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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

‘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.

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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!

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!