introduced a bill proposing a reduction on the ‘obscene amounts of food needlessly wasted through the food industry supply chains’, and making this waste available to charities and people in poverty.
Klaus from Munich, Germany pledged to “Buy no plastic packaging [and] recycle waste for different uses”
The increasing reach of Zero Waste Week stands as an exemplary model for moving towards a zero waste world. With participants in all levels of society, and increasing recognition from national legislative bodies, it seems that zero waste ideas are becoming popularised.
Valerie from Paris, France, pledged to “Avoid every kind of packaging”
Many more exciting events such as ‘repair cafés, smoothie bikes, roadshows, meals made from ‘waste’, swap events, and art projects’ also took place during the week, with a huge response on twitter under the hashtag #ZeroWasteWeek
With the EU currently in the process of preparing a the circular economy package, these efforts should demonstrate the potential and energy for waste reduction in our economy from across Europe, as well as the recognition of the importance of waste within our supply chains.
This blog is the second article in our series on “Waste & Climate Solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution across the world for the next 3 days until 27 September. Yesterday we told the story of São Paulo’s household composting schemes which have resulted in a significant reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions from landfills.
Today, our article looks at the zero waste model of CERO in Boston, where the innovative worker co-operative had provided a strong economic boost for the local community whilst simultaneously working to reduce GHG emissions. Find out how below.
This following article is based on an interview with Alex Papali, an organizer with Clean Water Action and the Boston Recycling Coalition; and Lor Holmes, a cooperative worker-owner and business manager at Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO) in Boston.
Imagine a city where all products are reused, repaired, or recycled, and all workers make a family-supporting wage. Where local economic development projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate.
Boston, Massachusetts is on its way.
Last year, the Boston Recycling Coalition submitted a set of “Zero Waste Recommendations” to the city government detailing a proposal for Boston to vastly expand their recycling and composting programs, with the ultimate goal of a 90% recycling rate. The final Climate Action Plan adopted a zero waste goal, which the coalition is working to strengthen and implement.
Most of Boston’s garbage is currently burned in incinerators. Garbage incinerators (sometimes falsely named “waste-to-energy facilities) are major contributors to climate change—burning waste emits even carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. On the flip side, community-led zero waste solutions like recycling and composting have enormous benefits for clean air and the climate while revitalizing local green economies.
This model is already happening at CERO, a worker-owner zero waste coop in Boston.
While providing family-supporting jobs for the community, CERO works with businesses on separating out materials that can be recovered. They then collect this waste in a truck and bring it to facilities where it can either be recycled or returned to the soil as compost. The COOP diverts thousands of tons of waste per week from being burned or buried, and is still expanding.
CERO’s board members and employees are people like Guadalupe Gonzalez and Josefina Luna, who have been recycling informally for years or decades. Guadalupe Gonzalez used to do backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings during the day while picking bottles from the trash at night. She was one of the thousands of underrated recycling workers, earning precious extra money to support her family. Josefina Luna explains that, at CERO, “Now we can earn a living while protecting the environment.”
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.
Inter-linkages between waste and climate change issues are not always self-explanatory to the common eye. Apparently it seems that the former deals with the rubbish bin and the latter deals with reducing CO2 and typhoons, doesn’t it?
Well, if you still think this way, please feel very welcomed to check out our previous post about how we can bridge the two campaigning fronts and create mutually reinforcing positive drivers: zero waste solutions offer a very easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while creating green jobs, cutting down waste disposal pollution and building a more resource-efficient society.
The relevance of the connection between the two fields of action increases when we look at the money flows, especially money that is meant to support the mitigation and adaptation of climate change (aka, climate finance) and instead may end up supporting waste incinerators, cement kilns burning used tires or landfill gas capture in open landfills. Precisely, the kinds of projects that contribute to climate change rather than fighting it.
Another similar situation has emerged in Indonesia, where the national climate plan (Indonesia NAMA plan) has also encouraged cement plants to substitute the use of conventional fossil fuels and burn waste instead, and it’s seeking international financial aid of 2.063 million EUR to do so.
Alerts levels continue raising as we hear from multilateral development banks and top international finance leaders from the International Development Finance Club that waste-to-energy is one sector they could invest in in order to mitigate climate change. These global chiefs have recently published their Common Principles on what projects will be fit to receive climate finance. As said, waste-to-energy (e.g. incineration of waste, landfill gas capture, and landfill gas combustion) are amongst the eligible candidates.
It must be acknowledged that the Common Principles do refer to recycling projects as potential climate finance investments. Specifically, it reads as “Waste-recycling projects that recover or reuse materials and waste as inputs into new products or as a resource (only if net emission reductions can be demonstrated).”
Thus this may remind us that climate finance is a tool to mitigate climate change in the first place, and it’s up to all of us to ensure it goes to the right places. It’s about time that these financial institutions agree on an environmental criteria, certainly one for the waste sector is badly needed.
“We live in a disposable society. It’s easier to throw things out than to fix them.” – Neil LaBute
If the rest of the world consumed the way Europeans do, we would need the equivalent of two‐and-a-half planets to meet the demand for resources.
Usable products and device components are scrapped at an alarming rate instead of being salvaged, fixed, and reused. By 2050, our level o
of consumption of minerals, fossil fuels and biomass will reach 140billion tonnes, over double the current amount.
Products must be durable, easy and affordable to repair, and information on these aspects clearly available to consumers. Half the respondents
to a recent EU survey said they decided against repairing a faulty product in the past 12 months because repair costs were too high. 92% agreed that the lifespan of products available on the market should be indicated.
As one of the fastest growing sectors, electric and electronic products are the first candidates for increased repair and longevity —but the principles could equally be applied to textiles, furniture and other products. Legal changes and economic incentives are needed to promote product durability and repair, requiring a coordinated approach with all stakeholders -including policy makers, manufacturers, consumers, reuse organisations, recyclers and environmental NGOs.
The benefits of improved durability and reparability
For the environment: prolonging the lifespan of products avoids their early replacement by new products. To reduce the depletion of natural resources, it is crucial to maximise the utilization of the precious materials already contained in everyday products. Environmentally, it is optimal to give appliances a second life – either by repairing them, reselling them, refurbishing them or at least remanufacturing and recycling the most vital components.
By 2050, our level of consumption of minerals, fossil fuels and biomass will reach 140 billion tonnes, over double the current amount
For the economy: finished products have more economic value than the raw materials inside them. By breaking products apart for recycling, this added value is lost. Repair, reuse and remanufacturing maintain, rather than destroy that economic value. Manufacturers should embrace a more service-oriented approach to their business strategy and enhance their brand reputation as makers of durable products. Moreover, maintenance and repair services would provide a significant potential for job creation if labour is taxed less and resource consumption more. Owing to the labour intensive nature of re-use and repair activities the potential for job creation in this area is many times higher than recycling.
For society: consumers would have a better choice of after sales service providers at more competitive prices, driving down the cost of repair. Easily repairable goods could also be sold on the second hand market at low prices, especially to low-income groups. Easily reparable products and modular design may also have a marked impact on the EU’s consumption patterns while boosting innovation in a rejuvenated market for repair, reuse and repurposing.
Create awareness and advocate for the importance of reparability and durability of electronics and other products for society, economy, and environment
Facilitate a constructive debate amongst relevant stakeholders on designing Electronic and Electrical Equipment (EEE) and other products for reparability and durability, as well as discuss potential new business models related to repairable products
Promote a regulatory environment that enhances reparability and durability, and to challenge EU and national policy makers to enforce appropriate and supporting legislation
Suggestions on where start
Oblige manufacturers to provide independent re-use and repair organizations with all means to ensure the full functioning and serviceability of their products over their entire lifetime including free-of-charge access to repair and service documentation together with any troubleshooting and diagnostic tools, circuit diagrams, machine codes, software and hardware
Work with manufacturers and EU regulatory parties to ensure that consumables in EEE—like batteries—are adhesive free and easily replaceable with common, non-proprietary tools.
Set design requirements for products to guarantee a minimum life time and ensure non-destructive disassembly of products into individual parts and components for reuse
Provide consumers with more information about product lifetimes through provision of information on the average expected product lifetime for a specific model.
Spare parts must be widely available and affordable for a minimum number of years following the last product batch depending on the product’s average expected lifetime. They must be available at non-discriminatory pricing to third parties. Re-use of used and remanufactured product components must also be allowed.
Develop a system to rate the durability and reparability of products and establish standards to measure these aspects for products placed on the European market.
Explore the effects, impacts and options of extending minimum legal product warranties, differentiating between product categories, while obliging manufacturers EU-wide to bear full responsibility for early failure as a minimum during the first two years after purchase
Lower taxes on repair service activities and increase them on resource-intensive and single use products instead.
Which are the relevant EU policy tools to build on?
Making repair cheaper could be tackled by reducing VAT on repair activities
A move towards a truly circular economy requires a horizontal approach across different policy areas. Designing products for ease of repair, together with any relevant information requirements for re-use operators can be tackled through the Ecodesign, WEEE and Batteries Directives. For other products, such as textiles and furniture, design requirements could be addressed within the framework of the EU circular economy package and related waste policies. Whilst information for consumers on product longevity and warranties could also be tackled in the aforementioned Directives, the Consumer Rights and Energy Labelling Directives could also have a major role to play. Regulations in the automotive sector such as the Massachusetts Right to Repair Law and the EU Regulation of motor vehicles and engines provide a source of inspiration which have addressed a number of these issues already. Finally, making repair cheaper could be tackled through innovative use of the VAT Directive through reduced VAT on repair activities.
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.
EU Circular Economy Package: Questioning the reasons for withdrawal
The proposal by the European Commission to withdraw the Circular Economy Package from its 2015 Work Programme has produced a worrying climate of uncertainty. The arguments given for proposing the withdrawal call into question the legality, substance and democracy of the decision.
In short, we call on the European Commission to:
1) allow the current version of the circular economy package to follow the democratic co-decision process and address any improvements needed. Considering the loud condemnation of the withdrawal by both the Parliament and the Council, a withdrawal of this proposal by the Commission would be undemocratic.
2) Increase the level of ambition in a potential new proposal, should it unilaterally decide to withdraw the current one: increase number of jobs created, the environmental benefits to be gained, the cost savings to the public purse and the revenue to the repair and recycling sector. Any new proposal must provide nothing less than the benefits of the current proposal.
Furthermore, in the absence of any final formal decision by the Commission on its work programme, or any clear announcement on when it will do so, we present below the reasons given by the Commission for its withdrawal along with our counter-arguments.
1. The Circular Economy Package does not fit with the new jobs and growth agenda.
The current waste proposal has clear economic, social and environmental benefits at its core. The impact assessment estimates the creation of 580,000 jobs, the increase in annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion, savings of €72 billion a year in waste management costs and a 27.5% reduction in marine litter by 2030. This would improve competitiveness of EU waste management and recycling sectors, and provide greater resource security with secondary raw materials being re-injected into the economy2. In addition, between 146 and 244 million tons of GHG emissions could be avoided by 2020 through reinforced application of the waste hierarchy, representing between 19-31% of the 2020 EU target.
These changes lead on from the Commission’s 2011 Raw Materials Communication and Resource Efficiency Roadmap, which highlight that, as worldwide demand for raw materials increases, greater efforts are necessary to boost recycling, reuse and repair in order to reduce the pressure on demand for primary raw materials, and reduce energy consumption and GHGs from extraction and processing.
Finally, the streamlining of present legislation would allow for increased legal certainty and make recycling legislation more easily enforceable, lifting regulatory and administrative burdens for SMEs as stated in a previous analysis by the Commission.
2. There would be ‘no foreseeable agreement’ between the European Parliament and the European Council
The Circular Economy Package fulfils obligations already agreed upon in the 7th Environmental Action Programme (EAP), adopted by the Council, the Parliament and the Commission in 2013. Within the 7th EAP the three institutions call for full implementation of existing waste legislation, the need for additional efforts to reduce waste generation and limiting landfilling and energy recovery to residual waste, while moving towards a lifecycle-driven ‘circular’ economy, with residual waste close to zero.
The reactions from MEPs and member states opposing the withdrawal, suggests that an agreement would have been reached, and that both institutions were eager to work further on the proposal. The threat of withdrawal has led a group of leading EU lawyers to state that “from a democratic point of view, it would be odd that an executive agency is able to depart so easily and so significantly from the Union lawmaker’s 2013 policy goals” and that “a definitive withdrawal from existing proposals would run counter to the general legal principle of loyal cooperation.”
3. EU law needs to be simplified
One of the stated objectives of the proposal is to simplify waste legislation. The proposal as it stands simplifies definitions, identifies one methodology instead of four and combines several directives into one in order to avoid confusion and administrative burdens. Therefore, any new circular economy proposal must not halt the already-started streamlining exercise of the current package.
4. European citizens want change as demonstrated by the election results. Therefore, the EU needs to focus on the big things that matter: jobs, growth and fairness in our societies.
It is true that the European election results signalled a desire for things to be different. However there is no evidence that citizens want a cut back on environmental laws. The Eurobarometer poll 4165 conducted over the period Europe was going to the elections (mid 2014) showed that 74% of Europeans believe that environmental protection can boost economic growth, and 56% believe that the EU is not doing enough to protect the environment. The more recent Flash Eurobarometer 3886 from June 2014 also highlighted that 86% of people think that the impact of more efficient resource use would be positive on the quality of life, bring economic growth (80%), as well as on employment opportunities in their country (78%). Most of them consider that reducing waste and sorting recyclable waste at home (51%) and in industry and construction (50%) would make the biggest difference.
Withdrawal of the Circular Economy Package from the current co-decision process makes no sense and constitutes a huge waste of the Commission’s, Council’s and Parliament’s resources.
From December 8th to 12th, Zero Waste Europe welcomed Yimin of Eco Canton, an association based in Guangzhou, South-East of China, member of the China Zero Waste Alliance. Yimin, who has been taking part of a twinning exchange with Zero Waste France for the last weeks, travelled all the way to Spain, in order to learn more about waste management and reduction systems in Barcelona and the Basque Country.
Her trip, supported by GAIA, started in Barcelona, where Yimin met ZWE Director Joan Marc Simon. They visited a Community Compost Site, a Reuse and Recycling Centre and Yimin got useful insights on how waste collection works in Barcelona. Yimin was positively impressed in particular by the color-based waste separation system (brown bins for organic waste, yellow bins for packages, blue bins for paper, green bins for glasses and grey bins for residual waste), as well as by the recycling rate of the city (around 40%). This is of course still far from the Zero Waste goal, but already much higher compared to Guangzhou, where waste is mostly sent to landfill, and sometimes incinerated. Waste picking is a common phenomenon in China and it is also increasing in Barcelona, due to the economic crises and the rise of unemployment: this is surely a common topic for future cooperation between Zero Waste Communities in China and Spain!
Yimin then travelled to the Basque Country, where the local Zero Zabor (Zero Waste in Euskera) association guided her around several villages to discover pro and cons of their different waste collection, separation and compost systems. She learnt in particular about the door-to-door waste collection scheme in Usurbil, the first town to implement such a system in the Basque Country. Usurbil also introduced an innovative Pay-As-You-Throw method (PAYT), providing additional incentives for citizens to reduce, separate and recycle waste. Although the schemes implemented in the Basque villages might not be adapted for Guangzhou, a city of 15 million inhabitants, their experiences are of the utmost interest for the villages in the outskirts the Chinese megalopolis. The following days the visit continued at a compost plant, a landfill, and at a quarry site in Gipuzkoa. The quarry has in fact been identified by GHK, the provincial waste management organization in the Basque country, as a potential dump site for residual waste.
Yimin appreciated GHZ’s commitment to close all landfills and explore innovative ways to deal with residual waste in the future. But what probably struck her the most during her visit, it was the citizens’ awareness of the importance of waste avoidance and separation, and their involvement in community initiatives, being them compost sites, city farms, or reuse centres. Zero Waste Europe looks forward to welcome more foreign visitors in the future, to exchange best practices and create synergies, on the road to Zero Waste!
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.
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.
For those who don’t know what a Restart Party is, just imagine a big room full of people coming from all over the city to get some help or advice to repair their own electronic devices. Place and atmosphere, at the beginning, seem similar to a medical consultation but, instead of your bodies, you bring your stuff and your skills to be improved and cured.
Imagine also a group of volunteer repairers who are kind, skilful, good at teaching and full of patience… A table with some snacks and refreshments to share, some music in the background, a fun ping-pong table… and two busy people, Janet and Ugo (the Restart Project’s founders), watching over everything to make sure everybody has their turn, helping and taking notes of the mending solutions.
The first “turn” happened to the stuff itself: people there decided to repair their old devices instead of buying new ones, prolonging their lives. As one of the participants said, “it is not a question of money” because she could have bought a new and much higher performing printer for just £50. She wanted to surpass the electronic obstacles of her broken printer but also wanted to resist an economic system that leads her to buy it new instead of repairing.
Community in action
And here it comes the second “turn”: unlike a medical consultation, the Restart Party was not like a service that an expert offers to a silent patient or a passive client. Participants and Restarters (volunteer repairers) had a variety of knowledge and skills and these were shared equally amongst them. Without a lay/expert divide amongst participants, the Party managed to empower and encourage everyone to have a closer and more positive relationship with their (electronic) stuff. Somehow, this reinforced the community experience, as anybody could have a look at others’ repairs and learn from them.
This was the third “turn”: a spark of collective action that empowers communities against overconsumption and individualism. Precisely, in the Restart Party, many of the tables were surrounded by several heads peering in and paying attention to what was happening, regardless of who the owner was. Curiosity and inquiry were common features among participants.
This community spirit made of the Restart Party a very diverse event: a multi-age, multi-class, multi-knowledge, multi-borough and multi-people encounter. An opportunity to talk and meet up with some people who had not come across each other in their everyday routines.
It was not only about daring to open the ‘black box’ in an electronic device, but also about being helped and advised by a twelve year old boy or a non-’professional’ but experienced guy…
For three hours, we tried to fix and surpass certain material and electronic limits but also to fix and transform our relationship with our own devices. That’s it, we tried to fix and reverse some of the (social) codes, norms and barriers that rule our daily life, especially around electronics.
Why invest energy and resources in producing a new brick when you can reuse an old one?
A Danish company called GamleMursten ApS turns what used to be waste into a resource and demonstrates that reusing old bricks is a feasible, sustainable, and fashionable way for building new or restoring existing buildings.
Enlarging the life cycle of a product with an energy intensive production process
Creating jobs across Europe
Giving new buildings soul and legacy
Turning brick-supply into an advisory service
Enabling the rebirth of a building via the rebirth of a brick
Providing architects with new creative possibilities and builders with commercial arguments
Endowing a commodity with history and storytelling
Sometimes these types of industrial processes involve using chemicals and massive amounts of water, but this is not the case with REBRICK. The technology for cleaning old bricks consists of a patented, vibration-based system that both sorts the demolition waste as well as cleans mortar from old bricks without using water or chemicals, thus constituting a very environmentally friendly process. After cleaning, the bricks are manually sorted according to their visual characteristics, quality, and value. Each brick is then placed on a conveyor system to be automatically stacked and wrapped by a robot. The bricks are then ready for a prolonged life in a new building.
Furthermore, the machine can be disassembled and the entire production facility can be moved to another location in a matter of weeks. Hence, it is technically possible to locate the facility close to areas with huge demolition potential and later, once the buildings are demolished, to move the entire facility to a new location.
The cleaning process
The technology for cleaning old bricks consists of a patented, vibration-based system that both sorts the demolition waste as well as cleans mortar from old bricks without using water or chemicals, thus being a very environmentally friendly process. After cleaning, the bricks are manually sorted according to their visual characteristics, quality, and value. Each brick is then placed on a conveyor system to be automatically stacked and wrapped by a robot. The bricks are then ready for a prolonged life in a new building.
Furthermore, the machine can be disassembled and the entire production facility can be moved to another location in a matter of weeks. Hence, it is technically possible to locate the facility close to areas with huge demolition potential and later, once the buildings are demolished, to move the entire facility to a new location.
The main results achieved is the opening of a successful full scale plant at Copenhagen (with a capacity of 4000 bricks per hour) and a Supply Chain Ecosystem for future market replication.
The first bricks to run through the machine were yellow bricks from the agricultural University in Copenhagen and red bricks from the former Carlsberg production, which has been moved and the production site will now make room for a sustainable town. The factory, which is the culmination of the EU – Eco Innovation funded REBRICK project, will be receiving brick waste mainly from Copenhagen and Zealand, and a recent version of the cleaning machine and a developed robot system for palletizing and stabling of bricks will assist in efficient cleaning and handling of the old bricks.
The successful results obtained within the course of the project have demonstrated that reusing old bricks is a feasible, sustainable and fashionable way of building new or restoring existing buildings whilst creating new green jobs.
This is yet another example of the need to have targets for reuse operations at European level.
We all want to show our love and appreciation to our loved ones and sometimes presents are a good way to do that. However, can we make sure that our love for something doesn’t imply the destruction of something else?
Some hints that can help to stay sane during the busiest shopping time of the year are:
Dematerialise your gifts;
When preparing your presents try to avoid material stuff. Give a voucher for a massage, or tickets to the theatre, or a dinner to a local restaurant, or a yoga lesson… there are hundreds of non-material presents that can make your loved ones happy without putting an extra burden on the environment.
Your present can be material but it doesn’t need to be 100% new, for it will have implications in the extractions of new materials, transport, energy and water-use. For instance you can refurbish –upcycle- old clothes into something new, or used plastic packaging to do the Christmas decoration, or buy presents in vintage clothes stores and antique shops. Like this you make sure your presents are unique!
Sometimes it is necessary to buy something material and new but watch out because the choices are not neutral. Things that you should especially watch are:
the toxicity of most stuff; there are many products which contain toxics which can cause cancer, infertility, asthma, allergies, etc. For instance, when possible choose plastics that are BPA free, avoid PVC, etc.
the source of the materials and choose those from renewable sources; for instance wood is better if certified FSC.
the hidden costs; some things might look cheaper than average but they will break before, consume more energy during its use or have a worst post-consumer service. When you buy cheap ask yourself why is this product cheaper than the others, if you don’t find a plausible explanation it might not be that cheap after all!
When it comes to food, Christmas holidays is the time for family meals and we should watch what we buy, what we eat, how we eat as much as what ends up in the bin.
Before going shopping do some planning in order not to over-stock stuff you will not need. If you are not sure about how much food you may require, check out a helpful serving calculator such as LOVE FOOD Hate Waste site http://england.lovefoodhatewaste.com/portions/everyday
Also, try to buy locally grown and seasonal products which support the local economy, need less packaging and have smaller ecological footprint. If you see Christmas as a tradition think that European traditions are built on what was available, hence seasonal and local, no need to consume food coming from the other end of the planet.
Remember to serve food in reusable tableware, with cloth napkins and avoid disposable stuff.
If for any reason you need to use single-use items make sure that they are biodegradable so that they can be composted together with food waste.
Talking about food waste, remember that our ancestors generated almost zero of it. Left-overs were reused to prepare filling for croquettes, cannelloni, ravioli, cakes or was given to pets. By the way, domestic pets are a very good manager of food waste and until not too long ago they were fed to pigs and cattle. Have you heard of the Pig Idea?
Only when it can find no other better use consider the food-waste for home composting, community composting or to be separately collected by the municipality. If you don’t have separate collection of food waste in your town, put pressure on your representatives to set it up!
It is time to rethink how we spend our Christmas holidays; media commercials will always insist in linking happiness to consumption when experience and scientific evidence proves that this is untrue in most of the cases. After all it’s not rocket science, just reflect on what builds your long term happiness and think how much of that is related to compulsive Christmas shopping… not much, uh?
Christmas holidays is the perfect time of the year to rethink our life-style and plan 2014. Let’s just use the common sense and focus on what makes us happy without having to trash the planet!
Here you have some other practical advice of ways to enjoy happier Christmas:
Thousands of public events such as concerts, sports events or festivals print t-shirts for that occasion and after being worn only once they are relegated to the closet. Imagine the amounts of water required for the production of those millions of t-shirts!
Thanks to new up-cycling design and production methods it is now possible to organise the mass production of a t-shirt with a 80% smaller environmental footprint. How?
The thing is, factory made t-shirts yield up to 40% wastage. That means 40% of that cotton is grown in vain and huge amounts of water and earth resources are wasted, not to mention spinning the yarn, transporting the fabric, factory labour … you get the idea.
It’s taken years of hard work and research but Upmade came up with a design and production model to mass produce t-shirts using that leftover 40%. They believe that if they can show the world that mass up-cycling works, they could really change how the fashion industry impacts the environment.
Reet Aus is a fashion designer and environmentalist. She has been up-cycling her own fashion collections for many years, as well as designing costumes (also upcycled) for theatre and film.
Recently Reet completed her PhD in sustainable fashion design. Her research took her to Bangladesh, where she began working with a factory called Beximco. Beximco make garments for many well known brands, and in the process accumulate a LOT of waste fabrics. But Reet didn’t see a mountain of garbage, she saw treasure! And she set to work.
Reet gathered her team of experts, and together we took cutting leftovers (8-30%), roll ends (1-10%) and over production (3-5%) and got creative. The result is the up-shirt.
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.
Have you heard of the 3R, Reduce, Reuse Recycle? This was the first waste hierarchy that was popularised. Even Jack Johnson wrote a song about it, see:
It is true that recycling should be the last step in the waste hierarchy but unfortunately in Europe still 60% of the waste goes to landfill (37%) and incineration (23). And it has been like this since quite some years now. Also, the current EU legislation and incentives don’t seem to be working to move waste up the hierarchy and for this reason many directives will be revised in the next years.
The board of the Zero Waste International Alliance (in which Zero Waste Europe participates) met in March 2013 to define the steps of a more detailed and effective waste hierarchy which focuses on designing waste out of the system instead of trying to perfect bad ideas such as incinerators or landfills.
Following this hierarchy allows to effectively phase out waste, save energy, create new jobs and sustainable business opportunities. The experiences of Zero Waste municipalities around the world are a living prove of it.
Zero Waste Hierarchy of Highest and Best Use (1)
From Highest and Best Use to Lowest/Worst Use
Reduce and conserve materials Refuse – Encourage producers to provide products or packaging that limit waste or emissions. Return – Set up systems that require producers to take back products and packaging that create wastes or emissions. Reduce toxics use – Eliminate toxic chemicals use; replace them with less toxic or non-toxic alternatives. Design out wasting – Identify why materials are discarded and redesign the system to be more efficient and no longer discard those materials. Reduce consumption and packaging – Use less; buy less and with less packaging; avoid disposables; bring your own.
Encourage cyclical use of resources and shift incentives to stop wasting
Shift government funds or financial incentives (at any and all levels) from supporting harvesting and use of virgin natural resources to support the circular economy.
Government and businesses should implement sustainable purchasing that support social and environmental objectives.
Ensure incentives are in place for cyclical use of materials and disincentives in place for wasting (policies, research funds, regulations, etc)
Set up systems to encourage local economies.(for example. use of proximity principle, marketing support, policies, incentives, social and environmental purchasing practices, information exchanges, etc.)
Manufacturers design products for sustainability and takeback
Design to be durable, to be repairable, to be reusable, to be disassembled, to be fully recyclable, from reused, recycled or sustainably-harvested
renewable materials designed for easy disassembly.
Label products to identify who has made it and what it is made of
Minimize volume and toxicity of materials used in production.
Lease services and products rather than just sell products to customers.
Take products and packaging back after they are used, and reuse, or recycle them back into the economy or nature.
Reuse (retain value and function)
Repurpose products for alternative uses (e.g. old doors made into walls; old photos and scrap metal into art).
Repair to retain value and usefulness.
Remanufacture with disassembled parts.
Dismantle to obtain parts for repairing and maintaining products still in use.
Encourage thrift stores, used building materials store, garage sales, flea markets, and charity collections.
Encourage or allow licensed recovery of reusable goods from tipping areas of discards collection and processing facilities.
Provide incentives to takeout customers to bring their own containers, coffee cups and bags.
Organize household hazardous waste swap meets. Recycle discards safely, efficiently and locally: A) Inorganics (little or no carbon)
Build only “Clean” Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and sort source separated materials at such MRFs.
Recycle all inorganic materials (e.g., soils, metals, glass and ceramics).
Downcycling is lower priority (e.g., recycling single-use products into 1 time uses or making mixed glass into sand).
Develop local markets and uses for all recovered materials, including Resource Recovery Parks, Residual Research Centers, and business clusters to reuse, recycle or compost products and
packaging for highest value and efficiency.
Use existing “Dirty” MRFs only to pre-process mixed discards before burying in landfills, as Dirty MRFS do not benefit generators & produce lower quality materials. B) Organics (carbon-based)
Edible food to people first; animal feed second; compost or digest the rest, back to land as compost or digest for fuel depending on where nitrogen is needed most locally.
Promote on-site composting by homes and businesses.
Use lower tipping fees to create clean flows of plant debris, unpainted wood, other compost feedstocks.
Compost yard trimmings, discarded food and food-soiled paper in aerobic windrows and place organics back in soil.
Use in-vessel systems for organics in built-up urban areas.
Maintain source separation for highest and best use of organics.
Combine source separated organics with bio-solids only if biosolids have been tested to ensure they will not contaminate end products and they are not applied on food crops.
Regulate disposal, dispersal, or destruction of resources Ban materials or products that are toxic or that cannot be safely reused, recycled or composted.
Recover Energy/Bio-fuels only using systems that operate at biological temperature and pressure, such as sustainable biodiesel from used vegetable oils or biologically or chemically producing ethanol from urban wood, biosolids, manures or food scraps. Landfilling is the last step.
Materials sorting for recyclables and research for design purposes.
Biological stabilization before burial
Require insurance to cover post-post-closure repairs.
Plan systems to be flexible to be adjusted towards Zero Waste with changes in waste stream as waste is reduced. Not Acceptable Don’t support bioreactor landfills Don’t burn mixed solid waste, tires, wood from mixed construction and demolition debris, or biosolids. High temperature systems volatilize heavy metals and produce dioxins and furans. Avoid: Mass Burn, Fluidized Bed, Gasification, Plasma Arc, and Pyrolysis.
Don’t give recycling credit for Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) or “beneficial use” of processing residues to build landfills.
Don’t allow recycling toxic or radioactive wastes into consumer products or building materials.
(1) Prepared by Gary Liss, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.garyliss.com, with input from International Dialog in Berkeley, CA and adopted by ZWIA Board on 3/20/13.
Patagonia is a clothing and gear company that takes Zero Waste seriously. In these days of persistent corporate greenwashing it is a good example of how a company takes full responsibility for the products that it puts in the market.
First of all, in the production process Patagonia applies a system of transparency and traceability that takes into account social and environmental justice and as such works with organic cotton and wool and recycled PET bottles to produce the polyester and fleeces. In fact it has been using recycled materials since the 90s.
Most amazingly they offer a lifetime guarantee for their products which is a sign that they will not be selling stuff designed-for-the-dump with planned obsolescence like most do. Then when it comes the time to deal with the impact of the products at the end of their life look at what they do:
REDUCE: Don’t buy form us what you don’t need or can’t really use
This is the message from Patagonia to reduce waste generation. They acknowledge that everything anyone makes costs the planet more than it gives back and as such they don’t try to convince you to buy their clothes. Actually Patagonia has been running anti-consumerist campaigns in the most consumerist days in the calendar. For instance in the US consumption day, called Black Friday they paid a campaign to not buy their items. (See pic)
With the lifetime guarantee Patagonia also offers the possibility to get your stuff repaired for free, you just have to pay the transport costs.
The company encourages customers to donate the garments when they no longer want to wear them. In the US it even opened a platform in E-bay to help the second hand market of its own products. When most fashion companies send to landfill the stocks that they don’t manage to sell Patagonia donates its unsold goods to people who lose their belongings in disasters.
“Recycling is what we do when we’re out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first” says StoryOfStuff guru Annie Leonard. Indeed, recycling should be the last option but even then Patagonia offers a very interesting takeback program in which customers can bring back their old Patagonia clothes and gear to the shops that sell them. Like this Patagonia took back 45 tons of waste and produced 34 tons of new clothes.
All in all Patagonia is a very good example of how to bring the Zero Waste philosophy into practice and a good hint as to what real sustainability is about.
What do you do with a chair when the leg has come loose? With a toaster that no longer works? Or a woollen jumper with moth holes? Toss it? No way! You can repair it at the Repair Café.
Repair Café is a project born in Amsterdam in 2009 with the idea of bringing people together to socialise, use their skills and reduce waste all in one.
We throw away vast amounts of stuff in Europe. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.
Repair Café is changing all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.
Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, etcetera. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics.
Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.
Why a Repair Café?
Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.
But most of all, Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is. Why don’t you give it a go?
Start a Repair Café
You can start your own Repair Café anytime!
Stichting Repair Café supports local groups in Europe to start their own Repair Café. You can visit their website for more information or contact them to set up your Repair Café.
In this resolution the EP joins the European Commission in expressing the need to bring residual waste close to zero and consequently calls on the European Commission to make proposals by 2014 with a view to gradually introducing a ban on landfill in Europe and for the phasing-out by 2020 of incineration of recyclable and compostable waste (point 33)
As you can see in the graph on the left, currently 80% of the municipal solid waste in Europe is recyclable or compostable and if the ecodesign directive is boosted in the way the EP asks for in point 5, it is likely that non-recyclable, non-compostable products by 2020 will be less than 5% of total MSW. Hence, this practically means the end of waste disposal in Europe.
It also urges the European Commission to agree by 2013 on clear, robust and measurable indicators for economic activity that can take account of climate change, biodiversity and resource efficiency from a life-cycle perspective. (point 2)
This resolution paves the way for radical changes in how waste is managed in Europe but let’s not forget that no legal binding measures have been taken yet. Currently:
In many cases those who argue against reusing electric and electronic goods are the same companies that produce them and therefore have an interest in you buying a new a new one. But some other times it is true that some people just don’t want a second hand electronic appliance. What is for sure is that today there are plenty of electric and electronic goods which are discarded despite being still fully operative or easily reusable if fixed.
New data from recent studies on reuse in the EU indicate that:
However in October 2011 the Environment Committee in the European Parliament voted in favour of a 5% target for reuse in the collection targets, a requirement for producers to provide information free of charge about preparation for reuse and treatment of the appliances they out in the market, requiring all collection schemes to provide for the separation of reusable WEEE at collection points and the adoption of European standards for preparation for reuse (to be created in max 3 years).
This positive outcome still needs to be approved by the EU member states before it can enter into force. So far the member state have been very reluctant to these measures and if no agreement is reached during this month of December the negotiations will have to go to conciliation which would downsize the ambition of the targets.
Given the increasing prices of raw materials, the employment opportunities linked to the reuse sector and the high energy embodied in these products it is necessary to improve collection and reuse rates of goods to get closer to a Zero Waste economy.
Primary school students of Capannori, Italy, set up the Museum of Bad Industrial Design (Piccolo Museo degli orroridi progettazione). A museum of packaging and products that cannot be reused, repaired, recycled or composted and hence have to end up in the dump.
This experience allowed the students to observe their everyday life and pick those things that were not sustainable. The experience was enlightening for the students but also for the grown-ups; how can we allow products to enter the market when even children can see that they are designed for the dump?
In order to enlighten the industrial designers of the big wealthy companies producing these goods the pupils wrote letters to them asking to please think about the future and produce products that could be recycled or composted at the end of their lives. As with the case of the coffee-capsules some of them replied with thank you notes and confirming their commitment to improve the design in the future.
Here is a good experience to involve children in waste prevention. The less non-reusable/repairable/recyclable stuff in the market the closer we are to Zero Waste!
Look at your home waste and you will see that it is mostly packaging. Once you have removed the food waste and paper what is left is mostly single use plastic bottles, cans, trays… Therefore, if you minimise the packaging in your shopping you will be generating less waste. Easy, uh?
Unpackaged is one of these shops in Europe that allow you to shop without having to bring home a bunch of single-use recipients and plastic bags that only harm the planet and fatten our bins. Unpackaged was founded in 2006 by Catherine Conway in the belief that there is a better way to sell products, so that customers can do the right thing – for themselves and for the environment.
Catherine set up Unpackaged because she wanted to refill her groceries using her own containers. The dream was to set up a beautiful shop that made it really easy for customers to come & refill all their daily essentials.
The website of Unpackaged explains very well why whilst some packaging is necessary in our modern industrialised food chain, unnecessary packaging is a waste because of:
Cost: It increases the price of the goods you buy. You are charged twice – first when you buy over packaged products and then through council tax for disposing of your rubbish.
Waste: It wastes resources at every level: production, storage, transport and disposal.
Pollution: Landfill and incineration are the two main ways of dealing with packaging waste. These are major pollutants for people and the environment as they release toxics and greenhouse gases.
What about recycling? While some packaging is recycled, most ends up in landfill sites and incinerators and some packaging is difficult and impossible to recycle. Recycling is certainly part of the solution, but it will only work if we use less packaging and adopt more ‘reusable’ ways of doing things – Unpackaged is based on this ethos.
This is why the mantra of unpackaged is:
Reduce by only buying what you need
Reuse by bringing your containers for a refill
Recycle what you can’t reuse
And… if you can’t reuse or recycle it then don’t buy it!
There is a growing trend in Europe but also around the world to minimise packaging. After all, when people go shopping they want to buy food, drinks, etc, they don’t want to buy packaging!
In a sensible world the producers should be interested in getting back the packaging so that they don’t lose the materials and this way they can use them again and again. This is not only how our sensible grandparents used to do it, it is also the basis of a how a deposit refilling system works or how Extended Producer Responsibility is being to be implemented in British Columbia in Canada.
Implementing Zero Waste strategies it is not only sensible and fun, it also attracts interest from the media. See these press highlights for Unpackaged:
Two lovely videos from CNN & Reuters which show off Unpackaged.
The roadmap has a strong push towards “residual waste close to zero” -although there is no definition of residual waste at EU level- and it underlines that “incineration with energy recovery should be limited to non recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated and high recycling is ensured”. A portion of the text reads:
“Milestone: By 2020, waste is managed as a resource. Waste generated per capita is in absolute decline. Recycling and re-use of waste are economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of functional markets for secondary raw materials. More materials, including materials having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials, are recycled. Waste legislation is fully implemented. Illegal shipments of waste have been eradicated. Energy recovery is limited to non recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated and high quality recycling is ensured. The Commission will: … • Review existing prevention, re-use, recycling, recovery and landfill diversion targets to move towards an economy based on re-use and recycling, with residual waste close to zero (in 2014); • Ensure that public funding from the EU budget gives priority to activities higher up the waste hierarchy as defined in the Waste Framework Directive (e.g. priority to recycling plants over waste disposal) (in 2012/2013);”
As explained in a previous post recycling is not enough and we need to move towards a Zero Waste economy, i.e. we have to reduce our resource use whilst making sure everything produced is recyclable and recycled. The EU is now starting to do the shift from being a Recycling Society to a Zero Waste Society. However, right now the Resource Efficiency Roadmap are just a pile of inspiring statements and visions, that need to be put into action. In order to do so lots of policy changes -such as increasing recycling targets or mandating separate collection of organics- will have to take place and it is then when we’ll see how serious we are about a Zero Waste future.
How to make getting rid of what we don’t need a fun experience? In Gothenburg, Sweden, they have designed a reuse and recycle park to look as an amusement park.
Results: they attract 300 to 400 visitors a day, sell for a value of 1,1 million euros, create 25 green jobs whilst radically reducing the amount of waste that otherwise would have to be disposed of. This is a good piece of Zero Waste!
Kretsloppsarken (the name of this amusement park) is a perfect example of how to succesfully move up the waste hierachy; it educates people so that they can prevent waste from being generated (prevention), it reduces waste by giving a second life to the products (reuse) and it recycles what cannot be reused (recycle).
People can bring any item they don’t need to the Kretsloppsarken; furniture, clothes, household stuff, white goods, construction materials, old bycicles (from every three old bikes a new one will come out from the repairshop), wood, etc… all gets repaired, reused or recycled and put in the market again.
When they were designing the new recycling park the city council thought of creating instead an amusement park for recyclers and reusers. The Kretsloppsarken philosophy is that donating, buying second hand and sorting one’s waste should be easy and almost a pleasure.
How to make it a pleasure? By showing the facilities always tidy and clean, with white clean containers where to drop the recyclables.
How to make it entertaining? By using a dog to sort out 6 differet waste streams, by having clowns taking care of educating children into recycling and reuse, by organising concerts and organic happenings…
How to make it educative? By making available a “personal sorter” to guide the person through the sorting process and asking the right questions so that waste finds its best purpose…
Kretsloppsarken was built in one year time reusing 80% of an old building and it was inaugurated in May 2007 with a cost of 4 million euros. The initiative was of the city of Gothenburg but the reusing and recycling of the collected stuff is one by 5 private enterpreneurs.
The succesful results in terms of economic turnout, green job creation and waste minimisation confirm this as the right approach.
Even visiting the bathroom can be a fun experience in Kretsloppsarken! Decorated with paintings and pictures for sale very often visitors come out of the toilette with a new acquisition to decorate their homes. There is no such a thing as a boring place in Kretsloppsarken.
The contribution of recycling-amusement parks to Zero Waste is paramount. They are not only cheaper, more effective and job-creating than incinerators or landfills, they are also a lot more beautiful and fun. The struggle for sustainability is less of a strain when it can be made fun!