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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This blog is the second article in our series on “Waste & Climate Solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution across the world for the next 3 days until 27 September. Yesterday we told the story of São Paulo’s household composting schemes which have resulted in a significant reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions from landfills.
Today, our article looks at the zero waste model of CERO in Boston, where the innovative worker co-operative had provided a strong economic boost for the local community whilst simultaneously working to reduce GHG emissions. Find out how below.
This following article is based on an interview with Alex Papali, an organizer with Clean Water Action and the Boston Recycling Coalition; and Lor Holmes, a cooperative worker-owner and business manager at Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO) in Boston.
Imagine a city where all products are reused, repaired, or recycled, and all workers make a family-supporting wage. Where local economic development projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate.
Boston, Massachusetts is on its way.
Last year, the Boston Recycling Coalition submitted a set of “Zero Waste Recommendations” to the city government detailing a proposal for Boston to vastly expand their recycling and composting programs, with the ultimate goal of a 90% recycling rate. The final Climate Action Plan adopted a zero waste goal, which the coalition is working to strengthen and implement.
Most of Boston’s garbage is currently burned in incinerators. Garbage incinerators (sometimes falsely named “waste-to-energy facilities) are major contributors to climate change—burning waste emits even carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. On the flip side, community-led zero waste solutions like recycling and composting have enormous benefits for clean air and the climate while revitalizing local green economies.
This model is already happening at CERO, a worker-owner zero waste coop in Boston.
While providing family-supporting jobs for the community, CERO works with businesses on separating out materials that can be recovered. They then collect this waste in a truck and bring it to facilities where it can either be recycled or returned to the soil as compost. The COOP diverts thousands of tons of waste per week from being burned or buried, and is still expanding.
CERO’s board members and employees are people like Guadalupe Gonzalez and Josefina Luna, who have been recycling informally for years or decades. Guadalupe Gonzalez used to do backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings during the day while picking bottles from the trash at night. She was one of the thousands of underrated recycling workers, earning precious extra money to support her family. Josefina Luna explains that, at CERO, “Now we can earn a living while protecting the environment.”
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
The rules – COMPETITION NOW CLOSED
This is the short version of the rules, for the legal stuff have a look at our full rules.
- All entries must be received by midnight (GMT) on the 1st of November.
- Entries should be uploaded to Youtube and set as unlisted, the link should then be sent to: COMPETITION NOW CLOSED
- The judges will be looking for the best projects, ideas and composting solutions, not the most polished, professional videos.
- The video should reflect the benefits of compost as explained above and the core values of Zero Waste Europe.
- We are afraid that we will not be able to accept videos which are not either in English, or have English subtitles.
- All entries must consist of original or previously unreleased content, by entering the competition you give Zero Waste Europe the right to host your video on our Youtube channel, and share it through social media.
- Winners will be contacted by email.
Plastic has permeated every corner of our oceans and rivers, leaving virtually no inch of ocean plastic free.1 But all around the world, communities and cities are showing that another way is possible. From Manila to Montenegro, people are saying no to plastic pollution and calling for a world without plastic bags.
On Friday the 3rd of July groups and organisations from across the world took action for the 6th International Plastic Bag Free Day. The day saw creative events across five continents, in a unified call for reusable, responsible alternatives.
- Montenegro saw a ‘plastic bag monster’ roaming the streets of Podgorica, the capital city, as Zero Waste Montenegro raised awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and informed people of the alternative zero waste solutions. Hungarian campaigners from Humusz held a flashmob and trolley race to from a central square to a nearby market, highlighting the alternative solutions to plastic bags, such as shopping trolleys. In Sofia, Bulgaria, there was a ‘plastic bag free party and fotomarathon’ with theatre, music and drinks. A German group held a film showing of ‘Trashed’ in Konstanz. And in Slovenia a trade in scheme was held, where people could swap 10 disposable plastic bags for a re-usable cotton bag. In addition to having fun and raising awareness, groups in Europe had concrete policy goals. In Europe, groups including; Zero Waste Europe, Fundació Prevenció de Residus, Friends of the Earth Europe, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and the European Environmental Bureau renewed their call for for EU Member States to put into effect the new EU directive to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, and make this policy a reality.
- In Manilla, Philippines, a forum was held by a number of organisations exposing the truth behind many types of ‘degradable’ plastic bags and their impacts on the environment. Sonia Mendoza, President of the EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines, said “Degradable plastic bags will not help solve our environmental problems concerning waste and pollution, as their use will merely instil and promote further the throwaway attitude and culture that have so permeated modern society,” and called for a ban on plastic bags in the Philippines.
- Members of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network worked to raise awareness in front of the Seoul Jongno Tower Saengtegye, encouraging South Koreans to stop using single-use plastic bags, and instead use reusable shopping baskets. And in Hong-Kong and Taiwan groups encouraged people to “Say no to plastic bags!” and reduce their use of disposable bags.
- In Botswana, Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), called upon the Botswanan government to enforce their levy on plastic bags, which officially came into force in 2006 and use the proceeds to fund environmental activities in Botswana, saying “We also call on the government to use the levy as it was intended to create a cleaner Botswana,”.
- The Kicking the Bags Out campaign in Zambia lobbied for a plastic bag ban or fee across Zambia as part of a community solution to the issue of clogged drainage systems from plastic bag waste and donated reusable bags to legislators and ministers.
- In Canada volunteers on Vancouver Island offered reusable bags by donation and held a voluntary plastic bag ban, where shoppers were encouraged not to use single-use plastic bags as part of their daily shop.
- In Argentina a comedy event was held where monologues highlighted the ‘pointlessness’ of plastic bags.
More and more people on every continent are choosing to take their reusable bags to the shops, and ditching disposable plastics. But we don’t have time to wait for everyone in the world to follow this trend. The disastrous effects that single-use plastic bags are having on our environments, means that we need bold policies to tackle the issue of destructive disposable plastics and begin to move towards a world where single-use plastics are completely eliminated.
Many of the events and actions which took place are available to view on world map at http://www.plasticbagfreeday.org/ where you can read stories, view actions and add any of your own actions which may be missing.
1 Doyle, Christopher, “No part of the ocean untouched by plastic rubbish.” ABC Environment, 11 December 2014.
The Annual Forum on EcoInnovation took place in Hannover during April 7 and 8. This year the topic of the forum was waste and resources and was entitled: “Wasted potential!: Towards circular economy in cities”
Many members of Zero Waste Europe were invited to present the good practices of the network. Among others; the experience of the best performing European district, Contarina, the fist town in Europe to declare the Zero Waste goal, Capannori, the impressive results of Gipuzkoa and Hernani, the fantastic Reuse & Repair Centre of Kretsloppsparken and the project the People’s Design Lab.
Other presentations in this forum included the visionary thinker (and doer!) Gunter Pauli, the EU Commisisoner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, the founder of the Repair Café, Martine Postma, the CEO of Circle Economy, Guido Braam and the vicepresident of ACR+, Jean-Pierre Hannequart. All of them can be found further down.
All in all, another little step to redesign consumption and production in Europe whilst phasing out landfilling and incineration.
Janez Potocnik – ENVI Commissioner
Guido Braam – CEO of Circle Economy
Pal Martenson – Kretsloppsparken Goteborg
Joan Marc Simon – Director of Zero Waste Europe
Jean-Pierre Hannequart – VP of ACR+
Martine Postma – Founder of Repair Café
Karolina D’Cuhna – DG Enviornment
Gunter Pauli – Founder of Blue Economy
Christian Hageluken – UMICORE
Martin Vogt – The role of business
To see all the videos and tweets just go here:
According to Eurostat statistics published last week the best performing countries in Europe when it comes to waste avoidance and recycling are Estonia, Slovenia and Belgium.
Indeed, there are countries such as Germany who do very well in recycling (65%) but generate lots of waste (611kg). Then there are those who don’t generate much waste (324kg) but don’t recycle much such as Slovakia (13% recycling).
If one looks at how much waste is sent to landfill or incineration after recycling, it is possible to get an idea of the waste management performance of that country. (See the red column in the table at the bottom)
Estonia, Slovenia and Belgium combine a low level of municipal waste generation with an acceptable level of recycling and composting, which make them the countries that send less kg. per person to landfills and incinerators.
Estonia, the best EU performer, generates 279kg per person, and recycles 40% of it leaving 167kg to be disposed of.
That is less than 0,5kg per person per day. 2 times less than a Dane, 3 times less than a Greek and 4 times less than a Maltese…
For sake of reference, Zero Waste municipalities are a living proof that it is possible to reduce the best European benchmark more than three times the Estonian size. For instance, in Contarina district, the annual residual waste is of 57kg (that is 0,15kg per day!).
These statistics are published annually and reflect how many kg. of municipal solid waste Europeans produce and how it is treated. In average every European generated 492kg per person, recycled 42% and landfilled or incinerated 58%. A slight progress from 2011, when waste generation was 503kg (11kg more than 2012) and a 2% shift from disposal into recycling.
“Lies, damned lies and statistics”, Mark Twain once said
All statistics need to be taken with a pinch of salt and particularly those that benchmark waste treatment in the EU.
Firstly because the information is provided by the environment ministries from the EU capitals without much capacity from the European Commission to double-check its consistency.
Secondly because there is not yet a single homogeneous method to calculate what is recycled, composted or landfilled or what waste is included as municipal solid waste. For instance, waste exports and backfilling are considered recycling in some countries but not in all of EU. Or some countries such as France allow the output from MBT plants to be called compost when this is forbidden in others.
Finally, caution is required because the differentiation between the treatment categories is not useful to understand where the waste actually ends up. For example, incineration is a pre-treatment operation because after the combustion it will still have a residue of 20 to 30% of toxic ashes that need to be landfilled, yet they don’t appear in the landfill column.
This explains that countries such as Germany show zero landfill rates when in reality it they are landfilling more than the French (30 million tones for the former vs 24 for the latter). What the “0” landfill means is that no waste is landfilled without pre-treatment…
All in all, although one must acknowledge that the Eurostat manages to present the most homogeneous supranational data on waste treatment in the world, the degree of heterogeneity should be taken into account for the comparisons.
In the meantime what data so far does show is that the borders between Western and Eastern Europe have fallen when it comes to waste management. As a whole, old EU member states such as Spain or France perform significantly worst in recycling than new member states such as Estonia or Slovenia.
At the same time whereas traditional “advanced” member states such as Sweden, Denmark or Germany are stuck in the incineration trap, we might be seeing new waste champions arising in those places where there is flexibility to continue reducing waste generation and increasing recycling.
Statement from the Zero Waste International Alliance
Organisations that are hijacking the term ‘zero waste’ in order to promote incineration and other unsustainable practices ‘need to be flushed out’, the Zero Waste International Alliance has urged.
ZWIA says the bogus concept of ‘zero waste to landfill’ has been introduced to support waste incineration schemes, yet argues that communities from San Francisco to the state of South Australia have achieved a recycling rate of 80% with no reliance on incineration.
The alliance added: ‘recycling rates of 75%-plus are possible now and examples of municipalities large and small throughout the world prove it. All the previous talk of high recycling rates being difficult to achieve is proving to be bunkum; zero waste is gaining ground as being practicably achievable.’
It cited the new Gwyrdd project, a ‘Welsh Dragon with a huge appetite’ which it said would see the South Wales community paying more than £100 million (US$ 160 million) per year to incinerate their waste. The Cardiff-based plant, boasting a capacity of 350 000 tonnes per year, was another example of companies and their financiers seeking to ‘grab community waste cash under the guise of waste-to-energy’, ZWIA claimed.
‘There can be no form of deliberate resource destruction in a zero waste world,’ declared ZWIA chairman Ric Anthony. He stressed that the concept Zero Waste has been carefully defined to mean ‘no waste, period’ – while Zero Waste to Landfill was a ‘bogus claim’ that falsely implied an element of environmentalism.
For more information, visit: www.zwia.org
Waste is one of the main world ecociders. Indeed, waste fulfills all the criteria of an ecocide; it causes environmental destruction, it damages ecosystems, it threatens any sort of life and it ignores the rights of future generations. Waste is the living proof of the degree of selfishness and stupidity of the most intelligent generation of human beings this planet has seen.
Nature creates no waste; it is a genuine human invention. In nature nothing and nobody goes to waste because the definition of an ecosystem is a system of cooperative and symbiotic relationships; the discards of a process are the input for another one. Everything is upcycled into the system so that the system is sustainable and resilient. In an ecosystem all energy used is renewable and non-polluting and all resources are obtained in the vicinity using non-extractive, low-energy-intensive techniques. Processes take place at normal local temperatures and pressures and combustion is not an option. The current linear throwaway society is the opposite of sustainability; resources are extracted, transported, manufactured, sold, used and discarded, committing ecocide at almost each and every step of the process.
Following the example of nature, Zero Waste is a philosophy, a strategy and a goal aiming at emulating sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.
But beyond definitions, Zero Waste is a movement of people around the world, working every day not to better manage waste, but to rather phase it out of the system. Zero Waste people and communities work at different levels of the production and consumption chain in order to minimise environmental impact and close the cycles.
For instance the network of Zero Waste municipalities –more than 200 in Europe alone- commit to sending zero waste to landfills or incinerators as soon as possible. Many of these municipalities are already separately collecting more than 80% of their waste, which means that they provide good feedstock for composters and biogas plants, producing renewable energy and organic matter to improve soil and avoid desertification. They allow for high-quality recycling of paper, plastic, glass and metals, which saves cutting new forests or opening new mines to extract new resources. And they allow for the closing of incinerators and landfills which destroy the environment and cause the whole process of extraction to start again.
But Zero Waste is not only about recycling more and better; it is also about reducing waste generation in the first place. In Zero Waste communities plastic packaging generation has been radically decreased thanks to the opening of public fountains, bulk liquid dispensers for milk, honey or detergents, bans on bottled water or single-use plastic bags, the implementation of green procurement, policies to stop spillage of food waste and many others. For instance, whereas in Denmark, the top waste producer per capita in Europe, almost 400kg of waste per person and year were sent to polluting incinerators, in Zero Waste communities the annual waste sent for disposal per person is below 100kg and some of them are even close to 50kg. This means not only that the environmental impact of Zero Waste citizens is less than 4 times less than that of the average Dane it also means that the need to extract new resources is much lower.
Because Zero Waste is based on the proximity principle, most discards are treated as close as possible to where they are generated. This means that sustainable and good jobs are created to collect and recycle the waste, that innovation thrives in order to create products that are not toxic and easy to recycle and that the total costs for the community but also for the new generations are also reduced. Moreover, there are many other positive externalities associated with a Zero Waste strategy. For instance, Capannori, the first European town to declare itself Zero Waste, despite recycling almost 90% of waste and generating new jobs in waste collection, has also generated new jobs in associated sectors. Thanks to the zero waste policy new shops such as Effecorta have opened to sell local, packaging-free products, while a reuse centre was created for residents to donate used stuff. There, it is given a second life, reducing waste and benefitting the local economy. A company supplying reusable nappies –Ecobimbi- is also thriving thanks to the opportunity provided by the Zero Waste strategy. One of the consequences of such an array of virtuous initiatives is that nobody now remembers that one day a company wanted to build an incinerator in the town, which would have polluted the air and destroyed this source of a renewable and resilient economy, now a reality. As we can see, the more Zero Waste is implemented the less ecocide there will be.
But zero waste is also much more. It is about environmental justice, so that pollution and waste treatment facilities are not concentrated in poor and disenfranchised communities. It is about inclusion, so that the millions of people worldwide who make a living by collecting and selling discarded materials (aka waste pickers, catadores, grassroots recyclers) are able to live with dignity. It’s about putting money into real solutions, and combatting corruption. It’s about community organising, education, and democracy, so that all citizens can participate in local resource management plans, funding is fairly distributed, and all businesses and manufacturers understand and fulfill their roles in minimising waste and designing products for the future.
In places where incinerators or landfills are built there is a clear democratic problem, triggered by corruption or incompetency –or both. These are places in which the citizens suffer ecocide for the sake of economic profit or in order to allow some other richer communities elsewhere to continue to live in their illusion of a planet without limits. We can’t continue to run a throwaway economy in a finite planet; waste is today a global issue. There is no place called “away”. Millions and millions of tons of plastic waste now lie on the seabed or float in our oceans, breaking into small pieces that are entering the food chain, exterminating fauna and affecting us all –rich and poor. Throwaway society is consuming more energy than ever to extract resources that are becoming more difficult to reach – all of this, to produce a short-lived designed-for-the-dump product that we will use for a few minutes before we send it to the landfill, the incinerator or nature.
Waste has no future; waste is, in itself, ecocide. Zero Waste is a very simple way to fight ecocide starting from our everyday life; it allows us to build up actions with friends, neighbours and communities to change the world, one community at a time.
Clearly there are many existing ways for us to manage our society without committing ecocide. You can also do your bit by giving it legal power at www.endecocide.eu
Zero Waste is about minimising waste generation, maximising reuse & recycle and redesigning the economy in order to phase out those products that are either toxic or not recyclable.
However, during the time in which we can’t stop producers from selling badly designed stuff we need to find the best option to treat the waste that today can’t be recycled or composted and which amounts to 5 to 20% of total household waste -depending on the community-. For instance in the first European town to declare Zero Waste, Capannori, this amounts to 8%. In the Gipuzkoa province the waste that is not recyclable is 19%.
So what to do with what is left? According to a scientific study recently published the disposal option with the lowest impact is MRBT to landfill, or in other words, pre-treat the waste, recover as much as possible, biologically stabilise and landfill it.
The European Commission and the waste incineration industry promote the belief that after maximizing recycling, reuse and composting, the best thing a community can do with leftover waste is to create energy with it. But this is a political choice with little science behind.
A new lifecycle analysis report, which compares the environmental impacts of the three most common disposal methods used globally, finds that the best approach to protecting the public health and the environment isn’t mass burn waste-to-energy, and it isn’t landfill gas-to-energy. The report found that, after aggressive community-wide recycling, reuse and composting, the most environmentally-sound disposal option for any waste that may still remain is a third option: Materials Recovery, Biological Treatment (MRBT).
Material Recovery, Biological Treatment is a process to “pre-treat” mixed waste before landfilling in order to recover even more dry materials for recycling and minimize greenhouse gas and other emissions caused by landfilling by stabilizing the organic fraction with a composting-like process. Very similar to the MBT systems used widely in Europe, the goal of MRBT is to capture any remaining recyclables and then create inert residuals that will produce little to no landfill gas when buried. The system can also classify non-recyclable dry items for the purpose of identifying industrial design change opportunities, which helps to drive further waste reduction.
This report emphasizes that source separation for recycling and composting is still the best environmental option for managing all discards and should be the focus of community efforts. However, “on the way to Zero Waste” there is still the need to reduce the negative impacts of disposal and minimize the need to invest in new disposal facilities. Communities should look beyond the two traditional options—burying and burning—toward building MRBT systems that have the lowest overall environmental impact of the technologies commercially available today.
Using a tool developed by economist Dr. Jeffrey Morris called MEBCalcTM, or Measuring Environmental Benefits Calculator, the study compared the three disposal strategies—MRBT, mass burn waste-to-energy and landfill gas-to-energy—across seven environmental categories, including climate change, water pollution, air pollution and human health impacts.
The MRBT system was shown to be the best choice for a community to dispose of its leftovers because it recovers the greatest amount of additional recyclables, stabilizes the organic fraction of the residuals, reduces the amount of material to be disposed of in a landfill, and minimizes the negative environmental and public health impacts of landfilling leftovers compared to the other disposal alternatives, landfill gas-to-energy or mass-burn waste-to-energy.
“MRBT is not a replacement or substitution for source separation, but it is a tool for helping communities reduce the environmental impacts of managing their leftovers as they progress on their way to Zero Waste,” says Eric Lombardi, the Executive Director of Eco-Cycle and sponsor of the study.
When utilized in a community with successful recycling and composting programs, MRBT has further benefits beyond its lower environmental impacts. Because the pre-treatment process includes additional sorting and recovery of recyclable dry materials, MRBT can help support very high levels of landfill diversion. The study modeled an 87% diversion rate for the city of Seattle, Washington based on 71% diversion from current source-separated recycling efforts and an additional 16% from the MRBT process, including increased recovery of recyclables and the weight reduction of the organic materials from moisture evaporation and biogenic carbon conversion to carbon dioxide.
MRBT infrastructure is also flexible and dual-purposed, able to handle both mixed waste and source-separated recyclables and organics. This means a community is not tied to feeding the facility a continuous flow of mixed waste over the next several decades and is not investing in a future of ever-more waste. Rather, as a community’s Zero Waste efforts improve, the MRBT model can adjust to a declining volume of leftover waste and support the growth of source separated collection systems. In addition, MRBT infrastructure can be built and operational on a shorter time scale than landfills and incinerators, and can be modular in size to help communities manage their leftover waste more locally.
According to Joan Marc Simon, Founder of Zero Waste Europe, “This report is exactly what we need at the right time to help guide the debate on what to do with residuals once we reach high separate collection rates. Europe has over-invested in waste incineration and needs solutions that deliver environmental safety while still focusing on increasing recycling and reducing material consumption.”
The report was an international effort authored by Dr. Jeffrey Morris, an economist and life-cycle assessment expert with Sound Resource Management Group based in Olympia, Washington; Dr. Enzo Favoino, Senior Researcher at Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza in Milan, Italy; Eric Lombardi, Executive Director of Eco-Cycle, a Zero Waste social enterprise based in Boulder, Colorado; and Kate Bailey, Senior Analyst for Eco-Cycle.
The full report, “What is the best disposal option for the ‘Leftovers’ on the way to Zero Waste?” is available at http://www.ecocycle.org/specialreports/leftovers.
Want to see what is at the other end of our throw-away society? Read the guest article below written by our Zero Waste member in Romania.
By Elena Rastei
Photos Edmond Kreibik
Edmond Kreibik and Alex Molnar share a common passion, photography. Almost two weeks ago, their Nikon lenses were immortalizing another dimension of human existence, the Pata Rat slum. The pictures published in the social media raised fast a momentum of interest on the issue, which led to the organization of a charitable action.
Pata Rat slum is located at the periphery of the city of Cluj Napoca, Romania, in the heart of Transylvania and covers 18 hectares. It is the home of three distinct groups of Roma people that live in two neighborhoods, ironically named “Dallas I”, “Dallas II” and a third one that lives up on the Pata Rat landfill, a total of circa 1500 people.
The people that live within the landfill perimeter make the case of our journey. First people arrived here in the 60s. Others followed due to a variety of circumstances. According to Romani Criss1 , 9 years ago, a gypsy community used to follow their nomadic lifestyle, settling their caravan in various places within the Manastur neibourhood, city of Cluj Napoca. They lived peacefully in small cottages, on the periphery of the woods, under the tacit approval of the authorities for 7 years. In 2004, they were offered another place to live and the entire caravan was escorted by the police and local municipality to the Pata Rat landfill and dumped there. A year later, in 2005, the police performed a red code search within the small community, and under theft accusations, men, women and children were bitten up, their goods confiscated and cottages burn down along with their identity papers. In 2005 the community counted about 120 people.
Today, there are almost 300 souls that live within the epicenter of the landfill. Their lives depend on what we consume and throw away, perceiving our waste as a valuable resource. The community is expanding constantly due to the migration of the poor from villages across Transylvania, in their search for work. At Pata Rat, they live in improvised 2 meters high, 4 meters wide cottages made of recovered materials, covered in bitumen and plastic foil with no electricity, nor sewage system. Here, they are providing a service to the honorable citizens by selectively collecting PET bottles, metals, wood, plastic foil and everything that can be reused, repaired or recycled. Pata Rat with over 35.000 cubic meters of waste deposited here daily is a gold mine.
A Netherlands based charity built a community center and a school. BrantnerVeres, the city’s main waste operator and the landfill’s owner is sharing warm meals several days a year and water during the hot summer days. They are being remembered around Christmas, mostly by charities, activists and NGOs. According to Vincze Eniko’s report2, a researcher and anti-segregation activist, the current situation has deep roots, which are dated back in the socialist’s attempt to civilize the gypsies by converting them into Romanian workers.
The “GOLD mine”
December the 22nd, 11:15am: ‘’Hell smells like sulfur. I learned that in my theology classes’’ said Norbert who was walking on my side holding two big bags filled with food. Suddenly my focused changed from carefully guiding my steps along the sea of rubbish to its smell and wondered ‘’can this smell worse than hell?’’
A few minutes earlier, 11 people crowded in two cars and a white van packed with goods were being cordially welcomed by a pack of dogs, guardians of the slum. Mr. Fratean, the landfill’s manager was waiting for us. I announced our visit the evening before and Mr. Veres, the landfill’s operator offered to bring the children down at the Community Center, but Edmond, one of the organizers preferred us to go directly to the cottages. We parked the small cars, since the main road was too muddy and the side one was frozen. Hence, the van took the muddy road to the center of the slum and we started walking via the frozen side road. On our right, several dogs, quiet and calm, were watching us, resting in the white snow. Above, noisy crows changed the color of the sky into blue-black.
At one point, someone calls Edmond and announces that we were about to get mugged. Two people managed to open the van’s back door. ‘’This must be tradition’’ I say to myself. One of the BrantnerVeres employees that accompanied us saved the day. We all smiled and moved forward crunching with confidence the icy snow beneath our feet until we got up close to the first cottage. Here, the sea of garbage was entailing beneath our eyes for the first time ‘’we must cross to the other side’’ I hear Edmond say and we all followed his lead. We pass through a couch sponge torn apart in tens of small pieces; stepped over iron wires, cardboards, PET bottles, all covered in a muddy snow. Large broken ceramic pipes arise on my left. Everything can be recycled. Close to the van, some people working hard, packing PET bottles. Around, dogs and crows, fighting over territory.
We took the bags with food out first and started, well organized, with the cottages from the left corner toward the opposite side. A few children eager to get their goods, learned to their dismay that they have to go home and wait for us. ‘’Please give us something’’ I hear a low voice and turn towards a young men with beard and mustache; his head covered by a large hat was protecting the defeated look in his eyes, while dragging a large bag, filled with plastic bottles, on his shoulders. He was one of the workers. I wish we gave him something.
We crossed the slum through a herd of pigs to reach the cottages on the other side, upper on the hill. A woman with a newborn in her arms and a 2-3 year old boy, were waiting outside. The child, with the biggest and saddest blue eyes I’ve ever seen, grabs the bread and runs inside. We learned that his mother died and the young woman was raising him.
From the hilly frozen road, in front of us, we hear laughter. Two children were sledging down in a plastic red box. It reminded me of my childhood. We take the road up in order to reach a group of several homes and we meet an older women surrounded by children of various ages. She asks Edmond about some photos he took with her family last time he went there. He promises to bring them in a few weeks. Her smile was kindness. We tell her to come later at the van and get clothes for her ten children.
A few cottages later we finished the first round of packages. On the way back, close to the van, I noticed a group of four children holding hands and watching from a distance. The children didn’t go to school. They moved here last year from Bucium village, Salaj County along with their parents to work in the slum. They don’t like it in here, but they don’t know when they are going to leave. They show me one corner of the slum where the Cortorari gypsies lived. I sense fear in their voice. The other day one hit the older sister, when she tried to get water. I go back to the van, stuff my pockets with oranges and find my way back to the kids. So fascinating to hear them all say ‘’thank you’’ in such a genuine and polite manner. As we move, Sorin, the little boy, tries to hold my hand. Concerned they won’t get their food package, I sent them home.
Back at the van, I ask Edmond if I can take the bag to them. He offers to join me and capture some photos on the way, only to find out seconds later, that a group already left towards their direction.
An older man who wanted to avoid the crowd, asks Edmond for some clothes. He receives with dignity the ‘’please wait’’ request. During the clothes sharing chaos, he is the only one watching calm, as a father watching over his rebel children. He is 55 and is one of the few that arrived here 15 years ago. He doesn’t want to leave the slum. ‘’Nobody would hire an old man in the city’’, he murmurs. He looks me in the eyes while maintaining his tall posture. Even the stones beneath my feet would praise a man who conquered himself in such extreme adversity. Later, Edmond sends him a big and sturdy bag.
Along with Raluca, another organizer, we head towards the closest cottage to the main road. The big inscription above the entrance door ‘’CABINET’’ confuses me to believe that there was a medical cabinet. We stop, ready to leave, when a smiley young guy opens the door bringing us back to reality ‘’ There is no medical cabinet around here. We found the door in the trash’’ He takes the bag and closes the door behind. We laugh at ourselves.
The toys and clothes, cleaner than the people, managed to put a smile on their face. I leave the slum with a big bag, filled with the little boy’s grief, the old man’s dignity, the lovely politeness of the children from Bucium, the older women’s kindness and above all I leave with the thought that I’ll return.
At the end, while our feet were following the garbage truck’s lead out, a speedy SUV took over the road as if it owned it. A glimpse of furs, golden rings, tapped hair, left behind the smell of slavery. At Pata Rat there is a thin borderline between security, control and exploitation.
Nowadays, about a third of the world population is celebrating Christmas. Over two thousand years ago, this was the time when hope was born, along with unconditional love and acceptance, peace and tolerance. Since capitalism took over, Christmas became the time of a Coca Cola invented Santa Clause and his red nose rein deer, who is constantly teaching us that buying lots of stuff can, should and will make us happier. This, in case we don’t fall into digestive coma after all the wonderful celebration in eating and drinking. Ah well, merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho!
Gratitude goes to Edmond Kreibik, Laura Alicu, Raluca Gheorghes, Alexandru Molnar for organizing the event and to Ioana, Ioana Florescu, Dragus Rares, Dan Clinci, Alexandra Rosioara, Elena Musca, Cristina Constantinescu, Florin Onofrei, Norbert Ferenc for sharing their hearts with us, in the field. Thanks to Ioana Muresan for filling Laura’s car with bread and to Mircea Olaru Zainescu for ”parking” the donation caravan and support. For the rest of the names I don’t know, I’m sure someone counts them carefully.
to be continued…
In case you want to get involved click here or contact Laura Alicu, social worker, at 0723175457.