Slide background
Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

The dirty business of waste-to-energy subsidies: a story from Bilbao

Subsidized energy production from not-entirely-renewable resources in Bilbao

What is happening in Bilbao, Spain, is a real scam: millions of euro from public funds for renewable energy are allocated to an incineration facility that burns fossil natural gas alongside mixed waste.

This is not an isolated case: due to an untransparent and arbitrary calculation method, an obsolete technology and the lack of an appropriate normative framework, it is not uncommon for renewable energy subsidies to end up financing a dirty-but-extremely-profitable business.

Members of the ITRE committee in the European Parliament can fix this system  on 28th November, by voting to exclude subsidies for mixed/residual waste from the new EU Directive on renewable energy. Zero Waste Europe & partner organisations sent them a letter to urge them to take action.

The story from Bilbao is one for all example of what is wrong with renewable energy subsidies to waste to energy, and with illegal practices all around Europe.

The dirty business of Zabalgarbi, Bilbao

The waste incineration facility of Zabalgarbi (Bilbao) has received as much as 20M€ per year to produce heat and energy from fossil resources, namely mixed waste and natural gas. The situation was even worse from November 2005 through April 2007. During those 17 months the incinerator experienced a severe failure that impeded  the recovery of energy, but Zabalgarbi continued receiving feed-in tariffs for the electricity: around 9 M€.

Gorka Bueno Mendieta, Professor of the Higher School of Engineering of the University of the Basque Country (EHU/UPV) has been denouncing the scam of Zabalgarbi for a long time. In an independent report, he states that “although less than 20% of the electricity generated (by the plant)  is of renewable origin – 37% comes from mixed waste and more than 60% comes from natural gas every MWh generated – Zabalgarbi is rewarded with feed-in tariffs”. Most of the electricity generated in Zabalgarbi actually comes from natural gas.

Much worryingly, that fact is acknowledged by Zabalgarbi and the administration. On October 16, Josu Juaristi Abaunz, MEP from the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, tabled a parliamentary question demanding the European Commission to investigate.  

What is renewable and what is not

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) establishes a normative framework allowing Member States may decide whether or not  to subsidise the production of energy from renewable sources.

According to the directive, the term “renewable energy sources” covers among other things “biomass”, that is to say the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste. Unfortunately, the rules to calculate the percentage of organics fraction of municipal waste are non transparent and quite arbitrary. Since the industry is self-regulating, the question for which nobody has the answer is exactly the real amount we are talking about.

Moreover, the the amount of organic waste versus the amount fossil-based waste in the mixed wastes is both logistically and technologically hard to measure. It’s often assumed that the proportion is 50%. Given the heterogeneity of waste and the great differences from plant to plant, this percentage is neither constant nor reliable, which supports the evidence that much of the so-called renewable energy from waste-to-energy comes in fact from incinerating fossil carbon based materials i.e. plastics.

Unsurprisingly, wherever there is a demand, there will be a supply. This is how waste became a commodity: imports of municipal mixed waste grew fivefold after the introduction of waste-to-energy subsidies. This dynamic also fuels vicious circles, such as the slowdown of recycling rates to guarantee waste supply to the plants.The biggest importers of waste in the EU are Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia and Belgium – all countries  with a high incineration capacity according to the European Environment Agency.

Until when will the EU turn a blind eye on the fact that energy produced by incinerators is far from being renewable?

The ITRE Committee can now make a difference

In 2010 the European Union adopted a set of goals establishing the strategy known as Europe 2020. Europe 2020 is a strategy to address simultaneously economic growth, social inclusion and environment and climate protection. More in depth, the EU committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, compared to 1990 levels; increase by 20% the production of energy from renewable resources; increase by 20% the energy efficiency.

As a consequence, the European Commission has come up with a proposal to revise the RED, that is under discussion in the European Parliament, to create the appropriate framework to achieve the goals.

The new directive currently discussed in the ITRE committee should exclude subsidies for mixed/residual waste. The ENVI committee has already voted to exclude subsidies for waste that are not separately collected. Now it’s up to ITRE MEPs to make a difference.

If they don’t, the situation would continue, and the EU’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, compared to 1990 levels and increase by 20% the production of energy from renewable resources will become impossible to achieve.

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
Marco Giacomazzi

3 ways the European Parliament can fix the Renewable Energy proposal

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is currently under revision in the European Parliament. Soon the committees responsible for the file will vote on the amendments, many of which cover use of waste for energy generation.

Just like the previous version, the new proposal (RED II) continues to promote energy recovery processes from the biodegradable fraction of mixed waste, thus circumventing the waste hierarchy. These processes not only undermine the waste management options with a higher circular economy potential, such as waste prevention and recycling, but also significantly contribute to climate change.

There are 3 key adjustments the European Parliament can make to align the RED II proposal with the EU waste and circular economy policies:

  • Firstly, the proposal should ensure that the promotion of energy from waste is strictly guided by the principle of the waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy ranks waste management options according to their sustainability, and it therefore prioritises waste prevention and recycling. In addition, the waste hierarchy also reflects the preferred environmental options from a climate perspective. To ensure that the Directive takes into account the principle of the waste hierarchy, new criteria for the use of waste for energy purposes should be introduced in the Directive.
  • Secondly, support schemes for energy from waste should be consistent with the goal of shifting upwards in the implementation of the EU waste hierarchy. Therefore, support measures for recovery of energy from the organics fraction of mixed waste processes (incineration and co-incineration), that undermine the waste hierarchy and discourage actions at the top of the waste hierarchy, should be phased out. This is critical to the achievement of higher separate collection and recycling rates of biowaste, in line with the requirements of the new waste legislation. Moreover, higher recycling of biowaste could produce the equivalent of over 12 large coal fire plants, or as much as the entire annual electric consumption of Austria for 2015 (60.813.000MWh).
  • Finally, the proposal should exclude any mention of the use of waste-based fossil fuels from the scope of the Directive. The renewable energy support schemes were developed to promote the use of energy from renewable sources in the EU. Therefore, the inclusion of waste-based fossil fuels (g. from plastics) within the scope of the proposal is a harmful distortion of renewable energy standards, and inconsistent with EU climate policies. Such a use of renewable energy funding is a massive step backward for the deployment of renewable energy sources in Europe and the achievement of a Circular Economy, and should therefore be explicitly excluded from the Directive.

Will the European Parliament fix the Renewable Energy proposal?

Find out more on why the current proposal is flawed in our previous blog.

Sardinia demonstrates that islands can achieve zero waste

Over the years, the island of Sardinia has served as model for Zero Waste thanks to their incredible recycling efforts and local initiatives. By challenging our perception of what we can achieve by working together, Sardinia has shown us that Zero Waste is possible on islands too.

Comprised of nearly 2000 kilometers of white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise hued waters and vast mountains touting peaks as high as 1 800 meters, on the surface Sardinia has all the paradisiacal characteristics to make for a breathtaking getaway. From that perspective, it might seem like Sardinia is simply an island of superficial beauty, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What lies behind those spectacular sights is just as extraordinary.

Through active collaboration between the people and the government, Sardinia has taken major steps in tackling waste head on. It’s an impressive feat, especially when we consider the fact that the island faces some of the largest roadblocks in terms of setting up zero waste initiatives, those being their remote location away from the mainland and the large volumes of tourists passing through at any given time.

Their efforts make Sardinia one of the brightest examples of municipal Zero Waste management for high density touristic locales. Yes, it can be done.

Backed and pushed by Zero Waste Sardinia and Zero Waste Italy, Sardinia has implemented a door-to-door separate collection system where the municipalities themselves are held accountable and are either punished or rewarded for the amount of waste they bear. Through this initiative, Sardinia was able to achieve a regional recycling rate of 56% back in 2015. The 2015 report on Sardinian Urban Waste Management shows that, out of 377 municipalities, a staggering 206 have achieved a recycling rate above 65% while 47 hold a rate above 75%. It’s clear that because of these efforts, Sardinia’s overall amount of waste sent for disposal is decreasing. But by how much?

Track record of the production of municipal waste in Sardinia (figures expressed in tonnes/year)

Incredibly, Sardinia has reduced waste generation by 16% (143 724 tonnes) over a span of just 9 years. If that’s not worth shouting from the mountaintops, I don’t know what is!

When delving into the specifics of the 56% from the 717.242 tonnes that have been separately collected, we can see that Sardinia displays considerable growth in collection efforts on almost all fronts.

Comparison of the amount of material separately collected in 2015 and 2014 (tons / year)

Each year, through greater municipal effort and increased community involvement, more Zero Waste learning opportunities are available in schools, more locally organized meetings centered around waste are popping up, and more information about Zero Waste is being shared between Sardinians, ultimately leading to their success in continually reducing their overall MSW.

Sardinia has shown the world that no matter the insularity or the tourist pressure, achieving Zero Waste starts at the local level. They’ve shown us that by incentivizing local governments to tackle waste, a country’s Zero Waste goals become more ‘tangible’ for the people as they’re able to feel a direct connection with what’s happening in their very own community and in turn, are more motivated to make the extra effort.

This is a wakeup call for many countries in Europe that are spending large sums on waste management but still underachieving when it comes to recycling. It just goes to show that it’s not about the money you spend, rather, it’s about the message you spread and the people you empower. Sardinia proves that there’s truth in that.

Let’s join them!

On October 4-6 2017, Zero Waste Europe and Zero Waste France invite you to join a study tour to explore Sardinia’s best practices in terms of waste management. The study tour will take place in French and Italian. Find out more and get inspired!

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco Giacomazzi

Marco studied International Relations at the University of Bologna, Italy. Few weeks after defending his Master Thesis on the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy, he started to support the efforts towards Zero Waste by joining Zero Waste Europe's team in Brussels.
Marco Giacomazzi

Les Champs-Élysées go circular. The city of Paris starts separately collecting organic waste

Finally! Paris is moving in the right direction by giving inhabitants of the city the means to take a new step in sorting and recycling. Since May 4, 2017, the French capital has started implementing an ambitious project to boost circular economy involving the source separation by households of organic waste in the Second and Twelfth Arrondisments. This action is part of the overall project for waste reduction and recycling, to which the city committed in 2014. The targets to achieve are the following: reducing by 10% by weight the quantity of generated waste between 2010 and 2020 and increasing recycling from 15% to more than 50%.

As part of its Recovery Plan for sorting, the City has been conducting a massive policy for two years to strengthen the means to facilitate the sorting of Parisians by giving them more solutions (Installation of several thousand additional sorting bins in garbage rooms) and increasing awareness of them (updating of instructions, dissemination of a new sorting guide, awareness-raising campaigns).

Who are the actors implementing food waste separate collection?

  • Council of Paris: Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris; Mao Peninou, assistant in charge of cleanliness, sanitation, organisation and operation of the Paris Council
  • Mayors of the Second and Twelfth Arrondissements, Catherine Jacques Boutault and Baratti-Elbaz
  • Syctom, the largest European waste treatment and recycling organisation, who have previously been involved in expensive and unnecessary infrastructure spending such as the renovation of the Ivry incinerator in Paris.
  • ADEME, the French agency for the environmental protection
  • Réseau Compostplus, the French network of bio-waste treatment facilities
  • Novamont, a leading company in the field of bioplastics.

How does it work?

The food discards of Parisians (from meal preparation to leftovers, and unused food still in packaging) is about 160,000 tons a year, or nearly ¼ of the content of the residual waste bin. This waste was until recently only collected mixed in with the general waste and was subsequently disposed of by incineration. The objective is now to collect this portion separately to be used in biogas and/or compost.

3,205 trays with brown lids (741 in the 2nd and 2,464 in the 12th) have been distributed in all the buildings which have been identified as suitable. Other buildings will be dealt with at a later date. Basically, the project involves 74,161 flats located in 4,361 buildings covering around 120,000 people. the participating households have also been provided with new bags for the collection of food waste. These new bags are biodegradable according to the European standard EN 13432 and are made in Mater-Bi, a bio-plastic developed by Novamont.

For years, Paris has been lagging behind in terms of waste management best practice, and Zero Waste France, a member of Zero Waste Europe has been at the forefront of the campaign to change their course towards Zero Waste. This has included an incredibly visual campaign against the renovation of the Ivry incinerator in the city, where they proposed an alternative ‘Plan B’om’ for the city. It is clear that Paris still has a long way to go to develop effective and circular waste management practices but this is a step in the right direction. 

Food waste, and other biowaste is one of the most problematic waste streams, and even more so when it is not separated at source. Biowaste, if not effectively separated can contaminate other recyclable materials and if landfilled it can produce greenhouse gases and toxic leachate. Our reports have demonstrated that the incineration of biomass in so-called waste-to-energy plants cannot be considered ‘carbon neutral’ as it is in many accounting systems and is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. . Indeed, if food waste was a country, it has been calculated that it would be the third largest “emitter” of CO2 worldwide, just behind the USA and China. Furthermore, around 88 million tons of food are wasted annually in the EU, with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros. Hence, keeping separately the collection of food waste allows to achieve several benefits both in term of money savings, energy efficiency and the circular economy.

We can minimise the environmental impact of the food we eat by ensuring separate collection. On the contrary it represents a reliable source of nutrients for our land and for the soil. After collected, bio-waste can be sent to composting. Natural compost is a soil improver that is preferable than synthetic because is toxic free and possess all the necessary nutrients. Furthermore, bio-waste from the city of Paris will be used for the production of bio-gas reducing dependency on fossil fuels. Anaerobic digestion is used to generate biogas which is used as a source of energy to produce heat and electricity resold on the grid or, after purification, to become biomethane, a fuel used to drive vehicles.

This project in Paris follows the example of the city of Milan, the 1st big city worldwide to organise kerbside collection of biowaste and could become another example of the feasibility of organising separate collection in a densely populated city and implementing sustainable collection of biowaste.

In this, Paris might still have a long way to go but they are going in the right direction.


Simona Bonafè drives Europe to a circular economy

For immediate release: Brussels, March 14, 2017

A future without waste in Europe is now closer to reality, after today, the European Parliament approved the Bonafè report. In a clear signal to both the Commission and the Council, the European Parliament has confirmed the increased ambition of the Environment Committee on four legislative proposals on waste. Now a common text needs to be agreed with the Council before it becomes law.

The Italian MEP Simona Bonafè has managed to raise the level of ambition of the Commission proposal by setting a 70% recycling target for all waste (5% to be prepared for reuse), 80% for packaging waste and by making separate collection truly compulsory, further extending it to bio-waste, textiles and waste-oils. In addition, the text generalises the use of economic instruments, such as pay-as-you-throw schemes and taxes or levies on landfilling and incineration.

Ferran Rosa, Zero Waste Europe’s Policy Officer said: “Zero Waste cities across Europe have already been successfully implementing the measures that were approved today. If the European Parliament decision becomes law they will become the mainstream”

The text adopted at the European Parliament today includes proposals to close the loop the call to review the Eco-design Directive with a broader scope and the emphasis on eco-design-guided Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to bring sustainable products.

Additionally, the report calls on the Commission to bring in new legislative proposals, such as a EU-wide waste prevention target in kg per capita along with new legislation and targets for construction, commercial and industrial waste. The role of prevention has also been improved with three aspirational targets (50% food waste reduction, 30% marine litter reduction and a decoupling of waste generation with economic growth) but remains far from being top priority.

Zero Waste Europe’s Rosa added: “The Parliament has raised the stakes for the circular economy. It’s time for the Member States to make it happen.” In this sense, Vice-President Timmermans when addressing the Parliament this morning acknowledged the emphasis on prevention and said he would do his best to make the final text be the closest to the one of the Parliament.

Zero Waste Europe congratulates the European Parliament and the team of rapporteurs and calls on the Council to accept these proposals.

Ferran Rosa, Waste Policy Officer
+32 470 838 105

From waste to taste: Funghi Espresso brings new life to used coffee grounds

By guest blogger Tiffany Fourment

It is estimated that Italians drink 14 billion espressos every year. While many enjoy their daily espresso, they may never consider the waste – an estimated 380,000 tons of coffee grounds – left behind by such a large amount of coffee production. The Italian startup Funghi Espresso has developed an innovative system that closes the loop of coffee production – recycling the waste to create a new product.

The founders of Funghi Espresso

Funghi Espresso was born in 2013 out of an environmental education pilot project that taught children to cultivate mushrooms using coffee grounds as a substrate (the substance that the mushrooms gain nutrients from). The success of this project led to the development of an innovative and sustainable model of resource reuse and production inspired by the principles of Blue Economy. Funghi Espresso collects discarded coffee grounds from bars and restaurants in the territory, and uses them as a substrate for cultivating mushrooms, which are then sold to local restaurants and consumers. Since its inception in 2014, the company has recovered over twelve tons of coffee grounds, and used them to produce over one ton of fresh mushrooms. The process does not stop there – after

use in mushroom cultivation, the now twice-used grounds are repurposed yet again as compost to enrich agricultural soils. The company also produces “Do it Yourself” kits for growing mushrooms at home using the same coffee ground substrate.

Funghi Espresso has been recognized and rewarded for its creative approach in numerous ways, including being selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIPAAF) as one of the 25 most innovative agricultural startups in Italy.

It is a simple, yet brilliant idea; an example of “thinking outside the box” to solve a problem that many people never even realized exists, and create a system of sustainable, local and circular production from which everyone benefits.

Vote at ENVI Committee paves the way for zero waste

On 24th January the Environment Committee of the European Parliament adopted the legislative report for the four waste directives under discussion. With this, the legislative process goes a step further in the path to full adoption and will be voted at the Plenary in March. In the meantime, the Council is still negotiating its own position, so the final text will probably have to wait until Autumn.

Although the text approved on the 24th isn’t a final document, it certainly gives a clear direction on how to move towards a circular economy and zero waste. The MEPs and the rapporteur Simona Bonafè delivered the ambition the European Commission had forgotten and included brave measures to drive Europe towards a sustainable use of natural resources.

Among the amendments approved to the Commission’s proposal, the MEPs included an increase of the recycling targets for 2030 for municipal waste and for packaging to 70% and 80% respectively. Within the recycling target, it is particularly interesting to see that, at least, 5% of it should be prepared for reuse. For packaging, a target of 10% of reusable packaging by 2030 was inserted. Besides, the maximum target is reduced to 5% of all municipal waste. Zero Waste Europe welcomes the increased ambition, but regrets the lack of specific accompanying measures to the landfilling target. In this sense, Zero Waste Europe warns that the reduction of landfilling and progressive phase out shouldn’t mean an increase of incineration capacities, but rather a shift towards prevention, reuse and recycling.

In order to meet these objectives, MEPs took note of the success stories across Europe and proposed making separate collection truly compulsory for paper, glass, metals, plastic and extending it to bio-waste, textiles and waste oils. MEPs approved getting rid of current loopholes that allow Member States not to roll out separate collection. In addition to separate collection, MEPs proposed making extensive use of economic incentives, such as landfill and incineration taxes or pay-as-you-throw schemes.

ENVI Committee Meeting

The Environment Committee of the Parliament also approved bolder minimum requirements for Producer Responsibility Schemes that will have to cover now the whole cost of waste management of the products they put in the market and will have to modulate their fees to drive eco-design. Another important amendments approved is the push on Member States to support the uptake of secondary raw materials.

Despite these strong messages, the most significant problem with the report adopted at ENVI Committee is the role of prevention. Although it sets three aspirational targets (50% food waste reduction, 30% marine litter reduction and decoupling of waste generation from GDP growth), these remain non-binding and prevention is still far from being the cornerstone of waste policies. However, MEPs called on the Commission to set up a EU-wide waste prevention target, which is very much welcomed by Zero Waste Europe. ZWE also call on Member States to truly aim at achieving these targets.

Although this is only the first step in the legislative process, Zero Waste Europe overall welcomes the report adopted at ENVI Committee and urges on national governments to step up their level of ambition and make sure waste directives are properly implemented.

Towards a new European mindset on waste-to-energy?

The European Commission released on 26 January the Communication on the Role of Waste-to-Energy in a Circular Economy. Although non-binding, the communication analyses the current role of waste-to-energy and gives guidance on Member States on how to cope with the problems this generates.

From Zero Waste Europe’s point of view, the Commission has positively changed its position from promoting incineration to acknowledging the problems related to overcapacities, distortive economic incentives and the risk that a very quick phasing out of landfills shifts waste from these to incinerators and not to prevention, reuse and recycling.

In this regard, the Commission advises those Member States heavily relying on landfills to focus on separate collection, on increasing recycling capacity and on diverting bio-waste from landfills. It insists that in case these Member States want to obtain energy from waste, they are recommended to recycle bio-waste through anaerobic digestion. In addition, they are called on taking into account the commitments and objectives for next 20-30 years (separate collection and recycling targets) and carefully assess the evolution expected for mixed waste when planning infrastructures, so as to avoid regrettable investments (i.e. redundant incinerators).

When it comes to those Member States heavily relying on incineration, the Commission calls on them to raise taxes on waste-to-energy, phase out public support schemes, decommission old facilities and establish a moratorium on new ones.  The case on defunding waste-to-energy has been extended to all Member States, so as not to distort the waste hierarchy. In this sense, the Commission acknowledges that the waste operations delivering the highest reduction of GHG emissions are prevention, reuse and recycling and are the ones to be promoted, something Eunomia’s report for Zero Waste Europe of 2015 already showed.

Zero Waste Europe welcomes this call, but would have expected the Commission to show this ambition when last November proposed a revision of the Renewable Energy Directive that is the one opening the door for renewable energy subsidies for incineration. ZWE expects MEPs and national governments to take note of this communication when reviewing the Directive and bring coherence between EU legislation.

ZWE notes, however, that the text still considers that waste incineration has a role within a circular economy, which is a conceptual contradiction because if material loops are effectively closed there is nothing left to burn. A more accurate approach would be to say that the capacity of waste to energy incineration is to be used in the transition period to a circular economy but once proper material and value preservation policies are successfully implemented burning waste will be redundant.

Finally ZWE’s warns about the Commission current double standards with its approach to waste to energy (WtE) in Europe and its support to WtE in the rest of the world, particularly in the Global South where we have seen successful recycling programs having been dismantled to feed the European funded incineration plants.

Nevertheless, this communication seems a change in the mindset of the European Commission and a positive step to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies and move towards zero waste.

The Italian recipe against food waste


It’s well known that Italian people consider food as one of the “pleasures of life” but maybe what is less known is that Italian consumers waste per year on average over 100 kg, more than their own weight!

To tackle this situation the Italian Parliament, has recently approved a law against food waste (19 August 2016, n.166), following the example of France. The main aims of the law are:

  • Promoting the recovery and donation of food surpluses for charitable purposes, using firstly for human consumption, secondly for animal consumption and finally for composting (or composting with aerobic digestion). It, thus, introduces an implicit food waste hierarchy.

  • Minimising the negative impacts on the environment and on natural resources, reducing waste generation, encouraging reuse and recycle, extending products life.

The operators of the food sector – both public and private, profit orientated or non-profit– now are able to give away for free their food surplus to the donors, which can then be directed first to people in need, reducing bureaucracy. This is a major step from former legislation that basically “forced” them to throw their surpluses in the garbage.

In addition to food surplus, it is possible to give up also medicine and unused pharmaceutical products, foodstuffs and bakery products (which otherwise, if remain unsold have to be thrown away after 24 h from the production).

Unlike France, Italy aims in toto for incentives, no penalties are provided for those who does not conform to it. Tax benefits are also provided. In fact, to encourage this practice the municipalities may apply a reduction on the TARI, the Italian waste charge, proportional with the quantity, duly certified, of goods and products withdrawn from sale and donated.

Beyond the noble charitable aims of this law, fight against food waste is also really important from the environmental point of view. It is an issue of high importance because of its high environmental impacts, above all related with energy and water consumption, climate change, availability of natural resources, land use and, eventually, waste management. Indeed, if food waste was a country, it has been calculated that it would be the third largest “emitter” of CO2 worldwide, just behind the USA and China! Moreover, 1/4 of Italian forests serve just to absorb carbon dioxide produced as a result of food waste, in Italy alone.

Reducing food waste around the world would mitigate climate change effects, according to a recent study made by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impart Research (PIK), up to 14% of GHG emissions from the agricultural sector could be avoided by managing better food use.

Local composting
Local composting

Around 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU, with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros.

In this, Italy is going in the right direction… encouraging best practices, highlighting again the difference between “best before” and “use by” and reaffirming that all food discarded by the food supply chain for commercial or aesthetic reasons (like few packaging flaws), or proximity to the expiry date, are not waste but good food that can be safely consumed!

The winning “recipe”, that would be worthy of a 3 stars Michelin restaurant, consists of improving the food chain efficiency, promoting different models of production and, above all, sustainable consumption. This would allow not only a reduction in the cost of food, increasing the possibility of access for lower-income people, but also a significantly lower environmental and economic impact of this wastage!

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.

Building a culture of zero waste in Brussels

Towards Zero Waste Cities

On the 22nd June, 2016, Zero Waste Europe held the closing conference of the project “Town to town, people to people – Building a European Culture of Zero Waste” in Brussels. The project aimed at bringing together European municipalities and environmental organisations in the construction of a new zero waste culture.

After the Budapest, Ljubljana and Capannori conferences in November April and May, the final one took place in Brussels on 22nd June. Besides identifying good practices at the local level and helping diffuse them across Europe, this last conference also intended to bring the conclusions of the project to European policy makers.

The conference served to present Zero Waste Europe’s latest case study on the city of Parma. Gabriele Folli, Environment Councillor from the city of Parma, presented their transition towards Zero Waste, explaining how they have managed to move from 45% recycling to 73% in only 4 years and notably reduced their residual waste by 59%. The city is the vivid example that ambitious targets for the circular economy aren’t only feasible but bring environmental, social and economic benefits.

In addition to the presentation from Parma, the closing conference of the project counted on the presence of Annemie Andries, Senior Policy Advisor of OVAM, the Flemish Agency of Waste, who presented the new targets on residual waste that are being envisaged in Flanders. These accompany recycling targets and other measures and aim at pushing for a reduction of the non-reusable and non-recyclable waste.

image: Zorro2212 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
image: Zorro2212 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

After her, Alexandre Garcin, Deputy Mayor of Roubaix, presented the transition towards Zero Waste of this city in the North of France. In their case, the city doesn’t have the power to implement separate collection, but is directly working with households, companies, schools and civil society to minimise waste generation and to ensure separate collection of the waste that is produced. Roubaix showed that political will can overcome legal constraints.

Finally, Caroline van der Steen, Director of Stadsecoloog of Bruges, presented their Food Smart City project and the work they are doing to prevent food waste and to find alternative and innovative ways of making the most of food surpluses.

The project and the conference has allowed cities and civil society to exchange good practices on waste prevention, separate collection and other sectorial specific measures. Besides, it has boosted the exchanges and the relations among cities across the EU, truly permitting to build a culture of zero waste that has lead even to the twinning of two cities thanks to their efforts to go zero waste.

On World Environment Day, Majorca presents its plans to start moving away from incineration


Waste management in Majorca has been for long associated with the incineration of waste. With the biggest waste-to-energy incineration plant in Southern Europe, the system has been shaped and impacted by this mega-infrastructure: with average separate collection at 15% and having reached the point of importing waste from Ireland and Italy to feed the facility.

However, after a change of government on the island, the region and most of the cities, a new and more environmentally friendly model of waste management is starting to take shape. Fortunately waste is no longer imported to be burned and cities, towns and villages of the island are starting to wake up and transition towards a new model.

Among the discussions for this new model, the city of Palma (the capital of the island with 400,000 inhabitants) chose the World Environment Day to organise a conference on waste management to learn about good practices that will help them designing a new model for the city. The conference presented good examples of waste management on the island, with the prominent cases of Porreres or Artà, that have recently joined the limited but growing group of towns above 70% separate collection on the island and are introducing an ambitious pay-as-you-throw scheme.

image: Andrés Nieto Porras (CC BY-SA 2.0)
image: Andrés Nieto Porras (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In addition to this, the conference focused on the role of economic incentives to help improve waste management, with examples like the bonus/malus tax on waste disposal existing in Catalonia, or the inclusion of pay-as-you-throw schemes in the tourist sector.

The conference was closed by Zero Waste Europe who presented their holistic vision of waste management and to provide good examples from the Network of Zero Waste Cities and from zero waste entrepreneurs. These examples were complemented with specific advice on how to bring Palma closer to Zero Waste.

The city representatives took note of these proposals, and advanced the introduction of compulsory bio-waste collection and door-to-door collection for some neighbourhoods, along with work on waste prevention.

All in all, the conference showed that there are alternatives to traditional waste management and that even for an island with the largest incineration plant, it is possible to start shifting.

Urban biowaste, a sustainable source of bioenergy?

This article was originally written by Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director & Climate, Energy & Air Pollution Campaigner for the EU BIoenergy Blog

Although most bioenergy is produced by burning agricultural and forestry biomass, it is also generated by burning the organic parts of municipal solid waste, biowaste or urban biomass. This includes food waste from restaurants, households, farmers markets, gardens, textiles, clothing, paper and other materials of organic origin. But have you ever tried to fuel a bonfire with a salad? Probably not, so this may not be the most efficient use of urban biowaste.

At the EU level, urban biowaste, far from being managed by one set of straightforward policies, is instead held at the intersection of several competing mandates: the circular economy, climate, bioenergy and air pollution. Policies which have an impact, yet fail to drive the most sustainable use of this resource.

Most waste and circular economy policies aim at increasing recycling and resource efficiency of urban biowaste resources by promoting composting and biogas production, while climate and energy policies incentivize burning biowaste to generate energy under the assumption that the energy produced is ‘renewable’, ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘sustainable’. This presents a significant contradiction at the heart of EU environmental policy, one that gets particularly hot within the current sustainable bioenergy debate.

Far from being ‘sustainable’, energy from urban biowaste is often produced under very inappropriate circumstances, particularly when organic waste is mixed with the rest of residual waste (anything that cannot be recycled or reused) and sent to an incineration plant or so-called waste-to-energy plant. These plants then claim that the burning of this organic fraction is ‘bioenergy’ or ‘renewable energy’. In the UK, for example, incinerator companies can claim that an average of 50% of the energy produced is ‘renewable’ under these assumptions.[1]

Under the Waste Hierarchy, incineration of municipal solid waste is not only one of the worst options for waste treatment, it’s actually a real waste of energy and resources when one considers the low calorific value of organic waste. Incineration is a terribly unfit technology to burn organic waste which then requires a significant amount of high caloric materials to be added, e.g., plastics or other potentially recyclable or ‘redesignable’ materials so that it functions properly. Under these circumstances, efficiency and sustainability do not score highly. But even more troubling, the financial and political support that should be committed to clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energy is being misused in the most inefficient way by supporting the burning of resources which could be composted, recycled, reused or simply never wasted to begin with.

Today in the EU, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, because they continue to finance and green-wash the construction of waste-burning facilities across Europe. What should be done with urban biowaste instead? The Waste Hierarchy as seen below provides a clear detailed guideline which should be at the foundation of any policy looking at Municipal Solid Waste.

ILSR food waste recovery hierarchy




First, organic waste can be reduced through various measures, e.g.,  improved labeling, better portioning, awareness raising and educational campaigns around food waste and home composting. Secondly, priority should be given to the recovery of edible food so that it is targeted at human consumption first, and alternatively used as animal feed. Next, non-edible organic waste should be composted and used as fertiliser for agriculture, soil restoration and carbon sequestration. Additionally, garden trimmings, discarded food and food-soiled paper should be composted in low-tech small-scale process sites whenever possible. In larger areas, composting could be done in a centralised way with more technologically advanced systems.

As an alternative to composting, depending on local circumstances and the levels of nitrogen in the soils, non-edible organic waste should be used  to produce biogas through Anaerobic Digestion technology, a truly renewable source of energy as well as  soil enhancer. If there was any organic waste within the residual waste stream, a Material Recovery – Biological Treatment (MRBT) could be considered because it allows for the recovery of dry materials for further recycling and stabilizes the organic fraction prior to landfilling, with a composting-like process. In the lower tier, landfill and incineration are the least preferable and last resort options.

Ultimately, 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 resource use.

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 waste incineration. 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 sustainable and renewable energy, but it’s critical to ensure that these sources are clean, efficient and their use evidence-based.


Banner photo: Composting (c) Zero Waste Europe

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog post are those of the author and not necessarily supported by BirdLife Europe/EEB/T&E.

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”.

#EUBioenergy consultation: time to see the trees for the forest

Compost from separately collected foodwaste
Compost from separately collected foodwaste

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director / Climate, Energy & Air Pollution Programme

Today, most of the renewable energy produced in Europe is bioenergy, not without a great deal of controversy and debate.

Bioenergy, mostly coming from burning agricultural waste, forestry, and also the organic fraction of municipal solid waste or ‘urban biomass’, has been deemed a ‘false solution’ by many NGOs, high-level scientists and impacted local communities. Now that the European Commission is set to review the legislation around renewable energy and it has launched an open consultation on the issue of bioenergy, it’s time to see the trees for the forest.


Bioenergy from ‘urban biomass’

Urban biomass is a common term to refer to all the food waste from restaurants, households, farmers’ markets, plus the garden waste, textiles, clothing, paper, or anything of organic origin within municipal solid waste. We call it ‘urban biomass’, given its urban origin in comparison to the agricultural, forestry or industrial origin of other kinds of biomass.

Ideally, a municipality committed to a zero waste strategy would sooner or later organise the separation and collection of this organic waste at the source, enabling for this extremely rich resource to be turned into compost (and returned to the soils as fertiliser), or to biogas, via anaerobic digestion, both of which are fundamental technologies that are required to play a key part in our low-carbon future.

However, as shocking as it may sound, most municipalities in the EU today are still mixing all of this organic waste, urban biomass, with the residual waste going to landfill and incineration, creating quite a big mess.

Organic waste going into landfills is responsible for generating methane – a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72-times greater than CO2 over a 20 year period, and for contaminating the soils and ground-water with leachate. Similarly, organic waste going to incinerators to produce energy (along with all kinds of fossil fuel derived plastic products) is an equal waste of resources – worse yet, this is misleadingly considered “renewable energy”.


Renewable energy from burning ‘urban biomass’?

Urban biomass like food waste, paper or textiles are a human product, i.e. it would not exist without our intervention. Moreover, it is very often the result of unsustainable modes of industrial or agricultural production, so considering it a ‘renewable’ source is definitely a challenging concept. Of course one could argue that food will continue to be produced as long as our civilization exists, but that does not make it an infinite resource, in the way that wind, solar or geothermal energy could be.

Urban foodwaste
Urban foodwaste

Leading experts in the field have argued this point in detail, but major EU institutions and policy-makers still have to catch up.

Precisely, one of the major pitfalls of the current EU Renewable Energy Directive is the consideration of this ‘urban biomass’ amongst the renewable energy sources, which allows incinerators, biomass plants or any other energy plant using biomass as a fuel, to receive financial incentives for doing so.

In this way, subsidies that should be committed to clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energies are being misused in the most inefficient way by supporting the burning resources that should be composted, recycled, reused or just never wasted in the first place. Today, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, as they continue to finance and green-wash the building of waste-burning facilities all over Europe.


Not renewable, and also not carbon-neutral

The big mess caused by considering biomass waste a renewable energy source gets even worse with the further misleading idea that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning biomass can be considered to be zero, or carbon-neutral.

This concept originates in the idea that the GHG emissions related to cutting a tree, for example, will be compensated with another planted tree, creating a net balance in the carbon cycle of the atmosphere. Those promoting large-scale biomass energy believe that even if you would cut these trees and burn them, GHG emissions would be compensated overtime with the appropriate forestry policies, and therefore be, carbon-neutral.

That may make sense in the abstract world – and indeed sustainable forestry practices that allow for the appropriate supply of trees are extremely important, but being by being realistic, it’s easy to see the flaws of the concept. Using biomass for fuel can eventually be sustainable with the appropriate practices on a small-scale, but it’s just not going to be carbon-neutral.

Firstly, the very activity of burning biomass produces GHG emissions, regardless of whether you plant a tree or 200, in the next day or in the next year. Those emissions are unique and additional, and it’s time that that they are recognised and accounted for as such.

Eunomia’s report for Zero Waste Europe

As Eunomia put it in our latest report: “It is a mistake to assume that CO2 from non-fossil sources does not mater. The argument that CO2 from such sources is all short-cycle, and so, it can be ignored, is tantamount to assume a separation in the pools of carbon dioxide from fossil and non-fossil sources. It is as though the argument runs that the climate only changes if emissions come from fossil sources. This is so obviously wrong that it seems genuinely surprising that this argument could ever have been considered acceptable: (…) the only correct way to process is to account for emissions of all greenhouse gases since they will all have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin”.

Secondly, how does the carbon-neutral reasoning apply to ‘urban biomass’? It is stretching a concept far beyond what could be justified to assume that GHG emissions from burning food waste, paper and textiles can be ‘compensated over time’ and therefore could be counted as zero. And yet, this is what incinerators, biomass or even cement plants will argue and apply in their accounting methodologies: the ‘urban biomass’ they burn is carbon-neutral and a key climate mitigation strategy for the sector!

Thirdly, the burning of urban biomass it’s in fact a very inefficient and polluting source of energy, generating even more GHG emissions per unit of electricity than coal. Even if paper and textiles can burn reasonably well, food waste is 70% water, which makes it a rather inadequate fuel. So, burning biomass of any kind is not only not carbon-neutral, it’s in fact more carbon-intensive than coal and responsible for a great deal of air pollution, as it’s been pointed out in both this and that report.

It must be noted that the IPCC guidelines to account the GHG emissions from biomass energy in national inventories do require to report these emissions but only as an information item, mostly for methodological reasons. This is an unfortunate solution to a methodological problem, as these emissions then tend to go under-reported and are generally underestimated. Still, the IPCC remains ultimately clear on the carbon-neutrality of bioenergy and responds: “the IPCC approach of not including these emissions in the Energy Sector total should not be interpreted as a conclusion about the sustainability or carbon neutrality of bioenergy.”


Impacts of harmful subsidies and accounting errors

In practice, accounting errors related to GHG emissions feed and maintain the misuse of public funds that should be supporting low-carbon solution pathways and that are instead supporting carbon-intensive, wasteful and polluting technologies.

The cement industry, one of the most carbon-intensive sectors, has especially benefited from this accounting error. In Europe, where the cement industry is obliged to meet emissions reduction targets through the EU ETS, an increasingly high number of cement plants are burning municipal solid waste on the false grounds that it’s mostly carbon-neutral. This allows the industry to under-report their total emissions to the atmosphere and further game the already dysfunctional EU carbon trading system.

Ultimately, at the EU policy level, the contradiction is obvious. While the Circular Economy Package is all about resource-efficiency and material recovery, the renewable energy subsidies end up being perverse economic incentives and a fundamental misallocation of resources.


The right solutions at the right scale

As previously mentioned, urban biomass is a rich resource that can be composted or treated in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas. Paper can be recycled, textiles can be reused, and all measures to prevent these products from entering our bins will be infinitely more sustainable than burning them to extract what little and polluting energy we can get from them. Not in vain does the waste hierarchy suggests that wastes should only be combusted once the potential for reuse and recycling has been fully explored.

When it comes to using forestry or agricultural biomass for energy purposes, the matter of scale is critical. The use of agricultural or forestry biomass for energy purposes can be sustainable at small-scale and in fact, communities around the world depend on it for everyday heating and cooking.

However, in a world with increasing pressure on land, food, and forests, large scale industrial biomass energy should be questioned and avoided, along with their corresponding renewable energy subsidies. Not only there is increasing evidence of deforestation related to this practice, the large amount of biomass needed to operate an industrial plant may require additional fuel, which will often be Refuse-derived Fuel – mixed waste, including plastics and all kinds of residual waste. This dramatically increases the toxic mix of emissions and prevents the proper management of this waste.

At the end of the day, 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.

Anaerobic Digester
An anaerobic digester outside Sofia, Bulgaria

Final words for EU policy makers

Europe should become a leader in renewable energy and develop a long-term, secure, sustainable and competitive energy system, as outlined in the EU Energy Union Framework Strategy. For this, increasing the share of renewable energy sources it’s as important as ensuring that these sources are clean, efficient and science-based.

Whether the final share of RE for 2030 is 27% or higher, none of it will do any favours for climate change mitigation if it ends up increasing deforestation, resource depletion and air pollution.


Position Paper: The Circular Economy Package and European food waste policy

Click here to see the full policy position in PDF

We, the undersigned, support the aspirations of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package to create a Europe that can dramatically cut its food waste. There are positive elements within the legislative proposal on waste and the Action Plan which we would like to commend, such as commitments to improve date marking and to develop a common food waste measurement methodology.

However, we wish to express our concern over the removal of a European Union-specific reduction target for food waste, coming in spite of the European Commission’s promise of a more ambitious Package than the previous, withdrawn in December 2014. We acknowledge that this target has been replaced by compulsory actions for Member States to measure and report on their country’s national food waste statistics, and to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030, but believe these actions in their current form will not result in concrete change and a significant reduction in waste at all levels.

We propose the following recommendations for implementation of robust action on food waste within the Circular Economy Package:

  1. Re-introduction of an EU-specific food waste reduction target of at least 30%, and accounting forfood waste over the full supply chain
  2. Inclusion of farm-to-fork food waste measurement, including pre-farm gate waste, with a roadmap for bringing in targets for pre-farm gate waste by 2020.
  3. Embedding of the Food Waste Hierarchy in all food waste reduction measures and allowing diversion of food waste to livestock feed

1) An EU-specific food waste target and accounting for food waste over the full supply chain

The previous proposal of an EU-specific target of reducing food waste by 30% by 2025 offered Member States a concrete national goal to work towards and gave a clear signal on the importance and urgency for action. It is vital that this binding obligation is reintroduced in the final package to tackle the immense scale of food waste in the EU. We need the EU to show leadership by setting a clear target for reduction and ensuring governments and industry across Europe take action on food waste.

The current Package’s adoption of the UN SDG for food waste is not strong enough, as it will account for only consumer and retail level food waste. This is in spite of the 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report Food Losses and Food Waste estimating that approximately 180kg of the 280kg/year (64%) of food lost and wasted per capita in Europe occurs between production and retail stages. The majority of this supply chain loss and waste occurs at pre-farm gate and manufacturing levels, and so it is vital that theseelements of the chain be included in ambitious targets for reduction. Moreover, since food waste is often more concentrated in a few corporations rather than diffused across millions of consumers, there are significant opportunities to tackle food waste in businesses.

We therefore urge that the overall target of a 30% reduction in food waste by 2025 be reintroduced, taking into account farm to fork measurement as detailed below. We request that the Commission provides concrete plans to show how this reduction might be achieved with a proportional focus across the supply chain.

2) Farm-to-fork measurement

We recommend that the commitment in the Circular Economy Package to adopt an implementing act to establish a common methodology for the measurement of food waste in 2016 takes into account waste from farm-to-fork, including food waste occurring pre farm gate, and sets standards for compulsory food waste measurement and reporting in all Member States. We understand that the EU has already committed to develop a common measurement methodology this year. We urge that these measurement and reporting efforts be built upon definitional frameworks and common measurement and reporting methodologies which apply across the supply chain, from farm to fork – such as those currently being developed by EU FUSIONS and the World Resources Institute’s Food Loss and Waste Protocol.

A substantial proportion of Europe’s food waste occurs at the pre-farm gate level in the agricultural sector. The FAO estimates that 20% of fruit and vegetables are wasted at this level, more than anywhere else in the supply chain. Much of this waste is as a result of retail practices, including cosmetic standards and last-minute order cancellations, requiring strong action by Member States to ensure that retailers take responsibility for, and action on, these damaging commercial practices.

Due to the lack of quality data on pre-farm gate food waste at Member State level, it is necessary for trial studies to be conducted in order to research and test a robust methodology before being rolled out. Pioneering studies in the UK by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in their upcoming work as part of Courtauld 2025 can provide as useful guidance in this area.

We recommend that a staged plan of action, as part of both the legislative proposal on waste and the Circular Economy Action Plan, and in line with committed actions on establishing a common measurement methodology for food waste, be developed to initiate these trials and schedule their rolling out across Europe. In addition to contributing to full supply-chain food waste reduction as part of a circular economy, it will ensure that benchmarking of pre-farm gate food waste can be completed by the next EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) review in 2020. We recommend that, once benchmarked, specific targets be set within the overall minimum 30 per cent target for the reduction of pre-farm gate food waste in 2020.

3) Food waste hierarchy and diversion of food waste to livestock feed

The food waste hierarchy follows the principles of the waste hierarchy enshrined in the EU Waste Framework Directive. It prioritises (1) reduction at source (2) redistribution for human consumption (3) diversion to livestock feed for any food surplus unfit for human consumption (if legally permitted) (4) anaerobic digestion and compost, and (5) landfill and incineration as a last resort. Although cultural and geographical contexts need to be considered, this is a guide for the environmentally and socially optimal use of food surplus. The food waste hierarchy needs to be referenced in Article 9 of the legislation on waste.

With regards to the diversion of food waste to livestock feed, we further call on the Commission to review the ban on feeding catering waste to non-ruminant livestock and bring in legislative changes in this area. According to a new study by the University of Cambridge, removing the ban on feeding catering waste, or swill, to pigs would save 1.8 million hectares of land – half the land mass of Germany – whilst providing a use for 100 million tonnes of food waste in Europe every year 1.

Harnessing new food waste sterilisation technologies at an industrial level would not only guarantee the microbiological safety of animal feed, but would also generate new jobs and investment opportunities. We support the commitment to creating a true circular economy in Europe and to reduce food waste, and hope our recommendations will be taken on board to ensure that this happens.

Contact: Kierra Box, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Supporters of this position paper:

This Is Rubbish

Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland


Sustainable Food Cities

Friends of the Earth Europe

Slow Food

European Environmental Bureau

Arc 2020

Zero Waste Europe

Zero Waste study tour of Spanish municipalities to Italian best practices

Delegation of ZW Study Tour
Delegation of ZW Study Tour

Representatives from 16 municipalities, among which are large cities like Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Zaragoza, Valencia, Coruña and Palma de Mallorca, visited the Treviso region which has the highest recycling rates in Europe, and Milan, the largest city in the world where kerbside source separation of organic waste has been implemented.

The purpose of this visit, organised by Zero Waste Europe, Zero Waste Madrid, Friends of the Earth and the Catalan Foundation for Waste Reduction was to learn about the best performing waste management models. Currently Spain sends more than 60% of waste to landfills and incinerators, including 90% of biowaste generated, a clear sign of the need for a paradigm shift in waste management.

ZW Study Tour 2

The participation of these municipalities in this study tour demonstrates the interest of local government to improve waste management.

In addition to the 6 large cities involved in this experience there was also a large representation of municipalities in the east of Madrid, an area severely affected by waste disposal infrastructure, such as landfills and incinerators as well as the heavily polluting cement kiln of Valdemingómez Morata de Tajuña, which is currently permitted to burn mixed waste.

The trip included 8 representatives from Eastern Madrid (San Fernando de Henares, Velilla de San Antonio, Alcala de Henares, Torres de la Alameda, Loeches, Mejorada del Campo, Coslada and Rivas Vaciamadrid), including politicians, technicians and activists.

EU Flag

Zero Waste Europe gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union LIFE program of DG Environment which co-financed this tour.


Training on management of organic waste for Romanian civil society and local experts

Screenshot 2015-12-15 17.22.48

On December 7 and 8 took place in Cluj, Romania, a training for local councilors, activists and entrepreneurs aimed at empowering local communities to properly manage their biowaste.

The training was given by the international Austrian expert Dr Florian Amlinger and the participants were trained on legislation, technologies and logistics to manage biowaste in a way that was suitable for the local conditions in Transilvania.

It is expected that after this training a number of decentralsied projects to separately collect and locally manage biowaste will be implemented in the area. Representatives from the city of Cluj also commented the possibility to implement separate collection of biowaste in the biggest city in the region.

Screenshot 2015-12-15 17.11.28

This training will also make possible that those towns in the region that committed to advance towards zero waste will see in separate collection biowaste its first milestone.

The training was a success and fruits are to be reaped during the years to come.


Zero Waste Europe gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union LIFE program of DG Environment which co-financed this tour.

EU Flag

Amazing results of “The Power of Compost” competition

What a great competition we had this year!

Schools, groups of friends, visionary individuals,entrepreneurs, professionals and organisations all submitted their videos for the “The Power of Compost” competition. We wanted to hear your composting stories, and learn more about the inspirational ways that you and your communities are taking action to reduce organic waste and we got plenty of them.

Thank you to all of those who participated 🙂

Winner of the Community Solutions Award

Jesuïtes Gràcia- Kostka School in Barcelona, for involving the community of children, parents and schools in an cross-disciplinary and intergenerational experience around the importance of closing natural cycles.

Winner of the Creative Composter Award

Biomeiler – for showing a creative, low-tech, communty based solution to recover the heat of a composting process.

Winner of the Compost Education Award

András Guti – for explaining in a simple but illuminating way the benefits of composting and how we all can and should do it.

We received many inspiring videos but the jury composed of Dr Stefanie Siebert, Director of the European Compost Network, Eleen Murphy, coordinator of the Organic Stream and Joan Marc Simon, director of Zero Waste Europe could only select three winners.

However we particularly would like to mention the great work of:

the Birmingham Student Housing Co-operative

The “Vladimir Nazor” Primary School:

The School of Parede in Portugal:

And of the Cooperative HORT in Italy:

We also got some great videos which were not eligible for the competition but some of which we would like to mention because they are a very cool way to promote compost:

Such as the “organic RAP group” PANG from Belgium:

Or the Wertvolle Kompost from Arge Kompost & Biogas Österreich


Why a contest to promote the many benefits of 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.

This has been a great experience and we thank again all participants for showing how doing the right thing is good for the people and for the planet!


EU Flag

The Power of Compost competition was able to take place thanks to funding from the Life Instrument of the European Union. The sole responsibility for the content of the videos lies with Zero Waste Europe. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the funder mentioned above. The funder cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Tackling Incineration: Greenwashing At COP21

Members of Zero Waste Europe and the GAIA global network confronted incineration advocates today in the ‘Climate Generations Areas’ of the COP21 summit. The event was organised by Syctom, the agency in charge of waste management in Paris area, including the Ivry Incinerator redevelopment in Paris, which is actively opposed by local community group Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France.

Collectif 3R and Zero Waste France have created their own alternative plan, to Syctom’s €2 billion redevelopment plan, which would lock the city of Paris into 23 years of mass waste incineration, effectively preventing waste reduction

Zero waste activists confronting industry greenwashers
Zero waste activists confronting industry greenwashers

plans and higher recycling rates. The alternative, ‘Plan B’OM‘ sets out a pathway to a zero waste future free from incineration.

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.

The side event at the Climate Generations Areas originally planned to showcase “bioplastics” from incinerator carbon capture systems, resulted in a significant part of the audience ‘walking-out’ in opposition to their attempted greenwashing of incineration. After the third speaker, a member of the audience stood up and spoke out in French against the presentation of incineration as green technology, calling for anyone who agreed to join them in walking-out.

A large proportion of the audience proceeded to leave the event, criticising the panel for their misrepresentation of incineration technologies. The group then gathered outside the event talking about alternatives to incineration, and zero waste strategies. As the panel finally left the event there was a call for an end to incineration and an anti-incineration song was sung.

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.

São Paulo’s commitment to household composting

Zero Waste Solutions to Climate Change

This blog is the first in our series on “Waste & Climate solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution from a different region for the next 4 days until 27 September. This edition covers the municipal composting scheme implemented in São Paulo, which gathered large numbers of participants and was responsible for preventing 250 tons of food waste from going to landfill and thereby preventing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the landfilling of organic waste. To find out more about the ‘Power of Compost’ have a look at our post for International Compost Awareness Week or our report back on our organics management training. Read our second post in the series, on Boston’s worker co-operative recycling company.

Dan Moche, Claudio Spinola and Magdalena Donoso*, September, 2015


Although landfills have not always been the main destination for waste in São Paulo, this practice was massively expanded until it reached  a critical situation in 2013. Until then, 100% of the organic waste, 95% of dry waste and 100% of all residual waste would go directly to two specific landfills, the CTL Landfill (Central Waste Treatment Leste) and the Caieiras Landfill.

The motivation to reverse this situation was triggered by changes in legal obligations within the new Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS)i, and the urgency of extending the life of these landfills to save land space in the metropolitan region. Moreover, the solid waste management sector in São Paulo was the second largest source of GHG emissions (Municipal Inventory, 2012), being responsible for the 15.6% of the total GHG emissions in the city, 14% of those coming from landfills. In this way, reducing the contribution of the waste sector to the carbon footprint of the city was critical, and composting was a particularly well-suited opportunity, as studies showed that the practice of composting would potentially decrease 5-10 times the emissions of methane in landfills,ii integrate efforts to reduce leachate while increasing the benefits from retaining organic matter to provide nutrients and improve soil properties in the state of São Paulo.


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

Participatory implementation

The implementation of the Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS) began with citizens participating in 58 events with more than 7,000 participants, which was organised by the Public Administration of São Paulo. 800 delegates elected by thousands of São Paulo citizens and supported by experts and technicians from the authority ad hoc, agreed on the main guidelines as to what to do with the waste generated in the city.

These points formed part of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan of the city of São Paulo – PGIRS, published in early 2014, and determined the recovery, over twenty years, of 80% of all compostable waste and recyclable waste. Among the approved guidelines, source separation of organic waste, selective collection, composting, mechanical biological treatment (MBT) and promotion of home composting were included.

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

“Compost São Paulo”

Home composting began to be encouraged by the government of São Paulo shortly after the publication of the PGIRS in June 2014 by delivering compost bins to houses. In six months, 250 tons of organic waste were recovered.

The project called “Composta São Paulo” handed kits for home composting with worms to 2,006 households in the city of São Paulo. Through a public announcement, the project achieved 10,061 registrations in 40 days on the website, from various regions of São Paulo. Those selected were from 539 apartments and 1,467 houses in eight regions.

“Now I pay a lot of attention to my organic waste and also my neighbours waste. I’m more critical of how much food to buy. I have affection for worms”, said one of the participants in the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program. 

The delivery of compost bins was accompanied by 135 training workshops for over 5,000 participants. Participants were encouraged to respond to scheduled polls and assume the role of multipliers of home composting.

After two months, the participants were invited to other workshops (88 workshops), where they received advice and techniques for planting in small spaces in order to use the produced compost. The questions and concerns raised were shared and addressed in a virtual community on Facebook. The community of “composters” (comunidad de “composteros”) finished the first year of the project with more than 6,000 members.

Subsequent information gathering on program results indicated that 89% of participants significantly decreased the amount of waste for collection. There were no significant differences in the evaluation of the practice of composting between social classes or between types of housing and only 47 households (2.3%) gave up the activity. Meanwhile, 97% of respondents of a survey to measure the level of satisfaction (1,535 people) were satisfied or very satisfied with the technique, 98% considered it a good solution for organic waste and 86% considered it easy to practice.

Strong economic basis

In its economic analysis, the Municipality of São Paulo found that the costs of delivery of compost, monitoring and technical assistance provided by the local government could be covered through the savings achieved in reducing the collection, transport and disposal of the organic waste in landfills. The study compared the (estimated) costs of collection, transportation and disposal of organic waste in landfills with the (estimated) costs that compost bins, delivery, communication, workshops, etc, would imply. Then, the calculation was made with what was actually spent to develop the above actions in the context of “Compost São Paulo”, working with 2006 households. Considering the “contagious” effect explained below, costs would be matched within 5 years.iii

The communication strategy and the contagious effect

The mayor of Sao Paulo at the first delivery
The mayor of Sao Paulo at the first delivery

Linking the practice of home composting with participation was an important part of the communication strategy developed for this program in terms of the involvement of the population. In addition to the novelty of the composting process itself, and the use of modern techniques of social communication aroused interest in the project, and the desire to “be a part”.

The multiplier effect was immediate. The results of the survey indicated that 29% helped others who did not receive compost bin, to make, install or manage one. Participants witnessed a contagious effect, which attracted 2,525 new people to try to assemble or buy their own composting system.

“We realized that every time we went to throw the waste into the compost bin we felt a deep sense of wellbeing … kind of like we had stopped making the city a dirty place and turned garbage into flowers. We exchanged ideas with other people who were doing composting and they had the same feeling! Composting is therapeutic!”, read the testimony of another participant at the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program. 

27% of participants donated worms for others to start practice. Also, behavioural changes in other areas also came to light: 84% said they greatly expanded their knowledge of urban sustainability; 96% considered themselves far more diligent in handling properly the waste produced; and 54% said they began to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables.

The new “master composters”: dream big, start small, and act now!

The 2,525 new participants, excited by the project members themselves, are a sign of the potential for citizens to transition from mere objects of public policy to true subjects in the exercise of their citizenship: in this case, transforming themselves from “trained” to “master composters”. By attracting new participants and sharing their learning, project members should be recognized for what they really are:  “master composters”.

On the other end, public managers are called to support what people can build. Just dream big, start small, and act now. Home composting is an empowering tool for public policy, and of collective commitments, with a multiplier effect that encourages responsible behaviour with base on joy, discovery and learning.

* Authors: Dan Moche Schneider, who coordinated the area of ​​organic waste in the PGIRS of Sao Paulo / Claudio Spinola, ideologue and operator of “Compost São Paulo” / Magdalena Donoso, Coordinator for GAIA Latin America

i Obligation to recover waste under the National Solid Waste Policy – PNRS, approved in 2010.  

ii Inacio, 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 Calculations estimated by Dan Moche, former Coordinator at the Organic Waste PIGRS of Sao Paulo. Internal economic analysis of the Municipality of Sao Paulo.

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.

European experts sign a Manifesto to boost a new model of food waste management in the Mediterranean basin

A group of experts involved in the European Project SCOW, among which Zero Waste Europe, gathered in Barcelona to sign a manifesto to outline the strategies for improving food waste management in the Mediterranean area. It is estimated that this waste stream represents between 30% and 50% of the municipal solid waste in the countries of the Mediterranean basin.


The document outlines how the key factors necessary to achieve good implememntation in this field are: prevention, quantity and quality of selective collection and recycling, the establishment of clear objectives, the citizen awareness and participation, the redefinition of the infrastructures of waste treatment, in terms of efficiency, flexibility and scale, the production of quality compost assuring its final application, the regional cooperation among Mediterranean countries and the monitoring of results and dissemination of good practices.


The document remains open to new signatures by other entities and experts of the Mediterranean zone. If you are interested in receiving information about the manifesto and sign it, you can contact with BCNecologia, leader partner of the project, through the next e-mail address: or via the specific section of the Manifesto included on the SCOW website:



A new perspective for organic fraction management


The SCOW project aims the definition of an innovative and sustainable management system for organic matter. It seeks a collection and a recycling of low cost, technically simple and of high quality.


The effectiveness of the system is related to the introduction of door to door collection systems and the creation of small scale composting plants distributed in a decentralized way in the territory, located near the places of generation of the organic matter and also where obtained compost can be used.


It is also one of the objectives of the SCOW project the proposal of regulatory and policy recommendations on bio-waste management, and here is where the manifesto is framed. The manifesto was elaborated and agreed by a working group conform by different stakeholders and experts (including project partners and associates as well as entities involved in waste management) in the field of bio-waste and waste management within the Med Zone, during the SCOW technical workshop organized by BCNecologia that took place on the 25th of February 2015 in Barcelona. Some of the attendants apart from the project partners and associates were: Marco Ricci, from CIC and Chair of the Biological Treatment Working Group of ISWA; Michele Giavini, CIC and ARSambiente; Stefanie Siebert representing European Compost Network (ECN); Markus Luecke form SWEEP-Net; Jane Gilbert, Carbon Clarity; Joan Marc Simon from Zero Waste Europe; Jean-Jacques Dohogne representing ACR+; Francesc Giró from Waste Agency of Catalonia; and Ana Rodríguez as the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment of Spain.



Economic, social and environmental improvements


One of the main challenges in countries of the Mediterranean Basin is sustainable waste management, in particular the management of bio-waste. As bio-waste represents the largest fraction of MSW, it is therefore of particular importance. In the countries of the Mediterranean Basin, food waste represents the predominant fraction of bio-waste, reaching up to 30%-50% of total MSW production.


Strategies aiming to prevent and divert bio-waste (and food waste, in particular) from disposal can have significant outcomes, in particular addressing urgent environmental threats within this area:

*Effective and economically sustainable collection schemes for bio-waste represent the first step to produce quality compost, that can be used to mitigate soil erosion, desertification and enhance organic content in agricultural land improving its production as well as the fixation of carbon in soils.


*Diversion of bio-waste for recycling has a direct effect in reducing the environmental impacts of waste disposal due to landfilling of MSW; it limits the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) and leachates that may pollute ground water. It also reduces the use of landfill space.


Additionally, the introduction of separate collection schemes and models promote the development of a strong waste management sector with the creation of green jobs, even propitiating the effective regulation and involvement of the current informal recycling sector.

Generally speaking, the aim of bio-waste recycling can be considered to be the backbone of a modern and sustainable management solution for MSW.


A common and co-ordinated strategy within the Mediterranean Basin is therefore welcome. It can lead to faster adoption of measures and MSW management practises that aim to achieve the above mentioned environmental and socio-economic benefits, as well as contributing to support the North and specially Southern countries of the Mediterranean area in finding sustainable waste management solutions. This includes improved management of waste according to specific waste arisings, cultural and cooking habits and potential needs for assuring long term sustainability of agricultural land. This is set against a backdrop of increasing population and worsening effects due to climate change.


About the SCOW Project

SCOW is the abbreviation of Selective Collection of the Organic Waste in tourist areas and valorisation in small-scale composting plants. This is a European project of 3 years (2013-2015), which has as its aim the development of new models for the recollection and recycling of organic waste in areas with both tourist and agricultural activity.


SCOW is part of the Program ENPI CBC Med (Cross-Border-Cooperation in the Mediterranean) which aims to strengthen cooperation between the European Union and the countries located on the shores of the Mediterranean. The project has a budget of 4.970.000 euros. 90% of this total is funded by the European Union through the ENPI (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument).


The partners of the SCOW project are: Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona (leader partner) (Spain), Development Agency Gal Genovese (Italy), Local Government Association (Malta), House of Water and Environment (Palestinian Authority), Upper Galilee Regional Council (Israel), MIGAL – Galilee Research Institute (Israel), SYVADEC (SIRET) (France) and Environment Park SpA (Italy).


Find more information on the SCOW project via:

Reporting the International Training on Organics Management

The International Training Course on Organics Management took place last 13-14 October in Donosti (Basque Country, Spain) and it was an excellent opportunity to address the management of the organic fractions of waste, including collection and treatment. The course intended to empower policy makers, waste managers and activists by providing them with relevant tools and knowledge on biowaste management. The course counted with participation of waste or other environmental NGO activists, representatives of local authorities and policy makers from the Basque country, the rest of Spain, France, Italy, South Africa and China.

Three trainers Dr Marco Ricci, Dr Enzo Favoino and Dr Alberto Confalonieri, from the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza provided relevant knowledge and illustrative examples of separate collection and treatment of biowaste in Italy and Europe. Besides, the course included a site-visit to Hernani, and one to a centralised compost site.


The importance of treating the organic fraction separately

Enzo Favoino showed that a specific collection and treatment of biowaste is a must to move towards zero waste: “With packaging recycling we only go halfway”, he argued. Biowaste still makes a significant part of the total municipal solid waste and, so ambitious zero waste plans cannot be reached by collecting and treating only dry waste.

organic waste
Organic waste is one of the most challenging waste streams due to its polluting capacity when mixed with other waste streams. Yet it offers a great potential to become a solution to climate change and soil degradation if separated, collected and treated properly.


The main advantages of treating biowaste that are mostly linked to climate change: GHG emission reduction as a result of less landfilling or incinerating biowaste, the possibility of sequestrating carbon in the soil and of preventing the degradation of the soil. At the same time, treating biowaste specifically was shown to be the best way to meet EU objectives of landfill diversion, while proves that incineration is not needed.

One of the current best practices in Europe is found in the Contarina district in Northern Italy, the European champion of separate collection and residual waste reduction. On the contrary, the case of Majorca, claiming to have the biggest incineration facility of Southern Europe, showed the implications of having an incinerator that needs to be fed. Other bad examples arose from the public, such as that of Tenerife or South Africa, where incineration plants are planned.


Separate collection schemes: the simpler, the better.

Dr Marco Ricci-Jürgensen’s session dealt with the elements to be considered when designing separate collection schemes: the main elements to be taken into account and the pros and the cons of each of them, including different collection systems and policy instruments to implement biowaste collection.

Among these instruments, the door-to-door collection system was argued to be the most efficient because it raises the share of separate collection and reduces significantly the presence of contaminant elements in the different fractions. Other policy instruments underlined were the pay-as-you-throw schemes (PAYT), permitting to establish a direct link between waste production and the cost of the service. The session concluded that on the light of the different implementation options, seems clear that the simpler, the better it tends to work.

Dr Marco Ricci, Dr Enzo Favoino and Dr Alberto Confalonieri, from the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza provided relevant knowledge and illustrative examples of separate collection and treatment of biowaste in Italy and Europe. Photo: Mariel Vilella



“There is no perfect solution and any system must be adapted to the local situation” said Marco Ricci. “However, it is crucial to have stakeholders involved to make the transition towards zero waste work. In this sense, environmental NGOs, agricultural sectors and citizens (waste producers) must be involved and informed of the changes.”

Milan was presented as one successful example of implementation of biowaste collection. The city with 1,5 million inhabitants and densely inhabited, has recently introduced door-to-door collection of biowaste and has reached its objectives after 6 weeks. Another different and interesting example was Castelbuono, an old town with medieval structure in Sicily, where the logistics of collecting biowaste were complicated and they started collecting biowaste with donkeys. After all, it was proven that no matter what challenges are faced by any given municipality, there is always a feasible way to collect biowaste.


Garden waste: a chance for community compost.

Garden waste is also an important waste stream within the general biowaste. The session led by Dr Favoino focused on home and community composting and the reality of these systems across Europe.

comm compost
Hernani zero waste strategy has a strong emphasis in promoting community composting. Household participating in the scheme receive up to 40% reduction in their tax bill. Photo: María Durán.


Community composting is usually a parallel element to public management, but it may be also a very good substitute to collection in isolated or remote areas, as it has no cost of collection and treatment. However, the fact of changing the ownership of the discards may challenge the existing legislation. For instance, in Bulgaria they have adapted their legislation and included community composting as “decentralized composting” with no need of administrative approval, as long as it does not exceed 10m3 annual compost.



Site-visit to Hernani

The group also had a chance to visit the Zero Waste Best Practices of Hernani, one of the forefront towns in the Zero Waste movement in Gipuzkoa. Hernani decided in 2010 to implement a door-to-door collection system with specific collection of biowaste, but it was not until 2013 when the community composting in urban areas was launched. According to the civil servant in charge of waste, the system is working and they have succeeded in reducing residual waste by 60%. They are still committed to keep on improving and they are looking for the ways of overcoming the 90% separate collection. The system in Hernani has proved to be successful and has today 14 employees, when it had 3 in 2010. This is also a part of the success story in a country with high unemployment rates. See the full case study here.


working otgther for zero waste
The site visit to Hernani was a useful opportunity to see the successful implementation of a door-to-door collection system with special emphasis on domestic and community composting facilities. Photo: Diana Osuna.


The nitty-gritty details of composting

The following sessions got down to the nitty-gritty elements of composting, covering the biological process of transforming biowaste into compost and the main technologies for composting, as well as the options for treating odours.

Again, it was stressed that the best technique is the one defined for a precise situation and specific needs. “Composting is in fact a very versatile process so, it permits small-scale low-tech facilities to large industrialized and centralized facilities, said Dr Alberto Contalonieri. For example, weather conditions or the fact of being a rural or an urban area may affect the decision of having an open or a closed systems or a dynamic or a static one.

Dr Enzo Favoino talked about the use of compost as a natural fertilizer, explaining the positive effects of compost both for the soil and for the vegetables produced. The presence of organic matter reduces the soil loss by one third, while increases substantially the presence of earthworms. These work as a natural indicator of the health of the soils. At the same time, the use of compost as natural fertilizer reduces the percentage of vegetables with diseases at their roots. With half of Europe suffering from a situation of pre-desertification in terms of the presence of organic matter in the soil, the use of compost is a very good way to close the loop and tackle this situation. Dr Favoino underlined other benefits of compost, such as its slow-release of Nitrogen, which permits to avoid Nitrogen losses during heavy rainfalls and that an eventually excess derives into nitrates.


Site-visit to Lapatx centralised composting facility

The afternoon we visited the Lapatx centralised composting facility, in the Aizpeitia municipality. The director of the plant along with the director of the provincial waste consortium in charge of it presented the different problems they had with the plant. It was an excellent way of applying the concepts learned in the morning to the decision-making process and to see why the facility was not properly designed. In this sense, while they were supposed to cover the demand of the whole province, the former government expected to collect a small amount of organic waste because they intended to build an incineration facility. However, the change of government stopped the incinerator and required of adapting the Lapatx composting centre to allocate larger amounts of biowaste.

compost facility
Site-visit to Lapatx composting facility Aizpeitia municipality. Photo: María Durán.


Today Lapatx works in full performance but suffers from the problems of an initial bad design: it is very small and has an inappropriate shape; the upload of biowaste takes place in a slope; the machine opening the bags was originally designed to open packaging, etc. However, in the near future, two new facilities will be opened in Gipuzkoa with the duty of complementing Lapatx.


An experience to be repeated!

This training course was the first of its kind within the Zero Waste Europe and it proved to be a perfect opportunity to learn the rationale behind separation of organic waste at source, and the logistics and economics of separate collection of biowaste systems. The site-visits allowed the direct observation of how a zero waste system can work, with full details of the main challenges and opportunities. The participants were very satisfied of this experience and look forward to further training programmes.

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

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

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

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

How shall we implement a successful organic waste management system?

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

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

Banner training without adverts

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

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

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

Looking forward to seeing you in Donosti!

We love compost! International compost awareness week

compost week

This week we celebrate the International Compost Awareness Week, an initiative of the US Compost Council that invites everyone to organize activities to promote compost around the world as the sustainable solution to soil and water.

Yes indeed, we love compost! Closing the loop through composting our organic waste and returning the nutrients to soil has extremely important benefits for the sustainability of our environment, our food supply, and our zero waste strategies. Interestingly, the latest report from the World Bank on waste issues at the global level, provides its own version of the Waste Hierarchy, with composting and anaerobic digestion being the only two organic treatment techniques included in the Recovery category. As shown in the figure below, incineration is then placed further down with the rest of waste disposal options.

Waste Hierarchy World Bank

Successful composting experiences are nowadays widespread be found at the domestic and community level like in Hernani, one the Best Practices in Zero Waste Europe. But it can also be organized at a large-scale like in San Francisco, an exemplary Zero Waste committed city that in March 2012 marked its millionth ton of organic waste turned into compost.

compost week US

Indeed, composting is demonstrating to be a very popular initiative that is gaining more and more supporters everywhere. To name a couple of examples, we’ve recently learned that in the Basque Country, 700 more families will start a new scheme to do composting at home or collectively. At the national level, Spain counts with Composta en Red, a network of municipalities committed to promote and implement composting practices, exchange resources and provide training to those municipalities interested. Similar experiences can be found in the UK with the Community Composting Network.

There are so many reasons to do composting, but here’s a selection of some good ones:

1. Composting turns waste into a resource. It was organic waste in your kitchen but once in the compost bin, it turns into a treasure! This is not to say that wasting food is OK as long as we compost it. Absolutely not. Reducing food waste is still our very first priority in a Zero Waste strategy – check out these inspiring initiatives to reduce our food waste.

2.  Composting diverts waste from landfills and incinerators. Sadly, most of food waste in the EU still ends up in landfills or incinerators. Organic waste in landfills contaminates our soil, our groundwater water and creates methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times more heat trapping potential than CO2, hence a major contributor to climate change. In its turn, incinerating food waste it’s just a waste of resources. The key to end these contradictions is as easy as doing source separation of organic waste and do not ever mix it with any other waste stream. Once you have clean food waste, composting can be just the right next step.

3. Composting saves GHG emissions. Composting does not only save GHG emissions by diverting waste from landfills and incinerators. Putting compost in arable soils acts as a temporary carbon sink in itself, as the soil sequestrates the carbon that if burned would otherwise be immediately emitted to the atmosphere. Members of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee wrote this paper about the great potential role of compost in reducing green house gas emissions.

4. Composting replaces chemical fertilizers. Compost provides key nutrients to the soil in a way that makes chemical fertilizers unnecessary. In this way, composting saves the GHG emissions associated with the production of chemical fertilizers and avoids their toxic contribution to our soils and food chain. Moreover, farmers can save the money!

5. Composting reduces the use of pesticides. Compost makes plants healthier and stronger to face biodiversity imbalances and combat pests, hence reducing the need to apply chemical pesticides. Once again, this saves the GHG emissions associated to the production of pesticides and avoids their toxicity in our food supply. It’s important to note that pesticides have been linked to severe health problems in children, and may act as carcinogens or damage the endocrine system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

6.   Composting builds topsoil and tilth. Compost makes good soil in itself and contributes to stopping soil erosion and degradation. Using compost improves the soil structure, moisture content, degree of aeration, rate of water infiltration, and drainage, making land better prepared to grow healthy food in a sustainable way.

7.   Composting helps retaining water in the soil. Water is a precious resource and using compost helps soil keeping it underground. Healthy plants and their roots retain water close to them, preventing water from running off.

8.   Composting is cheap, easy and time-effective. Once the essential structure is in place, composting is inexpensive, only requiring your eyes and hands to separate waste at source and place it in the correct bin. Once the organic waste is in the compost bin, you can forget about it for a few weeks, so the process itself requires very low-maintenance dedication, and the returns are extremely valuable. In brief, little effort for a major gain.


See how the Zero Waste movement has been lobbying for take the carbon back to the soils as a strategy to fight climate change.

Moulinot: closing the loop for restaurant food waste in Paris


Paris is one of the worst-performing European cities when it comes to waste management. Low source separation rates, insufficient incentives and many incinerators & landfills.

Same as everywhere, organic waste represents more than 1/3 of the waste of the capital. Finding  the way to separately collect it from households is something that NGOs have already been asking since a long time.

Same story applies for restaurants and hotels, when will Paris separately collect the food waste from restaurants? Well, it looks like it is starting to happen! A citizen-led initiative shows the way forward for organic waste management in Paris.

Stephan Martinez, owner of le Petit Choiseuil Bistrot, was one of the first restaurants in Paris to take responsibility for the organic waste it was generating and started composting food scraps with worms before anybody else cared about the matter. Indeed Stephan was tired of seeing how these precious nutrients were being burned in incinerators instead of ending up being sent back to the soils where they are badly needed.

This is why he decided to take the initiative and after getting the green light from the local authorities and the ministry he set up a company to collect organic waste from restaurants and produce biogas prior to returning the organics back to the soils.


The company is called Moulinot Compost & Biogas and this February has started to separately collect biowaste from 80 restaurants in Paris. Moulinot has been collecting this organic waste with great success. The aim of this operation is to determine the keys to succeed in successfully collecting food waste in big towns.

Cities overseas such as San Francisco are already separately collecting organic waste from restaurants and others such as New York are about to start. in Europe this is already done in many towns with the most successful practice taking place in Milan where organic waste from restaurants and households is collected door-to door with a great degree of purity.

Despite having been lagging behind for some time the waste management in Île-de-France is going to be subjected to many changes in the years to come. The national law mandates that “big biowaste producers” should recover this waste and turn it into a resource. This way the French capital will be discovering the potential of this new market which will create new jobs, save costs, bring nutrients back to the soils and reduce emissions.


Indeed, Moulinot Compost et biogas has been able to develop an alternative in Paris thanks to the fact that it is cheaper to collect organic waste separately and produce biogas with it, which has a market value, rather than collecting waste all mixed up which is a net cost.

The initiative of Stephan Martinez shows how Zero Waste solutions work; a good dose of social innovation with a bit of the right technology is all is needed to help close the cycle for organic waste and stop sending waste to landfills and incinerators.

Succesful launch of Zero Waste France in Paris

“Zero Waste is a journey more than a destination” and more and more people are joining us in this inspiring adventure. The annual meeting of Zero Waste Europe took place in Bobigny & Paris during last weekend –February 1/2 -and it represented one more landmark of the expansion of the movement in Europe.


More than 400 people attended the public event organised to introduce Zero Waste to the French public. This event was also instrumental to launch the Zero Waste France platform which brings together many organisations and initiatives. The event was widely covered by French and international media.




Representatives of Zero Waste groups in 15 European countries participated in the internal meeting that took place after the event and which served to coordinate the activities that the network will be organising in the continent during 2014.

Local NGOs such as CNIID, Collectif 3R, Arivem, Environement 93 or Adenca highlighted the many problems associated to the current system of waste management in France. Namely big and polluting incinerators and landfills, the worst initiatives of mechanical biological treatment in Europe, insufficient separate collection and a long etc… This is one of the main reasons behind the creation of Zero Waste France; to unite efforts to promote a new waste & resources paradigm for a country that has been lagging behind for too long. Like in so many other places if the politicians and experts cannot not make it happen the citizens will take lead.


The event also brought together many local initiatives from the French civil society and entrepreneurs. The Repair Café in Paris, the community composting experiences, reusable nappies, take-back schemes for packaging, etc…

The public event was closed by the screening of the film “Trashed”.


The presentations of the conference can be found here:

ZWF pic

Initiatives to reduce food waste

Never before we have produced as much food as today and never before there has been as much hunger in the world. Our generation is determined to beat all the records… but it is up to us if they are going records of pride or records of shame.

Up to 145 million Europeans (one fourth of us) could be under poverty line by 2025 if the current economic trend is not reversed. At the same time one third of the food for human consumtion produced at global level is never eaten… where did it go wrong?


But it doesn’t need to be like this. Many actions are taking place around Europe to fight food waste.

The EU’s resource efficiency roadmap foresees a 50% reduction, which the European Parliament says should be achieved by 2025. At a state level few member states have set targets. So far, France is the only one to have pledged to halve food waste by 2025. Each year the average French person throws away 20kg of waste food, costing roughly €400 per household annually. This figure includes 7kg of food thrown away with the packaging unopened.

The Netherlands has set an interim target of 20% for 2015. In Sweden, a similar reduction has been suggested for 2020.

In 2014 the European Commission is expected to come up with waste reduction targets, also addressing food waste.

But the most innovative actions are taking place at local level, which is where the real change needs to happen.

Below you can find some examples of how in the UK “the Pig Idea” plans to follow the Zero Waste Hierarchy and gives priority to feeding animals before using it for compost , in Slovakia some activists practice dumspter-diving to salvage perfectly edible food, in Catalonia an initiative trains people into food waste reduction, in Italy the Last Minute Market saves plenty of food every year…

The PIG Idea

The RE(F)USE idea in Slovakia

Do you happen to know other initiatives of local change in the field of food waste? Please share! – the Story of Organic Waste Recovery

Need a crash course on managing organic waste? Compostory offers you the possibility to learn the basics so that you can skip first steps and jump straight into the implementation of Zero Waste strategy. is a non-profit platform featuring online video courses dedicated to source separation of organics, composting and anaerobic digestion, accessible at no cost and on-demand.

Camille Duran is the Executive Director of Compostory and we have interviewed him so that he can tell us more about the details of this fascinating training tool.


Camille Duran Compostory

Camille, what is the story of

Earlier this year, I gained an interest in the circular economy and more particularly in the way communities adapt their waste management practices to move towards Zero Waste. At the time, I was setting up our social enterprise Green White Space  and was looking to contribute to the Zero Waste story that I find fascinating. I  teamed up with Linnea Hulten (who was also involved in investigative activities on the topic) and we started researching why so many communities on our planet are still landfilling (or burning) organic waste.  Two conclusions were particularly interesting:

  • As you know, more an more communities can show great results on source separation, and proper treatment of organic waste via composting or anaerobic digestion. There are success stories on six continents and a lot of research has already been done on the various aspects of source separation and the opportunities it represents for our communities and environment. But like in many other sectors, there is a strong disproportion between the efforts put into research and those put into making results actionable and widely available.
  • It actually costs time and money to build a vision! Many influencers of waste management systems on our planet such as a local governments, farm managers etc. are still at the early stage of their journey. They are facing a large amount of information which they need to aggregate, sort out and evaluate. It is very difficult for them to be proactive in this context and the ones who can afford expertise and guidance need to invest time and money before even having a clear roadmap and understanding of potential gains.

I guess we were looking for a platform which would give us a well-structured, easy-to-digest overview of all we need to know in order to build a vision on source-separation of organics. And at no cost. We didn’t find it and this is where everything started. We knew we could make a difference by democratizing beginner knowledge on a large scale. I have personally been involved for a while with online media and education and I am still fascinated by how the digital age is disrupting knowledge platforms and improving access to information, data and networks. We need to be better at leveraging  the tools available today – and not only in the field of organics recycling!


Who is targeting?

Basically any influencer of waste management systems.
Today we need to focus our distribution efforts so we are mostly targeting local governments. But we are starting to look at the agricultural sector and we will engage with any major producer of organic waste. The course we offer is designed for a beginner-level so it is also very well suited for students or any individual with an interest in the topic.

According to Eurostat, in Europe today only 15% of all municipal solid waste is composted and most of it is still being landfilled or incinerated. Why do you think the treatment of organics has not yet taken off in Europe?

I would defer to the experts on the regulatory context, the incentives in place, and some other forces preventing communities from moving faster. I will just add that change management is driven by the vision.

This is true for change in a multinational company, a football team, or a government. I think we need to be better at communicating a vision. Getting communities excited about source separation, composting or biogas generation is key and in my view, there are still massive efforts to be made on brand building in these areas. This role cannot be played by everyone and it is a complex issue of course. There is currently a lot of noise around waste management but things are definitely moving and we need to acknowledge the tremendous work that many organizations like yours are doing in the field. I am very optimistic on what will happen in the coming years.


How does help to build a Zero Waste Europe?

The recovery of organic material is a topic of high interest nowadays and many communities in Europe are still following “the old models of managing waste”. This year, we are focusing on delivering a turnkey learning program that communities can follow for free and on-demand. It’s been only four months since we have released the first lesson on – and we still have a lot of work to achieve – but the platform is already generating strong interest in 26 countries.  It is encouraging to see that the course is followed by all kinds of communities in Europe; whether it is City of London or a small community in the South of France, everyone seems to care. We work very hard on access and distribution of the content we produce, on reaching new communities every day to create large scale communication channels. We will be releasing new languages shortly to be even more inclusive. just launched a database of companies who can support communities with their resource recovery programs. What is the thinking behind this tool and how do you see the resource recovery sector evolving?

The tool was created to help our audience find support with their resource recovery projects. We are receiving a lot of questions and need to be able to help on a large scale. This industry directory will develop overtime into a more advanced platform but is already a very good way for consulting firms and equipment companies to showcase their products and expertise. Also, it allows us to stay independant from industry in the way we help our audience which is very important for our brand equity.

The so-called “resource recovery sector” will be interesting to watch in the coming years. Many are still talking about “waste management” services but as communities start to understand what true resource recovery is, the old fashioned waste management companies will adjust their offerings and message overtime. Like with any industry disruption, the transition will take some time and some companies will get stuck on the side of the road if they don’t start adapting soon.


What is success for

Helping our societies design for the future is a beautiful mission. I think this is what keeps the team so committed. If we can truly influence what is happening on the field and keep pushing the boundaries, then I guess we would call it success. It‘s a marathon, not a sprint, but fortunately there are a lot of small victories along the way. I want to thank the team and all the people involved with the project in some way. We are having a lot of fun building this platform and have a lot of exciting news coming up. Stay tuned!

Thanks Camille and good luck with the initiative!


You can follow Camille Duran on twitter @cwduran

You can follow at:


Twitter: @compostoryorg


Zero Waste Hero – biodegradable chewing gum

Chewing gum as we know it today serves much the same purpose as it did for the ancient Greeks, chewing on Mastiha gum, or the Mayans with their chicle. It freshens the breath, tastes good and can provide a meditative distraction. But in terms of what you’re actually putting in your mouth, all similarities with traditional gums end there.

Modern gums consist of entirely synthetic petrol-based polymers and a host of synthetic sweeteners and stabilizers. Aside from the obvious sustainability problems of deriving consumer products from non-renewable resources, and the under-researched health problems, chewing gum presents a huge problem for disposal.

via Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
via Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Modern synthetic chewing gums are hydrophobic (don’t dissolve in water) and have polymers that bind easily to asphalt, making removal of black wads from pavements a costly, time-consuming exercise for local authorities. Current methods include blasting dried chewing gum with corrosive chemicals, freezing or steaming it off.

It’s estimated that each lump of gum costs taxpayers between €0.65 and €2.30 for local cleanup services to remove. The total cost of cleaning chewing gum off streets is estimated at £10 million in London alone. Even when disposed of in bins, chewing gum ends up in landfill where it never biodegrades.

A piece of chewing gum may not seem like a great deal of trash, but consider that around the world we chew 100,000 tons of it a year and it starts to add up.

Chicle gum is a natural product of the chicle tree that grows in the rainforests of central and North America. It became the key ingredient in the first mass-produced chewing gum when in 1866 Thomas Adams, having failed to vulcanise 2 tons of chicle latex into rubber for carriage wheels, decided to add sweetener and flavouring to it, and sell it to Americans. Bought out by a certain William Wrigley, the gum rapidly became a phenomenon. During World War Two, U.S. chemists developed synthetic rubber, which has now largely replaced gum base from natural sources.


However, while the company that dominates the chewing gum sector continues its research into new biodegradable elastomers, a Mexican cooperative, Consorcio Chiclero, is resurrecting the traditional technique of sapping the chicozapote trees of the rainforests of southeastern Mexico to harvest the chicle gum. This is one of the only rainforests to have been sustainably managed in Mexico, much of the rest having been cleared for cattle grazing and extensive agriculture.

The harvested chicle gum is boiled and mixed with natural waxes to create the chewy gum base, then natural sweeteners (including agave syrup) and flavours are added. As well as tasting delicious, supporting traditional livelihoods and helping to conserve precious rainforest, Chicza gum is also entirely water-soluble and biodegrades completely in contact with bacteria and enzymes in just 2 weeks. The nutrients of the decomposed gum even enhance soil.

If we want to close the materials loop and avoid sending valuable resources to landfill, finding biodegradable alternatives that can be properly reintegrated into the ecosystem is part of the solution.

When faced with a choice between a gum that uses precious finite resources and will litter the environment for eternity, or one that comes from renewable, natural sources and returns to the earth, which would you pick?

I want my biowaste bin!


1/3 of the French waste bins are biowaste (food and garden waste), and the organic matter can easily be recovered in the form of compost or biogas.

In the absence of a separate collection system, most of this organic matter is currently being incinerated or landfilled, generating a big amount of pollution. In addition to local initiatives of individual and community composting, arising from citizen mobilisation, a separate collection system must now be implemented by municipalities in order to capture the bulk of our biowaste.

Currently, only 3% of the French population benefits from a separate collection system for biowaste, leaving way for the disturbing development of Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT). In fact, France is among the few countries in Europe using to this extent this hazardous technology, poorly monitored and cost effective, to produce compost used for agriculture from mixed domestic waste.

On June 4, the Cniid (National center for independent information on waste in France) launched the campaign « I want my biowaste bin ».  Supported by many organizations, the campaign’s main objective is to challenge policy makers on tomorrow’s biowaste management in France.

This campaign takes part in the framework of the French and European campaign for waste prevention and material recovery, and more globally in the ecological transition.  The separate management of biowaste is inscribed both in the measures established at the Grenelle de l’environnement as well as in the European guidelines relative to waste.  Laura Caniot, officer in charge of Waste Prevention and alternatives at the Cniid considers that « if France wants to reach its objectives of 45% recycling in 2015, and 23% of renewable energy production by 2020, biowaste can no longer be excluded in waste management. »

To raise awareness about the need to better manage the biowaste in France, the Cniid and its partner organizations are calling out citizens to mobilize in favor of a separate collection system for biowaste and ask supporters to sign an online petition on the campaign’s website, and participate in the census of community compost initiatives, which are already happening all over the country.


Sign the petition!

(video in French but you can turn on subtitles in English clicking on cc.

27 Blogs Sharing Creative Ways to Reuse Your Leftovers

Instead of tossing out leftovers from last night’s dinner, transform them into a totally new dish. If you get creative enough, the family may not even realize that they are eating the same thing! Plus, it’s a huge money saver to cook once and serve twice, thrice or more!  Over the weekend, when things aren’t so rushed, bake a whole turkey or prepare a roast. Portion out the leftovers, then package them up so you can use them throughout the rest of the week. Freeze anything extra for the following week.  Here are 27 blog entries to give you some creative ideas for turning those leftovers into a whole new meal.

Dinner to Breakfast

When it comes to leftovers, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t using them for breakfast the next day. But it should be! For a twist on the traditional breakfast scramble, reheat the leftovers in a pan mixed with some beaten eggs. This technique will also work for a frittata, but it tends to be finished in the oven.  Something as simple as spreading ricotta cheese and honey on some of the bread that’s been toasted from the night before can also be a way to use up leftovers.  These nine blog passages will give you a place to start, so you can get creative with whatever leftovers are available.

Dinner to Lunch Box

Taking leftovers for lunch the next day is a relatively common thing to do.  Not only does it save money, but it’s quick to grab on the way out the door in the morning.  However, once leftovers have gone to work as lunch one day, it’s not much fun taking them again the next day.  Wouldn’t it be nice if dinner leftovers could get made over into something totally different?  Steak from dinner last night can be turned into a steak and cheese hoagie or sliced and put on top of a salad.  Other types of leftovers can get a new life wrapped in a tortilla with some lettuce and cheese.  For more ideas like this, take a look at these nine blog posts.

Healthy Makeovers

Healthy dinners make for healthy leftover remakes as well.  Any grain served for dinner can be turned into a salad with veggies for the next day’s lunch or as a side dish for dinner.  Beans are very versatile, and morph well into several meals from burritos to salad to soup. Roasting a whole turkey may sound odd at any time besides Thanksgiving, but it’s a healthy lean meat that can be made into so many different dishes.  To learn how to transform leftovers into healthy dinners check out these nine blog entries.


Guest article from

Progress towards Zero Food Waste in the EU

Almost 50% of edible and healthy food gets wasted in EU households and supermarkets each year while 79 million EU citizens –out of 500 million Europeans- live beneath the poverty line and 16 million depend on food aid from charitable institutions.


Food waste is many times a waste; it is a waste of resources and money, it is a waste that creates methane if landfilled and CO2 if incinerated, it is a waste when in the world one child is dying of hunger every 5 seconds … The current food wastage in Europe does highlight the contradictions of the world we live in but it also underlines the need for a Zero Waste policy, not only in the food sector but also in other sectors.


Indeed, the current economic crisis is keeping 23 million Europeans out of the job market whereas 60% of all municipal waste in the EU is landfilled or incinerated. The employment opportunities in the design, production, repairing, reusing, collection, recycling and composting sector are very substantial if only we change the waste market in order to divert waste from incinerators and landfills.


But these are very convenient dates to tackle food waste because of the holiday season that involves lots of investment in food and a good deal of cooking at home. According to WRAP every British family is wasting 60 euros a month in food that will not be eaten.
It is because of this wastage that the EU and some member states are taking measures to try to reduce this waste.


The EU is showing the will to end with this wastage; the European Commission has proposed an indicative milestone of a 50 per cent food waste reduction by 2020 and the commissioner Janez Potocnik is vocal about the moral, economic and environmental responsibility to change the current practices.


In this line the European Parliament passed a resolution in which:
– it asks for more education to avoid excessive waste,
– it demands proper labelling and packaging of food products to show the date until which the product may be consumed –note that the label “sell-by-date” or “best before” refer to quality standards but don’t mean that the item is not edible after the date– ,
– it promotes that public institutions should favour responsible caterers that use local produce and give away or redistribute leftover food to poorer people or food banks free of charge rather than disposing of it,
– it encourages setting up systems such as the “Last Minute Market” to make sure that leftovers or non-eaten food can be used to feed people in need.


The European Commission is also addressing consumers on the issue of food waste in a recently launched campaign on resource efficiency called ‘generation awake’ . It gives tips on making the right choices when we buy and consume – including foodstuffs.


To sum up, waste prevention is paramount and it makes lots of sense that the EU is gearing up in this issue especially in the current days of growing resources scarcity. However, let’s not forget that these days most food discards in Europe still end up landfilled or incinerated causing lots of harmful emissions. Moreover, to this date the EU doesn’t require the separate collection of organics which means that the use of food scraps as soil improver after compost is not yet happening at considerable scale. Let’s not forget that organic waste is the biggest waste stream -30 to 50%- and as such it continues to be the pending issue in EU waste legislation.


Any Zero Waste strategy focuses in the importance to work at the front end to reduce food wastage and at the back end to ensure that organics are composted and not landfilled.



Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) & Zero Waste

Many cities have built Mechanical Biological Treatment Facilities (MBT) during the last decade with the aim of reducing the waste to be finally dumped or burnt. The results depend on every case but it is clear that MBT alone is not the sollution for anything. However it can play a role in transitional strategies to reduce residual waste without having to depend on more expensive undesirable options such as incineration. A well-designed ideal Zero Waste strategy shouldn’t need MBT.

What are MBTs?

MBT covers a wide range of activities and technologies to deal with residual waste –i.e. waste that hasn’t been separated for recycling or composting-. As the name explains it is composed of a mechanical part -in which waste is mechanically separated to recover recyclables- and a biological part –to either compost or digest the organic fraction-.

There are three main outputs from an MBT plant are; recyclables –such as PET plastic that can be sent for recycling-, low quality soil –the biologically stabilised part is used for land reclamation, almost never for agriculture- and RDF, Refuse Derived Fuel, which is a mix of materials with a homogeneus calorific value to burn in incinerators or in some cement kilns.

MBT became popular with the entry into force of the Landfill Directive which obliged member states to reduce the biodegradable waste going to landfill. MBT has the capacity to reduce the volume and methane emissions from waste, plus since it is modular it allows some flexibility and is cheaper and faster to build than any other big scale centralised options.

The draw-backs of MBT are that the bad quality of the compost they produce; almost always too polluted to be applied as soil improver. As a consequence, some authorities see MBT as a way to meet recycling rates without actually recycling and the production of RDF aimed at being burnt in incinerators and cement kilns.

MBT in Europe

MBT have been used with different success in Europe. For instance, in Germany they have been in use for more than 10 years and albeit having obtained some good results, the bigger the plant the more malodours and bacteria for the neighbourhood. The experience has been proven that MBT is not necessary when biowaste collection works well and there is high quality separate collection of other waste-streams combined with a good product policy promoting prevention of chlorine/PVC, heavy metals and flame retardants.

In Barcelona, Spain, MBT facilities were called ecoparcs and have been in operation since 10 years. Although they have managed to considerably reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and are recovering materials for recycling it is a fact that no good compost has come out of these facilities whilst their production of RDF has increased. In fact, after all the expensive investments in MBT the city of Barcelona ended up implementing separate collection of organics (2010) after realising that the only way to get good compost is with input coming from biowaste source separation.

MBT and Zero Waste

A Zero Waste strategy means that waste should be prevented and source separation should be maximised. If all the products in the market would be recyclable and properly separately collected there will be no waste and hence no need for MBT. If MBT has a place in a Zero Waste strategy is only when dealing with the current 20-30% of total municipal solid waste that can’t be source separated and collected. In these cases MBT can be a temporary solution but always keeping in mind the goal of continuing minimising the residual waste.

In fact, the real name for MBT in a Zero Waste strategy would be a combination of a Material Recovery Center together with a Zero Waste Research Center. In these facilties the recoverable materials are recovered and the few residuals left are stabilised so that they can be safely landfilled after they go through the Zero Waste Research Center which analyses the defects in design in order to work upstream to make them recyclable in the future.

One of the pillars of Zero Waste is source separation of organics –the only way to obtain clean high-quality compost- and experience proves that this can’t be replaced by MBT.

Unfortunately there is no European legislation asking for separate collection of organics and hence European waste policy continues to lack a driver that would probably make MBT unnecessary. However, a growing number of Zero Waste municipalities are separately collecting biowaste and other waste fractions and already achieve high recovery rates combined with job creation.

The more separation at source the less separation is needed at the end (MBT) and the less disposal facilities (landfills and incinerators) are needed!

If You Care about Zero Waste…

Common kitchen and household products such as aluminium foil, baking paper, coffe filters or sandwich bags are the visible side of how sustainable and toxic-free our everyday life is.

A Zero Waste approach to these kind of products is based on prevention: if products are toxic-free and biodegradable they will not become waste but compost, if products are made from recycled materials they will save many materials & emissions, etc…

“If You Care” is a swedish brand of environmentally friendly kitchen and household products. Starting in 1990 “If You Care” launched unbleached coffee filters. Parchment Baking Paper and Baking Cups soon followed. All of the paper products were unbleached and totally chlorine-free -since no chlorine is used for bleaching, no chlorine is dumped into our lakes, rivers and streams-. In 2004, the very first Aluminum Foil made from 100% recycled aluminum was launched. This product featured a 95% energy savings compared to conventional aluminum foil. Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil for grilling and barbecuing, also from 100% recycled aluminum, was introduced in 2007. That same year, waxed paper, from unbleached paper coated with soybean wax was launched. In 2009, two new products were launched – 100% carbon neutral fire starters, made from FSC certified wood and vegetable oil, and sandwich and snack bags made from unbleached greaseproof paper. Many new products in a wide variety of categories are being planned and developed in the coming years.

“If You Care” kitchen and household products are carefully and deliberately crafted to have the least environmental impact and the lightest carbon footprint possible, while at the same time, delivering to the consumer, the highest quality and most effective results.

Following the Zero Waste philosophy “If You Care” products are produced with a view to reducing the amount of waste in our waste streams. The packaging of every product is made from unbleached and whenever possible, recycled cardboard or paper which should be recycled again. The coffee filters, parchment paper, baking cups, waxed paper and sandwich bags are 100% biodegradable and should be composted. The aluminum foil is made from recycled aluminum and can be recycled again.

“If You Care” is yet another example of how business and Zero Waste go hand in hand. Less toxics in the environment and less waste to be disposed of means less harm and expenditure for the communities. example of Zero Waste company

Composting -specially home-composting- is one of the best waste prevention and recycling activities. The Barcelona based company has managed to create a Zero Waste business making composting even more sustainable: by using recycled materials to build the composters.

One of the main principles of a zero waste company is that raw materials should be obtained from recycled materials and not from new extraction and has built its business model on this premise.

The combox are made entirely from recycled and recyclable plastics from post-consumer waste. The result is a 100% recycled, recycling and recyclable product.

An average European citizen generates around 1,5kg of waste per day and 40% of it is organics. Composting we can reduce the weight and volume of the organic waste by 70%. This means that if in Europe biowaste would be separately collected and composted the amount of waste to be sent to landfill and incineration could be considerably reduced. Unfortunately, the European Union continues to oppose these biowaste recycling targets but nothing stops any responsible EU citizen to start doing home-composting. offers the tools to get soil improver for free, reduce the waste generation and help fight climate change.

Effecorta – Sustainable, Zero Waste shopping is possible!

Do you think that eating sustainable food has become a fulltime expensive job? This might be true in many places in Europe but there are more and more shops that show the way towards sustainability. Effecorta, in the ZeroWaste-pioneer town of Capannori in Italy, is a very good example of how sustainable, zero waste shopping is not only necessary but is also possible!

In the shop Effecorta 80% of the products come from 70km around the Capannori municipality (aiming to get to 95%) and many of them are organic.

But this is just the top of the iceberg; the shop adheres to the principle of Zero Waste and it doesn’t use any plastic bag or any non-reusable package. This is not only true for the tomatoes but also for soap, milk products, cosmetic creams, beer, wines, beans, rice, spices, salt, sugar… you name it! Everything they sell is in refillable, re-usable or/and biodegradable packaging.

This system:

– allows every buyer to buy according to its needs which minimises the waste eventually produced by normal packaged stuff and responsible for lots of food to be wasted (8.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households in the UK every year),

– saves us from having to check the source and composition of the products because you know they are all local and in most of the cases organic (time saving),

– reduces the carbon food-print of the products because they don’t have to be transported long distances (less CO2 emissions),

– contributes to minimise the waste generation at home (no waste packaging and a lot less food wasted= less cost for the citizen and the municipality),

– because you buy the amount you need and not what is in predefined packaging in the end you end up spending (and buying) less than in a normal supermarket, even if you buy bio! An italian study shows how buying bulk can reduce the food bill in 64€ per month/family that is 775eur per year,

– well, leaving aside everything above: food tastes better and is more nutritive which at the end is what we all want!

This initiative was started by 6 idealists from Tuscany in August 2009 and it has already achieved economic stability and from all the products, the sales of the organic products are increasing by a 20%.

A lot of people questioned in the beginning the quality of natural biological refillable soaps and others. For this reason in the beginning the entrepreneurs gave to normal people (not the already convinced greeny) different soaps to try and in the end the customers decided to stay with the locally produced biological soap with the refillable packaging for pure practical and quality reasons.

It is important to mention that the customers of this shop are all kinds of normal people from Capannori and surroundings, a good example of how Zero Waste fits and improves everyday life. This has been recognised with the award of Tuscany Eco-efficiency.

Effecorta proves how zero waste and sustainability can get into people’s lifes whilst feeding them better, creating local jobs, reducing carbon food-print of products and phasing-out waste!