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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

The Solution: Zero Waste Conference, Madrid

Joan Marc Simon at The Solution: Zero Waste

Friday 31st of April saw the 150 people gather in the Medialab Prado in Madrid for the Solution: Zero Waste conference. The conference brought together Zero Waste Europe network members, university academics, zero waste activists and municipal representatives to discuss a wide range of zero waste strategies and examples.

The event took place in Medialab Prado, a citizen laboratory of production, research and broadcasting of cultural projects that explore the forms of experimentation and collaborative learning that have emerged from digital networks. The space, provided a great backdrop to an engaging day of talks and discussions. Throughout the day Carlotta Cataldi provided live hand-drawn illustrations of depicting the conversations taking place, producing a lasting visual representation of the conference. Luke Blazejewski also took excellent photos documenting the success of the event.

An illustration by Carlotta Cataldi from the day. Click to enlarge.

The event was opened by José Antonio Díaz Lázaro, General Coordinator of the Environment Programme of Madrid City Council, who explained the importance of good waste management for a city such as Madrid. This led into the first session raising the question of ‘Zero Waste at the Local and Global Level: Utopia or Reality?’ which saw Joan Marc Simon, Zero Waste Europe Director highlight the successes and growth of the Zero Waste Municipalities Network whilst Diana Osuna from the Madrid Zero Waste Platform talked about the challenges and opportunities of organising for zero waste in and around the city.

The next session looked at the significance of the collection of organic waste to a zero waste strategy with presentations with speakers presenting progress in a variety of contexts. The case of the large city of Milan (1.3 million people) was presented by Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee Chairman, Enzo Favoino, whilst not a ‘zero waste city’ has made major progress with separate collection of organics. Ainhoa Arrozpide Landa from Zero Zabor in the Basque country talked about the evolution of their campaign in Gipuzkoa. Other talks in the session examined the myriad of ways that organic waste can be managed at the local level, from the goats of El Boalo – Cerceda – Mataelpino municipality in Madrid to the steps being taken in Catalonia and Pontevedra. The session ended with Beatriz Martín from the Compost Network emphasising the importance of decentralised composting at a municipal level.

An illustration by Carlotta Cataldi from the day. Click to enlarge.

Session 3 was a glance into the world of repair and reuse with hearing stories from repair shop Millor que Nou in Barcelona, the social and environmental benefits repair and reuse processes and the imperative for reuse in Spanish Waste Legislation.

The fourth session of the day highlighted some of the emerging victories in Deposit Return Systems (DRS). From the exciting initiative happening in Valencia put forward by Julià Álvaro fro to the nascent schemes and progress being made in the UK and Scotland as explained by Samantha Harding of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). The session also looked at the bigger picture for DRS schemes and manufacturers responsibilities.

An illustration by Carlotta Cataldi from the day. Click to enlarge.

The final session for the day looked at the challenges and opportunities facing zero waste municipalities and those aspiring to joining the zero waste path. The session was opened by Gabriele Folli from the Environmental Council of Parma, Italy, where a city of 200,000 has just reached a milestone separate collection rate of 80%. The session then looked at issues faced by Madrid as they attempt to overhaul their waste management system. This was followed by stories of grassroots projects in Agro-Composting in Madrid from Franco Llobera and the Vegetable network and local composting by Raúl Urquiaga.

As the day drew to a close, the floor was opened for questions with a number of interesting contributions from the public. Joan Marc Simon then concluded the conference


More Tourists Equals More Waste

By Erika Oblak, Ekologi brez meja / Zero Waste Slovenia

The municipality of Bled (with a population of 8,171 people) is one of the most famous and popular Slovenian tourist destinations, both nationally and internationally. The town is located in the foothills of the Julian Alps, on the picturesque shores of Lake Bled. At the beginning of 2015 Bled became the 7th Slovenian municipality on the road to Zero Waste. As a part of the recognition process we analysed their waste management data, and noticed a steep increase in municipal waste and residual waste generation during the summer months, starting at the beginning of June and lasting until the end of September when the data plummeted again. When we linked the data to tourist arrivals and overnight stays, and it matched perfectly.

Photo: Bled municipality

When I started researching tourism it became obvious that waste is one of its major environmental impacts. Hotels, restaurants and other facilities use a huge amounts of products, very often delivered and packed in personal single use plastic packaging. For example, small plastic shampoo and soap bottles in hotel rooms. Or personal packaging for marmalade, honey and butter served at breakfast. Multiplied by the number of hotel beds and the number of overnight stays, it gives a rough picture of the magnitude of the problem. Data I came across claimed that as tourists we use more water, electricity and create more waste than when we live our ordinary everyday lives.

Looking for a solution, I was surprised how little literature is available on waste management in the tourism industry. The majority of those I could find mainly discussed strategies and recommendations, but in most cases lacked the data showing the effects of carrying them out. Zero Waste tourism soon became a focus of the Zero Waste Slovenia team. We set up a project aimed at finding waste minimisation and recycling solutions for events, hotels and restaurants.

The events turned out to be the easier part. There is a fair amount of literature with solutions and examples from different countries, including detailed guidelines. We integrated those which correspond best to our solid municipal waste management systems and legislation, and included the Zero Waste International Alliance recognition requirements for businesses. Again, Zero Waste Europe member organisations and staff turn out to be a priceless source of information: with their help we came across some inspirational stories like Boom festival in Portugal or Ecofesta Puglia in Italy. Armed with Zero Waste Events Guidelines, tailor-made for Slovenian circumstances, we organised several workshops around the country, which were eagerly accepted by event organisers.

Workshop for event organizers in Maribor (Photo: Ekologi brez meja)

Hotels were a harder nut to crack. First we checked the requirements of various green certificates, which mainly require waste separation and some basic prevention measures. The WRAP program is a good source for the ideas on how to minimise food waste in restaurants and hotel kitchens. The share of biodegradable waste in all waste generated in an average hotel is between 40% and 60%. After a while we started believing hotels might be too big a challenge for a small team as ours.

That was until Zero Waste Europe’s Enzo Favoino came to our rescue (again). He connected us with Antonino Esposito, who started introducing Zero Waste principles to hotels in famous Italian tourist destination, Sorrento. Antonino kindly accepted our invitation to join the project and we slowly began to understand why we couldn’t find much literature. Every hotel is its own story. They are diverse in size, services they offer, stars categories they need to comply with, some have already adopted green policies, others have not, etc. Reaching Zero Waste goals requires a complete change of the hotel’s culture, including employees, guests and suppliers. Such changes are only successful if they are developed slowly.

While Antonino trained and equipped our team with his Zero Waste tips and tricks, we were eager to find a pilot hotel ready to embark on a Zero Waste adventure. It turned out the concept fit perfectly into the vision of Hotel Ribno in Bled. At the moment our team – with Antonino’s support – is drafting proposed actions towards Zero Waste goals.

The co-funding by the Ministry of Environment ended at the end of February with the closing event at Astoria Hotel in Bled, a learning centre for catering and tourism. Antonino Esposito and Roberto Paladini (Ecofesta Puglia) presented their work to a number of hotels, event organisers, municipalities, NGOs, waste management companies and representatives of the Slovenian Tourist Organization. Since several hotels and event organisers expressed their interest in Zero Waste, we are convinced Zero Waste tourism will become one of our success stories.

Antonino Esposito and Roberto Paladini presenting their work in Bled (Photo: Ekologi brez meja)

Globally, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries, with Europe contributing half of international arrivals and about the same in income. More tourists equals more waste, and more waste inevitably translates into a larger environmental footprint. It is not just a problem in the areas where establishing an efficient waste management system is challenging, like small islands or remote, sparsely populated areas. Bananas or pineapples travel hundreds if not thousands of kilometers to end up at the breakfast buffet of a Northwest town in Slovenian Alps, using energy and adding GHG emissions. Waste, especially plastic, became a huge problem also in terms of the decreased value of tourist destinations. Solid waste minimisation should therefore become an important task for tourism sector. Not only to manage its own waste, but also to support and participate in setting up efficient waste management of tourist destinations. After all: who’d want to lie on a beach covered by plastic trash or stay in a mountain camp with waste rotting nearby?

Study tour to the Basque Country

The study tour started with an event organised by Zero Waste Europe and the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) in Vitoria-Gasteiz on 28 November. It consisted of an international conference focused on the reduction of costs in waste management for municipalities through the optimisation of separate collection, the reduction of residual waste and the transformation of these fraction into market products. Javier Garaizar, Vice-rector of the Campus of Álava of UPV/EHU opened the conference, followed by Ainhoa Etxeandia, Director of Environment of Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council. Their interventions were followed by Joan Marc Simon, Ferran Rosa, Enzo Favoino, Marco Mattiello, Kevin Curran, Nekane Artola and Ainhoa Arrozpide.
48 participants attended the conference, among which we found civil servants, representatives from companies and environmental consultancies, policy-makers, professors and students of the university, etc. The presentations can be found here.

The afternoon was used to get to know the situation regarding waste management in Vitoria-Gasteiz, thanks to the Zero Waste group Gasteiz Zero Zabor.

The 29 and 30 November were devoted to the tour of good practices of waste management and circular economy. The tour allowed visiting municipalities and counties that have experienced a significant improvement in their separate collection systems. Among these experiences, the tour visited small villages like Leintz Gatzaga or Elburgo that collect and treat bio-waste in the same municipality. The participants also visited the counties of Debagoiena and Sasieta to better know about their waste collection systems (door-to-door, roadside containers with chip or mixed systems) that have made the municipalities in these counties reach 70% and 80% separate collection or more.

On top of the good practices of waste management, the tour visited good practices on circular economy. In this sense, several companies were visited in sectors like gastronomy, fashion or remanufacturing.

At the Restaurant Azurmendi of Eneko Atxa, with a three-Michelin-stars Basque chef, the participants learned about the philosophy of the project and visited the facilities. After this visit, an excellent meal was provided and the participants could learn about the way they manage the bio-waste at the restaurants. Gurpide Elkartea, an association working for the municipality of Larrabetzuko, manages the bio-waste of Azurmendi and of the neighbours of the municipality. In Larrabetzuko they follow the ‘Austrian system’ of composting that involves local farmers in the treatment of bio-waste in decentralised composting sites. This reduces the cost for the municipality, while allow the local farmer to obtain an extra income and have access to good quality compost.

Not far from there, in Zamundio, Cristina Cendoya and Mikel Feijoo of Skunkfunk presented the philosophy of the company and the design of the collection Capsule Zero Waste. After that, the tour went to a facility of the social economy company Koopera where they sort 18,000 tn a year of clothes.

In a totally different sector, the tour also visited Rebattery, a company located in Bergara that remanufactures and recovers batteries. Rebattery manages to give a new life to 60-75% of the batteries they receive and place them again in the market.

The three-day study tour was not only interesting, but the living proof of the current initiatives of circular economy in the Basque Country and the potential for these activities to keep growing. The tour managed to successfully illustrate best practices through all the economic cycle.

Zero Waste Europe at the COP22

 Photo by Rhys Gerholdt, WRI (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) edits by ZWE
Photo by Rhys Gerholdt, WRI (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) edits by ZWE

Despite the fact that COP 22 will sadly go down in history as the Trump COP, the Zero Waste Europe team did not miss the chance to participate in the climate negotiations and promote the work of zero waste cities, communities and recycling workers all over the world for climate action.

During the first week and in collaboration with Cities Alliance, WIEGO, Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers and UNEP, Zero Waste Europe co-organised the event Sustainable Solid Waste Solutions for Communities and Climate Change to discuss the best solid waste solutions for cities resulting in cleaner, greener and healthier cities as well as income generation and emissions reduction.

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s lead on Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme, provided an introduction to the zero waste vision and its contribution to climate mitigation, as well as showed progress made by the Zero Waste Municipalities network in Europe and around the world. Vilella stressed the importance of including informal recyclers into zero waste strategies, especially in the Global South, where the millions of waste pickers are the de facto recycling systems.


Mariel at COP22


Precisely, the participation in the annual climate negotiations proved to be a challenge for grassroots recycling communities from the Global South once again. In this case the representatives from the Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers were not allowed to board their planes for no reason other than false claims made regarding their VISA documents, reminding us of all the prejudice and discrimination that vulnerable communities such as wastepicker women are faced with on a daily basis.

In the civil society space, the “Blue Zone”, the Moroccan group Zero Waste Skhirat organised a space dedicated to reflection on the use of resources and wastage with creative reused items and a programme of workshops on the topics of reuse and recycling.

In the second week, Zero Waste Europe’s Product Policy Officer Delphine Lévi-Alvarès presented the Break Free From Plastic Campaign at a side-event organised by the French Ministry of Environment to launch an international coalition of countries committed to “stop plastic waste” in the ocean.

Lévi-Alvarès stressed that plastic pollution in the ocean is just the tip of the iceberg, the result of a linear and wasteful economy which we need to address by adopting a holistic approach and looking at the root causes of this pollution. In connection to the climate change debate, she highlighted that the twenty-fold increase of plastic production over the past 50 years has led to plastics using 6% of global oil consumption, the equivalent of the aviation sector but with significantly worse externalities.

“If we keep doing business as usual, plastic production will increase twenty-fold by 2050, representing the 20% of the global oil consumption, offsetting the development of renewable energies and clean transport”, said Lévi-Alvarès, who invited the audience to join the campaign at

Delphine Lévi-Alvarès at COP22
Delphine Lévi-Alvarès speaking at COP22

Looking at progress made in the negotations, the Marrakech “implementation” COP – as it was nicknamed, in the hope of ramping up the sort of climate action momentum that should have followed the entry into law of the Paris Agreement – delivered a meagre yet necessary declaration (the Marrakech Action Proclamation), which reassured the global commitment with climate change in spite of the US election.

Remarkably, 47 of the world’s poorest countries grouped together as the Climate Vulnerable Forum, launched the Marrakech Vision with a commitment to generate 100% of their energy from renewable sources as soon as possible. They also pledged to update their nationally determined contributions before 2020 and to prepare long-term strategies.

Despite these highlights, it’s clear that after three years of breaking temperature records and with 2016 to become the hottest year on record, the climate crisis will not be solved with the current voluntary pledges to reduce emissions put forward by well-meaning governments around the world. Most importantly, pledges to reduce CO2 emissions need to spell out the actual strategies that will be implemented o reduce emissions, paying special attention to support the right sustainable strategies in all sectors, including zero waste strategies in the waste sector, which is the easiest, fastest and quickest way to deliver climate mitigation.

Cement industry in the spotlight in Spain


Between the 11th and 13th of November the VII Gathering of Spanish Network of Platforms Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns took place in Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain. This gathering coincided with the release of a statement from 55 civil society organisations calling for an immediate end to the burning of waste in cement kilns.

A hundred participants from 50 different municipalities spent the weekend working on the topic of waste incineration, learning about its impact and the potential of zero waste alternatives to incineration, as well as sharing campaign strategies and discussing common actions for the future. The meeting ended with a demonstration in the “La Liebre” neighborhood, where a manifesto was read at the door of the Portland Valderrivas cement factory.


It is worth noting that representatives from the Platform of Impacted Communities in Mexico and Zero Waste Europe/GAIA were present, in addition to all the platforms against waste incineration in Spain. This made Alcalá de Guadaíra the temporary capital of the fight against waste incineration in cement plants for the weekend. Moreover, the meeting provided new impetus to the Andalusian Network Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns, as they met for the second time to discuss their campaigns strategies.

The successful opening of the gathering at the House of Culture of Alcalá included a panel of experts with José Luis Conejero, a member of the Platform Against the Incineration of Montcada and Reixac (Catalonia), Daniel López, former coordinator of the Waste Programme of the Andalusian Federation of Ecologists in Action, and Carlos Arribas, coordinator of the Waste Programme of the State Federation of Ecologists in Action. The three, together with Ruth Echeverría, biophysics expert from the Foundation Alborada, carried out a technical analysis of waste incineration in cement kilns from the perspective of employment, the environment and public health.


On Saturday, the day was opened by a panel including Mariel Vilella, ZWE’s lead on Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme, who provided an overview of the global situation in on waste incineration in cement kilns, including recent research demonstrating how European climate finance is wrongly driven to promote these polluting activities. The panel included an expert researcher on an innovative system of monitoring health impacts from cement plants in Mexico.

The network spent time on Saturday discussing campaigning strategies and potential common actions agreeing on a number of conclusions:

On Communication and Outreach:

  • Creation of a communications team to facilitate coordination between all groups in Spain and improve outreach tools to the general public.
  • Design and dissemination of a common slogan that summarises and makes visible the position against the incineration of waste shared by all the platforms of the Spanish State.
  • Support the declaration of an International Day of Action Against Waste Incineration, and propose to hold it on May 13, in memory of the fire in the cemetery of used tires in Seseña.

Campaign strategy, research and publications of studies:

  • Promotion of municipal ordinances against the incineration of waste in cement plants.
  • Promotion of studies on the economic costs of health impacts from waste incineration.
  • Performing a constant monitoring and control of data from the State Registry of Emissions and Contaminant Sources (PRTR-Spain) regarding the activity of the cement industry.
  • Present a report to Congress Members with the basic principles of the sustainable waste management: the waste hierarchy, proximity principle, precaution principle, zero waste, ecodesign and especially the non-consideration of residuals as raw material or products.
  • Strengthen ties with universities and educational centers and explore forms of active cooperation with these entities.

On support to Zero Waste and specific alternatives to Waste Incineration:

  • Support the work of the network Retorna and the proposals on Deposit Return System (SDR) as well as reporting the pressure exerted by the corporation Ecoembes against the implementation of SDRs in Spain.
  • Support the implementation of organised community composting systems.
  • Promoting door-to-door waste collection systems, according to the model already implemented in localities such as Usúrbil and Argentona, as an alternative to the monopoly of large companies in the waste management sector.

Once more, the weekend showed that the coordinated work of all platforms at the Spanish level is a consolidation of activism against this type of techniques and a boost to the struggle for the implementation of more sustainable and ecological measures in waste management.


The Platform Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns includes:

Bierzo aire limpio (Ponferrada, León), Plataforma contra la incineración de residuos en Los Alcores (Alcalá de Guadaira, Sevilla), 3mugak Batera, Olazagutia (Alsasua, Navarra) GOB- Grup Balear d’Ornitologia i defensa de la Naturalesa (Illes Balears), Residuo Zero Madrid (Madrid) A.VV de Morata (Morata de Tajuña, Madrid), Arganda (Madrid) Toledo Aire limpio (Toledo), Plataforma Albentosa Natural (Teruel), Lemoa Garbi (lemona, Bizkaia), Plataforma Almendralejo sin Contaminación (Badajoz), Plataforma contra la incineración de residuos de Niebla, A.VV. Palleja (Palleja, Barcelona), AVV. Trevol (san Vicents del Horts, Barcelona),  Moviment contra la incineració a Uniland de Santa Margarida i Els Monjos (Santa Margarida i Els Monjos, Barcelona), CEPA-EdC (Catalunya), Sant Feliu aire net (Sant Feliu, Barcelona) APMA (Vilanova i la Geltru, Barcelona), Colectivo de Vecinos barrio de Sant Josep (Sant Viçent dels Horts, Barcelona) A.VV. Trevol (Sant Viçents del Horts, España) Vall de Ges, (Vall de Ges, Barcelona), Plataforma Buñol – Chiva,Molins de Rei, Plataforma Antiincineració del Congost (La Garriga, Barcelona) APQUIRA (Barcelona), CAPS, TELEMIR (Montcada i Reixac), FAVMIR (Federació de Associacions de Veïns de Montcada), Hoja Informativa (Montcada i Reixac), Plataforma anti-incineración de Montcada (Montcada i Reixac, Barcelona), A.VV. de Can Sant Joan (Montcada i Reixac- Barcelona), Plataforma Morata de Jalón, Aire Limpio Córdoba, GAIA, Zero Waste Europe.

New zero waste comic released

Middle Pages of Fran's Comic

A new comic has been released by the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN). The comic, titled ‘Everything Goes Somewhere’ features intricate illustration and lettering from Frances Howe, and can be purchased at UKWIN website.

The illustrated comic is a work of art in itself and can be used to communicate the message that incineration has no places in a circular economy where we need to look towards zero waste solutions.

Within the first week of publication, the pamphlet has already sold more than 1,000 copies and is currently being translated into Bahasa Indonesia, making it more accessible across South-East Asia.

For Frances the project took 9 months of work from the conception of the idea to the release, and made up a part of their Masters Degree in Graphic Arts. The project received research and administrative assistance from Zero Waste Europe and UKWIN leading the the publication of this amazing document.

The front cover of the comic

The illustrator Frances Howe elaborated on their work, saying “My work attempts to generate debate and provoke more questions than it answers. I like working with visual narratives because they provide different ways for people to experience a piece of work. For example, do they focus on the pictures or the text? Do they read it in a linear way or take it in all at once? This makes comics an inherently democratic medium because the viewer has so much choice about how to interact with it.

“I wanted to make comics about extreme energy in general, and waste incineration in particular, because it brings up a lot of topics and questions that are not always easy to discuss; questions about energy, climate change, pollution, social and environmental justice, as well as consumption, capitalism, local democracy and community agency for change.

“My hope is that using a medium such as comics, which encourages freer thought and associations between things, can help people to engage with these topics in a way that gives them more agency to get involved in making change.”

The comics are printed in full colour on two sides of durable A1 card which has been folded down to A4, and can fold out to be used as a poster highlighting the necessity for a move to a zero waste world.

The comics can be purchased from the UKWIN website with discounts available for buying larger quantities.

Wood Waste: Recycle, Bury, or Burn? Jeffrey Morris Gives an Answer.

Wood Yard at Schiller Station
Wood Yard at Schiller Station

Whilst the European Commission is trying to shape a policy for the sustainable use of biomass for energy purposes as part of the revision to the Renewable Energy Directive, new research has shown that the use of wood waste biomass does not fit the sustainability criteria.

Dr. Jeff Morris, expert on cradle-to-cradle and cost benefit analysis is the senior economist and principal at Sound Resource Management Group, Inc., has undertaken research on the life cycle analysis(LCA) of clean wood waste management methods, which has been peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology earlier this month.

Sharing his findings with the GAIA and Zero Waste International Alliance networks, Morris explained:

“This LCA shows that wood waste combustion for electricity, heat energy or combined heat and power (CHP) is typically the least preferable management option from a combined climate, human health and ecosystems impacts perspective versus recycling into reconstituted wood products or papermaking pulp, or even versus landfilling with methane capture and flaring or use to generate electricity. Only in the case of replacing high-sulfur-coal burning that uses minimal emissions controls does wood burning for heat energy look slightly better for climate impacts versus recycling the wood wastes.

But even then wood waste burning doesn’t win out versus recycling for overall environmental performance including human and ecosystems health in addition to climate impacts. Wood burning loses versus landfilling with methane capture when wood replaces coal that is not high in sulfur and both the wood and coal burning facilities have better than minimal emissions controls.

In other words, wood wastes burn dirty just as coal does and only get a slight edge against landfilling when wood wastes displace high sulfur coal when both wood and coal are burned in facilities that don’t do much to control their atmospheric emissions.

This LCA does for wood waste combustion what Tim Searchinger, Mary Booth and many others have shown for burning whole trees for power or heat. Whether whole trees or wood wastes from construction/demolition debris or from logging sites, burning wood is not an environmentally friendly source of energy.”

The article is in the Early View area for the Journal of Industrial Ecology and can be downloaded for free until the end of September.

Further reading:

ZWE response to the consultation on bioenergy

Press release

Blog by Mariel Vilella, climate policy campaigner & associate director of Zero Waste Europe for

A vision of the future free from plastic pollution: The EU must rise to the challenge


A groundbreaking new global vision for a future free from plastic pollution has been released today by a network of 90 NGOs. The vision lays out 10 principles with the ultimate goal being ‘a future free from plastic pollution’. It represents the first step in a global movement to change society’s perception and use of plastics.

Scientists predict that without urgent action there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, threatening marine biodiversity and posing a risk to human health. Yet, despite the danger that plastic pollution poses to our planet and to Human well-being, governments and industry have so far failed to face up to the systemic change required to solve the issue.

At the European level, the development of the Circular Economy Package and the EU Strategy on Plastics present a major opportunity to fundamentally tackle the use of plastic and prevent the creation of plastic waste. This cannot be done without policy makers addressing the full life-cycle of plastics from oil extraction and design, to end-of-life.

This is the first time that groups from all around the world have come together to find a common solution to the problem of plastic pollution. It is the beginning of a movement which will lead to governments, cities and companies taking major action to tackle this ever-growing problem” said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste Europe policy officer and coordinator of the European plastics alignment process.

European governments and multinationals need to face up to their responsibility for driving the irresponsible use of plastics and for the resulting environmental damage around the world, which often most affects the most vulnerable globally. It is clear that without a strong and coordinated effort and impetus by policy makers, businesses will continue to use plastic indiscriminately and the pollution will intensify.

The NGOs below call on the European Commission and Member States to strive for ambitious policy changes to lead the way to a future free from plastic pollution.

Want to join this movement? Visit the Break Free From Plastic website and sign up!



List of European Signatories

ChemTrust (UK)

European environmental citizen’s organisation for standardisation

Ecologists without borders (Slovenia)

Environmental Investigation Agency

European Environmental Bureau

Fauna & Flora International

Federation for a Better Environment (Flanders)
Friends of the Earth Europe

Health and Environment Alliance

Health Care Without Harm Europe

Humusz (Hungary)

Let’s do it World

Marine conservation society (UK)

Plastic Change (Danemark)

Plastic Soup Foundation (Netherlands)

Surfrider Foundation Europe

Seas At Risk

Surfers against sewage (UK)

Trash Hero World

Zero Waste Europe

Zero Waste France (France)

What is the “State of the Art” after Malagrotta judgement?


This blog was written by Miriam Scolaro, Miriam is currently interning at Zero Waste Europe in the Brussels office.

For over 30 years Malagrotta landfill was the largest in Europe, collecting municipal waste from Rome and several surrounding municipalities of the Lazio region. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has recently ruled that the Malagrotta landfill is in violation of EU landfill and waste management legislation.

During the infringement procedure it was proven that municipal solid waste (MSW) was disposed in Rome landfills (until at least the 1st of August 2012) without being subject to the proper treatments, or the stabilisation of the organic fraction. By acting this way Italy had violated EU legislation on landfill and waste management, in particular because of conferring landfilling MSW in Malagrotta and in other 5 landfill sites without previous pretreatment, they were not in compliance with the Landfill Directive. Moreover, according to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Italy is also responsible for failing to establish an integrated and adequate network of waste disposal and installations for the recovery of mixed municipal waste, incorporating the best available techniques.

According to the “Malagrotta Judgement” Italy, had not only violated article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive – related to waste hierarchy – but also article 13 , which establishes that Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that waste management is carried out without endangering human health and without harming the environment. As required by the waste hierarchy, landfilling is the least preferable option for dealing with MSW and should be limited to the necessary minimum. However, where waste needs to be landfilled, it must be send to landfills which follow specific requirements fixed by the Landfill Directive, with one of them being the proper treatment of waste.

This point is a key issue which was addressed in the ECJ judgement, because, to avoid any risks, only waste that has been subject to treatment can be landfilled. But what does that “treatment” mean and what happened in those Italian landfills? According to the Landfill directive treatment means “the physical, thermal, chemical or biological processes, including sorting, that change the characteristics of waste in order to reduce its volume or hazardous nature, facilitate its handling or enhance recovery”. The Court of Justice concludes that Italy was sending waste to the Malagrotta landfill without sufficient treatment and therefore condemns Italy, as the Court understands that this should include the proper sorting of waste and the stabilisation of the organic fraction, so simply storing waste as in the Malagrotta case is simply not enough.


So, what is the “state of the art”, after the Malagrotta judgement? The European Commission is currently verifying compliance with this sentence across all of Europe, while the conclusions of the Commission’s study regarding the implementation are awaited, the situation continues unfortunately remains to be almost the same in many landfills.

Although  the decisions around municipal waste are primarily local, the European Union sets out, in the Waste Framework Directive, the basic concept and principles related to waste management for Europe. The overall goal of legislation so far has been to have waste managed in a way that doesn’t jeopardise human health or damage the environment, with special attention to minimising risks to water, air, soil, plants or animals, nuisances through noise or odours, and the potential adverse effects on the countryside or places of special interest.

Drstuey (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Drstuey (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In order to prevent and reduce the adverse impacts of waste, it’s necessary to address the overall impact of resource use and to have an efficient and sustainable use of them. To do this, the directive introduced the well-known five-step Waste Hierarchy by which there is a preferred option of preventing the creation of waste, that is followed by preparation for re-use and recycling. At the bottom of the hierarchy, the Directive placed non-material recovery operations (e.g. so called ‘Waste-to-Energy’) and, lastly, disposal.

The top priority of waste management is the reduction of demand for virgin materials and the avoidance of waste creation, which is to be achieved by prevention – measures taken before a substance, material or product become waste – and by minimising the use of materials in products.

One tier lower there is ‘preparation for re-use’, meaning that once waste has been generated, the priority should be to make entire products or components able to be used again for the same purpose for which they were conceived, therefore, giving the product a new life mostly through repair activities.

If the product can’t be given a new life, the priority is given to recycling, including any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. The Member State (MS) shall take all measures to promote high quality of recycling and shall set up separate collection of waste for that extent.

After avoiding, reusing and recycling, the Waste Framework Directive places other recovery operations, such as ‘energy recovery’ by which waste is burned producing heat and electricity or, if no recovery operation is undertaken -that fulfils a concrete energy efficiency formula-, we find disposal of waste as least desirable option, including any operation intending to eliminate waste in a form that no recovery happens, be it material or energy.

Zero Waste Europe, as part of the Zero Waste International Alliance, focus on a more detailed and effective ‘Zero Waste Hierarchy’, focused on designing waste out the system instead of pursuing false solutions such as attempting to perfect incinerators and landfills. However, the Waste Hierarchy  remains one of the most effective tools enshrined in EU legislation.

The Zero Waste International Alliance's 'Zero Waste Hierarchy'
The Zero Waste International Alliance’s ‘Zero Waste Hierarchy’

Although, the Waste Framework Directive offers reasonable guidance to manage waste in a sustainable way and makes waste management plans and separate collection of some fractions to a certain extent compulsory, it has been insufficient not only to make Europe resource-efficient but even to ensure sound and proper waste management. Proof of this is that the recommendation of separately collected bio-waste, aiming at re-introducing the carbon in the soils while diverting it from landfills is far from being generalised or that the recycling targets of 50% are far from being met in many Member States, even if only looking at paper, metal, glass and plastic.

Aside from the obligations set out in the Waste Framework Directive, EU law set out obligations through other relevant waste-related legislation, such as the ‘Landfill Directive’ or the ‘Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’, and the jurisprudence of the ECJ. The Malagrotta Judgement is one of the most significant recent cases pursued by the ECJ this case provides effective guidance on the implementation of ‘Waste Framework Directive’ and the ‘Landfill Directive’ and is poised to have a big impact on the disposal of waste.


Has the Italian capital learnt anything about this history?

In Rome the main question always seems to remain where to place another landfill, and even, during the last days, the President of Ama (the public company that provides waste management in Rome) Daniele Fortini has alluded to the possibility of reopening Malagrotta. Once again, the attention isn’t on how to make Italy or Rome resource-efficient but mostly about how to get rid of waste to avoid an emergency. A short-term solution instead of a long term one. (At this point, the approach from a linear to a real circular economy don’t seem to be among the priorities and this contradicts above all the EU vision and goals).


Has EU Law learned anything about this?

For long the EU has focused waste legislation on ensuring the proper disposal of waste, on getting rid of it with the minimum nuisances to the environment, human health or society. *The idea of a circular economy changes the paradigm by emphasising the importance of extending the life and use of products and material.

Indeed, the Circular Economy Package could be the best opportunity for implementing the Malagrotta Judgement by ensuring that we don’t need to dispose of waste anymore. However, although it introduces for the first time the obligation of separate collection for bio-waste, the obligation only takes place if technically, environmentally and economically practicable. From this point of view, Zero Waste Europe defends the elimination of the proposed and existing loopholes on EU legislation by making, for instance, separate collection of waste truly mandatory and ensuring that bio-waste is composted or anaerobically digested. ZWE encourages the EU Legislator to enforce this judgement and truly implement waste hierarchy by effectively making waste prevention the centre of all waste policies.

On the other hand, the current EU legislation does not seem to be working to advance the waste hierarchy, for this reason many directives should be revised – this is would bring policy into line with the EU’s intention – including the WFD. One source of “inspiration” for EU Commission in order to make such a proposal should be the Zero Waste Hierarchy, which proposes a more ambitious waste hierarchy, including a real waste prevention plans. If we look for instance at the economic incentives at the EU level, they continue to reward disposal instead of recycling. So, in order to increase recycling the first thing that should be done is withdraw harmful subsidies. Then in our vision it is also necessary to regulate incineration overcapacity in order to make recycling more attractive and, the EU should start promoting legal and economic incentives, such as bans on the incineration and landfilling of recyclable waste.

Resourcing the future 2016, London

The following presentation was given in the form of a speech by Zero Waste Europe Director, Joan Marc Simon at the ‘Resourcing the Future 2016’ conference organised by CIWM in London.

Is the Circular Economy strategy on the right track? Yes but it is still too slow, in need of some fine-tuning and to escape bad habits from the past.

The exercise we are undertaking is an ambitious one, close the material loop and turn waste into resources; creating a zero waste society from which the EU’s economy and environment should benefit.

How do we know if the Circular Economy strategy is on the right track? In my opinion there are three guiding principles to follow which shed light on the path to follow.

Is doing the right thing easier and cheaper than doing the wrong thing?

Today in many places in the EU mixing all the garbage together and have it processed in expensive ineffective facilities before burning it or dumping it in landfills is still the easiest and cheapest thing to do. Unless you plan to turn 500 million Europeans into environmentalists we need to change the way we do things and make it easier for the citizens to do the right thing whilst making visible the reward for this effort.

In this sense the proposals from the text of the European Commission and the European Parliament to make separate collection compulsory for most waste fractions, especially of biowaste, is a good one, as it will set high targets for recycling because it provides legal certainty for investment.

It is also good to make recovery and disposal activities more and more expensive so that recycling and composting become comparatively cheaper.

For this purpose fiscal incentives are very important; from landfill and incineration taxes to widespread use of pay as you throw systems.

The examples from the ZWE case studies from the network of Zero Waste municipalities illustrate very clearly how it is possible to implement aggressive source separation schemes in less than 10 years (in the case of Parma less than 5 years) doubling recycling rates and radically reducing the waste that is to be sent to landfills and incinerators; what is known as residual waste.




These examples prove that working on the upper levels of the waste hierarchy are more effective and cheaper than any other option and hence that the recycling targets set by the European Commission and increased by Bonafè’s report are perfectly realistic. However we warn about the danger of lock-in situations which can jeopardise the implementation of a zero waste strategy and also substantially delay the achievement of the EU waste recycling targets.

This applies notably to the cap on waste sent to landfilling which the EC wants to set at 10% of all MSW generated and the Bonafè’s report proposes to reduce to 5%. Whilst it is important to progressively reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, if we are serious about moving towards a Circular Economy we need to focus on reducing “leakage” from the system and that means landfill and incineration.

Failing to do so will mean repeating the same mistake that some countries committed when implementing landfill bans and which caused that the waste diverted from landfills to end up in incinerators proportionally more than to recycling. In the cases of Austria and Norway they saw waste sent for recycling decrease in favour of incineration. The graph below shows how landfill bans tend to drive more incineration than recycling or waste reduction.


We need to gradually phase out incineration and landfilling and the most effective way to do that is by using a residual waste reduction target. We advocate for the inclusion of a residual waste target of 100kg per person per year for 2030. Slovenia is very close to achieving this and Holland has set it as a target. Why not having it at the EU level to complement the recycling targets?


The EU needs to change the lenses with which it looks at waste management and complement the recycling targets with residual waste target to tackle the amount of waste leaking the system.

In a Circular Economy consumers and providers interests should be aligned when it comes to what they expect from the product

When I rent a car my interests and those of the rental company regarding the car are the same, we all want a car that works well, that lasts and which is easily and quickly repairable when I buy a phone they are not. I want a phone that works and lasts and the company wants to my phone to break soon so that I get a new one.

It will be impossible to have a circular economy for as long as the business model of producers is based on selling as much stuff as possible in as little time as possible. This results in wasteful products, designed for the dump, which break to soon and are neither repairable nor recyclable.

In a CE both producers and consumers should benefit from products that are toxic-free and designed to preserve the energy and the value of its components. If these interests are aligned we will see the amounts of waste decrease sharply.

For this to happen we need to design the right incentives for providers and cosumers. This goes beyond waste legislation and entails working on extended warranties, products passports, facilitating information about life-expectancy of the product, reduced VAT for second hand and repaired products, changing depreciation rules to adapt them to the new extended lifes of products and progressive green procurement rules.

A basic point that is relevant for the discussion on waste is the creation of a feed-back mechanism between waste and design in order to avoid the product becoming waste in the future.

In the following graph about EPR we can see how in Europe the implementation of EPR is still not covering most of the products – 55% not covered and is performing poorly for those that are covered by EPR with only 18% of a product’s waste is collected through EPR.


With these results it is clear that the EPR schemes should improve their performance but we should also consider expanding the scope of EPR to cover more product categories than the current ones packaging, ELV, batteries, tyres, WEEE-. Expired medication, phytopharmaceutical products, textiles, domestic linen and shoes, domestic chemical products, graphic paper, lubricants, frying oils, construction & demolition materials (C&D), printer cartridges, fluorinated refrigerants or nappies are all potential targets. In fact we should reverse the question and ask, of the 70% of the waste products, which product categories should be exempted from producer responsibility?

In France they have alreadymodulated producer responsibility fees according to the circularity of the product, we should explore a similar approach for Europe.

Finally, there are some items that should have no place in a Circular Economy and would need to be banned outright, microplastics in cosmetic products are just one example.

The prospects for the Circular Economy package look bright and after a soft start from the side of the European Commission it looks like the European Parliament with the Bonafè report is committed to raising the stakes. A fantastic opportunity to create jobs and economic activity in Europe whilst reducing the burden on environment and moving towards Zero Waste Europe.

Press Release: Bonafè shows more ambition than the Commission, yet is still far from zero waste

S&D MEP Simona Bonafè  presented today the draft reports on the waste directives under review. Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) sees them as a positive step forward from European Commission’s text, but is disappointed by the absence of some specific targets and the lack of concrete binding measures necessary on the path to Zero Waste.

ZWE notes positively the emphasis given to waste prevention with the inclusion of new obligations for Member States on marine litter, food waste prevention and the reduction of single-use products. However, ZWE regrets that the targets proposed by the rapporteur on food waste and marine litter are only aspirational and not country specific targets, instead being EU-wide without clear local goals.

Despite raising the recycling target for 2030 to 70%, the report does not propose to cap the tonnage of waste that is sent to disposal, be it incineration or landfill. According to Joan Marc Simon, ZWE’s Executive Director, “EU policy makers still focus too much on the percentage of waste landfilled and too little on the kilos of waste disposed”. In this context, countries producing high amounts of waste and landfilling little have no incentive to improve. Mr Simon added that “a cap on residual waste sent to landfills and incinerators is the only way of pushing for high recycling and waste prevention at the same time”.

Matt Martin CC-BY-NC 2.0
Matt Martin CC-BY-NC 2.0

Despite the push for EPR (extended producer responsibility) as a tool for eco-design, ZWE believes these changes are still too weak to address problematic streams such as textiles, hygiene products, hazardous waste from households, and furniture. However ZWE welcomes  the efforts to phase out toxicity as a precondition for circular economy.

ZWE also welcomes the clarity given by the new definitions and elimination of loopholes, chiefly by making waste separate collection truly compulsory and by eliminating a ‘double-calculation’ method. Nevertheless ZWE warns about the confusing definition of residual waste included in the package.

The changes proposed for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive  are a positive step towards increased resource efficiency. The inclusion of packaging re-use targets and the call for a EU-wide deposit-scheme for re-usable packaging are also to be welcomed. However ZWE believes that the proposed re-use targets are too low to stop the downward trend in the use refillable packaging.

Despite a modest increase of recycling targets for all materials by 2025, ZWE is disappointed by the lack of a recycling target for plastic packaging for 2030, and for multimaterial multi-layered packaging despite them being two of the fastest growing types of packaging. More concretely the EU should require a prevention target for plastic packaging.

Overall Bonafè’s report has managed to bring back the ambition that the European Commission missed in the December’s proposal but despite being a step in the right direction it is still insufficient to create a Circular Economy in Europe.




Ferran ROSA, Policy Officer +32 470 838 105 / +34 667 88 91 83



Text of the reports

Waste Directive

Landfill Directive

Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive

Policy Briefing: the Waste Sector under the Effort Sharing Decision

Today, Zero Waste Europe released a new policy briefing on the waste sector under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) with key recommendations to ensure real GHG emission reductions in the waste sector.

Read the full Policy Briefing

Greenpeace volunteers end incinerator occupation. Eleven Greenpeace volunteers ended their occupation of Sheffield incinerator after protecting the people of the city of polluting gases for three days. The volunteers occupying the plant maintain that they acted lawfully but have agreed to comply with an injunction from Leeds High Court ©Greenpeace/Sims GREENPEACE HANDOUT/NO ARCHIVING /NO MAGAZINES
Greenpeace volunteers end incinerator occupation.
Eleven Greenpeace volunteers ended their occupation of Sheffield incinerator after protecting the people of the city of polluting gases for three days.

The Effort Sharing Decision, which will set targets for GHG emission reduction in the waste sector for 2030, has so far considered only a portion of emissions in the waste sector, mainly those related to landfills and incinerators.

However, this assumption is misguided and incorrect, as the waste sector involves a much larger range of activities and a much larger portion of GHG emissions that unfortunately go unaccounted. In fact, the waste sectors contribution to GHG emission reduction has enormous potential when support is given to the higher tiers of the Waste hierarchy -including reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, biogas generation, sustainable consumption and production, and it can be a game-changer to the development of a low-carbon economy.

“The waste sector is a large and untapped sector with a significant potential for cost effective mitigation.”

Looking at the potential contribution of the waste sector to a low-carbon economy, recent research calculated the climate contribution from the optimal implementation of the Circular Economy Package waste targets (2014 version). Assuming the implementation of a 70% recycling, 30% of food waste reduction, and an 80% recycling of packaging waste, the EU would save 190 million/tones CO2 -eq/year, which would be the equivalent to the total annual emissions of the Netherlands.


“Unreported emissions from incineration of waste act as a loophole in the EU GHG emission accounting”

The Effort Sharing Decision 2030 framework has the potential to further reduce emissions in the waste sector, and this is an opportunity that should not be missed. In order to deliver effective GHG emission reductions, the new 2030 framework should follow some key recommendations both for the overall framework and in particular for the waste sector:

  1. Be aligned with the Circular Economy Package and the Waste Hierarchy, ensure support for the most environmental and cost-effective options for reducing emissions in the waste sector. This will lead to significant GHG emission reductions and reinforce the synergies between European climate, energy and waste legislation.
  2. Increase ambition in line with the Paris Agreement, with a long-term goal to limit temperature increase to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts for limiting it to 1.5°C. This will require the development of a solid set of guidelines and robust governance to ensure the effective implementation of sectoral policies.
  3. Avoid loopholes and apply the correct carbon accounting of biogenic emissions from biowaste or biomass. The reformed ESD should contribute to correct carbon accounting of bioenergy emissions and secure strict compliance with bioenergy sustainability criteria in order to guarantee real emissions savings.
  4. Avoid the use of surplus allowances from the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to increase the appropriate incentives for the development of a low-carbon economy where real emissions reductions are guaranteed.
  5. Support Member States’ ability to meet their climate targets and provide guidance for governance and compliance, including annual reduction targets and effective corrective actions to avoid non-compliance as well as transparency mechanisms to allow effective monitoring of Member States’ action.

With the incorporation of these recommendations Effort Sharing Decision would dramatically increase its effectiveness in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, particularly the otherwise underestimated portion from the waste sector.

Read and download the full policy briefing on our website

Network of Zero Waste Towns meeting in Capannori

Zero Waste Network of Towns Meeting (Capannori)

On May 20th, 21st and 22nd the first Zero Waste European city, Capannori (Italy) hosted a meeting of the Network of Zero Waste Cities. The event intended to bring together local authorities and civil society organisations so as to exchange good practices on waste management.

The meeting started on Friday the 20th with the welcoming words of the mayor of Capannori, Luca Menesini, and Rossano Ercolini, President of Zero Waste Italy, which were followed by the presentation of four cases of cities working towards zero waste: Capannori and Parma (Italy), Hernani (Basque Country) and Miramas (France).

The presentation served to showcase how zero waste can be implemented and be the driver of waste management policies in different legal realities in which municipalities have a different range of competences. In all these cases, political will along with the engagement of civil society has been the key driver for transition.

Next, Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe and Enzo Favoino, Coordinator of the Scientific Committee of Zero Waste Europe, presented the ‘network of Zero Waste cities’ and the steps for a city to become a zero waste municipality.

In the afternoon, a study visit was organised to the reuse centre Daccapo, to the Technological Pole of Lucca and to the Zero Waste Research Centre of Capannori.

Joan Marc on the Network of Towns Panel
Network of Towns panel with Joan Marc Simon

On the 21st the participants learned about the specificities of the separate collection system in Capannori and the Mamme No Inceneritore movement that is fighting for Zero Waste and against incineration in Florence was presented and who helped organise the 20,000 strong demonstration in Florence on May 14th. This was followed by a conference was devoted to the citizen-led legislative initiative on Zero Waste that is under discussion at the Italian Parliament. Three specific workshops on ‘supporting and controlling Zero Waste cities’, ‘waste collection companies and Zero Waste’ and ‘innovation and Circular Economy’ were organised. After that, a visit to the Zero Waste shop Efecorta was organised.

The meeting concluded on the 22nd with an award ceremony to Italian companies committed to Zero Waste or innovating to reduce waste.

20,000 people oppose incineration in Florence

Tens of thousands of people marched in Florence, Italy on Saturday May 14th, in opposition to the incineration project in the city. With over 200 groups supporting the action over 20,000 people turned out to express their opposition to the incinerator. Around the world campaigning groups and activists demonstrated their support for the people of Florence.

Watch Zero Waste Italy’s video from the demonstration:

The local group Mamme No Incineritore had a strong presence on the demonstration, presenting a powerful message of opposition to the incineration plans for Florence.

Mamme No Incineritore, Florence, May 14th
Mamme No Incineritore, Florence, May 14th

Campaigners from Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth) Bulgaria organised a solidarity action with messages in support of the demonstration in Florence.

In the UK, the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) sent a message of support from their Annual General Meeting to the people of Florence. Stating ‘DON’T BURN OUR FUTURE’.

UKWIN demonstrating solidarity with Florence at their AGM
UKWIN demonstrating solidarity with Florence at their AGM

Other groups who expressed their support included the Philippine Mother Earth Foundation and the EcoWaste Coalition.

Overall the massive demonstration of opposition to the incinerator in Florence struck a significant blow to the Italian plans, and signified an important victory for the zero waste movement in Italy, demonstrating their strength and unity in fighting for a new waste paradigm, which follows the Waste Hierarchy and puts the idea of burning waste on the trash heap where it belongs.

EU Bioenergy: Time to follow the Waste Hierarchy

Zero Waste Europe’s response to the public consultation on the EU’s post-2020 sustainable bioenergy policy.

Compost from separately collected foodwaste

Today, the Zero Waste Europe network and many other organisations around the world have called on the European Commission to use the Waste Hierarchy to guide the EU’s post-2020 sustainable bioenergy policy and phase out harmful subsidies that support energy from organic waste incineration. According to the Waste Hierarchy, biowaste should first beprevented , then fed to humans or animals, and finally used for composting or anaerobic digestion, as these are solutions that can deliver the greatest greenhouse gas emission reductions, as well as other co-benefits.

Click here to read our full submission to the Bioenergy Consultation.

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West, UK: We must stop investing in damaging incineration that runs counter to the idea of a circular economy and undermines a waste hierarchy which prioritises waste prevention, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion.

The main recommendations for a Sustainable Bioenergy Policy, included in Zero Waste Europe’s official response to the consultation are:

1. EU climate and energy policies should be aligned with the Waste Hierarchy embedded in the Circular Economy Package, respecting the priority for reduction or composting/Anaerobic Digestion, before incineration.

It is time for the EU Climate and Energy Policy to fully account for the contribution of the waste sector to a Low Carbon Economy, and foster appropriate alignment for the most climate-friendly options in the waste management sector, as described in the Waste Hierarchy. In particular the Sustainable Policy on Bioenergy should explicitly exclude Municipal Solid Waste as a source of sustainable energy.

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director: “We should all aim for 100% Renewable Energy, but none of it will do any favors to climate change mitigation if it ends up increasing deforestation, incineration, resource depletion and air pollution. Renewable should synonymous with clean and sustainable energy, and unfortunately right now it’s not the case”.

2. Harmful renewable energy subsidies to extract energy from residual waste should be phased out.

Extracting energy from residual waste is a net contributor to Green House Gas emissions inventories rather than a saver.3 These harmful subsidies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, this being an extremely counterproductive misalignment between two fundamental pillars of current EU policy. This is a fundamental mis-allocation of resources and they should be discontinued without delay.

3. EU Climate and Energy Policy should work towards valuing energy embedded in products and establishing an energy preservation paradigm rather than burning limited natural resources for the extraction of energy.

Energy policies for a low-carbon economy should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resources.

Organics Waste Hierarchy, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (2014)
Organics Waste Hierarchy, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (2014)

Antigone Dalamaga, Director of Ecological Recycling Society & President of RREUSE Network: “We must focus on implementing the upper levels of the Waste Hierarchy. Prevention, reuse, recycling and composting protects the environment and creates jobs. Incinerating organic waste is not an environmentally sustainable or economically viable option compared to the alternatives of composting and anaerobic digestion.”

In conclusion, the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive and the development of a Sustainable Policy on Bioenergy is an opportunity for Europe to become a leader in clean, sustainable and renewable energy, but it’s critical to ensure that these sources are clean, efficient and science-based.

Flore Berlingen, Director of Zero Waste France: “In France and across Europe, zero waste strategies that prioritize waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting are gaining momentum. The EU Sustainable Bioenergy Policy should follow the Waste Hierarchy and contribute to this positive trend, making sure that organic waste is used in the most climate-friendly way”.

Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting in Ljubljana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero waste press conference against landfill in Debagoiena, Basque Country

Zero waste activists hold press conference in Debagoiena, in the Basque Country
Zero waste activists hold press conference in Debagoiena, in the Basque Country

A group of citizens from Debagoiena held a press conference on February 16 in front of the Community of Debagoiena with the slogan “Landfill no!”. Among people who took part were members of Zero Waste Gipuzkoa (Zero Zabor).

They emphasized that Debagoiena is separately collecting 80% of their waste, while the rest of the municipalities reach under 50% separate collection, this is why they have underlined that they will start speaking about “solidarity” when “others start to be responsible”.

They will not accept receiving mixed waste in Debagoiena and they demand Debagoiena municipality refuses the landfill project in Epele. Their aim is to create a regional proponent to work in order to fulfil these goals.

In the press conference, they have said the following:

“Most of the waste which is not recycled or composted in Gipuzkoa is going to be thrown without any treatment in Debagoiena. 100,000 tons of mixed waste will be brought to our region, while within Debagoiena we are generating only 5,000 tons of waste.

We know that these kind of landfills create many problems, both in terms of health and environment: bad smells, an increase of rats and scavenger birds, the coming and goings of large lorries, methane, large amounts of land taken over, pollution of streams and aquifers due to leaching…

The solution is not to build an expensive and polluting infrastructure, the example of Debagoiena is a role model for a healthy solution. Our region is doing things well, important organisations have congratulated us and we have become a reference point in Europe because we have recycled 78% of our waste. But we haven’t got this results out of respect for the environment.
We have got it due to compulsory separate collection (with containers in some places and with cubes in others) and we think the results are improvable. If only Gipuzkoa would recycle the same percentage, things would be completely different and we would not need toxic incinerators or polluter landfills.”

For more information on the zero waste possibilities for Gipuzkoa, download our Zero Waste Gipuzkoa Case Study

Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy Conference

The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy Conference
The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy Conference

On January 12 2016, Zero Waste Europe, ACR+, and Zero Waste France held a conference; ‘The Potential of the Waste Sector to a Low Carbon Economy at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels, Belgium.

The conference focussed on the recently released report ‘Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy‘ conducted by Eunomia, and commissioned by Zero Waste Europe in partnership with ACR+ and Zero Waste France, the report highlighted how the carbon emissions relating to waste management have been consistently underestimated due to the way in which the emissions are indexed.

The event was opened by a speech from Céline Fremault, the Brussels Capital Region Minister for Environment and Energy. Dominic Hogg, Chairman of Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd then presented the key findings of the report.

Mariel Vilella, Associate Director and Climate Policy Programme Officer from Zero Waste Europe put the report in context following the December COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. Stating “the Paris Agreement is an opportunity to increase our ambition for climate action and the EU must take leadership”.

Philippe Micheaux Naudet of ACR+ spoke of the importance of a circular economy to the creation of a low carbon society in Europe.

Filipe Carneiro from LIPOR, the Intermunicipal Waste Management Agency of Greater Porto explained the model of the organisation which operates across 8 municipalities in Portugal and works towards the reduction of carbon emissions, avoiding the emission 248,865t CO2e over the last 8 years.

Cedric Chevalier from the Brussels Environment, Waste Department the importance of a circular economy to the creation of a low carbon society in Europe.



Strong Rhetoric, An Empty Promise: Together, We Must Fill the Paris Agreement’s Enforcement Gap

Statement from The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) delegation to the Paris COP21

The Zero Waste "Red Line" at the Eiffel Tower on the final day of COP21
The Zero Waste “Red Line” with the GAIA delegation at the Eiffel Tower on the final day of COP21 (Bruno Giambelluca)

Together we represent leaders in climate solutions from every continent. In our communities and countries, we are blocking dirty energy projects like waste-burning incinerators, forming zero waste cooperatives that create jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and advancing the redesign of unsustainable products and economic systems.

Our governments did not leave Paris with a legally binding commitment to protect us and the planet from climate chaos. As such, we renew our commitment to advancing grassroots-led climate solutions in our own countries while ensuring strong national policies on energy and waste that result in real reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The scale of action needed is unprecedented. Millions of people, predominantly in the Global South, are already facing the disastrous effects of climate change, paying for unsustainable economic decisions with lost homes and lives, ravaged livelihoods, communities, and environments. It’s clear that the pollution that affects our health is also driving dangerous climate change, and that the root cause lies within a linear economic system that destroys dwindling finite resources, depends on dirty energy sources, and causes untold harm to human life and other living beings.

The climate deal reached in Paris is high-reaching but hollow. The agreement relies significantly on tended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which in our own countries have often been found to be inadequate or misguided. The agreement also fails to address climate debt and does not ensure sufficient financial support for vulnerable communities and clean energy initiatives. It opens the door to false solutions like so-called “waste-to-energy” incinerators, biomass burning, and carbon trading schemes. Finally, the agreement does not legally require countries—particularly those which have historically emitted the most greenhouse gasses—to cut back on their emissions.

GAIA Global Meeting
The GAIA Global Meeting, during the first week of the COP21 (Bruno Giambelluca)

Members of our delegation have looked in detail at their national INDC plans. We have seen that some of them promote burning our forests and our organic waste rather than returning this biomass to the soil where carbon can be sequestered, improve soil health and fight climate change. Others promote waste incineration over recycling, a process that releases more climate pollution per unit of energy than a coal plant. These policies would allow our governments to fulfill their commitments without any real pollution or emission reductions. They are dangerous for our health and they are not going to keep us below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

The Paris Agreement means that the work of ensuring actual emission reductions and creative solutions will be performed by leaders in climate solutions such as GAIA members across the globe, who are changing local economies and moving the global system.  Zero waste solutions, alongside other community-led climate action, will contribute to achieving the proclaimed global target of a maximum of 1.5 degrees global warming, embracing the principles of conservation of materials, the reduction of toxics, equitable distribution, and access to resources. Standing in solidarity with grassroots and frontline communities around the world, we believe that the changes we need will come from our collective empowerment to hold governments to account and challenge corporate power.

Whilst the final agreement was under discussion, we were inspired to be part of the 15,000 people who took to the streets of Paris, despite a state of emergency and in defiance of a ban on protests, demonstrating an assertion that the future of our planet will not be left in the hands of a tiny number of ‘representatives’. This bottom-up pressure will form the backbone of any effective action on climate change and opposition to environmental destruction.

anti-incineration activists gather in-front of Ivry Incinerator
Anti-incineration campaigners in front of Ivry Incinerator, Paris (Bruno Giambelluca)

It will be up to us to block these false solutions and promote zero waste, clean energy alternatives. We need a rapid and just transition towards a sustainable and toxic-free circular economy, ensuring the protection of our earth’s finite resources for future generations. We need a complete paradigm shift that will take us from old unsustainable, toxic and linear systems towards solutions-based pathways. There is no more time to waste.

Paris Ivry incinerator opposed in shadow of COP21

anti-incineration activists gather in-front of Ivry Incinerator
Anti-incineration campaigners in front of Ivry Incinerator, Paris

On Wednesday 9 December, members of the GAIA (Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives), Collectif 3R, Zero Waste France, and Zero Waste Europe, gathered outside the Ivry Incinerator in Paris to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the project. Carrying giant inflatable lungs, a ‘red line’ was put forward on the Victor Hugo Bridge in Ivry, Paris.

The agency responsible for waste management in Paris, Syctom has put forward plans for redevelopment of the incinerator at a cost of €2 billion which would lock the city of Paris into a 23 year contract of burning waste, effectively presenting an obstacle to zero waste solutions, such as reductions in waste production and significant increases in recycling rates in Paris.

Mariel Vilella, Associate Director & Climate Policy Campaigner for Zero Waste Europe said: “Zero Waste Europe’s latest climate report demonstrates that Incineration contributes to climate change rather than stopping it. Moreover, the redevelopment of the Ivry Incinerator with such a long contract ill be a challenge to creating the zero waste solutions which are required for the future.”

"Make Love Not Waste" - Zero Waste Placard

The redevelopment plan of Syctom has been challenged by Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France in their ‘Plan B’OM’ which lays out how to move towards a zero waste future at a far lower cost of only €200 million.

Anne Connan from Collectif 3R said: “This action comes only 2 days after GAIA members publically challenged Syctom officials on their ‘greenwashing’ of the incineration industry at a COP21 side event at Le Bourget, Paris. We need real alternatives to incineration, which promote recycling, reuse and waste reduction” you can read more about this action in our blog released during the COP21 climate summit.

The challenge to the promotion of bioplastics developed from Carbon Capture Systems, resulted in a significant proportion of the audience walking-out of the event.

The case of the Ivry Incinerator in Paris was recently featured in Zero Waste Europe’s report “Air Pollution from Incineration from Waste Dispoal: Not for Public Breath” which identified 5 cases of polluting incinerators across Europe which have all faced active opposition.

International Climate Finance Flows: NAMAs in Context

In the run-up to the COP21 in Paris, Zero Waste Europe examines international climate finance flows from European sources to the waste sector in the Global South in the form of NAMAs. Despite the fact that climate finance is supposed to support the mitigation and adaptation of climate change of developing countries, it may end up supporting the waste incinerators or the incineration of waste in cement kilns, precisely the kinds of projects that contribute to climate change rather than stopping it, as zero waste strategies could do.

industrial waste polluting the planet

Read about Costa Rica’s NAMAs

Read about India’s NAMAs

Read about Colombia’s NAMAs

Why climate advocacy should talk about waste

By Dharmesh Shah, Climate and Waste Policy Consultant with Zero Waste Europe

The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) on climate change will take place in Paris later this year. It is one of the most closely watched events as it is expected to chalk the response of human civilization in the face of rapidly changing climate. Emerging economies like India and China are expected to play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the talks.

One of the key goals of the COP 21 is to break the prevailing deadlock in international climate politics and hopefully achieve a consensus on the way forward. Two new mechanisms – the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) and the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation and Action (NAMA) (among others) have been proposed with the aim to collate and streamline the collective efforts of nations. While the scope of such mechanisms is still evolving, a lot rides on the outcome of these strategies. In simple terms, the INDCs are a vehicle for countries to define their economy-wide goals for emission reduction in the post-2020 period while the NAMA is a sector specific implementation tool to help achieve the national targets outlined under the INDC. The vision of the INDC and the actions proposed under the NAMAs has to be complementary and not implemented in isolation.

For instance India recently released its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) proposal whereby it pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 33-35% by 2030. One of the key areas of intervention is the renewable energy sector where it proposed a several fold increase in its renewable energy portfolio from 36GW to 175GW. This means that energy from non-fossil sources will account for 28-31% of grid capacity, and at least 13-14% of electricity generation1. Earlier this year India also released draft NAMA on the waste sector under which it announced technological interventions to mitigate the emissions from the sector. In fact, waste management sector appears prominently in several national mitigation strategies. It is the third largest sector, comprising 11% of the total NAMA projects in the pipeline. Among these, the NAMA database2 lists Peru, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Pakistan, and The Philippines with waste-to-energy incineration, landfill gas and cement co-incineration.


It is interesting to see the prominence given to the waste sector, which also points to the increasing relevance of waste management as an issue in the climate discourse. At a global scale, the GHG emissions from the waste sector are approximately 3-5%3 of total anthropogenic emissions. Despite being a relatively minor emitter, the waste sector is uniquely positioned to help achieve mitigation targets across sectors. In other words, a holistic and strategic approach to waste management will positively impact emissions from the energy, forestry, agriculture, mining, transport, and manufacturing sectors.

Civil society involvement is key to the Pars COP21 negotiations

In this framework, the prevalent linear approach to waste management that merely displaces discards from a source to a destination needs to be challenged. Waste must be seen as a symptom of larger systemic inefficiencies or leakages than a problem in isolation. Each item discarded in our bin has consumed fossil energy throughout its lifecycle. For instance, plastics account for approximately 5% of worldwide oil consumption4. The consumption of plastics in India is expected to increase from 11 million tons in 2013 to 16.5 million tons by 20165. India is also expected to be among top 10 global generators of packaging waste by 20166. In other words plastics equals oil. A major share of precious crude is being diverted to make single use forks, spoons and bags that end up in our landfills, incinerators and water bodies.

Hence, the debate on reducing our dependence on coal and oil should be intrinsically linked to our waste management efforts. In other words, how discards are treated at the end of their life will determine the success or failure of our sustainability efforts along the system.


Unfortunately, this is where most national and international waste policies contradict sustainability goals. That is because incinerators and landfills are central to these policies. While India has chosen waste as a sector for intervention in its INDC and NAMA, it has regrettably adopted “waste to energy” (WTE) incineration as central element in these proposals. WTE as a climate solution is also gaining momentum in several South Asian countries.

In reality, WTE incineration should have no place in the renewable energy portfolio for several reasons. First, it is known to emit more CO2 than coal power plants. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the foremost environmental agency in the U.S., recognizes that incinerators emit 2.5 times more carbon dioxide per MW than coal fired power plants. Secondly, it is the most expensive method to generate power. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2010, incinerators are twice as costly as coal-fired power and 60 per cent more than advanced nuclear energy. Finally, it is the most inefficient use of resources (read waste) that could otherwise be looped back into industrial or natural cycles.

Despite such evidence, incinerators have been widely historically financed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as emission mitigation methodologies. As a result, sustainable practices of waste diversion employed for decades by the informal sector in the global south have suffered major setbacks. Soon after it was announced as an acceptable climate mitigation strategy, the waste workers (who eked a living through recycling) had to compete with the world largest waste management corporations like Suez Vivendi and Covanta whose incinerator proposals coupled with the lure of carbon finance caught the fancy of policy makers in the developing countries like China and India.


Another challenge in the developing nations is that of food waste management. Food waste is an important component of the municipal waste stream in Asia and comprises over 50% of the municipal waste in India alone. According to the United Nations Development Program, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. Most of this food ends up in open dumps where it decomposes in the absence of oxygen and generates huge quantities of methane. Methane is a green house gas 25 times more potent than CO2. Under the mitigation plan India now proposes to incinerate a major portion of the food waste.

The embedded energy potential of food is immense. Methane can be harnessed more efficiently through technologies like Anaerobic Digestion generate clean energy. Many cities across India have successfully implemented pilot projects and are even linked them to the grid. Similarly, compost derived from food discards can be used to nourish lands made fallow by industrial farming. Over 10.5 millions hectares of land is fallow in India.

From this perspective, India’s INDC and the NAMA on waste fall short of its mitigation commitments. The over emphasis on destroying resource rich waste streams seems to be distractive and short-sighted to say the least. From the policy perspective, the waste sector is a low hanging fruit. A few systemic changes can compound into transformations along the materials economy. However, locking into inefficient waste management systems can hamper India’s mitigation goals.

Two decades have been lost in the pursuit of false solutions. It is high time the UNFCCC builds the courage to discard false solutions for the real ones.

Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem, which prevents or distracts one from the harder and longer-term task of solving the real problem.”

  Donella H. MeadowsThinking in Systems: A Primer






Costa Rica doesn’t go for zero waste strategies to reduce emissions

Solid waste management is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gasses emissions in Costa Rica, and the figure keeps rising. The country, however, is not planning a sustainable policy for the sector, on the contrary, it chooses to disregard the recommendations and public consultations where the population has demanded more zero waste policies

In the run-up to the international climate negotiations in Paris from the beginning of December, Costa Rica has presented their strategic plan to reduce emissions. In the UN jargon, such plans are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)1. Every country in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has to present such a plan, and detail the emissions reductions they are willing to commit to in order to face the challenge of stopping climate change.

Costa Rica is proud of being one of the countries with the lowest emissions in the world, to the extent that they foresee be carbon neutral by 2021 and plan to cut 25% of their 2012 emissions figure. With that commitment, this Central American country with a population of 4.7 million people, could become an example for other countries that want to aim for meaningful reductions and achieve a “safe” and “fair” level of emissions. However, when it comes to its waste policies, Costa Rica has still some way to go to be a good example.

Increased separate collection could serve as an alternative to waste incineration
Increased separate collection could serve as an alternative to waste incineration

Rehearsing” sustainable production practices

Costa Rica, like many other countries in the region, is proposing to “rehearse” new productive practices that would cut emissions with the support of the NAMAs. The NAMAs – Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions – have been promoted since COP 13 (2007) as the tool and mechanism to access climate finance for actions that would reduce carbon emissions.2

Costa Rica´s NAMA is still being drafted; it is in the early stages but it is making progress, according to a 2015 Report by the Ministry of Energy and Environment. The report also quotes the Executive Summary elaborated by the consulting firm Centre for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), with the collaboration of the German Cooperation agency (GIZ). The report talks about four lines of actions to deal with solid waste management emissions: methane capture in three major landfills, “Valorization” (recycling) of dry materials, and Composting and biodigestion of organic waste.

MBT and cement kilns enter the scene

Another proposed line of action is the “evaluation and implementation of advanced technologies for solid waste management and energy use” for “the organic fraction of waste with high calorific value”. The report links that to “promising technologies” like MBT (Mechanical biological treatment plants, which are designed to stabilize and reduce the volume of waste that goes to disposal).

GIZ Costa Rica has collaborated in writing this Executive summary3. They are vocal proponents of biological stabilisation of waste at MBT plants, followed by (eventual) use of the rejected fraction as fuel for cement kilns, a possibility that triggers alarm for the citizens of the region.

The idea of using waste as fuel for cement kilns is a growing problem in Central America. Local communities in the first lines of impact have denounced the adverse effects of this highly polluting practice. There are dozens of examples in Latin America: in Guatemala, an indigenous community has fought the plans of a cement company (Cementos Progreso), who wanted to build the largest cement kiln in Central America in their ancestral and protected lands with no previous consultation, while in México we can find a long list of acute intoxication cases linked to the operations of Ecoltec, a Holcim subsidiary established in the region of Apasco in 2003

Contradictory messages and lack of participation

We feel is important to point out how this NAMA falls short of real sustainable waste management.

MBT plants were popular in the 1990s, specially in Europe, but nowadays they are considered a suboptimal approach to maximizing reduction, re-utilization and recycling because although they increase the level of resource recovery, the final results are not as good as what we can achieve with a system with source separation and selective collection. The rate of resource recuperation in an MBT plant is way below 10 %, and the quality of the resources decreases with the process, so their market value diminishes. In the end, MBT plants themselves generate a big reject fraction, so landfills would still be needed.

It is worth noting that MBT plants by themselves have a limited capacity to remove the incentives for the use of disposable products and promote their redesign, and don’ t necessarily lead to improvements in the systems of source separation and selective collection of waste either.

And then, if we consider that the result of the whole treatment process is fuel for cement kilns, we would be drifting even further from the initial goal of reducing emissions; we would be supporting a highly energy-intensive industry, sadly known for causing environmental and social conflicts in the territories around their facilities.

The cement sector has, of course, shown lots of interest in using the reject fraction as a source of fuel, while several communities and civil society organisations have been denouncing such schemes. This practice is not only highly polluting and a serious threat for public health, but it also fails to achieve any reductions in emissions, despite the industry´s best efforts to advertise otherwise.

The response from Basura Cero Costa Rica

The organisation Hacia Basura Cero (Towards Zero Waste) Costa Rica is a key actor monitoring national waste policies. The organisation has shown its concern for the lack of participation of civil society and independent experts in the process of drafting the NAMA.

The CCAP’s NAMA proposal boasts having been developed in several workshops involving key actors from the sector, but citizen groups promoting sustainable waste management, like Hacia Basura Cero Costa Rica were not invited to those workshops.

Hacia Basura Cero has also pointed out that certain government officials known for their open support for incineration of urban waste as a solution for the waste problem in Costa Rica, have been involved in the design and planning around the NAMA.

In light of this threat, Hacia Basura Cero has tried to open a dialogue with the relevant government agencies, addressing them with questions about the NAMA process. At the moment of writing this article, we have not yet obtained an answer.

Dr Silvia Rodríguez Cervantes, representative of Basura Cero Costa Rica has declared that “this is wrong. The government doesn’t listen to us, and is ignoring the best options to achieve zero waste. That is worrying for many reasons, one of them being that incineration plans are totally incompatible with the ideas and visions that the citizens have put forward in several different consultation processes”4

Moreover, the public sector has identified “governance in municipalities” as one of the main obstacles to developing the solid waste NAMA. In the words of a report by the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE) “governance in municipalities is complex, which is a handicap for obtaining finance”. Because of that obstacle, a new idea is being developed, namely to focus on using biomass (agricultural waste, basically cane sugar5) to produce energy. The cause and effect relationship between the obstacle and the new idea is not clarified in the document.

It is true that a NAMA that requires municipal participation faces difficulties because typically, in climate change related issues, governance in municipalities tends to be weak. But it does not follow that the idea of working with municipalities should be ruled out altogether. Would it not be better to regard the difficulty as a challenge that municipalities can prepare to face? Couldn’t they seize the opportunity of receiving and managing climate finance? It would be absolutely feasible to design a NAMA along those lines, if that is what the country sees is needed to achieve its emissions targets.

In Costa Rica there is clearly a process already underway, as the authorities are looking for the way to join this global call for reducing emissions. The citizens have spoken, and their ideas point to the strategy of reducing emissions in the sector of waste management; the population understands that solutions in this sector are part of a wider set of decisions that need everyone’s involvement and commitment. If Costa Rica takes this idea forward and takes advantage of the opportunity of obtaining climate finance through the NAMAs, we will have a huge opportunity to do things right.

Bibliography and references (in spanish) spanish)

Contribución Prevista y Determinada a Nivel Nacional de Costa Rica. Gobierno de la República y MINAE. San José, Septiembre 2015 (in spanish)

Costa Rica – Ordinary Solid Waste NAMA. In Executive Summary. In NAMA Proposal Executive Summaries prepared for the Global NAMA Financing Summit. Center for Clean Air Policy CCAP. May 15-17, 2013. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Memoria del Taller de Dialogo Sectorial sobre Metas de Reducción de Emisiones para el Sector de Residuos. MINAE y PNUD. August 2015, Museo de los Niños, San José.

Memoria del Taller Nacional. Presentación de la Propuesta de Contribución Nacional INDC. MINAE y PNUD. September 2015, Fundación Omar Dengo, San José.

1The official Costa Rica INDC document was developed based on what seems to be a wide citizen consultation. Several workshops for sectoral dialogue about emission reductions goals were organised in 2015; information was gathered around possibilities in the agricultural, forestry and waste sectors , amongst others. Several documents detail their conclusions.

2 At the time of writing this article, many NAMAs are being designed or implemented, and there needs to be a critical analysis of what is being proposed because they are nationally owned concrete actions to reduce emissions, and they could receive significant resources

3 P. 28.

4 Amongst the proposals put forward by the workshops for sectoral dialogue about emission reductions goals in the waste sector, as documented in the repport, we find the promotion of integral waste management, with source separation and expanded recycling and composting programmes for organic waste. Although neither organisations working in waste management nor the waste pickers knew that those workshops were happening, it is important to note that significant effort went into oranising this dialogues, and it is very positive that some of the results are such appropriate measures.

Who Will Benefit from Colombia’s NAMA?

The climate finance proposal for solid waste management in Colombia has been designed without citizen participation and is based on questionable environmental criteria.

Waste management produces 5% of the total Colombian greenhouse gases emissions, which under the “business-as-usual” scenario is expected to grow rapidly. The bulk of these emissions is methane from the landfills in which the country disposes of most of its solid waste. The consultancy firm CCAP (Centre for Clean Air Policy), together with the national authorities, has developed studies to determine possible solid waste management strategies that could be added to the NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions). The NAMAs have been promoted since COP 13 (2007) as the tool and mechanism to access climate finance for actions that would reduce carbon emissionsi.

The programme presented for Colombia wants, in a nutshell, to maximize the economic value generated by waste management, and to reduce emissions from landfills by redirecting some of the waste to resource recovery systems.

A CCAP reportii claims that this NAMA “would transform the waste sector resulting in carbon neutrality shortly after implementation”.

They propose three lines of action; using waste to produce fuel; methane capture in landfills; and separating organic waste and recyclables. When we look at where the emphasis is, however, we can see that the stress is mostly on using co-financing from the public sector and climate finance to promote the building of MBT plants (Mechanical biological treatment plants, which are designed to stabilise and reduce the volume of waste that goes to disposal) in several cities. In contrast, for separation of organic waste or recyclables, there is no mention of how such a program would be implemented, neither for organic waste nor for recyclables.

Furthermore, in the executive summary of their Evaluation of NAMA Opportunities in Colombia’s Solid Waste Sector, the CCAP only mentions the MBT plants and how they “could generate refuse derived fuel, recyclables, and/or compost depending on the local market conditions for the recoverable elements”.

This is a problematic recommendation mainly for two reasons; firstly because using waste to generate refuse-derived fuel and burn it in cement kilns is actually incineration, an option with known adverse social and environmental effects. Incineration burns resources that could be recovered, contributes to climate change, is expensive, doesn’t create jobs and poses serious environmental and health concerns, and secondly, because this NAMA doesn’t create incentives for the source separation of organic waste and recyclables, as corroborated by the CCAP´s recommendations, where they foresee how those “can be an effective part of an integrated solid waste management program in the longer term” but don’t propose any immediate measures towards that end. Investing in an MBT plant could actually become an obstacle to develop source separation and selective collection routes schemes, which are more effective.

The CCAP’s analysis doesn’t take into consideration that source separation is a needed to obtain a quality final product, which is what a MBT plant is supposed to make. Once organic waste is mixed with other residues, no matter how advanced the technology for mechanical separation, the final product is going to be lacking in quality and contain polluting elements. Beside , if there is no source separation, the recuperation of recyclables in this type of facilities is very low (see box 1).

Furthermore, the promotion of source separation systems is intimately linked to the livelihood and jobs of waste pickers (see box 2), but they were not consulted by those elaborating the reports and documents linked to this waste management NAMA. They are only seen as future labour in a privatised waste management system.

Who will benefit from this NAMA?

According to the official documentation available, municipalities will be encouraged to set up MBT plants and finance them through private public partnerships in order to increase returns and diminish investment risks. In this type of partnerships, under Colombian law, an investor can receive a government subsidy of up to 20% of the total building and operational costs.

The documents state that “another crucial aspect of the solid waste NAMA is that policies and business models are being designed in order to include informal workers in the modernization of the sector, allowing them opportunities to work in the formal economy and increase the standard of their working and living conditions”

industrial waste polluting the planet

The problem is that the proposal doesn’t say that the waste pickers will get to keep doing their jobs, which is what their organisations and national coordinators have been fighting for these last 20 years (link in spanish). It just says that there will be “integrated solid waste management processes” – assuming what they are proposing is all that – create 6 to 10 times the number of jobs than those focused on disposal.

Regarding the waste pickers work, the available documents fail to go beyond a few polite words on how “additional analysis should be conducted on the market for compost and recyclables, and should specifically address the informal sector recycling process”. The proposal actually claims that “additional jobs created through the Solid Waste NAMA could be used to employ a large number of existing informal workers, including many indirect jobs that will be created through increased recycling”iii, although none of the documents detail strategies to achieve that increase, beyond supporting the long term growth of the sector in general and the production and sale of compost and RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel).

Finally, the plans outlined in the NAMA proposal have never been consulted with their intended beneficiaries. It would appear those conducting the studies assumed that this was the best alternative for them, and ignore everything about their organisational context, and Zero Waste initiatives that are already underway in some major cities like Bogotá.

Disregarding the waste pickers’ achievements.

The waste pickers association of Bogotá – (ARB; Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá) has been working systematically for sustainable and inclusive public waste management policies, and intends to include all the waste pickers of the city and provide an integral service.

The municipality of Bogotá created new regulations and established a direct payment to waste pickers, financed via end-user fees for waste collection. This was coupled with a reform of the whole waste management system and a process of nationalisation so that in the end the public company Aguas Bogotá would deal with waste collection. This process is the complete opposite of a private operation supported by public subsidies – which is what the CCAP waste management NAMA proposes.

ARB has also understood that a waste management model that prioritises collection and transport not only threatens the waste pickers’ livelihoods, but also the creation of value along the whole recycling chain. That is why, in 2010 ARB joined the Pacto Gremial de Recicladores (Recyclers Guild Pact), a national level strategic alliance of waste pickers, their organisations and organised intermediaries that work with recyclable residues who believe that the whole chain has to be defended and respect the right of the waste pickers to prosper in that chain.

Zero social benefits and doubtful environmental ones.

The waste management NAMA proposed for Colombia is full of imprecisions which would need to be clarified before the implementation phase. Under the section on social benefits the documents only say “no information available”, they should be precise in their affirmations, otherwise they are misleading: for example there is the claim that “recycling can create 6 to 8 times the jobs”, but if it is of MBT plants we are talking of, that is not true; MBT plants are highly mechanised and require little labour, besides the jobs in those plants have little to do with the waste pickers’ skills.

On environmental benefits, the proposal says it will reap “the environmental benefits of recycling (avoiding the production of virgin materials), composting (displacing chemical fertilizers) and use of RDF (displacing coal in cement kilns and other industrial boilers)” which is not the case; MBT plants typically can recuperate no more than 10% of the recyclables that they process, and since organic waste arrives mixed with all the other types of waste, the compost they can produce is not really compost (it cannot be used as an alternative to fertilizers or to improve soils). An MBT plant is a last stop before disposal, and in these proposals its main objective is to produce RDF (refuse derived fuel) for the highly polluting and contested cement sector.

Box 1

How does an MBT plant work?

These technically sophisticated plants combine mechanical means to sort waste with biological treatments to process the wet part of the waste. Some part of those materials are recuperated to be recycled, and the organic waste is stabilized through processes of composting or anaerobic digestion, by which a big part of the organic waste evaporates.

This type of plant only recovers a small part of the recoverable resources (between 5 and 10%), and since the waste is not source separated the outputs are low quality ones, specially organic matter, which makes really difficult their subsequent recycling and means that most of the waste that enters an MBT ends up in disposal anywayiv.

Box 2

Waste pickers have built a social movement of international scope, with an estimated 15 million people behind it. These men and women have made waste their business, their job and their livelihood. Their position at the base of the recycling industry is the link the system needs with citizens and communities.

However, they have been historically overlooked, and pushed into the informal sector and social exclusion.

Waste picking, besides being good for the environment, contributes to the local economy, creates jobs and makes sizeable saving possible in public budgets.

According to a report by the UN, recycling is one of the main strategies to fight unemployment and poverty.

Colombian waste pickers (p. 212) in particular, have attained a significant level of recognition of their work and contributions, although they still suffer pressures and threats from those who see them as a force that might jeopardize their waste-business-as-usual.

i At the time of writing this article, many NAMAs are being designed or implemented, and there needs to be a critical analysis of what is being proposed because they are nationally owned concrete actions to reduce emissions, and they could receive significant resources.

ii CCAP, 2013. Solid Waste NAMA in Colombia. Transforming the Solid Waste sector while reducing GHG emissions

iii NAMA Proposal Executive Summaries – Prepared for the Global NAMA Financing Summit

iv Las plantas MBT, una falsa solución para cumplir con la Ley de Basura Cero” – MBT plants, a false solution for complying with the Zero Waste Act, Report in spanish.Position paper on MBT plants in Buenos Aires, elaborated by the ONGs in the technical advisory committee tot he Zero Waste Act: Greenpeace Argentina, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN) y Fundación Avina, with the collaboration of Fundación ENT. June 2015.

Gearing up for Paris! Our Calendar of Zero Waste Activities

December is going to be a very busy time for zero waste and climate justice groups who will be meeting in Paris. In the context of the Paris COP21 climate talks taking place during the first few weeks of December, Zero Waste Europe has teamed up with Zero Waste France, GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) and many other organizations to kick off a great calendar of events to promote zero waste climate solutions and challenge climate finance going to dirty energy from landfills and incinerators.

Paris will be a chance to meet community zero waste leaders, visionary zero waste entrepreneurs, front-line impacted communities and cutting-edge researchers that will present and highlight the connections between the management of municipal solid waste (MSW) and climate change, including full presentations of our recently launch report The potential contribution of waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy.

Here is a brief run-down of some of the key zero waste and climate events happening in the end of November and beginning of December, and do follow the links for more information about each event.

International Meeting of Key Struggles Around Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns and Zero Waste Barcelona and Montcada i Reixach, Spain, 27-29 November

Waste incineration in cement kilns has been lauded by the industry as solution to climate change. This conference will discuss how to thoroughly tackle that assertion, and build connections between community campaigns and groups who are working on this issue around the world.

This conference, hosted by local organisations will provide a forum for groups many different countries to meet, share lessons and experiences on organising and campaigning, and discuss the potential for a global campaign on cement kiln waste incineration.

Register for this event

The Global Climate March – Paris, 29 November (12PM République)

The march, taking place the day before world leaders and negotiators arrive in Paris, aims to put pressure on the negotiations to demand a effective collective response to the climate crisis.

Coalition Climat 21 Poster
Coalition Climat 21 Poster

The Global Climate March in Paris will have a ‘Zero Waste Section’ which will march with a particular focus on solidarity with local anti-incinerator group Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France that have been engaged long time against the Ivry incinerator

At the same time as this demonstration in Paris, marches will be taking place around the world, and supporters of climate justice who are not in Paris on the 29th are encouraged to take place in demonstrations wherever they may be.

GAIA Global Meeting – Paris, 30 November – 2 December

Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) network, this event will bring together the most active members of the GAIA network in Paris to reflect on the history of the network and look towards the future, in terms of strategy, projects, campaigns and structure.

This meeting hopes to deepen and strengthen relationships between GAIA members to create a more effective and dynamic network where members can work effectively across borders towards zero waste solutions.

Conference: Zero Waste: A Key Solution Pathway for a Low Carbon Future – Paris, 3 December (08.30 – 19.30)

Zero Waste France, will be hosting a large conference to emphasise ‘Zero Waste’ as a climate solution. The event will debunk incineration as a climate and renewable energy solution, and work to increase the visibility of existing successful models. Participants include Zero Waste experts, government officials, European NGOs, representatives from Zero Waste projects from the Global South, and GAIA members. This event will take place at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Amphithéatre Jean Jaurès, Paris.

Read the full programme on our event page.

Events inside the COP 21 – UNFCCC negotiations space

Side-event: Waste Sector Strategies for a Low Carbon Economy: Innovative Experiences in the Global South – Paris, 5 December

At an event inside the COP21 Climate Summit, we will be discussing the waste management strategies which will help lead us towards a low carbon economy, with leading practitioners in the Global South. There will also be a booth inside the event, with the latest publications from the network. Space only open to accredited participants.

Events at the civil society space The Climate Generations Area (Le Bourget)

Composting and Soils Health: Zero Waste and Agroecology Solutions for Climate Action – Paris, December 4, Room 6 (14.45 – 18.30)

This event will bring together leading practitioners, cutting-edge researchers, and Global South representatives of local farming and cooperatives of waste pickers to look into the climate solutions around organic waste, particularly exploring the intersection between zero waste and agroecology. In cities around the world, practice is showing that tackling organic waste is key; while being part of the problem, its proper management in composting can turn it into a real solution for soil depletion, emission reduction from landfills and use of chemical fertilizers.

Final programme to be announced soon.

Side-event: What are the NAMAs and how is civil society engagement important for their success – Paris, 9 December

With a international panel of speakers, this side-event will look at specific NAMAs around the world, including those in the waste sector, with specific attention to the participation of civil society.  

Side-event: Zero Waste Solutions: A Key Contribution to Climate Change Mitigation – Paris, 10 December

We will be hosting a side event at the Le Bourget Civil Society Space examining the ways in which Zero Waste solutions can be a vital contribution to the mitigation of climate change.

Side-event: The Contribution of Waste Pickers Cooperatives in Climate Change Mitigation – Paris, 10 December

This event will take place in Room 7 at the civil society space. The discussions will include members from waste-pickers organisations and will highlight the role that waste pickers and their organisations can play in mitigating the effects of climate change.


Events taking place in other spaces:

Alternatiba Global Village of Alternatives
Alternatiba Global Village of Alternatives

Village of Alternatives– Paris, 5-6 December

A large festival organised by Alternatiba in the Montreuil area of Paris. The event is powered by more than 500 volunteers, and climate enthusiasts from around the world. The temporary village will present the huge variety of alternatives for climate justice, and will include Zero Waste areas.

People’s Climate Summit – Paris, 5-6 December

Hundreds of actions, debates and initiatives will be organized by civil society, both French and International, in and around Paris during the whole two weeks of the COP21. But this weekend will see the greatest concentration of debates, workshops, screenings and presentations of concrete alternatives in the face of climate change. This “People’s Climate Summit” will take place in Montreuil, a lively working-class town just outside the East of Paris. 


The Climate Action Zone – Paris, 7-12 December

The Climate Action Zone organised by Coalition Climat 21, will present the grassroots campaigns working to fight the effects of climate change. We will hold events on zero waste strategies and climate justice from around the world in this space, dates and specific location yet to be confirmed.

Other Climate Actions:

Over this period there are going to be many more climate actions taking place, and the Zero Waste Europe/GAIA delegation will be coordinating with Zero Waste France & local activists to participate in the mass mobilisation planned for 12 December.

With such a busy schedule it is clear Zero Waste solutions will be present in many of the civil society spaces of the COP21 climate summit, and hopefully this opportunity will allow us to build and strengthen our network to tackle waste incineration across the world beyond the conference.

‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’ in action!

Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid is successfully paving the way for Zero Waste Municipalities in the area of Madrid, in Spain.


Since this summer, thanks to the progressive political turn in many municipalities in the area, the network has been able to ally with alternative political parties and pass a motion in at least 4 municipalities calling for zero waste. Moreover, the network has been able to create and develop working groups for the implementation of Zero Waste in various municipalities, as an alternative to the waste management model of municipal waste.

Pile of bottles collected for recycling plant, Netherlands


The four municipalities that have already approved the motion are Loeches, Mejorada del Campo, Torres de la Alameda and Velilla de San Antonio. All of them are small municipalities no more than 44km2 and with no more than 23,000 inhabitants. However, they have a lot of environmental problems such as plants for the treatment of sludge from toxic materials, wastewater treatment, the deposit of industrial and dangerous waste, illegal landfills, incinerators and cement kilns burning waste.


The approval of the motion brings positive news and hope to the current waste management situation in Madrid. It is a presents a step in the right direction on the way to a Zero Waste reality.


The motion in detail


The motion recognises the urgent need to stop relying on false solutions, such as lanfills and incinerators. This model effects the environment and the health of the people of neighbouring and nearby municipalities. We therefore need a paradigm shift, and in the motion we ask for:

  1. The creation of a working committee to implement a zero waste model with the participation of local political and civil society groups.
    • The council to be formally required to create a ‘regional waste strategy 2016-2026’ for the City of Madrid. This would replace the current and outdated strategy and set the objective of ‘Zero Waste’ waste management in our region..
  1. An awareness raising campaign should be carried out with citizens participation, where people are informed about the current waste management practice, its impacts, the alternatives, and benefits involved such alternatives.
  2. The municipal waste collection should be evaluated and be run by the municipality and not by external companies. This would include:
    • A study of current and future costs of waste management if it were to be run by the municipality should be conducted. This study should assess its viability and implementation.
    • A review of current waste management contracts and whether they can be modified, to allow a gradual implementation of a zero waste selective collection project.
    • Control and monitoring of the current waste collection to ensure that contracts are enforced, so we would able to confirm that they are not mixing municipal waste and other types of waste (packaging) etc. in its collection.


Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’


This Zero Waste Europe member is a network of neighborhood associations, environmental groups, Popular assemblies of 15M, collectives of organic gardens, organisations formed to fight facilities and harmful waste plans, “No Macro-Landfill, Yes Zero Waste” campaign, representatives of political groups and individual zero waste campaigners. Their common goal is the fight against the creation of hazardous waste, against harmful waste facilities and planned facilities primarily located in the Eastern region of Madrid.


cartro reciclat

Over the years this network has been a focal point of resistance to environmental damage in the area. It works to submit refutations to waste projects, environmental damage reports, conducting lobbying and organising trainings, rallies and demonstrations aiming to show the popular opposition against these projects.


While challenging these facilities, the network has developed, and now promotes an alternative Zero Waste policy to the current waste treatment plans. This should be implemented in all municipalities of the City of Madrid. In this way, Zero Waste Madrid also wants to reach the institutions through the current ‘popular unity’ candidates who are much more open to this project through motions in the municipalities where they are in office.


In conclusion, thanks for the wonderful work of ‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’, zero waste is really happening in Madrid!


Zero Waste ‘Dream Team’ on Tour

Between the 4th and the 9th of October a team of Zero Waste experts toured the Italian peninsula prior to attending the World Resources Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The “Zero Waste Dream Team” was composed of leading experts in the field of Zero Waste and circular flows of resources.

The “Zero Waste Dream Team”:

  • Captain Charles Moore, Scientist and discoverer of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”

    "Zero Waste Dream Tour" in Sesto Fiorentino
    “Zero Waste Dream Tour” in Sesto Fiorentino
  • Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of environmental chemistry, international proponent of the ’10 steps to Zero Waste’ strategy

  • Rick Anthony, President of Zero Waste International Alliance

  • Ruth Abbe, President of Zero Waste USA

  • Tom Wright, Packaging expert and founder of

  • Rossano Ercolini, President of Zero Waste Europe

  • Enzo Favoino, Chair of Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee

This panel offered a unique possibility for the exchange of ideas and sharing of best practices between European Zero Waste efforts and the pioneering efforts taking place in the USA stemming from the state of California, which have now spread across the country all the way to New York City.

The Italian “Zero Waste Dream Team Tour” included talks in a number of different cities across Italy, many of which having particular significance for the issue of zero waste.

In Parma, the administration of the city have taken on a ‘zero waste strategy’ which includes curbside collection, resulting in reduced residual waste effectively reducing the available fuel for the IREN waste-to-energy incinerator.

Florence, a former stronghold of waste incineration, and home of ex-Mayor, and Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, also played host to the tour, where they engaged with the regional council on the issue of waste management.

The tour also visited Turin, Vercelli and Rome, before ending in Capannori, the first municipality to adhere to a Zero Waste policy in Europe. Discussions took place in front of lively crowds of students, volunteer organizations, environmental associations, local members of council and actively engaged citizens.

Key messages from the panel included the importance for community responsibility to meet industrial responsibility, allowing for the convergence of both downstream recovery and prevention further upstream. The panel emphasized the characteristic value of the Zero Waste movement as “a politics of yes”, which requires collaboration between local politicians and local activists against incineration and in favour of prevention, re-use, recycling and ultimately re-design.

The audience was able to see how Zero Waste concepts are intricately tied with the notion of the circular economy, advocated for at the European and international level. This emphasised how Zero Waste seeks to emulate nature through cradle to cradle resource flows, and in so doing minimizing environmental impact through a “no burn, no bury, no toxins” policy.

The panel emphasized how Zero Waste does not require technologically complex machines, but better organization, education and industrial design. While the responsibility of industrial designers was called upon to design products for circular resource flows, the key message for the public revolved around the importance of individuals separating materials at source. The Zero Waste Dream Team reiterated throughout their tour how reaching Zero Waste requires only the existing forms of technology, and using our brains and hands in segregating materials. Panellists emphasized how more so than physical infrastructure for Zero Waste, social infrastructure is vital in bringing about culture and behaviour change in the development of new habits.

Poster for Cappanori 'Zero Waste Dream Team' event
Poster for Cappanori ‘Zero Waste Dream Team’ event

In this respect, the footage and relics shared by Captain Charles Moore from his many journeys to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre offered unequivocal evidence of the global impact of waste. His presentation particularly highlighted the importance of the simple gesture of disposing of plastic waste.

I come to you as an ambassador of an area which has no constituents. I am in a state of desperation. All I can do is measure it and tell you the amount. Represent it. As a scientist I am looking for a political movement that can make something happen. The only political movement I can find to ally myself with is the Zero Waste movement.”

– Captain Charles Moore

Throughout the tour the resonating message has been one of hope yet urgency. There is no “away” to throw our rubbish, no end of life and because there is no end of life there is a next life. Zero Waste is ultimately not the end. It is the beginning. The beginning of the ‘politics of yes’. The question the Zero Waste Dream Team will be taking to Davos at the World Resources Forum will be the same as that of their Italian tour:

if you’re not for Zero Waste how much waste are you for?”.

Press Release: Study finds Extended Producer Responsibility needs redesign for Circular Economy

For immediate release: 14 October 2015

A new study commissioned by Zero Waste Europe[1] and released today at a conference in Brussels [2] has found that the majority of product waste is not covered by current Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes and calls for the redesigning of producer responsibility in order to move towards a circular economy.

The study published today [3] analyses the waste composition of 15 European cities showing that 70% of municipal solid waste is product waste, and therefore not food or garden waste, and as such could be included under an EPR scheme. However, on average, only 45% of this product waste (by weight) is currently covered by producer responsibility schemes. This means that, on average, EPR schemes only cover 32.5% of total municipal waste, with coverage varying from 14.9% in Copenhagen to 47.6% in Paris. Furthermore, only 18% of product waste is collected separately through an EPR scheme.

Joan-Marc Simon, director of ZWE said “The current interpretation of EPR was useful to increase recycling rates in Europe over last 20 years but it will need updating for it to help move us towards a circular economy. We call on the European Commission to use the upcoming waste package to include incentives to redesign systems and products in order to drive prevention and reuse, foster a serviced-based economy, put recycling as last option and progressively phase out disposal.”

The report makes a series of recommendations to the European Commission. Among these it calls for a broader definition and a more comprehensive approach to producer responsibility which includes the use of economic instruments. The introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements as well as better EPR schemes with full-cost coverage, individualisation, targets for separate collection and considering expansion of the current EPR scope to include more products and incentivise reuse.

The study also finds that existing EPR schemes have been ineffective in driving eco-design, both because of its limited coverage of product waste and the lack of modulation of EPR fees based on eco-design. Zero Waste Europe urges the European Commission to develop minimum European-wide individualisation criteria based on eco-design.

Contact: Joan-Marc Simon,, +32 2503-49 11




1. 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.

2. Launch event for the report – 14.30 – 17.00 – Brussels, Belgium

3. Download the Full Report or Download Executive Summary

Sao Paulo Apuesta En Serio Por El Compstaje Domiciliario

Dan Moche, Claudio Spínola y Magdalena Donoso*

Septiembre, 2015

Sao Paulo llama la atención por sus grandezas: alberga el mayor parque industrial y financiero del Brasil, es su municipio más poblado y es la sexta ciudad más grande del planeta, donde viven más de once millones de habitantes. Esta grandeza genera también una cantidad de residuos difícil de dimensionar: se producen diariamente 12,3 mil toneladas de residuos domiciliares, de lo cuáles el 51% son residuos orgánicos compostables y el 35% son residuos secos reciclables.

Aunque no siempre los rellenos sanitarios fueron el principal destino de los residuos en Sao Paulo, esta práctica se fue expandiendo hasta llegar a una situación crítica donde el 100% de todo el residuo orgánico, 95% de todo el residuo seco y 100% de todo el rechazo eran, hasta hace 2 años, destinados exclusivamente a los dos rellenos sanitarios existentes, el Relleno CTL (Central de Tratamiento de Residuos Leste) y el relleno Caieiras.

Las motivaciones para revertir esta situación están relacionadas con obligaciones legalesi, pero también con la urgencia de economizar espacio en la región metropolitana extendiendo la vida útil de los rellenos sanitarios; de aprovechar la materia orgánica que aporta nutrientes y mejora las propiedades de los suelos en el estado de Sao Paulo; de unirse a los esfuerzos de reducción de lixiviados y de emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero (GEI) en la ciudad. El sistema de manejo de los residuos sólidos de Sao Paulo es el segundo más grande sector emissor de GEI (Inventario municipal, 2012), con 15,6% (14% proveniente de los rellenos). La práctica del compostaje puede disminuir en 5 a 10 veces las emisiones de metano en rellenos sanitarios.ii

Implementación participativa

La implementación de la Política Nacional de Residuos Sólidos (PNRS) dio sus primeros pasos con la participación ciudadana en 58 eventos y más de 7.000 participantes, organizados por la Administración Pública de Sao Paulo. 800 delegados elegidos por miles de paulistanos y apoyados por expertos y técnicos de la autoridad pertinente, acordaron los lineamientos principales respecto de qué hacer con los residuos generados en la ciudad.

Composting workshop with officials from the city of Sao Paulo
Composting workshop with officials from the city of Sao Paulo

Estos puntos constituyeron parte del Plan de Gestión Integrada de Residuos Sólidos de la ciudad de Sao Paulo – PGIRS, publicado a inicios de 2014, y que determinó la recuperación, en veinte años, del 80% de todos los residuos reciclables secos y orgánicos compostables. Entre los lineamientos aprobados destacan la segregación de los residuos orgánicos en las fuentes generadoras, su recogida selectiva universalizada, el compostaje, tratamiento mecánico biológico y fomento al compostaje doméstico.

Composta Sao Paulo”

El compostaje doméstico comenzó a ser alentado por el gobierno de Sao Paulo poco después de la publicación del PGIRS en junio de 2014, mediante la entrega de composteras a viviendas unifamiliares. En seis meses se recuperaron 250 toneladas de residuos orgánicos.

El proyecto llamado
“Composta Sao Paulo” entregó kits de compostaje doméstico con lombrices a 2.006 hogares en la ciudad de São Paulo. A través de una convocatoria pública, el proyecto consiguió en 40 días 10.061 inscripciones en el sitio web, de diversas regiones de São Paulo. Los seleccionados provenían de 539 departamentos y 1.467 hogares de ocho regiones.

La entrega de composteras fue acompañada por 135 talleres de capacitación para más de 5.000 participantes. También se alentó a los participantes a responder las encuestas programadas y asumir el papel de multiplicadores del compostaje doméstico.

Después de dos meses, los participantes del proyecto fueron invitados a otros talleres (88 talleres), donde recibieron consejos y técnicas de plantación en espacios pequeños para el uso del compost producido. Para resolver las dudas e inquietudes se optó por la creación de una comunidad virtual en Facebook. La comunidad de “composteros” terminó el primer año del proyecto con más de 6.000 miembros.

Delivery of compost kits to selected households
Delivery of compost kits to selected households

El levantamiento posterior de información relativo a los resultados del programa indicó que el 89% de los participantes disminuyó notablemente la entrega de residuos para la recolección. No hubo diferencias significativas en la evaluación de la práctica de compostaje entre clases sociales o entre los tipos de viviendas y sólo 47 hogares (2,3%) renunció a la actividad. En tanto, el 97% de los participantes de una encuesta realizada para medir el nivel de satisfacción (1.535 personas), se mostró satisfecho o muy satisfecho con la técnica, el 98% consideró una buena solución para los residuos orgánicos y el 86% la consideró fácil de practicar.

¡Económicamente conveniente!

En su análisis económico, la Municipalidad de Sao Paulo constató que los costos de entrega de composteras, monitoreo y asistencia técnica entregados por el Gobierno local podían ser cubiertos a través de los ahorros logrados en la reducción de la recolección, transporte y disposición final de los residuos orgánicos en rellenos sanitarios. El estudio comparó los costos (estimados) de recolección, transporte y disposicion de residuos orgánicos en rellenos sanitarios con los costos (estimados) de entrega de composteras, comunicación, talleres, etc. Posteriormente, se realizó el cálculo con lo que efectivamente se invirtió para desarrollar las acciones antes mencionadas en el contexto de “Composta Sao Paulo”, trabajando con 2006 hogares. Considerado el efecto “contagioso” que se detalla más adelante, los costos serían igualados en menos de 5 años.iii

La estrategia de comunicación y el efecto contagioso

La vinculación de la práctica del compostaje doméstico con la participación y responsabilidad ciudadana fue una pieza importante de la estrategia comunicacional desarrollada para este programa en cuanto al involucramiento de la población. Además de la novedad del proceso del compostaje mismo, el uso de técnicas modernas de comunicación social despertó atracción por el proyecto, y el deseo de “ser parte”.

El efecto multiplicador no se hizo esperar. Los resultados de la encuesta indicaron que el 29% ayudó a otras personas que no recibieron composteras a hacer, instalar o gestionar una. Los participantes testimoniaron un efecto contagioso, que atrajo a 2.525 nuevos participantes que trataron de montar o comprar su propio sistema de compostaje.

El 27% de los participantes donó lombrices para que otros pudieran iniciar la práctica. Asimismo, los cambios de conducta en otros ámbitos también salieron a la luz: 84% afirmó haber ampliado mucho su conocimiento de la sostenibilidad urbana; 96% se consideró bastante más diligente en manejar adecuadamente los residuos que produce; el 54% dijo que comenzó a comer bastante más frutas y verduras.

Los nuevos “maestros composteros”

Los 2.525 nuevos participantes entusiasmados por los propios integrantes del proyecto son una muestra del potencial del ciudadano de convertirse de simple objeto de política pública a verdadero sujeto en el ejercicio de su ciudadanía: en este caso, de “capacitados” a “maestros composteros”. Al atraer a nuevos participantes y compartir sus aprendizajes, los integrantes del proyecto deben ser reconocidos por lo que efectivamente son: “Maestros Composteros”.

Por su parte, los gestores públicos están llamados a apoyar lo que las mismas personas pueden construir. Basta soñar en grande, empezar por lo pequeño y actuar ahora. El compostaje doméstico es un instrumento de política pública empoderador, forjador de compromisos colectivos, con un efecto multiplicador que alienta la conducta ciudadana responsable desde la alegría, el descubrimiento y el aprendizaje.

Alcalde de Sao Paulo entrega primera compostera


“Estoy muy atenta a mis residuos orgánicos y los residuos de los vecinos. Estoy más crítica con la cantidad de comida a comprar. Tengo afecto por las lombrices.”

“Nos dimos cuenta de que cada vez que íbamos a botar los residuos a la compostera sentíamos un bienestar profundo… algo así como si estuviéramos dejando de ensuciar la ciudad y convirtiendo la basura en flores. Intercambiamos ideas con otras personas que estaban haciendo compostaje y tenían la misma sensación! El compostaje es terapéutico!”

Testimonios de ciudadanos participantes del programa Composta Sao Paulo, 2014.

*Autores: Dan Moche Schneider. Coordinó el área de Residuos Orgánicos en el PGIRS de Sao Paulo. Claudio Spínola. Ideólogo y y operador de “Composta São Paulo”.
Magdalena Donoso, Coordinadora de GAIA para América Latina

i Obligación de recuperar los residuos establecida por la Política Nacional de Residuos Sólidos – PNRS, aprobada en 2010.

ii Inácio, Caio de Teves. O papel da compostagem de resíduos orgânicos urbanos na mitigação de emissão de metano. Caio de Teves Inácio, Daniel Beltrão Bettio e Paul Richard Momsen Miller. Embrapa Solos, 2010. 22 p.

iii Cálculos estimados por Dan Moche, ex Coordinador de Residuos Orgánicos en el PIGRS de Sao Paulo. Análisis económico interno de la Municipalidad de Sao Paulo.

Alternatiba: grass-roots alternatives to climate change

After 5,637 km of cycling, the Alternatiba Festival finally arrived in Paris on the 26th September, having left Bayonne in early June and travelled through Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and most of France and gathered in these four months, more than 300,000 people in 187 cities and towns.

Zero Waste France's stall at Alternatiba Paris
Zero Waste France’s stall at Alternatiba Paris

Alternatiba was born two years ago in Bayonne, in the French Basque Country, hoping to present real and grass-roots alternatives to climate change. Two years later, it has become the largest ever environmental festival in France and it has raised awareness about climate change as a systemic problem, requiring systemic changes.

The weekend in Paris consisted of 14 different “neighbourhoods”, from ‘Energy’ to ‘Zero Waste’, but also ‘Banking’,and ‘Agriculture’, emphasizing that the fight against climate change is diverse in itself and requires efforts from all sectors. More than 60,000 people visited the stalls of NGOs, associations and civil society, attended talks, ate ‘un-wasted food’ at the Feed the 5000 event, and generally enjoyed the good mood and atmosphere of the people mobilized and engaged for the betterment of the planet, our present and our future.

Alternatiba Paris
The Alternatiba Festival in Paris

Zero Waste was particularly visible aspect of the Paris Alternatiba Festival thanks to the efforts of our friends at Zero Waste France who provided their expertise on how to minimize waste at the event: deposit and return cups, increasing the segregation of biowaste and compostable products, ensuring proper information, etc. At the same time, the Zero Waste neighbourhood stressed the importance in the fight against climate change of shifting from wasteful societies to zero waste societies. Zero Waste France presented their Plan B’OM, a citizens-led alternative plan to the construction of a big incinerator in Ivry (Paris region), organized workshops on how to make fabric bags and another on the importance of buying in bulk, and how to do so. Their rubbish autopsy was also a success, showing that there are still many non-recyclable products that need to be re-designed.

Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth France) presented a guide on re-use and participated in a debate on ‘planned obsolescence’ along with HAP, a new organisation created to fight the artificial limiting of a products life. Other stands offered training in composting and vermi-composting or presented warnings about the most useless big investments in waste facilities in France (mostly MBT plants and incinerators). Repair café demonstrated how to empower citizens re-use their products and other groups showcased upcycled objects.

Waste management at Alternatiba Paris
Waste management at Alternatiba Paris

The Zero Waste neighbourhood was very well complemented by the ‘Water’ neighbourhood, where Surfrider highlighted marine litter and plastics, the ‘Banking’ neighbourhood advocating for the divestment from environmentally toxic projects, such as incinerators, and by the ‘Housing’ neighbourhood that underlined the importance of green building and recyclable construction materials.

Overall, the Alternatiba Festival was successful in making the case that there are alternatives to climate change in addition to energy transition and that without them, it will not be possible to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Highlights from Zero Waste Week

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’.

Prior to the start of Zero Waste Week 2015, many pledges were received from individuals committing to reducing waste. The website for the week, hosted the pledges from all around the world, including individuals in Poland, Tunisia, Wales, the United States, Mexico, Australia, Germany and many other countries.

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.

#ZeroWasteWeek ideas for reuse
#ZeroWasteWeek ideas for reuse

Klaus from Munich, Germany pledged to “Buy no plastic packaging [and] recycle waste for different uses”

The massive online response to Zero Waste Week meant that many innovative, and exciting zero waste solutions and ideas were presented from around the world. Kate from Plastic is Rubbish, presented a detailed guide of how to safely drink water in China without resorting to plastic bottles.

Over 40 local authorities are on the Zero Waste Week mailing list and 12 councils joined in the week on twitter, and many businesses participated in the week by implementing new schemes and efforts to reduce their waste, collectively making a significant impact on the quantity of waste produced.

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.

Alappuzha India, Zero Waste Town

This article is the third in our “Waste & Climate Solutions” series, detailing zero waste stories 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 from a different region for the next 2 days until 27 September. The other articles in this series are São Paulo’s Commitment to Household Composting, and Boston Builds Solutions.

In this article we hear about how the Indian town of Alappuzha, made drastic improvements in organic waste management, through the installation and community management of aerobic compost bins across the town. A move which will result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of landfilled organic waste. Whilst Alappuzha might be an exceptional case in India, it is hoped the model can be expanded to other towns and cities across the country. With the potential to revolutionise waste management as a climate solution in India.

Zero Waste Town – Alappuzha

Excerpts from Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac’s article on Alappuzha, an elected representative from the constituency of Alappuzha in Kerala. Edited by Zero Waste Europe & GAIA


No other Indian State has been able to revolutionise municipal solid waste management in the same way as Kerala. Kerala has historically enjoyed social advantages such as total literacy, better healthcare, effective land reform and decent housing for almost everyone. This may not be the situation in most parts of our country. Nevertheless, there are significant lessons to be learned from Alappuzha.


Alappuzha – A historic town

Alappuzha is a sleepy old town situated between the great Vembanad lake and the sea, nearly 60 kilometres south of Kochi. The port town, established by the king of Travancore in the late 18th century, had grown along the two trunk canals connecting the port to the great lake. The web of canals in the city and its surroundings earned Alappuzha the name, “Venice of the East”. It became the major port and industrial town in southern Kerala. But by the 1970s, it began to resemble a ghost town, as its port was eclipsed by Kochi’s and the coir industry moved out. This decline continued till the late 1990s, when backwater tourism gave it a new lease of life. But by then, the canals had got silted and become garbage pits. The town also began to rapidly lose its architectural heritage, a process that has been marvellously documented by Laurie Baker through his inimitable sketches and comments in Alleppey — Venice of the East (1991).

Photo by Evgeni Zotov licensed under creative commons
Alappuzha – Photo by Evgeni Zotov licensed under Creative Commons


The decline

The insanitary conditions made the town an abode of ill health. In the state with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality, we had a paradox of high morbidity, dominated by environment-related traditional diseases. Alappuzha became notorious as one of the most unclean towns in Kerala, seriously jeopardising its future as a tourism centre. Things came to a head in 2001, when the transport of solid waste from the town to its central processing plant in the neighbouring Panchayat was disrupted. Though called a processing plant, it was really a dumping yard and an environmental hazard. The local population rightfully protested and blocked the movement of waste. The streets of the town were littered with garbage. Finally, an agreement was brokered with the protesters, reducing waste movement from 50 tonnes a day to five tonnes. The municipality pursued an aggressive policy of landfilling within the town, an evidently unsustainable policy.


With centralised processing ruled out, at least for the time being, what was to be done? Scavenger’s Son (1947), the first novel of the Jnanpith award winner, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, an illustrious son of Alappuzha, held a clue. The novel, narrating the story of three generations of scavengers of the town, created such a social stir that it put an end to the century-old institution of manual scavenging in Alappuzha. The human excreta dumping yard in Sarvodayapuram was used for other solid waste from the town. The human excreta depot shifted to latrines within the town itself. Almost all the houses in the town now have latrines that are either inbuilt or in the compound. This raised a simple question. If human excreta could be processed in our own houses, why not the little bit of kitchen waste? The town folk usually lumped together all sorts of waste into a plastic kit and demanded that the municipal corporation collect and process the garbage. It was the duty of the present generation of sanitation workers in the municipality to segregate the waste. A new edition of Scavenger’s Son was in order.


Processing at Source

That was how a people’s campaign for processing waste at the source was born. A change in mindset was required. Normally, all government programmes consider sanitation to be merely an issue of technological choice. This was our major point of departure. Our pilot project for 12 wards was funded by the sanitation mission of the government of Kerala. But then it was converted into a popular campaign for better sanitation.

Coir Rope making - photo by Ajay Jain licensed under Creative Commons
Coir Rope making – photo by Ajay Jain licensed under Creative Commons


The approach was simple. Every household was to install a biogas plant or pipe compost to process its organic waste. Three wards have already achieved this. If, for some reason, a household was not able to process its waste, it should not be littering the street. Anybody caught doing so would be fined. The organic waste was to be brought to the collection points set up by the municipal corporation, which would compost it in aerobic compost bins installed in various parts of the city. The aerobic composting system in Alappuzha is an innovation by the Kerala Agricultural University where layers of organic waste and dry leaves are laid in a bin with sufficient ventilation. Inoculum cultured from cow dung is sprayed on dry leaves before a layer of organic waste is deposited over it. Each bin can process two tonnes of waste and in three months, high quality compost is ready. Instead of being garbage collectors and segregators, municipal workers now manage community compost bins.


Initial Opposition

Initially, wherever we attempted to put the compost bin, there was stiff local opposition and the plans had to be shelved. So we chose the worst garbage dumping areas in the town to set up our compost bins. Nobody objected. Nothing could be worse than the existing situation. These sites were cleared and the sheds housing the bins decorated with plants and murals. The artists of Kochi Biennale lent their support in setting up the largest community compost centre, WATSAN Park. All meetings of the sanitation campaign are normally held at this park. Visitors and curious onlookers are amazed that there is no smell. The place truly has been converted into a park, with a vertical garden, poly house and flower pots. Thus, we broke the backbone of the opposition to community compost bins.


There are two innovations worthy of mention in our biogas plant and pipe compost campaign. Heavily subsidised programmes have generally failed in Kerala and other parts of the country. There are two reasons for this. One, sufficient attention is not paid to user education. The service provider installs the plant, pockets the service charge and moves on. Even if user meetings are held, they are normally attended by the men who do not handle the waste processing. Because of faulty handling, most plants break down after some time. Second, there is no local maintenance team that could respond quickly to plant breakdowns. Sooner or later, the biogas plants and pipe composts are discarded and can become another hazard. Our campaign involves intense, targeted awareness programmes and also a maintenance team of two or three trained women in every ward.

Mural by Kochi Biennale artist (not one mentioned in article) - Photo by -Reji licensed under Creative Commons
Mural by Kochi Biennale artist (not one mentioned in article) – Photo by -Reji licensed under Creative Commons


Commercial establishments are to segregate their waste and either process the organic refuse themselves or enter into a contract with a service provider to remove it. Most of the waste is further segregated as feed for fish, chicken or pigs. The rest is composted. Just through systematic segregation, most of the organic waste can be transformed into inputs for agriculture. The plastic waste is periodically collected and given to contractors for recycling. We intend to collect the e-waste and store it till the government establishes a centralised processing plant.


Community Participation

The resident associations and the neighbourhood women’s groups of Kudumbashree are the main organisational support for the campaign. There is also a band of committed local resource persons, many of whom are experts with technical competency. Schoolchildren organised in WATSAN clubs are the main sanitation messengers to households. Every second Saturday, student leaders meet to chalk out certain simple activities that can be undertaken. Songs, street plays, exhibitions, marches and so on are effectively utilised for environment creation.


Currently, efforts are being made to scale up the Alappuzha experience to the rest of Kerala.


We cannot claim that we have achieved total sanitation in Alappuzha. But the difference between the situation two years back and the present is too marked for anybody to miss. Today, the transport of waste to the centralised processing plant has completely stopped. But the city is clean.

Is waste a source of renewable energy?

This article was originally posted on the Isonomia Blog on 5 December 2014 and is written by Mike Brown.


Whenever you look at material produced by the developers and users of energy from waste (EfW) incinerators, you soon come across the phrase “renewable energy”. Vince Cable used the term to describe a new incinerator in Lincolnshire just last week. On the websites of companies such as ViridorSITA, of councils from Glasgow to London, or of the Green Investment Bank, which has stepped in to fund several EfW projects – incineration is consistently referred to in the terms generally reserved for forms of energy such as wind, wave and geothermal.

I suppose this PR is hardly surprising – developers want to sell incinerators; a council that buys one wants to make sure that local residents agree it’s a good idea; and the GIB wouldn’t really be living up to its name if it wasn’t focused on renewable energy. However, Eunomia has argued at length against this view, which misunderstands both the policy and the science.


Don’t trust a word of it

Clearly there is a sense in which waste is ‘renewable’. The OED defines the word as meaning “capable of being replenished, not depleted by its utilization” – since we create more of it every day, unless we become seriously ambitious about recycling targets we will continue to replenish our stocks of combustible residual waste far into the future. It’s a slightly dismal interpretation of the word ‘renewable’, but I suspect it’s the one that many of incineration’s advocates have in mind. However, there’s a more fundamental question I want to address.

For an incinerator to produce renewable energy in a meaningful sense, it needs to meet the criteria stipulated by official definitions and government policies on renewable energy. The European Commission’s Renewable Energy Directive defines ‘energy from renewable sources’ as including only non-fossil sources, namely

“wind, solar, aerothermal, geothermal, hydrothermal and ocean energy, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases”.

In this sense, a considerable amount of the material in our waste isn’t renewable. In its recent document Energy from Waste: a Guide to the Debate, Defra recognises this definition in stating that:

“Energy from residual waste is only partially renewable due to the presence of fossil based carbon in the waste, and only the energy contribution from the biogenic portion is counted towards renewable energy targets (and only this element is eligible for renewable financial incentives).”

Waste contains fossil derived materials such as plastics. However, it also contains biogenic materials such as paper, card and food waste. While it may be environmentally (and often economically) preferable to recycle them, they are arguably just as renewable as any other form of biomass.

That said, many of the biogenic materials you find in the residual waste stream, such as food, paper, card and natural textiles, are derived from intensive agriculture – monoculture forests, cotton fields and other “green deserts”. The ecosystems from which these materials are derived could not survive in the absence of human intervention, and of energy inputs from fossil sources. It is, therefore, more than debatable whether such materials should be referred to as renewable. However, even granting them this status, the claim that residual waste is a source of renewable energy is problematic.


ROCs’ role

The aim of the renewable financial incentives seems to place EfW on a more or less level playing field with other forms of biogenic generation. In practice, only combined heat and power incinerators and the advanced conversion technologies (ACT) – gasification and pyrolysis – are eligible for subsidy in the form of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), currently at a rate of 1 and 2 ROCs per MWh respectively, and then only the energy generated from the biomass element of their fuel.

Unless a specific measurement is made of the renewable element of the fuel of a CHP EfW plant, 50% of power generated is eligible for ROCs. These technologies will in future fall under the Contracts for Difference (CfD) renewable energy scheme, so their partially renewable status is confirmed for years to come. The heat produced by a CHP plant may also qualify for subsidy through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

However, there’s no place in the ROCs or CfD schemes for the electricity-only incinerators that comprise the great majority of those we’ve built in the UK. That doesn’t upset the level playing field with biomass, as electricity-only biomass is also excluded from the new CfD scheme.

So government policy and practice treats EfW as at best ‘semi-renewable’, but only worth subsidising when it produces useful heat as well as electricity. The subsidy system therefore treats most of our EfW estate as less productive of renewable energy than even landfill gas, which qualifies for 0.2 ROCs per MWh from closed sites. Whilst an assumed biogenic share of EfW continues to be counted towards our renewable energy targets, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of incineration’s renewable credentials.


The green stuff?

However, it’s questionable whether even CHP incinerators merit their place on the green playing field. Incineration doesn’t perform very well as a form of energy generation. An incinerator only needs to achieve an energy efficiency of 25.5% in order to qualify as an R1 (recovery) facility. Recent research for Defra calculated that the maximum achievable efficiency for an electricity-only incinerator is around 33%.

The same report found that an incinerator must achieve “an overall conversion efficiency of greater than 33%” if it is to emit less fossil CO2 per MWh of useful energy produced than does a modern gas power station. If you factor the biogenic carbon in too, “to emit less CO2 overall… would require a conversion efficiency of 83%”. So, all non-CHP incinerators emit more fossil CO2 per MWh of energy produced than would a gas-fired power station, and far more CO2 in total. That doesn’t strike me as very green.




Further, because it doesn’t contain as much energy as proper fuels, in the grand scheme of things the amount of energy available from residual waste is small. Using a colleague’s figures, I calculate that you have to burn around 10 million tonnes of waste to generate 1% of our national energy needs.

It’s the biogenic material in residual waste that gives incineration its renewable kudos, and the largest proportion of this by weight is food. It typically comprises between 30-40% of the total mass, although the amount varies depending on exactly what materials are collected for recycling in a particular area. While paper, card and textiles may burn reasonably well 70% or more of food is composed of water.


Don’t suffer fuels gladly

It is not incinerated because it is a good fuel (you can test this at home: try to start a fire with some salad or a yoghurt that’s gone off) but because it attracts a good gate fee. Burning food requires considerable energy to enable combustion to take place, and the net energy gain is low. Estimates vary between 3-5GJ/tonne, compared with around 10GJ/tonne for mixed municipal waste over all, and over 25GJ/tonne for plastics. Food waste, the principal biogenic and therefore “renewable” component of residual waste is hard to burn and produces little energy.

The Defra research quoted above includes some useful tables showing the contribution that each material, whether containing biogenic or fossil carbon, makes to its overall energy potential. Apparently it’s based on outdated residual waste compositions from a 2006 report, although this is hard to check as it’s incorrectly referenced. The composition shows food making up 31% of the fuel: then, even generously assuming it produces 5GJ/tonne, it contributes only 15% of the energy potential. By contrast, with plastic making up 13% of the fuel, it contributes 32% of the energy. According to a more recent composition produced for Defra, plastics now make up around 25% of kerbside collected household residual waste, and would deliver more than half of the energy.

The myth that waste is a source of ‘renewable energy’ is dangerous, and needs to be stamped out before yet more public money is spent on incinerators. We may count some of the energy produced from incineration towards our renewable energy targets, but the ROCs and CfD schemes already recognise that the majority of UK incinerators don’t produce energy that is meaningfully renewable. However, Defra, DECC and the GIB, all of which continue to support and subsidise incineration, need to remember that non-CHP incineration produces more fossil CO2 per MWh (and far more CO2 over all) than gas-fired generation. To put the logic of my argument in its starkest terms: to the extent that waste is renewable, incinerating it generates very little energy; to the extent that incinerating it produces energy, little is renewable. I rest my case.


Mike Brown


Mike Brown

Earth First! Summer Gathering Fighting Incineration Workshop

The summer of 2015 has seen an incredible amount of activity by campaigners fighting proposed incinerators in the UK. With a long list of successes, as well as active and ongoing campaigns, opposition to incineration seems important as ever.

In light of these struggles Mariel Vilella (Associate Director) and Matt Franklin (Communications & Programme Officer) from Zero Waste Europe attended the Earth First! Gathering in the Peak District to hold a workshop on incineration and UK campaigns.

During the workshop, they were joined by a member of Glouscester Vale Against Incineration (GlosVAIN) looked at some of the core issues and hazards of waste incineration, and the myth of renewable ‘waste-to-energy’ incineration, before taking a closer look at some of the most active successful and interesting campaigns to fight the construction of new incinerators in the UK.

The Peak District where Earth First! Gathering 2015 was held

Incinerator struggles in the UK

In our workshop they did not cover all of the anti-incineration campaigns and successes in the UK, but instead to give just a glimpse at the broad range of ongoing campaigns. The UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has information on many more struggles on their website.

On the 27th of July, campaigners in Swancombe, Kent had an unexpected success when Teal Energy who had proposed a 250,000 tonne per year incinerator suddenly withdrew their application right in the middle of a planning inquiry. The victory came after Teal Energy had seen the land which they had planned to build their incinerator on being purchased by the company behind the proposed London Paramount theme park, to prevent any potential impact upon their planned resort. This seemingly unlikely confluence of interests has now forced the ‘waste-to-energy’ company to seek an alternative site for their project.

In Gloucestershire, campaigners from the GlosVAIN group held a massive demonstration with hundreds of participants in Stroud, calling for plans to build a £500 million incinerator to be scraped. The plan which saw contracts being signed with the council before planning permission was granted, meant that if the council refused to grant planning permission the cost would have been between £60 and £100 million. Unfortunately despite the popular opposition to the plans they were approved and the construction by Urbaser Balfour Beatty is expected to begin soon.

GlosVAIN Stroud Demonstration
GlosVAIN Stroud demonstration in January

In Derby recent research by anti-incineration campaigner Simon Bacon, has revealed that Derby City Council have paid more than £725,000 to fight their own decision! In Documents published by Simon, we can see that Derby City Council, in a contract with developer Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS), agreed to pay appeal costs above an agreed “appeal contingency” cost, which turned out be £0.00. Meaning that the council had to pay the full costs of RRS’s appeal, which came to £725,943, whilst only paying £112,255 to defend their decision.

This is just a small sample of the anti-incineration campaigns across the UK and there are many more active anti-incineration campaigns which can be found on UKWIN’s website, along with a map of potential, existing and prevented incinerators across the UK.

For anyone who wants to learn more about local anti-incineration campaigns, or set-up their own, you can also make use of the fantastic resources available on the UKWIN Website.

Power of Compost: Video Competition


"The Power of Compost" Competition Closed

Our compost video competition is now closed. We would like to thank everyone who submitted a video entry. We have now passed the videos on to our panel of judges and will be announcing a winners shortly. – The Zero Waste Europe team

What is so great about compost?

Compost is an incredibly powerful tool in the zero waste tool box. Organic waste is often one of the most challenging waste streams in urban areas, as it’s usually the largest waste stream of household waste and the most problematic in environmental terms. With separation at source and proper treatment through composting however, it can be an amazing opportunity to help create a genuinely circular economy. Composting organic waste can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and avoid hazardous disposal systems such as landfilling and incineration. As a natural soil improver, it replaces the need for chemical-based fertilisers (contributors to climate change), and it has amazing rejuvenating qualities for soil, increasing the capacity of the land to act as a ‘carbon sink’ and reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Across Europe millions of people are involved in composting, both on an individual level and as part of neighbourhood or community schemes. These actions are preventing vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and providing vital nutrients for soils. We want to hear your composting stories, and learn more about the inspirational ways that you and your communities are taking action to reduce organic waste.

That is why we have decided to launch a competition to celebrate composting, with some fantastic rewards.


Our competition…

Are you part of a fantastic composting project that doesn’t get enough attention? Do you need some added funds to expand your community composting scheme? Or are you just passionate about composting and want to promote your own creative organic waste solution? We want to know about it!

Submit your video to win

We have 3 huge prizes up for grabs, in our composting video competition, and all you have to do is submit a video or animation showing off your composting project, explaining why composting is so great, or highlighting a creative solution. We are particularly encouraging home-made and amateur video contributions, so remember the content is more important than the camera quality, and get out your smart-phones, and video-cameras and get stuck into a bit of compost.

The competition is divided into three categories, with different criteria and prizes, and will be judged by our panel of experts including experts from the European Compost Network (ECN), The Organic Stream, and Zero Waste Europe so if you want to participate, make sure you take a look at the different categories. You don’t have to specify which category your video comes under during the application process, so don’t worry if you aren’t sure, or feel that your video might fit more than one category, as our judges will assess which award the video would be most suited for.


The categories:


Community Solutions Award — Prize 500eur

In this category we are looking for the best community solution, so if you are part of a neighbourhood composting project or work with other local composters to collect all that food-waste, or just want to talk about community solutions make sure that you send us a video.


Creative Composter Award — Prize 500eur

This category will choose the most creative composting solution, we want to see your innovative and unusual composting efforts, as well as any creative attempts to promote composting of organic waste.


Compost Education Award — Prize 500eur

In the final category we are looking for the most effective and inspiring educational video about compost. This could be about the benefits of compost, or how to start your own compost project, or anything else really, so long as it is educational and espouses composting!


Tips & hints

We know that not everyone out there is a master in creating videos, there may not even be a direct correlation between video-editors and composters at all! But there is no need to worry, as we have put together some simple tips and hints to make sure your video is in with the best chance of winning!

There are so many more benefits of compost which we wrote about in depth for International Compost Week. We recommend that you give the article a read over before making your video to help ensure that you cover the kind of advantages of composting we are looking for.

  • Keep your video relatively short and to the point. We would expect videos to be around the 1.5 minute mark, and if videos are longer than 3 minutes we will not be able to include them in our competition.
  • If you are filming on a smartphone make sure to have your phone rotated in landscape (we find that makes a much better film!)
  • Try and move the camera as smoothly as possible to help avoid a film which could be difficult to watch
  • If your computer doesn’t come with any, there are plenty of free video editing and animation software options available, which you should be able to find with a quick internet search.
  • If video isn’t your thing, then you are also free to submit animations or other ‘video’ forms. Be creative, and surprise us!


This is the short version of the rules, for the legal stuff have a look at our full rules.

  • All entries must be received by midnight (GMT) on the 1st of November.
  • Entries should be uploaded to Youtube and set as unlisted, the link should then be sent to: COMPETITION NOW CLOSED
  • The judges will be looking for the best projects, ideas and composting solutions, not the most polished, professional videos.
  • The video should reflect the benefits of compost as explained above and the core values of Zero Waste Europe.
  • We are afraid that we will not be able to accept videos which are not either in English, or have English subtitles.
  • All entries must consist of original or previously unreleased content, by entering the competition you give Zero Waste Europe the right to host your video on our Youtube channel, and share it through social media.
  • Winners will be contacted by email.

Plastic Bag Free Day 2015 Global Round-up

Plastic has permeated every corner of our oceans and rivers, leaving virtually no inch of ocean plastic free.1 But all around the world, communities and cities are showing that another way is possible. From Manila to Montenegro, people are saying no to plastic pollution and calling for a world without plastic bags.

Environmental Groups dramatise the effects of single-use plastic bags in Manilla, Philippines.
Environmental groups dramatize the environmental impacts of single-use disposal bags during the celebration of the 2015 International Plastic Bag-free Day in Manila. The groups encouraged the public to choose reusable bags to prevent plastic pollution.

On Friday the 3rd of July groups and organisations from across the world took action for the 6th International Plastic Bag Free Day. The day saw creative events across five continents, in a unified call for reusable, responsible alternatives.

  • Montenegro saw a ‘plastic bag monster’ roaming the streets of Podgorica, the capital city, as Zero Waste Montenegro raised awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and informed people of the alternative zero waste solutions. Hungarian campaigners from Humusz held a flashmob and trolley race to from a central square to a nearby market, highlighting the alternative solutions to plastic bags, such as shopping trolleys. In Sofia, Bulgaria, there was a ‘plastic bag free party and fotomarathon’ with theatre, music and drinks. A German group held a film showing of ‘Trashed’ in Konstanz. And in Slovenia a trade in scheme was held, where people could swap 10 disposable plastic bags for a re-usable cotton bag. In addition to having fun and raising awareness, groups in Europe had concrete policy goals. In Europe, groups including; Zero Waste Europe, Fundació Prevenció de Residus, Friends of the Earth Europe, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and the European Environmental Bureau renewed their call for for EU Member States to put into effect the new EU directive to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, and make this policy a reality.

    Bulgaria Plastic Bag Free Party
    Bulgaria Plastic Bag Free Party
  • In Manilla, Philippines, a forum was held by a number of organisations exposing the truth behind many types of ‘degradable’ plastic bags and their impacts on the environment. Sonia Mendoza, President of the EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines, said “Degradable plastic bags will not help solve our environmental problems concerning waste and pollution, as their use will merely instil and promote further the throwaway attitude and culture that have so permeated modern society,” and called for a ban on plastic bags in the Philippines.
  • Members of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network worked to raise awareness in front of the Seoul Jongno Tower Saengtegye, encouraging South Koreans to stop using single-use plastic bags, and instead use reusable shopping baskets. And in Hong-Kong and Taiwan groups encouraged people to “Say no to plastic bags!” and reduce their use of disposable bags.
Zero waste campaigners in South Korea raise awareness about disposable plastics.
Zero waste campaigners in South Korea raise awareness about disposable plastics.
  • In Botswana, Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), called upon the Botswanan government to enforce their levy on plastic bags, which officially came into force in 2006 and use the proceeds to fund environmental activities in Botswana, saying “We also call on the government to use the levy as it was intended to create a cleaner Botswana,”.
  • The Kicking the Bags Out campaign in Zambia lobbied for a plastic bag ban or fee across Zambia as part of a community solution to the issue of clogged drainage systems from plastic bag waste and donated reusable bags to legislators and ministers.
  • In Canada volunteers on Vancouver Island offered reusable bags by donation and held a voluntary plastic bag ban, where shoppers were encouraged not to use single-use plastic bags as part of their daily shop.
  • In Argentina a comedy event was held where monologues highlighted the ‘pointlessness’ of plastic bags.
A 'plastic bag monster' roams the streets of Montenegro's capital.
A ‘plastic bag monster’ roams the streets of Montenegro’s capital.

More and more people on every continent are choosing to take their reusable bags to the shops, and ditching disposable plastics. But we don’t have time to wait for everyone in the world to follow this trend. The disastrous effects that single-use plastic bags are having on our environments, means that we need bold policies to tackle the issue of destructive disposable plastics and begin to move towards a world where single-use plastics are completely eliminated.

Many of the events and actions which took place are available to view on world map at where you can read stories, view actions and add any of your own actions which may be missing.

1 Doyle, Christopher, “No part of the ocean untouched by plastic rubbish.” ABC Environment, 11 December 2014.

Press Release: International Bag Free Day – New EU Directive paves the way for a Europe without plastic bags

INTERNATIONAL BAG FREE DAY: New EU Directive paves the way for a Europe without plastic bags

For more information:


Brussels, July 3, 2015 – On International Plastic Bag Free Day, a coalition of environmental and waste prevention organisations [1] urge EU Member States to take measures on environmentally damaging single-use plastic bags in accordance with new EU Directive requirements.

Every year, the average EU citizen uses an estimated 500 plastic bags [2], 92.5% of which are single-use. Around 90 billion single-use plastic bags were used in the EU in 2010 [3]. Plastic bags make up around 40% of all the marine litter across UK waters and the North Sea [4], and a 2009 study showed that in the Bay of Biscay over 90% of waste items found on the seabed were plastic [5]. These petroleum based products contain toxic additives such as endocrine disruptors and carcinogens, which can migrate into marine environments and enter the food chain via marine fauna.

European citizens think it is time to take action. A 2014 survey carried out by the European Commission, found that 92 % of respondents agree that measures should be taken to reduce the use of single-use plastic items, such as shopping bags [6].

There has been recent progress by EU institutions on tackling this issue. In May, a new European Directive, 2015/720/UE,to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags entered in to force. The Directive requires Member States to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags with a thickness of below 50 microns by either:

– taking measures to reduce annual average consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags to 90 per person by the end of 2019, and 40 by 2025;

– or by ensuring that by the end of 2018, no more lightweight plastic carrier bags are handed over free of charge to shoppers.

Member states have a 18-month limit to transpose it into their national law.

However, this law allows oxo-degradable bags to continue to be used in Europe despite their disastrous impact on the marine environment, where they degrade into smaller pieces of plastics impossible to remove from the environment.

Joan-Marc Simon from Zero Waste Europe said: “Plastic pollution is a global problem waiting for a global solution. As an international player, the EU should lead by example and not lag behind other countries in reducing usage of single-use plastic bags. The EU has now a target for reduction in the use of plastic-bags, we call on member states to put in place necessary measures to make this a reality.”

Marta Beltran from Fundació Prevenció de Residus said: “Our society can not afford the waste of resources and the environmental, social and economic impacts of plastic bags, including the oxo-degradables bags whose impacts on the trophic chain must be avoided. We want Zero Plastic Bags everyday; it’s time for reusables.”

Meadhbh Bolger from Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Single-use plastic bags are an iconic example of how Europe is stuck in a linear economy, dependent on the continuous extraction of scarce virgin resources for throwaway products. EU decision-makers need to ensure that the new Circular Economy Package makes sure we keep resources in the economy for as long as possible and that reduced consumption, reuse and recycling are the norm across the continent.”

Antidia Citores from Surfrider Foundation Europe said: “29 European cities have already committed to ban single-use plastic bags within our “Ban the plastic bag campaign”. The European directive recently adopted now gives the possibility to EU member states to legally ban single use plastic bags. We now call on Member States, cities and citizens to engage themselves in our campaign and say no to disposable plastic bags which affect so strongly the marine environment.

Piotr Barczak from European Environmental Bureau said: The case of unnecessary plastic bags clearly shows that improving environmental performance and waste management does not rely only on modern solutions, but is often about societal change. Very often we just need to look at the modes of consumption that were present decades ago and that had much less impact on the environment, like, in this case, reusable packaging.

The sixth edition of International plastic bag-free day sees groups from all over the world organising activities to raise awareness on the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and to demand that governments act to stop marine littering.

The International Plastic Bag-Free Day is organised by Zero Waste Europe, GAIA and the Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i Consum.


[1] Zero Waste Europe, GAIA, the European Environmental Bureau, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and the Foundation for Waste Prevention.

[2] European Commission press release: Commission seeks views on reducing plastic bag use

[3] Green Paper On a European Strategy on Plastic Waste in the Environment.

[4] Data taken from the International Bottom Trawl Survey and the Clean Seas Environmental Monitoring Programme by CEFAS.

[5] OSPAR, 2009

[6] European Commission press release, 30th June 2014

[7] Directive 94/62/EC



Joan-Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe , +32 2 503 49 11

Piotr Barczak, Policy Officer on Waste, European Environmental Bureau,, +32 (0) 2289 10 97

Antidia Citores, Law and lobbying manager, Surfrider Foundation Europe,, +33 6 32 68 90 36

Meadhbh Bolger, Resource use Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe,, +32 2893 10 34

Marta Beltran, Coordinator of Waste Campaigns, Fundació Prevenció de Residus i Consum,, +34 676 488 720

To find out more about the international plastic bag-free day see:



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.

GAIA –Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives- is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries working for a world without waste.

Surfrider Foundation Europe is an environmental association, statute 1901, created in 1990 in France (Biarritz). During its existence, it has achieved real expertise in the areas of research, local action, as well as the creation and diffusion of educational tools. Today, it consists of a network of 1,700 volunteers, 10,000 members and 100,000 supporters in forty local offices that are active in twelve European countries. Find out more:

The European Environmental Bureau is Europe’s largest federation of environmental organisations with more than 140 member organisations who gain their membership from the general public. The EEB is guided by the voices of 15 million European citizens, and acts as the ears and voice of its members towards EU decision makers and beyond.

Friends of the Earth Europe is the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe, uniting more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups:

Fundació Prevenció de Residus i Consum -Catalan Foundation for Waste Prevention and Responsible Consumption- is a nonprofit organization driven by environmental organizations, universities, companies and municipalities. It promotes campaigns (like the International bag-free day, that begun in 2008 as a Catalan scope and leaded to the annual celebration worldwide) and projects in order to shift to a circular economy and a resource efficiency society.

Engaging Hong Kong on the Road to Zero Waste

By Emma Stokking – The Unpackaged Coalition
Pictures Credit – Chandni Chotrani and Bronwen Chan


On June 11th, Hong Kong hosted its first-ever Zero Waste Global Summit to publicly address the issue
of waste reduction in the region and explore possible paths to a greener future. Organized by Ecozine, this
event gathered more than 150 participants and featured very diverse speakers, including local and international experts, government and business leaders, environmental activists and conscious citizens, all determined to make Hong Kong a cleaner, more sustainable place. Here are the highlights of this inspiring day.

Let’s start with a number to help contextualize: 9,000 tons. That’s the quantity of municipal solid waste produced every single day in Hong Kong. A rather alarming figure for a city where recycling and composting facilities remain very limited. According to the Environmental Protection Department, 67% of this trash currently ends up in one of the three landfills of Hong Kong. As this percentage has kept rising for the past five years, these landfills are close to reaching their full capacity, urging the government to find another way to treat all the disposed waste. A potential solution put forward by the authority is to build a giant incinerator with the capacity of burning 3,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day. But zero waste experts from all parts of the world unanimously denounce the many downsides of this project. According to them, this incinerator would not make any economic sense: it would be extremely expensive – costing about 18 billion HKD (2.05 billion €), and ridiculously inefficient in terms of energy produced and number of jobs created. Moreover, it would be devastating for the environment, generating highly toxic bottom ash, and being built close to the breeding area of pink dolphins, a highly endangered species endemic to Hong Kong bay.


It’s with this controversial context that Dr. Paul Connett, best-selling author of The Zero Waste Solution, launched the summit with a fairly animated inaugural note. His message: waste is a human invention and a visible proof of inefficiency. Incinerators are lazy and costly solutions. The solution is to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, both as individuals and communities, to turn our linear economy into a sustainable and efficient circular one. He claimed that, instead of considering incineration, Hong Kong should convert its existing refuse centers into modern recycling and compost facilities.

Skyping in from Brussels, Joan Marc Simon, director of Zero Waste Europe, described how European countries were themselves gradually divesting from incineration and opting for zero waste strategies that prove cheaper, faster to implement, better for the economy and the planet altogether. He presented the successful examples of Ljubljana, the first European capital that declared a zero-waste goal, and Capannori, an Italian city that has one of the highest municipal recycling rates in Europe.


In a much-awaited talk, Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment for the Hong Kong government, acknowledged the learning from these cities and the need to target a circular economy in the long run. But she reaffirmed that Hong Kong’s physical and organizational constraints make the incinerator project the best solution to its urgent needs. However, she ended her speech reminding the audience that her door was open to welcome alternative solutions, providing that every stakeholder commits to taking concrete actions, individuals and businesses alike, as they enjoy more flexibility than the government.


The series of short presentations that followed the debate on incineration proved that many actions have already been taken at all levels of the society to shift towards more sustainable practices. NGOs and grassroots initiatives have been paving the way for a long time, from Plastic Free Seas, an advocacy organization that promotes waste reduction initiatives and education of the public, to Designing Hong Kong, a non-profit organization that focuses on preserving Hong Kong’s biodiversity, safety and quality of life.


Even students took part in the panel discussions, such as 16 year-old Ike Jin Park from Project O2, a student-led organization that aims to promote the use of recycled paper in Hong Kong. Individuals had very inspiring stories to share as well: Claire Lancelot, founder of the blog Zero Waste Hong Kong explained to a captivated audience how she gradually became addicted to living a zero waste lifestyle, growing her own herbs, getting second-hand clothes and toys for her children and giving her compost to a local farmer.

And if efficiency and green arguments were not enough, business leaders were present to remind participants that zero waste practices also represented strong opportunities for innovation. In this regard, ASB Biodiesel is a great example of Hong Kong based clean tech startup that thrives on converting cooking oil into biodiesel. Larger groups are also starting to seize opportunities generated by the spread of zero waste practices: BASF presented Ecovio®, a new technology for compostable bioplastic bags that could prove very useful in a city dominated by tiny spaces where people lack incentives to compost.

Therefore, the summit ended on a very hopeful note. Strong civil society, engaged citizens, business innovations, support from global networks… most of the ingredients to make the city zero waste-ready are already present. What Hong Kong needs is not an incinerator, but a well-coordinated movement that would channel the energy displayed by all these admirable initiatives to fuel an efficient zero waste strategy.

Pope Francis Embraces Zero Waste

The Chief of the Catholic Church just published an encyclical warning about the risks of wasteful societies and calling for Zero Waste.

Two years ago, Pope Francis posted a video on youtube praising waste pickers for their task. At that time, he said that “we live in a wasteful culture in which, we not only waste stuff, but also people”. Alternatives to this culture of waste preserve the environment, create jobs and dignify human lives.

Pope Francis has expressed in several occasions its support to environmental fights.
Pope Francis has expressed in several occasions his support to environmental fights.

More than an isolated case, truth is that, in two years and a half as a Pope, Francis has met waste pickers of India, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, and has certainly addressed environmental issues in his speeches in the past. Early this year, visiting the Philippines he recalled the devastating effects of climate change and how environmental destruction is a source of global suffering. In his speech of January in Manila, Pope Francis warned about the negative implications of wasteful societies and stressed the need to care for the environment.

Today, the Vatican just published Laudato Si, an encyclical in which the Pope goes through major global environmental problems, calls for strong action on climate change, advocates for phasing out toxics and embraces zero waste.

According to the encyclical, “the Earth, our home, seems to turn more and more into a huge garbage dump”, which “is intimately linked to the culture of waste, affecting so much the human beings left behind when the things turn quickly into trash”. The Pope argue that natural ecosystems manage to create closed loops of nutrients and energy, while human beings “have not yet succeeded in adopting a circular pattern of production which ensures resources for all and for the future generations”. He calls, therefore, for limiting the use of non-renewable sources of energy, moderate consumption patterns and increase reuse and recycling.

The encyclical also pays particular attention to the role of toxics and their risk for human health and to the environment, and to climate change. In both cases, the Pope highlights how most vulnerable communities people tend to be affected the most by environmental problems, being, hence, not only an environmental problem but also a social justice one.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the encyclical of Pope Francis and is pleased to see that there is a growing consensus on the need to transform our wasteful societies into zero waste ones. As Paul Connett once said, “God recycles, the devil burns”.


For further information:

Full text of Laudato Si here.

Inspiring and powerful Zero Waste Gathering in Sofia

From Friday 5th to Sunday 7 June, dozens of zero waste campaigners, experts and supporters from across Europe gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria for 3 days of discussion, planning and strategy at the Zero Waste Europe Annual General Assembly, hosted by Zero Waste Europe’s member in Bulgaria, Za Zemiata.

IMG_2308 blog
the Zero Waste Conference opened with a speech from Ivelina Vasileva, the Bulgarian Minister of environment and water

On Friday 5th, the Zero Waste Conference opened with a speech from Ivelina Vasileva, the Bulgarian Minister of environment and water. This was followed by a passionate speech from Enzo Favoino, the Chairman of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee, who told the audience that “we must never surrender to the idea that there is something which is not reusable or recyclable”.

The Director of Zero Waste Europe, Joan Marc Simon (ZWE) emphasised in his speech that zero waste is about “asking the right questions: not ‘Is it better to landfill or incinerate?’ but rather ‘How do you mainstream the support to re-use, recycling, and redesign?”.

On the Friday afternoon there were talks from regional zero waste groups, including Erika Oblak from Zero Waste Slovenia, who presented their success in Ljubljana, the first Zero Waste European capital. Marco Mattiello spoke about the successes of the zero waste strategy in Contarina, Italy, the best performing region in Europe as outlined in the ZWE’s case study about their experience.


Camille Duran in his presentation about zero waste and circular economy

In a series of short presentations, the conference heard the story of a variety of different campaigns and their successes and strengths. These included Camille Duran, from Green White Space, who

examined the economic context for zero waste as part of a larger “sharing economy” in a globalised world. Dimo Stefanov spoke about his challenges in creating a zero waste compost farm, and creating a viable zero waste business in Bulgaria.

Delphine Lévi spoke on behalf of Zero Waste France about the incredible speed at which their campaign has grown, and how zero waste has become “trendy” in France, with the possibility of many significant gains on the horizon.

Victor Mitjans from the Barcelona-based Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i el Consum Responsable, highlighted the use of ‘deposit schemes’ for recyclable materials as a financial incentive to increase the recovery rates of one-way packaging, and put forward the idea for this to be further extended towards other waste streams including precious metals and other pollutants. Csilla Urban, from Humusz in Hungary told the audience about the zero waste events they had held, as well as their plans for the future of Zero Waste in Hungary.

In the next presentation the conference heard from Sofia resident Irena Sabewa who had pioneered a community composting scheme called “living together” bringing together neighbourhood residents and using “community effort to produce community results”.


zero waste group foto
Final group picture of the Zero Waste Conference, Sofia.

The presentations ended with a talk from Ilian Iliev from the Bulgarian Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. This talk tied together many of the key aspects of the Bulgarian zero waste movement. With a wide range of community projects focussing on addressing problems with collection, tackling low levels of knowledge and fighting incinerator projects. His closing remarks made clear challenges of tackling the various stakeholders of the zero waste project in Bulgaria, and claimed that it is only through working with these groups that Bulgaria can begin to move up the European ranking for waste management.


Alodia Pérez from Amigos de la Tierra, Zero Waste Europe member organization based in Madrid, Spain.

Saturday saw members of the Zero Waste network looking ahead to the coming years, discussing the priorities for the campaign and strategy for growing, developing and increasing the ‘Zero Waste Cities’ across Europe. The final day of the ZWE Annual Meeting saw a summary of the ideas presented over the previous two days as well as the administrative tasks of the AGM.





Working groups sessions reporting back in plennary.

The meeting closed with an inspirational presentation from Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, Mariel Vilella who highlighted the global scale of zero waste campaigns, covering the work of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the changing landscape of global campaigning.

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Working groups reporting back in plennary at the ZW Europe Annual General Assembly


Throughout the meeting, hundreds of conversations took place, experiences were shared, tactics discussed and strategies developed setting the groundwork for increased pan-European actions and co-ordination. Hearing about the successes and struggles of groups organising for zero waste, left the Zero Waste network enthused, inspired and ready to drive the campaign for zero waste forward.

If you couldn’t make it the ZWE Sofia Meeting, or have only just heard about the ZWE network and want to get involved or help out, you can get in touch via email or have a look to see if there is a local group in your region by checking the Our Network section of the website.