Sweden is not known for its lack of innovation. In fact, in the 2016 Global Innovation Index conducted by Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO, Sweden sits only behind Switzerland as the second most innovative country in the world. And while Sweden is credited with innovations like the Solar safe water system and Spotify, much of their innovative brain power has been channelled into tackling one of the world’s biggest problems – waste.
Thanks to their increased efforts in incineration, the amount of trash sitting in Sweden’s landfills measures only 1% of their total MSW, eliminating harmful greenhouse gases (GHG) like methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. Additionally, Sweden has found success in decreasing its dependency on fossil fuels by harnessing energy from the waste itself through incineration. Roughly three tons of waste equals one ton of fuel oil, which is quite a good ratio considering waste is more abundant than fossil fuel in this day in age. In fact, it’s for this very reason that Sweden has turned waste into a lucrative commodity. By selling their incineration services and importing trash from countries that are willing to pay the price for greener pastures, Sweden has deepened their pockets and captured nn more energy for its plants and municipal utility services.
In relation to waste management, it would seem like Sweden has reached the Promised Land. Even if that were true in the short term, on a large scale, and in the long term, this strategy has negative effects on the very foundations of zero waste and the circular economy.
Sweden claims to be undergoing a recycling revolution, boasting that they recycle nearly 100% of household waste. But how could that be true when nearly 50% of their waste is incinerated. Incineration and recycling are two completely different things. Between 2000 and 2015, Sweden recycled an average of 33% of its total MSW (excluding compost). In 2015 alone, Sweden recycled only 32% of its total MSW (48% with compost included), which is still a ways away from the European Commission’s common EU MSW recycling target of 65% by 2030. When it’s all said and done, however, Sweden ranked sixth among European countries in recycling in 2015. That might seem like cause for celebration, but their increased focus on incineration over the years has brought about stagnation in recycling rates since 2006.
Dependency on Waste
Sweden’s stagnating recycling rate is concerning because as waste incineration becomes an increasingly reliable source of energy for them and their dependency on it grows, there is less motivation to better recycling efforts countrywide. In some cases, sorted trash actually gets incinerated, further demotivating municipalities and individuals to invest time and money into waste separation. For this reason, many recyclables are lost through incineration, leading to the destruction of valuable goods that would normally contribute to a higher, more efficient recycling rate and production cycle.
A Costly A(ir)ffair
Sweden’s increased dependency on incineration for their energy and economic needs has prompted them to continue building plants, which are very costly to both build and run, not to mention the pollutants that they produce. According to the EPA, quoted in Treehugger and Slate, incineration plants release about 1.3 times the amount of CO2 per megawatt generated than burning coal does, and they have been shown to release many other toxic chemicals such as dioxins. And while much of the CO2 would have been emitted from the waste over time anyway if left untouched, the fact that it’s being released all at once is cause for concern. From a cost perspective, a cost-benefit analysis on waste incineration conducted by Columbia University shows that plants can cost upwards of 100 million euros to construct and anywhere from 3 – 7 million euros yearly to maintain. And in order to make a return on investment, incineration plants have to process steady amounts of waste. This puts Sweden between a rock and a hard place as their reliance on generating waste to keep up with their energy and economical demands goes against their zero waste claims and the very basis of the circular economy.
Weine Wiqvist, Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association CEO, cited “’Zero waste’ – that is our slogan. We would prefer less waste being generated, and that all the waste that is generated is recycled in some way. Perfection may never happen, but it certainly is a fascinating idea.”
As a guy who has a passion for sustainability and eco alternatives, Chris naturally came upon the Zero Waste revolution back in 2014. To Chris, Zero Waste not only fuelled his desire to shape a world without waste, but also opened him up to a lifestyle based on harmony through simplification and purpose. Today, Chris continues his journey and seeks to inspire those through written word to put an end to waste by taking action.
EU countries obstructing key measures that would bring the EU closer to a circular economy are revealed – and they are not your usual suspects.
The European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe asked member states whether they will support key proposals to boost EU waste policy in the negotiations taking place in Brussels in the coming weeks.
The proposals, already approved by the European Parliament in March, include higher recycling targets for municipal solid waste; targets for preparation for reuse of municipal solid waste and reuse of packaging; better separate collection of all waste streams, including biowaste; EU-wide rules for producer responsibility; and objectives to reduce waste generation by 2030.
The investigation shows that ambitious reform of EU waste laws is under attack by a number of countries. If a regressive position is to prevail in the negotiations, plans to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the coming years will most likely stall.
Recent leaks (paywall link) of the Council’s current common position show that the laggards are winning out, despite higher individual ambition by some member states in areas including recycling targets, extended producer responsibility and biowaste separate collection.
Ferran Rosa, waste policy officer at Zero Waste Europe said: “Member States all agree to go towards a circular economy, but when it comes to making it happen, many are reluctant. It is time for Member States to stop being short-sighted and push for a real transition”
Countries opposing most of the proposals include Denmark and Finland – often regarded as leaders in waste policy despite their enormous amount of waste generated. Other countries set to categorically reject higher ambition are Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia.
While eventually supporting a 65% recycling target, countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Luxembourg and Slovakia are expected to oppose plans to make preparation for reuse mandatory, set a 10% target for packaging reuse and set waste prevention targets–all top priorities in a circular economy.
On the other hand, southern countries that generally struggle with waste management such as Greece and Romania as well as Spain are calling for stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.
Other progressive countries supporting the reforms are France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
What happens next?
• High representatives from member states will meet before the end of the month to define the position of the Council of the European Union.
• By the end of May, all three EU institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – will enter the final inter-institutional negotiations before agreeing on the final text of the new waste laws.
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.
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.
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 study tour started with an event organised by Zero Waste Europe and the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) in Vitoria-Gasteiz on 28 November. It consisted of an international conference focused on the reduction of costs in waste management for municipalities through the optimisation of separate collection, the reduction of residual waste and the transformation of these fraction into market products. Javier Garaizar, Vice-rector of the Campus of Álava of UPV/EHU opened the conference, followed by Ainhoa Etxeandia, Director of Environment of Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council. Their interventions were followed by Joan Marc Simon, Ferran Rosa, Enzo Favoino, Marco Mattiello, Kevin Curran, Nekane Artola and Ainhoa Arrozpide.
48 participants attended the conference, among which we found civil servants, representatives from companies and environmental consultancies, policy-makers, professors and students of the university, etc. The presentations can be found here.
The afternoon was used to get to know the situation regarding waste management in Vitoria-Gasteiz, thanks to the Zero Waste group Gasteiz Zero Zabor.
The 29 and 30 November were devoted to the tour of good practices of waste management and circular economy. The tour allowed visiting municipalities and counties that have experienced a significant improvement in their separate collection systems. Among these experiences, the tour visited small villages like Leintz Gatzaga or Elburgo that collect and treat bio-waste in the same municipality. The participants also visited the counties of Debagoiena and Sasieta to better know about their waste collection systems (door-to-door, roadside containers with chip or mixed systems) that have made the municipalities in these counties reach 70% and 80% separate collection or more.
On top of the good practices of waste management, the tour visited good practices on circular economy. In this sense, several companies were visited in sectors like gastronomy, fashion or remanufacturing.
At the Restaurant Azurmendi of Eneko Atxa, with a three-Michelin-stars Basque chef, the participants learned about the philosophy of the project and visited the facilities. After this visit, an excellent meal was provided and the participants could learn about the way they manage the bio-waste at the restaurants. Gurpide Elkartea, an association working for the municipality of Larrabetzuko, manages the bio-waste of Azurmendi and of the neighbours of the municipality. In Larrabetzuko they follow the ‘Austrian system’ of composting that involves local farmers in the treatment of bio-waste in decentralised composting sites. This reduces the cost for the municipality, while allow the local farmer to obtain an extra income and have access to good quality compost.
Not far from there, in Zamundio, Cristina Cendoya and Mikel Feijoo of Skunkfunk presented the philosophy of the company and the design of the collection Capsule Zero Waste. After that, the tour went to a facility of the social economy company Koopera where they sort 18,000 tn a year of clothes.
In a totally different sector, the tour also visited Rebattery, a company located in Bergara that remanufactures and recovers batteries. Rebattery manages to give a new life to 60-75% of the batteries they receive and place them again in the market.
The three-day study tour was not only interesting, but the living proof of the current initiatives of circular economy in the Basque Country and the potential for these activities to keep growing. The tour managed to successfully illustrate best practices through all the economic cycle.
For immediate release: Brussels, September 16 2016
Zero Waste Europe strongly objects to the Germany’s proposal to postpone recycling targets which are included in the waste package and are one of the flagships of the Circular Economy strategy.
After reporting 65.12% recycling rate on latest Eurostat statistics for 2014, Germany now asks for a target-free Circular Economy Package, arguing that a 65% recycling rate target by 2030 may not be feasible. According to Germany, a new methodology based on national standard loss rates should be tested for 3 years, after which the Commission could come up with “feasible” targets, opening the door for lower targets or no targets at all. This proposal would contradict current legislation which mandates the Commission to propose higher targets after 2014.
The European Commission has acknowledged that recycling targets and separate collection schemes have been the major driver of high recycling rates in many countries, including Germany. Ferran Rosa, Zero Waste Europe’s waste policy officer wondered: “Germany has their own national targets. If it’s positive and achievable for Germany, why wouldn’t they be possible for the rest of Europe? Either their statistics aren’t accurate or they have an interest in low-recycling rates”.
In this regard, Mr Rosa added that “Europe’s recycling leader is also the leading country in Europe for waste imports for incineration. The removal of recycling targets combined with close-to-zero landfill disposal will only serve to feed German incineration overcapacity and push for adding even more incinerators to the already saturated incineration market”.
Zero Waste Europe’s examples of best practices from across the continent have repeatedly proved the feasibility of achieving high recycling rates within a short period of time, supporting local jobs and increased environmental protection.
Germany’s position also rejects the Commission’s proposal of EU-wide minimum requirements for EPR schemes that are meant to drive recyclability and repairability of the products covered by existing or new Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.
“We cannot afford to have the European engine putting the breaks on the Circular Economy. A target-free Circular Economy package with almost no binding measures will not bring the systemic change needed” concluded Rosa.
Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.euZero Waste Europe
According to Eurostat statistics on waste released on 22/03/16, each European generated 475 kg of waste in 2014, only 44% of this is being recycled or composted. The remaining 56% ended up landfilled (28%) or incinerated (27%).
Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) notes that two continuing trends in these statistics:
Little improvement in terms of waste generation
Waste is being diverted from landfills into incinerators (up 1.1%) and to a lesser extent to recycling (up 1%)
In general terms, the countries which are performing well in waste treatment seem to be unable to reduce their waste generation, while the most efficient ones in terms of waste generation tend to be unable to reintroduce materials into the economy through recycling and composting.
In view of these facts and in order to advance towards a circular economy ZWE calls for the adoption of targets for residual wastei of 100kg per capita as a more effective tool to increase recycling in countries with low waste generation and reduce waste generation in those countries with advanced recycling programs.
Zero Waste Europe’s Executive Director, Joan Marc Simon said “A residual waste target of 100kg per capita for 2030 is a good indicator of resource efficiency and resource use, as it works on the top levels of the waste hierarchy, effectively combining prevention, reuse and recycling policies”.
When looking at 2014 statistics from a residual waste per capita perspective one can see that, besides Malta and Cyprus (both islands) and Denmark, there is already considerable convergence between EU member states with the EU average being at 259kg per capita, hence a target of 100kg for 2030 is a feasible target.
The situation is, however, very diverse across the EU, both in terms of waste generation and waste treatment. Some Member States like Romania, Poland or Latvia are well under the average EU waste generation with less than 300 kg per inhabitant, while some others like Denmark, Cyprus and Germany generate substantially more than EU average, being over 600 kg per inhabitant and even over 750 kg, as it is for Denmark.
ZWE also notes that Slovenia, a relatively new member state, is today the best EU country implementing waste hierarchy management practices with stable waste generation well below EU average and a high recycling rate. This makes of Slovenia the best performing EU country with the lowest amount of residual waste, just 102 kg per capita in 2014.
Mr Simon added that “The Circular Economy in Europe means reducing waste generation and increasing recycling rates and Slovenia is a good example of how to both things can take place simultaneously”.
An analysis of the new EC proposal on Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD)
Joan Marc Simon – Director of Zero Waste Europe
On December 2nd the European Commission (EC) presented the new legislative proposal aiming to amend waste directives and move the EU towards a Circular Economy. However if one analyses the text of the proposal on Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) in detail one wonders whether this proposal is legislating for 2030 or for 2010.
Effective action in the field of packaging is as important as it is urgent. There are many reasons for this;
packaging is growing in absolute terms both in volume and in weight. Between 2000 and 2015 the share of plastic packaging has grown 5% annually and is now 25% of the market,
once it becomes waste most packaging (notably plastic but not exclusively) is generally disposed of, not recycled,
marine litter is global problem and 80% of it is made of plastic packaging and by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Moreover current packaging recycling schemes in Europe are generally inefficient. In a study we published in 2015 we demonstrated that in Europe 70% of the municipal waste is product waste, i.e. not biowaste, 45% of which is not covered by Extended Producer Responsibility schemes which only succeed to separately collect 18% of it. Hence the recycling system is not performing very well and leads to most product waste ending up in the environment, in landfills or in incinerators.
With this in mind the European Commission presented a proposal in December 2015 aiming to create an “economy that preserves the value added in products for as long as possible and virtually eliminates waste. It retains the resources within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, so that they remain in productive use and create further value”.
Hence, one would expect that the aim of the amended Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) is to go in the direction of increasingly preserving this value that we seem to be so inefficient at maintaining.
If we look into the current proposal from the EC to amend the PPWD we will see that it mainly proposes two things;
Firstly, it suggests that preparing for reuse rates can be counted as contribution to recycling efforts. One can understand the political reasons behind this move, help those countries which will see their recycling rates shrink with the new suggested methodology to account for the targets, but technically it is an objectively bad idea because it mixes apples with pears and will not help bring clarity and legal security to neither the recycling industry nor public authorities. If the EC wants to increase reuse of packaging it is a lot better to set separate preparation for reuse targets altogether.
Secondly, it reduces the targets of preparation for reuse and recycling by an order of 5 to 15 points from the 2014 proposal, although the targets proposed will remain above those of the PPWD directive of 1994. All in all this is to be welcomed but if preparation for reuse is to be counted together with recycling it might well be that many countries will be already meeting the recycling targets today.
However, before ranking the level of ambition of the EC proposal we need to zoom out and ask ourselves a simple but important question; if the aim of this legislation is to contribute to the creation of a Circular Economy which preserves the value added in products as long as possible… are the measures presented the appropriate ones?
Unfortunately the answer is a resounding no. The current proposal would have been appropriate for the discussions we had 10 years ago during the revision of the waste framework directive in which the aim was to “turn the EU into a recycling society” but not in 2016 in the framework of Circular Economy discussions.
Many stakeholders including the EC itself recognise that the real added value of products and resources is in prevention and reuse operations. A very simple example; if we recycle a mobile phone the value of the materials we will extract will not be above €2 whereas if we repair and resell it we have the possibility of getting several hundred euros. In this sense the proposals to amend the PPWD are not legislating for the future but rather for a situation which belongs to the past. Where are the proposals to reduce packaging waste? What about increasing packaging reuse? And deposit schemes? By focusing primarily on recycling the EC commits the same mistake of previous decades; work at the bottom of the hierarchy and ignore the biggest potential benefit which lies at the top.
Another sign that the proposal is legislating for the past is the fact that it does not address current market developments. The fastest growing packaging waste streams are composite packaging (multilayer packaging, pouch-ups, etc) growing at double digits rate yearly. They are difficult to collect and even more difficult to recycle yet completely absent in the directive. On the other hand we see the rise of online shopping which involves a lot of packaging which producers like Amazon put in to the EU market but for which they don’t take any responsibility… on top of evading most taxes these companies get another competitive advantage by passing the responsibility of managing their packaging waste to the public authorities. Where is the action from the EC on this front?
And what about coffee-capsules? They are a problem today which will continue to grow in the coming years and legally speaking they are not even considered to be packaging! We need a proposal that legislates not for the past but for the Europe we will have in 2025 and 2030.
Essential components to make the PPWD fit for the Circular Economy
If the objective is to build a Circular Economy which preserves the added value in the economy there are at least four instruments that the EC should be considering:
Prevention targets for plastic packaging
We need to stop the growth of packaging waste in Europe. This means that there should be prevention targets which in my opinion do not need address the totality of packaging waste but rather specific waste streams and at the very least have prevention targets for plastic packaging. There are three reasons for this; plastic packaging is the stream with lowest recyclability and the one with lowest recycling rates, it is the fastest growing packaging waste stream and it is a major problem for marine environment and hence human health. Moreover, because of its light weight it is hard to compare with metals, paper and glass and the EC is working on a strategy on plastics which needs to address plastic packaging. Why not start here?
The current PPWD directive already includes prevention targets for single use carrier bags which focus in reducing the units of plastic bags instead of addressing the stream by weight. A similar approach can be used to set prevention targets for plastic packaging.
2. Separate targets for preparation for reuse
If there are targets for recycling, there could also be separate targets for preparation for reuse or any other commitment to have refillables return to Europe. Otherwise there is the paradox that by trying to meet recycling targets by weight member states might decide to dismantle existing packaging reuse schemes. Over the past few decades the market for refillable and reusable packaging in Europe has been inexorably shrinking and without a clear sign and guidance from the EU level nothing encourages governments thinking this process could be reversed or even stopped. The current PPWD already includes good wording on packaging reuse but still lacks the teeth and targets to make it possible.
3. Modulate EPR fees according to ‘circularity’ of products
There should be a clear feedback mechanism that connects waste with product and process design. In a circular economy, waste and inefficient resource use anywhere along the value chain should translate into direct costs for business. In other words, less durable, reusable or recyclable products should be more expensive for the producer and for the consumer than the circular ones. A way to do this is by using modulate fees in the extended producer responsibility schemes as it is being used in some cases such as for paper in France. Luckily the current proposal to amend the Waste Framework Directive already dwells on this option but we need stronger legislation in order to give clear signs and legal security to producers.
4. More and better recycling, but as a last option
Recycling is very important as last stage of a circular economy but it cannot do the job alone. Yes, we need more recycling, yes we need separate targets for recycling, yes we need to have separate recycling targets for composite packaging and yes we need more directly enforceable legal formulations but recycling alone cannot bring about a Circular Economy.
To conclude, the effectiveness of the new PPWD will be judged according to two parameters; on one hand the measures to tackle plastic packaging and on the other one the measures to support reusable and refillable packaging. Both currently missing and which will need to be introduced during the co-decision process.
Disruptive legislation in this field will not be easy because of the economic interests that lay behind single-use packaging but if Europe is serious about becoming a circular economy and fighting marine pollution it will need to stop looking at the past and start legislating for the future.
This speech was delivered at Packaging & Sustainability Forum, 2/3/16.
Since 2006 the seven municipalities of the lower Međimurje (The City of Prelog and the municipalities of Kotoriba, Donja Dubrava, Donji Vidovec, Sveta Marija, Goričan and Donji Kraljevec) have been developing a joint waste management system. Organised by the municipally owned company Pre-Kom, waste has been separately collected in the region since 2007. With the region currently ranked top in terms of separate collection within Croatia, it seemed the next logical step was the creation of a society without waste, or the implementation of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’.
Zero Waste 2020 commitments
By the adoption of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the municipalities of the region have committed to meeting the following waste management conditions by 2020:
70% of useful waste to be extracted, processed and recovered (recycling, composting, anaerobic processing, or other acceptable means of useful waste recovery) through separate waste collection.
The amount of bulky waste and combined waste will be reduced from the current (2015) level of 98.8 kilograms per capita per year to 50 kilograms per capita per year by 2020.
The priorities in the field of waste management (prevention of waste, reuse and recycling) will be reinforced to the fullest extent, waste incineration will be avoided, the amount of waste deposited on landfills will be reduced to the lowest possible level.
An analysis of useless waste will be conducted yearly, and an operative strategy and campaigns for further improvement in waste management will be defined based on the results of the analysis.
In addition to the initiated activities in waste management, and according to Waste management plans of municipalities of lower Međimurje, the municipalities commit to start and take part in the following activities:
Organising educational sessions related to sustainable development and waste management and to promote the zero waste development strategy.
Work on projects related to reuse of the collected waste (clothing, shoes, etc.).
Promote separate waste collection of biodegradable communal waste and the composting of it.
Promote the use of compost given back to users.
Promote increasing the amount of households included in the waste management system.
Introduce a billing system based on the volume of collected waste.
Start projects on all levels of development, or public and private initiatives in order to secure improvement of living standards and sustainable development in their areas.
Encourage green construction using environmentally friendly materials.
Take part in sustainable mobility (car sharing, walking, bus transport, etc.).
Promote new lifestyles (tourism, catering, Fair trade commerce, etc.).
In order to track their progress, the municipalities have formed the ‘Council for Waste Management in Lower Međimurje’ which will track the fulfilment of the goals of the international strategy for “Zero waste”, this council will consist of:
The president of the Council is a Director of PRE-KOM, and the council will meet at least once every six months.
In adopting a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the region of Lower Međimurje will join an international community of municipalities moving towards zero waste. This community includes; New Zealand (the first country in the world to include the Strategy in its national legislation), New Scotia, British Columbia in Canada, Buenos Aires in Argentina, San Francisco in California, Canberra in Australia and many other local communities, regions and cities across the EU.
The municipalities of lower Međimurje are becoming a key example of good practice in waste management, and an exemplary model for other local communities in Croatia and around the world in the struggle towards a zero waste society.
Current waste management practices & infrastructure
In the area of lower Mešimurje, mixed communal waste is collected in black containers, biodegradable communal waste is collected in brown containers, bulky waste is collected after a phone call, paper and carton are collected in blue containers or bags, plastics in yellow containers or bags and metal and glass are collected in free bags. Aside from the gathering infrastructure, Pre-Kom. manages a composting plant, a sorting plant and a recycling yard.
Amounts of bulky and mixed communal waste disposed on a landfill per household:
2011 2,888 t — 424 kilograms per household (128.5 kg per capita)
2012 2,801 t — 409 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2013 2,794 t — 407 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2014 2,862 t — 412 kilograms per household (124.8 kg per capita)
2015 2,299 t — 326 kilograms per household (98.9 kg per capita)
Amount of separately collected, processed and recovered waste:
2011 16.93 %
2012 19.04 %
2013 19.63 %
2014 22.39 %
2015 49.58 %
By completion of the separate waste collection system and by introducing containers for biodegradable waste, Pre-Kom. has already significantly increased the amount of separately collected waste in 2015, compared to 2014. Analysis show an increase in other materials collected separately door-to-door. In 2015, 49,58% of waste has been collected and processed separately, which is a better than EU average of 43%. The results weren’t achieved quickly, they were achieved by continual investments and upgrades to the waste management system.
Considering what has already been achieved, municipalities of lower Međimurje aspire to demonstrate some of the best waste management practices in the world and to lead the way a zero waste society.
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.
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.
Zero Waste Europe gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union LIFE program of DG Environment which co-financed this tour.
Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid is successfully paving the way for Zero Waste Municipalities in the area of Madrid, in Spain.
Since this summer, thanks to the progressive political turn in many municipalities in the area, the network has been able to ally with alternative political parties and pass a motion in at least 4 municipalities calling for zero waste. Moreover, the network has been able to create and develop working groups for the implementation of Zero Waste in various municipalities, as an alternative to the waste management model of municipal waste.
The four municipalities that have already approved the motion are Loeches, Mejorada del Campo, Torres de la Alameda and Velilla de San Antonio. All of them are small municipalities no more than 44km2 and with no more than 23,000 inhabitants. However, they have a lot of environmental problems such as plants for the treatment of sludge from toxic materials, wastewater treatment, the deposit of industrial and dangerous waste, illegal landfills, incinerators and cement kilns burning waste.
The approval of the motion brings positive news and hope to the current waste management situation in Madrid. It is a presents a step in the right direction on the way to a Zero Waste reality.
The motion in detail
The motion recognises the urgent need to stop relying on false solutions, such as lanfills and incinerators. This model effects the environment and the health of the people of neighbouring and nearby municipalities. We therefore need a paradigm shift, and in the motion we ask for:
The creation of a working committee to implement a zero waste model with the participation of local political and civil society groups.
The council to be formally required to create a ‘regional waste strategy 2016-2026’ for the City of Madrid. This would replace the current and outdated strategy and set the objective of ‘Zero Waste’ waste management in our region..
An awareness raising campaign should be carried out with citizens participation, where people are informed about the current waste management practice, its impacts, the alternatives, and benefits involved such alternatives.
The municipal waste collection should be evaluated and be run by the municipality and not by external companies. This would include:
A study of current and future costs of waste management if it were to be run by the municipality should be conducted. This study should assess its viability and implementation.
A review of current waste management contracts and whether they can be modified, to allow a gradual implementation of a zero waste selective collection project.
Control and monitoring of the current waste collection to ensure that contracts are enforced, so we would able to confirm that they are not mixing municipal waste and other types of waste (packaging) etc. in its collection.
‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’
This Zero Waste Europe member is a network of neighborhood associations, environmental groups, Popular assemblies of 15M, collectives of organic gardens, organisations formed to fight facilities and harmful waste plans, “No Macro-Landfill, Yes Zero Waste” campaign, representatives of political groups and individual zero waste campaigners. Their common goal is the fight against the creation of hazardous waste, against harmful waste facilities and planned facilities primarily located in the Eastern region of Madrid.
Over the years this network has been a focal point of resistance to environmental damage in the area. It works to submit refutations to waste projects, environmental damage reports, conducting lobbying and organising trainings, rallies and demonstrations aiming to show the popular opposition against these projects.
While challenging these facilities, the network has developed, and now promotes an alternative Zero Waste policy to the current waste treatment plans. This should be implemented in all municipalities of the City of Madrid. In this way, Zero Waste Madrid also wants to reach the institutions through the current ‘popular unity’ candidates who are much more open to this project through motions in the municipalities where they are in office.
In conclusion, thanks for the wonderful work of ‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’, zero waste is really happening in Madrid!
The report was commissioned by Zero Waste Europe, in partnership with Zero Waste France and ACR+. The report finds that the role of waste prevention and improved waste management can play in reducing GHG emissions and the development of a low carbon economy has previously been significantly understated, partly due to the structure of the national inventories of the UNFCCC.
The report further provides an accurate examination of the true impact of waste management on climate change and carbon emissions. It confirms that actions at the top of the waste hierarchy – including waste prevention initiatives, reuse and recycling – have considerable scope to reduce climate change emissions.
As the report states “A climate friendly strategy, as regards materials and waste, will be one in which materials are continually cycling through the economy, and where the leakage of materials into residual waste treatments is minimised”. For example, recycling 1 tonne of plastic packaging can be a saving of 500 kg CO2 eq, whereas using one tonne less plastic packaging results in avoiding 6 times more emissions (3 tonnes CO2 eq).
In the report 11 key recommendations are made, calling for waste policies to be redesigned in order to prioritise the higher level options of the ‘Waste Hierarchy’ (waste prevention, reuse and recycling) and immediately reallocate climate finance subsidies which are currently supporting energy generation from waste. These recommendations put a strong focus on correcting methodological issues that are currently preventing Member states and the European union from implementing waste policies that are efficient in terms of GHG emissions.
The report shows that in the decarbonising economy required to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, technologies such as incineration will become less attractive options and ultimately present an obstacle to a low carbon economy.
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director said “For far too long the climate impact of waste management has been overlooked. Now it’s clear that waste prevention, reuse and recycling are climate change solutions that need to be fully integrated into a low carbon economy. Both at the EU and international level, it is time to shift climate finance support to these climate-friendly options instead of waste incineration, which in fact contributes to climate change and displaces livelihoods of recyclers worldwide.”
Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste France’s Advocacy Officer,said: “With France hosting the COP21 in December, it is a real opportunity to raise decision makers’ awareness about the real impact of waste management on climate change and the extent to which Zero Waste strategies have to be put on the agenda of solutions to climate mitigation supported by the French government.”
Françoise Bonnet, Secretary general of ACR+ said: “Efficiency and smart waste management is key for a low carbon economy. Still, it is only the tip of the iceberg as a much bigger impact can be achieved through resource efficiency and adopting a life-cycle perspective”.
Zero Waste Europe – Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
Zero Waste France – Zero Waste France (formerly Cniid – Centre national d’information indépendante sur les déchets) was founded in 1997. As an independently funded NGO and a member of Zero Waste Europe, it has been advocating for waste reduction since then, talking to local and national public officials as well as citizens groups or businesses. In 2014 the organization changed its name to Zero Waste France to emphasize its ambition but also the links with the other groups involved in this issue worldwide. Zero Waste France works closely with local stakeholders – among them its 2,000 members (individuals and groups) to encourage and implement Zero Waste strategies at the local level. www.zerowastefrance.org
ACR+ – The Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and sustainable Resource management (ACR+) is an international network promoting sustainable resource management through prevention at source, reuse and recycling. Through its activities, ACR+ strives to develop the expertise and skills of public authorities in effective waste-product-resource policies. Building on a 20 year experience, ACR+ launched in November 2014, the Circular Europe Network, a multi-stakeholder platform aiming at supporting local and regional authorities in adopting aspiring circular economy strategies. www.acrplus.org
The study published today  analyses the waste composition of 15 European cities showing that 70% of municipal solid waste is product waste, and therefore not food or garden waste, and as such could be included under an EPR scheme. However, on average, only 45% of this product waste (by weight) is currently covered by producer responsibility schemes. This means that, on average, EPR schemes only cover 32.5% of total municipal waste, with coverage varying from 14.9% in Copenhagen to 47.6% in Paris. Furthermore, only 18% of product waste is collected separately through an EPR scheme.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of ZWE said “The current interpretation of EPR was useful to increase recycling rates in Europe over last 20 years but it will need updating for it to help move us towards a circular economy. We call on the European Commission to use the upcoming waste package to include incentives to redesign systems and products in order to drive prevention and reuse, foster a serviced-based economy, put recycling as last option and progressively phase out disposal.”
The report makes a series of recommendations to the European Commission. Among these it calls for a broader definition and a more comprehensive approach to producer responsibility which includes the use of economic instruments. The introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements as well as better EPR schemes with full-cost coverage, individualisation, targets for separate collection and considering expansion of the current EPR scope to include more products and incentivise reuse.
The study also finds that existing EPR schemes have been ineffective in driving eco-design, both because of its limited coverage of product waste and the lack of modulation of EPR fees based on eco-design. Zero Waste Europe urges the European Commission to develop minimum European-wide individualisation criteria based on eco-design.
1. Zero Waste Europe– Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
Sao Paulo llama la atención por sus grandezas: alberga el mayor parque industrial y financiero del Brasil, es su municipio más poblado y es la sexta ciudad más grande del planeta, donde viven más de once millones de habitantes. Esta grandeza genera también una cantidad de residuos difícil de dimensionar: se producen diariamente 12,3 mil toneladas de residuos domiciliares, de lo cuáles el 51% son residuos orgánicos compostables y el 35% son residuos secos reciclables.
Aunque no siempre los rellenos sanitarios fueron el principal destino de los residuos en Sao Paulo, esta práctica se fue expandiendo hasta llegar a una situación crítica donde el 100% de todo el residuo orgánico, 95% de todo el residuo seco y 100% de todo el rechazo eran, hasta hace 2 años, destinados exclusivamente a los dos rellenos sanitarios existentes, el Relleno CTL (Central de Tratamiento de Residuos Leste) y el relleno Caieiras.
Las motivaciones para revertir esta situación están relacionadas con obligaciones legalesi, pero también con la urgencia de economizar espacio en la región metropolitana extendiendo la vida útil de los rellenos sanitarios; de aprovechar la materia orgánica que aporta nutrientes y mejora las propiedades de los suelos en el estado de Sao Paulo; de unirse a los esfuerzos de reducción de lixiviados y de emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero (GEI) en la ciudad. El sistema de manejo de los residuos sólidos de Sao Paulo es el segundo más grande sector emissor de GEI (Inventario municipal, 2012), con 15,6% (14% proveniente de los rellenos). La práctica del compostaje puede disminuir en 5 a 10 veces las emisiones de metano en rellenos sanitarios.ii
La implementación de la Política Nacional de Residuos Sólidos (PNRS) dio sus primeros pasos con la participación ciudadana en 58 eventos y más de 7.000 participantes, organizados por la Administración Pública de Sao Paulo. 800 delegados elegidos por miles de paulistanos y apoyados por expertos y técnicos de la autoridad pertinente, acordaron los lineamientos principales respecto de qué hacer con los residuos generados en la ciudad.
Estos puntos constituyeron parte del Plan de Gestión Integrada de Residuos Sólidos de la ciudad de Sao Paulo – PGIRS, publicado a inicios de 2014, y que determinó la recuperación, en veinte años, del 80% de todos los residuos reciclables secos y orgánicos compostables. Entre los lineamientos aprobados destacan la segregación de los residuos orgánicos en las fuentes generadoras, su recogida selectiva universalizada, el compostaje, tratamiento mecánico biológico y fomento al compostaje doméstico.
“Composta Sao Paulo”
El compostaje domésticocomenzó a ser alentado por el gobierno de Sao Paulo poco después de la publicación del PGIRS en junio de 2014, mediante la entrega de composteras a viviendas unifamiliares. En seis meses se recuperaron 250 toneladas de residuos orgánicos.
El proyecto llamado “Composta Sao Paulo”entregó kits de compostaje doméstico con lombrices a 2.006 hogares en la ciudad de São Paulo. A través de una convocatoria pública, el proyecto consiguió en 40 días 10.061 inscripciones en el sitio web, de diversas regiones de São Paulo. Los seleccionados provenían de 539 departamentos y 1.467 hogares de ocho regiones.
La entrega de composteras fue acompañada por 135 talleres de capacitación para más de 5.000 participantes. También se alentó a los participantes a responder las encuestas programadas y asumir el papel de multiplicadores del compostaje doméstico.
Después de dos meses, los participantes del proyecto fueron invitados a otros talleres (88 talleres), donde recibieron consejos y técnicas de plantación en espacios pequeños para el uso del compost producido. Para resolver las dudas e inquietudes se optó por la creación de una comunidad virtual en Facebook. La comunidad de “composteros” terminó el primer año del proyecto con más de 6.000 miembros.
El levantamiento posterior de información relativo a los resultados del programa indicó que el 89% de los participantes disminuyó notablemente la entrega de residuos para la recolección. No hubo diferencias significativas en la evaluación de la práctica de compostaje entre clases sociales o entre los tipos de viviendas y sólo 47 hogares (2,3%) renunció a la actividad. En tanto, el 97% de los participantes de una encuesta realizada para medir el nivel de satisfacción (1.535 personas), se mostró satisfecho o muy satisfecho con la técnica, el 98% consideró una buena solución para los residuos orgánicos y el 86% la consideró fácil de practicar.
En su análisis económico, la Municipalidad de Sao Paulo constató que los costos de entrega de composteras, monitoreo y asistencia técnica entregados por el Gobierno local podían ser cubiertos a través de los ahorros logrados en la reducción de la recolección, transporte y disposición final de los residuos orgánicos en rellenos sanitarios. El estudio comparó los costos (estimados) de recolección, transporte y disposicion de residuos orgánicos en rellenos sanitarios con los costos (estimados) de entrega de composteras, comunicación, talleres, etc. Posteriormente, se realizó el cálculo con lo que efectivamente se invirtió para desarrollar las acciones antes mencionadas en el contexto de “Composta Sao Paulo”, trabajando con 2006 hogares. Considerado el efecto “contagioso” que se detalla más adelante, los costos serían igualados en menos de 5 años.iii
La estrategia de comunicación y el efecto contagioso
La vinculación de la práctica del compostaje doméstico con la participación y responsabilidad ciudadana fue una pieza importante de la estrategia comunicacional desarrollada para este programa en cuanto al involucramiento de la población. Además de la novedad del proceso del compostaje mismo, el uso de técnicas modernas de comunicación social despertó atracción por el proyecto, y el deseo de “ser parte”.
El efecto multiplicador no se hizo esperar. Los resultados de la encuesta indicaron que el 29% ayudó a otras personas que no recibieron composteras a hacer, instalar o gestionar una. Los participantes testimoniaron un efecto contagioso, que atrajo a 2.525 nuevos participantes que trataron de montar o comprar su propio sistema de compostaje.
El 27% de los participantes donó lombrices para que otros pudieran iniciar la práctica. Asimismo, los cambios de conducta en otros ámbitos también salieron a la luz: 84% afirmó haber ampliado mucho su conocimiento de la sostenibilidad urbana; 96% se consideró bastante más diligente en manejar adecuadamente los residuos que produce; el 54% dijo que comenzó a comer bastante más frutas y verduras.
Los nuevos “maestros composteros”
Los 2.525 nuevos participantes entusiasmados por los propios integrantes del proyecto son una muestra del potencial del ciudadano de convertirse de simple objeto de política pública a verdadero sujeto en el ejercicio de su ciudadanía: en este caso, de “capacitados” a “maestros composteros”. Al atraer a nuevos participantes y compartir sus aprendizajes, los integrantes del proyecto deben ser reconocidos por lo que efectivamente son: “Maestros Composteros”.
Por su parte, los gestores públicos están llamados a apoyar lo que las mismas personas pueden construir. Basta soñar en grande, empezar por lo pequeño y actuar ahora. El compostaje doméstico es un instrumento de política pública empoderador, forjador de compromisos colectivos, con un efecto multiplicador que alienta la conducta ciudadana responsable desde la alegría, el descubrimiento y el aprendizaje.
“Estoy muy atenta a mis residuos orgánicos y los residuos de los vecinos. Estoy más crítica con la cantidad de comida a comprar. Tengo afecto por las lombrices.”
“Nos dimos cuenta de que cada vez que íbamos a botar los residuos a la compostera sentíamos un bienestar profundo… algo así como si estuviéramos dejando de ensuciar la ciudad y convirtiendo la basura en flores. Intercambiamos ideas con otras personas que estaban haciendo compostaje y tenían la misma sensación! El compostaje es terapéutico!”
Testimonios de ciudadanos participantes del programa Composta Sao Paulo, 2014.
*Autores: Dan Moche Schneider. Coordinó el área de Residuos Orgánicos en el PGIRS de Sao Paulo. Claudio Spínola. Ideólogo y y operador de “Composta São Paulo”.
Magdalena Donoso, Coordinadora de GAIA para América Latina
iObligación de recuperar los residuos establecida por la Política Nacional de Residuos Sólidos – PNRS, aprobada en 2010.
ii Inácio, Caio de Teves. O papel da compostagem de resíduos orgânicos urbanos na mitigação de emissão de metano. Caio de Teves Inácio, Daniel Beltrão Bettio e Paul Richard Momsen Miller. Embrapa Solos, 2010. 22 p.
iii Cálculos estimados por Dan Moche, ex Coordinador de Residuos Orgánicos en el PIGRS de Sao Paulo. Análisis económico interno de la Municipalidad de Sao Paulo.
After 5,637 km of cycling, the Alternatiba Festival finally arrived in Paris on the 26th September, having left Bayonne in early June and travelled through Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and most of France and gathered in these four months, more than 300,000 people in 187 cities and towns.
Alternatiba was born two years ago in Bayonne, in the French Basque Country, hoping to present real and grass-roots alternatives to climate change. Two years later, it has become the largest ever environmental festival in France and it has raised awareness about climate change as a systemic problem, requiring systemic changes.
The weekend in Paris consisted of 14 different “neighbourhoods”, from ‘Energy’ to ‘Zero Waste’, but also ‘Banking’,and ‘Agriculture’, emphasizing that the fight against climate change is diverse in itself and requires efforts from all sectors. More than 60,000 people visited the stalls of NGOs, associations and civil society, attended talks, ate ‘un-wasted food’ at the Feed the 5000 event, and generally enjoyed the good mood and atmosphere of the people mobilized and engaged for the betterment of the planet, our present and our future.
Zero Waste was particularly visible aspect of the Paris Alternatiba Festival thanks to the efforts of our friends at Zero Waste France who provided their expertise on how to minimize waste at the event: deposit and return cups, increasing the segregation of biowaste and compostable products, ensuring proper information, etc. At the same time, the Zero Waste neighbourhood stressed the importance in the fight against climate change of shifting from wasteful societies to zero waste societies. Zero Waste France presented their Plan B’OM, a citizens-led alternative plan to the construction of a big incinerator in Ivry (Paris region), organized workshops on how to make fabric bags and another on the importance of buying in bulk, and how to do so. Their rubbish autopsy was also a success, showing that there are still many non-recyclable products that need to be re-designed.
Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth France) presented a guide on re-use and participated in a debate on ‘planned obsolescence’ along with HAP, a new organisation created to fight the artificial limiting of a products life. Other stands offered training in composting and vermi-composting or presented warnings about the most useless big investments in waste facilities in France (mostly MBT plants and incinerators). Repair café demonstrated how to empower citizens re-use their products and other groups showcased upcycled objects.
The Zero Waste neighbourhood was very well complemented by the ‘Water’ neighbourhood, where Surfrider highlighted marine litter and plastics, the ‘Banking’ neighbourhood advocating for the divestment from environmentally toxic projects, such as incinerators, and by the ‘Housing’ neighbourhood that underlined the importance of green building and recyclable construction materials.
Overall, the Alternatiba Festival was successful in making the case that there are alternatives to climate change in addition to energy transition and that without them, it will not be possible to mitigate the effects of climate change.
This year saw a significant growth for Zero Waste Week, held between 7th – 13th of September. What has previously been a national UK based week expanded internationally drawing participants from across the world. The theme for this years Zero Waste Week, was that of ‘Reuse’. One of the ‘3 R’s’, reuse is an essential aspect of any zero waste strategy, and is near the top as one of the ‘most favoured options in the ‘Waste Hierarchy Pyramid’.
Kornelia from Warsaw, Poland said “I started the Zero Waste project in my family in July 2015 and I try to respect all 5 rules of Zero Waste. I write about it on my blog”
Hana from Tunisia said “I pledge to make my own reusable bags”
In the UK, Zero Waste Week was celebrated in Parliament in an Early Day Motion recognising the hard work carried out by founder Rachelle Strauss, and the wide reach and success of the week. The week was further referenced by Kerry McCarthy MP who introduced a bill proposing a reduction on the ‘obscene amounts of food needlessly wasted through the food industry supply chains’, and making this waste available to charities and people in poverty.
Klaus from Munich, Germany pledged to “Buy no plastic packaging [and] recycle waste for different uses”
The increasing reach of Zero Waste Week stands as an exemplary model for moving towards a zero waste world. With participants in all levels of society, and increasing recognition from national legislative bodies, it seems that zero waste ideas are becoming popularised.
Valerie from Paris, France, pledged to “Avoid every kind of packaging”
Many more exciting events such as ‘repair cafés, smoothie bikes, roadshows, meals made from ‘waste’, swap events, and art projects’ also took place during the week, with a huge response on twitter under the hashtag #ZeroWasteWeek
With the EU currently in the process of preparing a the circular economy package, these efforts should demonstrate the potential and energy for waste reduction in our economy from across Europe, as well as the recognition of the importance of waste within our supply chains.
This blog is the second article in our series on “Waste & Climate Solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution across the world for the next 3 days until 27 September. Yesterday we told the story of São Paulo’s household composting schemes which have resulted in a significant reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions from landfills.
Today, our article looks at the zero waste model of CERO in Boston, where the innovative worker co-operative had provided a strong economic boost for the local community whilst simultaneously working to reduce GHG emissions. Find out how below.
This following article is based on an interview with Alex Papali, an organizer with Clean Water Action and the Boston Recycling Coalition; and Lor Holmes, a cooperative worker-owner and business manager at Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO) in Boston.
Imagine a city where all products are reused, repaired, or recycled, and all workers make a family-supporting wage. Where local economic development projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate.
Boston, Massachusetts is on its way.
Last year, the Boston Recycling Coalition submitted a set of “Zero Waste Recommendations” to the city government detailing a proposal for Boston to vastly expand their recycling and composting programs, with the ultimate goal of a 90% recycling rate. The final Climate Action Plan adopted a zero waste goal, which the coalition is working to strengthen and implement.
Most of Boston’s garbage is currently burned in incinerators. Garbage incinerators (sometimes falsely named “waste-to-energy facilities) are major contributors to climate change—burning waste emits even carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. On the flip side, community-led zero waste solutions like recycling and composting have enormous benefits for clean air and the climate while revitalizing local green economies.
This model is already happening at CERO, a worker-owner zero waste coop in Boston.
While providing family-supporting jobs for the community, CERO works with businesses on separating out materials that can be recovered. They then collect this waste in a truck and bring it to facilities where it can either be recycled or returned to the soil as compost. The COOP diverts thousands of tons of waste per week from being burned or buried, and is still expanding.
CERO’s board members and employees are people like Guadalupe Gonzalez and Josefina Luna, who have been recycling informally for years or decades. Guadalupe Gonzalez used to do backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings during the day while picking bottles from the trash at night. She was one of the thousands of underrated recycling workers, earning precious extra money to support her family. Josefina Luna explains that, at CERO, “Now we can earn a living while protecting the environment.”
From Friday 5th to Sunday 7 June, dozens of zero waste campaigners, experts and supporters from across Europe gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria for 3 days of discussion, planning and strategy at the Zero Waste Europe Annual General Assembly, hosted by Zero Waste Europe’s member in Bulgaria, Za Zemiata.
On Friday 5th, the Zero Waste Conference opened with a speech from Ivelina Vasileva, the Bulgarian Minister of environment and water. This was followed by a passionate speech from Enzo Favoino, the Chairman of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee, who told the audience that “we must never surrender to the idea that there is something which is not reusable or recyclable”.
The Director of Zero Waste Europe, Joan Marc Simon (ZWE) emphasised in his speech that zero waste is about “asking the right questions: not ‘Is it better to landfill or incinerate?’ but rather ‘How do you mainstream the support to re-use, recycling, and redesign?”.
In a series of short presentations, the conference heard the story of a variety of different campaigns and their successes and strengths. These included Camille Duran, from Green White Space, who
examined the economic context for zero waste as part of a larger “sharing economy” in a globalised world. Dimo Stefanov spoke about his challenges in creating a zero waste compost farm, and creating a viable zero waste business in Bulgaria.
Delphine Lévi spoke on behalf of Zero Waste France about the incredible speed at which their campaign has grown, and how zero waste has become “trendy” in France, with the possibility of many significant gains on the horizon.
Victor Mitjans from the Barcelona-based Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i el Consum Responsable, highlighted the use of ‘deposit schemes’ for recyclable materials as a financial incentive to increase the recovery rates of one-way packaging, and put forward the idea for this to be further extended towards other waste streams including precious metals and other pollutants. Csilla Urban, from Humusz in Hungary told the audience about the zero waste events they had held, as well as their plans for the future of Zero Waste in Hungary.
In the next presentation the conference heard from Sofia resident Irena Sabewa who had pioneered a community composting scheme called “living together” bringing together neighbourhood residents and using “community effort to produce community results”.
The presentations ended with a talk from Ilian Iliev from the Bulgarian Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. This talk tied together many of the key aspects of the Bulgarian zero waste movement. With a wide range of community projects focussing on addressing problems with collection, tackling low levels of knowledge and fighting incinerator projects. His closing remarks made clear challenges of tackling the various stakeholders of the zero waste project in Bulgaria, and claimed that it is only through working with these groups that Bulgaria can begin to move up the European ranking for waste management.
Saturday saw members of the Zero Waste network looking ahead to the coming years, discussing the priorities for the campaign and strategy for growing, developing and increasing the ‘Zero Waste Cities’ across Europe. The final day of the ZWE Annual Meeting saw a summary of the ideas presented over the previous two days as well as the administrative tasks of the AGM.
The meeting closed with an inspirational presentation from Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, Mariel Vilella who highlighted the global scale of zero waste campaigns, covering the work of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the changing landscape of global campaigning.
Throughout the meeting, hundreds of conversations took place, experiences were shared, tactics discussed and strategies developed setting the groundwork for increased pan-European actions and co-ordination. Hearing about the successes and struggles of groups organising for zero waste, left the Zero Waste network enthused, inspired and ready to drive the campaign for zero waste forward.
If you couldn’t make it the ZWE Sofia Meeting, or have only just heard about the ZWE network and want to get involved or help out, you can get in touch via email or have a look to see if there is a local group in your region by checking the Our Network section of the website.
Belgium managed to be the best performing country in waste management in 2013. Thanks to reducing waste generation and good recycling rates the Belgians managed to send for disposal in landfills and incinerators only 197kg per person.
The big (negative) surprise was Estonia, the European waste champion of 2012 managed to keep low waste generation rates but because of building an expensive incinerator it has reversed the virtuous progression of last years and 55% of the waste, mostly recyclable, is being now turned into ashes.
Same as in preceding years, the country that generates more waste is Denmark with 747kg per person (2kg per person per day!) and the one that generates less is Romania with 272kg, almost three times less. Of course the devil is in the details and an important factor for this big difference is the way statistics are processed in different countries but the graph shows the staggering disparity in the EU. In absolute terms Romania sends a lot less waste for disposal, 213kg per person, in comparison to 416kg in Denmark, but in percentage the former disposes of 78% whereas the latter burns and landfills 55%.
A worrying trend
However the figures confirm a worrying trend; recycling continues to stagnate. Whereas composting and recycling in 2012 were at 41,19%, in 2013 they only slightly increased to 41,79% (0,6% up).
In the same period landfilling has gone down 2% but this waste has not moved to recycling… instead it has been transferred to incineration. If we look at the following graph we will see how the current policies in the EU are taking waste out of landfills to throw it into incineration instead of recycling it. This is what some people, including some EU officials, call zero waste to landfill; definitely a bad idea!
When a system doesn’t work, you change the system
We have been denouncing since decades that incineration competes with recycling in getting waste out of the bottom of the hierarchy and that the current legislation lacks the tools to move waste up the waste hierarchy.
Since long time words have been backed by facts; our case studies and the story of the hundreds of European municipalities in Europe prove that it is possible to move away from landfilling to prevention, reuse and recycling –reducing waste generation at the same time as recycling increases- in 5 to 10 years. This is the real zero waste direction!
The stagnation of recycling in the EU should surprise no one. The Union lacks tools to promote prevention and reuse, it is victim of a system that economically rewards generating energy from burning waste instead of supporting the savings associated to reuse and recycling; plus it still doesn’t require countries to separate organic waste (the biggest waste stream) to allow for proper treatment as well as quality recycling of the rest.
The waste hierarchy was considered to be the ladder which waste should climb to be phase out of the system. However the EU doesn’t give the right tools to member states to be able to climb this ladder and continuous to insist in getting out of the landfills not worrying where this waste ends up.
No time to waste: circular economy package needed urgently!
The figures dating back to even before the approval of the Waste Framework Directive show the strategy from DG Environment doesn’t work. New tools are necessary to stop wasting time; the waste package recently binned by the Juncker Commission contained useful measures to move forward. The Circular Economy package that the European Commission intends to present end of 2015 should at the very least preserve most of them.
The world of arts and fashion maintains a very stimulating dialogue with the world of waste. Artists, eco-designers, and handcrafts professionals have found in waste materials a source of inspiration, a thrilling challenge to their creativity and even a conceptual pillar to build a whole new vision of arts, fashion and sustainability.
Katell Gelebart is an example of this wave of artists looking at waste as a treasure. A French independent, Katell is an eco-designer using arts and fashion to raise awareness about waste.
“My creations are born in different cultural environments around the globe, with whatever waste and unwanted material there is already there that can act as a social trigger to inspire and raise awareness amongst communities in their social and environmental choices”, says Katell.
Katell founded her workshop, shop and brand Art d’Eco & Design in Amsterdam in 1998 in a groundbreaking initiative in the world of ecodesign. Passionate about waste and giving a new lifecycle to any material, she is a pioneer in developing design articles from unwanted and waste materials: stationery, fashion accessories, women garment, toys, and home furnishing. In 2012, Gelebart was awarded the Kairos Prize for her special contribution to European culture, rewarding her “creative vision to revisit what’s already there”.
Apart from her redesign work in her Amsterdam base, Katell has been sharing her current knowledge on upcycling, recycling and ecodesign in lectures and presentations in various fashion institutes and design academies, as well as in primary and high schools. In short, her philosophy and vision around creativity and sustainability is introducing many different audiences into what she calls New Thinking for New Times.
Perhaps one of the most exciting experiences for the creative minds is her ecodesign workshops, in which participants experience a “hands on material” time. Participants themselves collect the waste and raw materials in their local environment, and learn to transform them with crafts techniques and low-tech means. Essentially, the workshop guides participants to explore the potential of any material to be given a second life, transforming it to another design item with the minimal intervention.
Gelebart’s current main concerns focus on big fashion company’s corporate responsibility. “According to Hasmik Matevosyan in her book Paradigm shift in Fashion, the production of a clothes collection wastes up to 30% of the textile materials, which will never be retailed,” says Katell. “This seems to me like a huge amount of raw material wasted that it has been processed for nothing.”
Gelebart is thriving to pursue a dialogue on this issue and support organizations and companies in rethinking their production systems to achieve zero waste. In other words, lots of residual waste items are waiting out there to be on Karell’s hands and be transformed into beautiful and useful solutions. Redesign, arts and creativity may be indeed, one of the most mind-blowing responses to our wasteful, throw-away society. Nothing less than lots of fun and truly sustainable change for us and the future generations.
Karell Gelebart’s upcoming book Trash is Treasure: ecodesign and conscious living will be published shortly.
The Zero Waste (ZW) fair, celebrated in the context of the Zero Waste Month proclaimed by President Benigno Aquino III, was the first ever exhibition on waste, workshops on and trading of discards, and exchange of ideas and practices on waste in ways and forms that were accessible to everyone. Its aim was to multiply the pursuers of zero waste, and grow the benefits exponentially!
The workshops on recycling, composting, repurposing, and the proper handling of electronic waste were one key activity in the Fair. Most importantly, it was a gathering of people who wanted to learn from each other.
The diverse booths showcasing products made from recycled materials were particularly inspiring. Junk Not shared her stories of how most of plastic reused for her creations was found in a scrapyard and was going to be burnt. All her products were effectively (and beautifully) diverted from landfills and incinerators.
People could walk around exhibits; listen, discuss with others; participate in checking out propositions; even repair or repurpose their discards right on the fair site; and engage and trade online and carry it forward during the fair.
Interestingly, the ZW Fair counted with the participation of an international delegation of ‘zero-wasters’ that presented a perspective of Zero Waste experiences around the world. Nalini Shenkar from Hasiru Dala in Bangalore introduced the audience to the experience of organizing a cooperative of grassroots recyclers, which has involved the creation of 500 jobs in 2 years. Shibu K Nair from the Kerala-based organization Thanal talked about Zero Waste Himalayas, a network of more than 30 groups created in 2010 that promotes better resource use and recovery practices in the region of the Himalayas, particularly strategic since it holds the source of water for half of humanity in the planet. From the Global North, Monica Wilson, Recycler of the Year 2012 and GAIA‘s US and Canada Coordinator, explained the specific steps in the implementation of the Zero Waste program in San Francisco, a city that has been continually reducing its waste generation and it’s committed to a zero waste goal by 2020. Similarly, Mariel Vilella Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, introduced some of the European zero waste best practices.
These experiences reinforced a zero waste vision for Philippines, where the debate around waste management is currently hot and contentious. The National Solid Waste Management Commission is a designated group by the government to assess new waste management technologies and revise the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Act, which could potentially lower the current targets for air pollution and allow incinerators back in the country. The incinerator moratoria in Philippines has been a world-wide example to ensure a toxic-free environment, and its eventual cancellation is seen as a global threat.
Precisely, the Zero Waste Fair showed several municipalities that are already taking steps towards implementing zero waste programs. Nueva Vizcaya was one of the highlighted places that is actively working towards zero waste goals, with several initiatives on education, training, livelihoods, and planning.
Moreover, Mother Earth Foundation organized a visit to the local Barangay of Fort Bonifacio, Taguig (the native Filipino term to refer to the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, ie. a village, district or ward) that has transformed a former illegal landfill into a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), along with a source separation system that has currently reached 95% compliance. The separate collection scheme and management of materials in the MRF has formalized the work of 12 waste pickers and 5 MRF staff members, with a considerable raise in their monthly earnings and livelihood stability.
As a closing event, the Zero Waste Fair gave the Zero Waste Awards, as a salute to ZW heroes and pioneers, and a celebration of how far we’ve come on the road to Zero Waste.
The UN Climate Conference (COP 20) concluded in Lima last 13th December after 12 days and 33 extra hours of negotiations, with a far more disappointing agreement that the more sceptical-minded would have dared guessing. Yet still, this was an important space to bring up our community-led climate justice solutions for the waste sector, which as much as it is often part of the climate problem, it can definitely be turned into a great climate solution.
An agreement with no real teeth
Following-up on previous commitments, countries meeting in Lima were meant to frame the new legal, binding, global agreement that is supposed to be adopted in the next COP 21 in Paris. This new treaty is expected to ensure climate action from 2020 onwards to keep the planet’s temperature rise below 2Cº.
The outcome from Lima, far from bringing countries closer to a legally binding global treaty, delayed all the important and most controversial decisions and produced a shy ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’, a document that puts forward a number of key recommendations, without any real mandate for countries to pursue them.
Apart from the big picture negotiations, the COP20 was a very relevant space to monitor and analyse specific country efforts to implement climate action in the waste sector. Precisely, several experiences have shown that whereas waste is part of the climate problem as a source of GHG emissions, it can definitely be turned into a key climate solution with greatest emission savings and further co-benefits.
Zero Waste – Key Solutions for Climate Justice
“Zero waste solutions—including waste reduction, redesign, composting, biogas, producer responsibility, consumption transformation, and recycling—could be implemented today, using existing innovations, with immediate results.” (Excerpt of the GAIA Declaration towards the COP20)
As done in previous years, GAIA organized a delegation of representatives of grassroots recycling workers, visionary local leaders, and innovative practitioners that showed that zero waste is a key strategy for climate justice and to develop a low-carbon economy. Throughout a week of action both inside the COP and also outside at the People’s Summit for Climate Change, the delegation engaged in promoting community-led climate solutions in the waste sector and also challenged the misleading assumptions around waste burning as a clean energy and/or renewable energy source.
Starting the week with a colourful and exciting public action at the heart of the COP, the delegation pointed out at the current lack of environmental criteria in climate finance, most noticeable in the under-construction policies of the Green Climate Fund. This institution, which has received financial pledges from developed countries to up to 10 USD billion during the COP20 and that may be approving project proposals as early as next summer 2015, has refused so far to commit to an ‘exclusion’ list of projects which would ensure that none of this eventual money ends up burning fossil fuels, municipal solid waste, biomass or producing any sort of dirty energy. Several civil society organizations have joined efforts to raise this demand, yet to be considered by the GCF Board.
Specific action was taken to put the Mexico government on the spotlight, as it has recently granted permission to use municipal solid waste as fuel in cement plants all over the country. Doña Venancia Cruz, representative of the Indigenous Community of Santiago de Anaya in México, appealed directly to the government representatives bringing the testimony of her impacted community by this polluting practice.
As mentioned above, the COP20 was an excellent context to show the key achievements of zero waste strategies in reducing GHG emissions, air pollution, providing livelihoods and restoring the soils. A press conference was held to showcase the specific examples.
Dan Moche and Beth Grimberg from the Aliança Resíduo Zero Brazil presented the progress made in Sao Paulo, which as recently implemented source separation of organic waste and domestic composting for 10.000 homes. Compost from green waste — everything from household food scraps to dairy manure — avoids methane emissions from waste disposal and most importantly, it contributes to soil restoration and helps increase its capacity to act as carbon sinks. The effect is cumulative, meaning the soil keeps absorbing carbon dioxide even after just one application of compost, as compost decomposition provides a slow release fertilizer to the soils leading to an increase in carbon sequestration and increased plant production.
Special attention was given to the contribution of the recyclers community, represented by Denisse Moran from REDLACRE. The recycling sector, with more than two million informal recyclers in developing country cities, offers climate-smart urban solutions to sustain and strengthen livelihood development, improve local environmental health, and strengthen local economies.
Last but not least, representatives from the Coalición Anti-incineración Argentina stressed the need to work at the local and national level and root climate solutions on the basis of communities and national coalitions of civil society organizations.
Monitoring national climate policies in the waste sector.
As mentioned above, the COP20 is a very useful space to monitor and analyse national climate mitigation policy – aka NAMAs, Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, in the UNFCCC jargon. As the global agreements have not offered any solid environmental guidance, the current situation shows a wide variety of climate mitigation policies, often in the wrong direction. This is particularly obvious when looking at the waste sector in countries such as Colombia, Indonesia and Dominican Republic.
Colombia for example, which is known to host one of the most vibrant grassroots recyclers movements recognized internationally, presented a climate mitigation policy that will entail the implementation of an MBT plant in two cities, with the subsequent production of Refuse-Derived Fuel to be burnt in cement plants as an emission reduction strategy. The polluting impacts of waste burning in cement kilns have been thoroughly reported.
Worryingly enough, Dominican Republic also presented a climate mitigation project with the support of GIZ consisting in burning of used tires in cement kilns, arguing that it would not only reduce GHG emissions but it would also benefit the local population via job creation. Likewise, the climate mitigation policy presented by Indonesia also makes a reference to developing 5 waste-to-energy projects in 5 different cities, even thought it’s unclear what kind of technology it will be.
On the other hand, the Dominican Republican also presented a project to apply anaerobic digestion to pig farming, which could indeed contribute to GHG emissions if done appropriately. In this sense, it was made clear that when it comes to climate mitigation policies in the waste sector, the UNFCCC is unable to provide any solid environmental and social criteria and it needs close monitoring to discern the good, the bad and the ugly.
In conclusion, as Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s Associate Director, put it in her presentation about climate policy in the waste sector in the People’s Climate Summit: “Let’s not rely on misleading concepts. Biomass and waste cannot be the “new coal” because they are not clean energy, and they are not renewable. There is a critical need to develop environmental and social criteria for climate action in the waste sector, to ensure that we take advantage from its enormous opportunity to mitigate climate change and reach further co-benefits in air pollution reduction, green jobs, and the empowerment of resilient communities,”
Next steps – toward Paris COP21
The COP21 in Paris will take place next December and the National Climate Coalition 21 is already gearing up to it. International networks had a chance to discuss plans at the People’s Summit in Lima and put forward a calendar of decentralized mobilizations for the whole year. Once again, community-led zero waste solutions will be at the front of the mobilizations, showing the work done throughout the whole year at the local and national contexts.
For a comprehensive analysis of the COP20 outcomes, we recommend the following article by Oscar Reyes, at Institute for Policy Studies, and also this article by Lili Furh, Liane Schalatek and Maureen Santos at Heinrich Boell Foundation.
From December 8th to 12th, Zero Waste Europe welcomed Yimin of Eco Canton, an association based in Guangzhou, South-East of China, member of the China Zero Waste Alliance. Yimin, who has been taking part of a twinning exchange with Zero Waste France for the last weeks, travelled all the way to Spain, in order to learn more about waste management and reduction systems in Barcelona and the Basque Country.
Her trip, supported by GAIA, started in Barcelona, where Yimin met ZWE Director Joan Marc Simon. They visited a Community Compost Site, a Reuse and Recycling Centre and Yimin got useful insights on how waste collection works in Barcelona. Yimin was positively impressed in particular by the color-based waste separation system (brown bins for organic waste, yellow bins for packages, blue bins for paper, green bins for glasses and grey bins for residual waste), as well as by the recycling rate of the city (around 40%). This is of course still far from the Zero Waste goal, but already much higher compared to Guangzhou, where waste is mostly sent to landfill, and sometimes incinerated. Waste picking is a common phenomenon in China and it is also increasing in Barcelona, due to the economic crises and the rise of unemployment: this is surely a common topic for future cooperation between Zero Waste Communities in China and Spain!
Yimin then travelled to the Basque Country, where the local Zero Zabor (Zero Waste in Euskera) association guided her around several villages to discover pro and cons of their different waste collection, separation and compost systems. She learnt in particular about the door-to-door waste collection scheme in Usurbil, the first town to implement such a system in the Basque Country. Usurbil also introduced an innovative Pay-As-You-Throw method (PAYT), providing additional incentives for citizens to reduce, separate and recycle waste. Although the schemes implemented in the Basque villages might not be adapted for Guangzhou, a city of 15 million inhabitants, their experiences are of the utmost interest for the villages in the outskirts the Chinese megalopolis. The following days the visit continued at a compost plant, a landfill, and at a quarry site in Gipuzkoa. The quarry has in fact been identified by GHK, the provincial waste management organization in the Basque country, as a potential dump site for residual waste.
Yimin appreciated GHZ’s commitment to close all landfills and explore innovative ways to deal with residual waste in the future. But what probably struck her the most during her visit, it was the citizens’ awareness of the importance of waste avoidance and separation, and their involvement in community initiatives, being them compost sites, city farms, or reuse centres. Zero Waste Europe looks forward to welcome more foreign visitors in the future, to exchange best practices and create synergies, on the road to Zero Waste!
Reuse pulper, the waste of recycled paper industries, and transform it into second-life plastic: this is the aim of the Eco-Pulplast project.
The project was born in Lucca, the biggest paper industry district in Europe, with 120 firms, over 6,200 employees, with a yearly turnover of more than 3.8 billion EUR and spin-off activities in several other economic sectors.
Pulper is the waste of recycled paper (such as paper ribbons and cellophane film). Paper mills in the Lucca district produce almost 100 tonnes of pulp each year and spend nearly 10 million EUR treating it: an economic and environmental cost that can no longer be sustained.
The Eco-Pulplast project will recycle the plastic component of pulper, which is currently landfilled or incinerated, and transform it in a zero-mile secondary raw material to produce pallets and other plastic products for paper mills.
The Eco-Pulplast consortium, led by the research institute Lucense, includes Selene, a leading firm in the pliable plastic packaging sector; Serv.Eco, a group representing paper factories in the Lucca district; and Zero Waste Europe.
Waste reduction and reuse is also a priority for Innopaper, the centre for innovation in the paper sector in the Tuscany Region, led by Lucense.
The Eco-Pulplast project will run for 30 months and it will test innovative technology for pulper treatment developed by Selene. The pilot plant for the project will be based in a disused warehouse, to avoid the environmental impact of building a new production site.
The Eco-Pulplast project has applied for funding under the “Life Environment and Resource Efficiency” programme of the European Commission which could cover up to 60 % (1.2 million EUR) of the project costs.
As Rossano Ercolini, president of Zero Waste Europe said at the Eco-Pulplast launch ceremony last week: “this project is the story of a fruitful collaboration between different local actors, joining forces to achieve both innovative production and environmental sustainability”.
Eco-Pulplast represents a tangible and virtuous example of a circular economy and of industrial symbiosis. This is an exceptional opportunity to expand the production chain of the paper industry, while at the same time creating jobs in an innovative sector.
Waste incineration in cement kilns has been put on the spot once more as one of the biggest obstacles to zero waste solutions and a major source of pollution with severe impacts on the environment and public health, this time at the European Gathering Against Waste incineration in Cement Kilns (see programme) that took place the last 8-9 November in Barletta, Italy.
The event had an enormous success of participation, with more than 200 people attending the talks given by community leaders, NGOs, waste experts, and policy-makers on the various issues surrounding waste incineration in cement kilns and the main solutions around zero waste alternatives.
It received extensive press coverage in local newspapers and television (see below for press clipping) and all of the organizers, including Movimiento Legge Rifiuti Zero Puglia, Zero Waste Italy, Zero Waste Europe and GAIA – Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, celebrated its outcomes.
Precisely, the gathering was a chance to strategize and plan further coordination at the European level amongst the various groups working on this front and resulted in the elaboration of a manifesto that will be made public in the coming days.
Waste incineration in cement kilns: an obstacle to zero waste and a source of pollution
‘Waste incineration in cement kilns is the biggest obstacle to zero waste’ said Paul Connett, professor emeritus at St. Lawrence University in New York in his keynote speech. Connett argued that waste incineration in cement kilns is not sustainable, neither saves as much energy as reuse and recycling do. In fact, this industrial practice releases toxic emissions into the air containing mercury, lead, cadmium and thallium, and other heavy metals and Persistent Organic Pollutants. Moreover, cement plants usually reintroduce the fly ash and the bottom ash resulting from the combustion process back into the cement, which basically makes buildings constructed with this cement highly toxic and threatening for people and the environment.
Regarding public protection from toxic emissions, Profesor Connett pointed that even if there were strong regulations, adequate monitoring and consistent enforcement, there would no way to control nanoparticles of dioxins, furans or toxic metals that result from waste incineration in cement kilns or any other combustion plant. Air pollution control devices do not efficiently capture nanoparticles, which can travel long distances, remain suspended for long periods of time and penetrate deep into the lungs, as referenced in scientific literature such as this and this.
“I am opposed to waste incineration in purpose-built facilities, but when you burn the waste in cement kilns you are taking it out of the hands of professionals and giving it to amateurs!, concluded Prof. Connett in reference to the increased interest of the cement industry to provide waste disposal services to municipalities and become actual incinerators.
When analyzing the emissions coming from a cement plant, di Ciaula concluded: “the pollutant emissions from cement-incinerators are much higher and would be illegal if they were coming from incinerator!”. Di Ciaula also reported a number of scientific studies about impacts on public health from toxic emissions, particularly regarding impacts of NOx emissions (here, here and here), PCBs compounds (various studies: here, here, here, here, here), and the increased effects on children (here), and reminded that PCBs are not systematically monitored neither regulated.
Impacted communities: testimonies that need to be heard
Undoubtedly, one of the high points of the event was the opportunity to hear the testimonies of several communities from Italy and around Europe that are facing waste incineration in cement kilns at their doorstep as well as engaging in transforming their local waste management systems to aim at zero waste.
In the first place, Sabrina Salerno from Movimiento Legge Rifiuti Zero Puglia talked about the situation in the city of Barletta, where a cement plant very close to the town threatens to start burning 65.000 tons/day of waste. This is a shocking contradiction in a town that has recently implemented door-to-door collection to increase recycling rates and reduce residual waste. Amongst other actions, the Movimiento Legge Rifiuti Zero and Zero Waste Italy are promoting a petition to the European Parliament against the use of Refuse-Derived-Fuel as a clean source of energy. Other representatives from around Italy presented similar battles in Monselice (Veneto) where the local cement plant has been called into question at the European Parliament for intolerable toxic emissions, Gubbio (Umbria) where local opposition has been successfully preventing waste incineration in the cement plant for many years. Other presentations refered to similar situations in Trapani (Sicily), Lazio (Rome) and Galatina (Puglia).
The collective Eko-Krog in Slovenia has also been protesting the potential incineration of waste in a Lafarge-owned plant in Trbovljefor the last ten years. Despite many victories along the way and wide popular support opposing this practice, the cement industry still intends to burn waste and the battle has started over many times over different permits and resolutions.
In the UK, Lillian Pallikaropoulos has been leading the campaign against the Cemex-owned cement plant in Rugby for the last ten years. The plant, placed just in town, burns waste and tires without appropriate regulatory and environmental permits. The case was brought up to the Court of Justice, which unfortunately failed in favour of the cement plant and charged Mrs Pallikaropoulos with the total cost of the legal proceedings. This was appealed at the European Court of Justice and is pending to be resettled.
Serbia was also present with the NGO Egrin, based in Kosjerić, where waste the cement plants of Holcim and Lafarge have been burning waste since 2006. Branislav Despotov argued that cement plants are increasingly making its main profits by burning hazardous waste rather than producing cement, as shown in this paper.
The way forward: connecting the local and the global level on a zero waste path.
Last but not least, one of the most exciting talks of the gathering was given by Erika Oblak, Zero Waste Slovenija coordinator with Ecologists Without Borders. The zero waste strategies in Slovenia have been moving forward with huge steps and culminating with the recent declaration of Ljubljana as the first Zero Waste EU capital, which was celebrated and inspired all the participants.
Precisely, host speakers such as Rossano Ercoloni, ZWE’s President and founder of Zero Waste Italy reminded that a zero waste path should not include waste incineration activities, even less in a cement kiln. “We have alternatives to incineration that are proven and already working” stated Enzo Favoino, the ZWE Scientific Chair, who addressed what would do a zero waste strategy in dealing with residual waste.
“In fact, we are at the #ageofdeccomissioning of incinerators, and we cannot allow waste to be promoted as ‘alternative fuel’ to fossil fuels”, concluded Mariel Vilella, ZWE Associate Director and also host to the meeting. “Now it’s time to coordinate our efforts at the local and global level, so that we make sure that our stories inspire and strength further all the other communities that are facing similar threats in Mexico, India, South Africa and all over the world”, she said.
Everyone showed enthusiasm to celebrate another international gathering in 2015, so more activities and further planning shall be announced soon.
South African Waste Pickers are amongst those organized communities that have turned the tide of their role in the waste management systems. Since the creation of their national organization SAWPA – the South African Waste Pickers Association with the support of groundWork in 2009, their empowerment as the de facto recycling system in South Africa has reached important political milestones and it keeps expanding. Their latest step: undertaking a Zero Waste Tour in Europe to learn about organic waste treatment, visiting the Zero Waste Best Practices in Gipuzkoa (Basque Country, Spain) and sharing their story of collective organizing with the informal recyclers in Barcelona.
Management of organics, a key pillar for zero waste success
The Zero Waste Tour started in Donosti with the International Training Course on Organics Management, which addressed the management of the organic fractions of waste, including collection and treatment. It also included a site-visit to the door-to-door collection system of Hernani and a composting facility plant. As it was pointed out by one of the trainees Enzo Favoino, Chair of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee, specific collection and treatment of biowaste is a must to move towards zero waste.
“With recycling of packaging we only go halfway”, Favoino argued. Biowaste still makes a significant part of the total municipal solid waste and therefore ambitious zero waste plans cannot be reached by collecting and treating only dry waste. “SAWPA supports a zero waste approach as it creates jobs, saves public money, and it combats climate change”, said Simon Mbata, national spokesperson for SAWPA. “Organic waste is a critical waste stream within a zero waste approach but it’s not included in the South Africa’s Waste Act (2008), so coming to this training it’s been really useful to start developing organic waste strategies back home,” he added.
First international meeting of waste pickers in Barcelona
Moving on to Catalonia, one of the most striking activities of the Zero Waste Tour was the meeting with the local waste pickers in Barcelona, most of them involved in the Cal Africa Moving cooperative. This was the first time that an international delegation of waste pickers visited Barcelona and so it was a key opportunity to exchange notes on working conditions and strategies for collective organizing to improve and demand recognition for their valuable work. Together with researchers from Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Research & Degrowth, Zero Waste Europe and GAIA, representatives from SAWPA and Cal Africa Moving joined for a whole day of strategy talks culminating in the public event “Informal recycling: ecological alternatives and socials rights” that opened up the debate in Barcelona about the inclusion of recyclers in the waste management system in the city.
Those conversations stressed the need to recognise the environmental and social contribution of recyclers to resource recovery and job creation. They collect, sort, clean and in some cases, process the recyclables, returning them to industry as an inexpensive and low-carbon raw material. Essentially, their work represents a huge opportunity to save resources and reduce GHG emissions through increased recycling rates, if given the proper recognition and support.
Precisely, one of the obstacles for the expansion of recyclers’ activities that were discussed in the meeting was the role of the intermediate positions in the trade channels of resources (commonly known as the ‘middle men’), which in Barcelona corresponds to some enterprises that maintain a privileged position over the street waste pickers and the scrap market. Moreover, for many recyclers in Barcelona, this obstacle is aggravated by their migrant situation and lack of resident or working permit, running the risk to be detained and deported.
“In South Africa we have received many brothers and sisters from our neighbouring countries and we have welcomed everyone in our organization, which in turn it’s linked to many other waste pickers cooperatives around the world,” said Simon Mbata. “Our Global Alliance of Waste Pickers is a key space to strengthen the international coordination and solidarity amongst waste pickers”, he added.
The public event celebrated in Can Batlló was a chance to bring these conversations on to the open space, giving a chance to bring forward many interested suggestions such as generating a census of recyclers in Barcelona and providing identity cards to enable their formalisation. The Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i Consum pointed out the challenge posed by the recycling of e-waste and the need for quality standards to improve the recyclability of products. Other participants lamented that the administration has implemented an extremely expensive waste management system, considering the low recycling rates in the city, and the consumer misinformation that hinders recycling at source and other good practices. Ultimately, there seemed to be much support to integrate the informal recycling into the formal system and take that as an opportunity to re-evaluate and transform the way of handling waste in Barcelona.
Last but not least, SAWPA met with a Barcelona City Council-led working group that is coordinating the start-up of a cooperative of recyclers in the city. Apart from learning the details of the project, it was a useful chance to exchange experiences and local knowledge. On the basis of their experience in the field, SAWPA warned about the potential division amongst communities of waste pickers if the new cooperative would not involve all of them and suggested the direct inclusion of waste pickers in all the phases of development of the project. On this point, SAWPA and Zero Waste Europe agreed it’s fundamental to create a working group with all the relevant stakeholders that can accompany this process.
All in all, it was a very productive and fruitful week, taking another step forward towards the transformation of our society with more inclusive, sustainable, toxic-free and resource-efficient waste management systems.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the pillars of Zero Waste is source separation of organics –the only way to obtain clean, high-quality compost. The most successful experiences within the Zero Waste network, those places that have achieved separate collection percentages above 80% such as Capannori, Hernani, or the region of Contarina, have implemented a source separation of organic waste to ensure the maximization of this material and avoid the contamination in other waste streams. Morever, a growing number of Zero Waste municipalities are separately collecting biowaste and other waste fractions and already achieve high recovery rates combined with job creation.
In this way, source separation of organic waste offer the biggest potential for improving recycling rates, reducing waste going to landfill and incinerators and providing a good source of nutrients to be brought back to soils via composting. Alternatively, organic waste is an untapped energy source to create biogas through Anaerobic Digestion technologies.
In any case, organic waste represents 30 to 40% of our household waste in Europe, thus solving the collection and treatment of organic waste is key to ensure the financial and environmental feasibility of a Zero Waste Strategy. Furthermore, the tendency to maximise material recovery of biowaste is a growing one and this is confirmed by the roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe (2013) and the communication Towards a Circular Economy (2014). New EU recycling targets will –directly or indirectly- make separate collection of biowaste mandatory in order to achieve the ambitious benchmarks the EU is aiming for in 2030.
How shall we implement a successful organic waste management system?
The management of organic matter from MSW is an essential part of sustainable management of resources and all European municipalities need to get up to speed with this. And yet, municipalities may be faced with a number of questions as to how to implement a user-friendly, efficient and economically feasible system. Whether it is a city, a town or a village; whether there is more or less population density; whether inhabitants live in terraced houses or high-rise buildings…all of these circumstances will need to be taken into account when designing a solid organic waste management system.
Fortunately, after decades of experiences and with consolidated practices in the field of collection and treatment of organic waste, today it is possible to assess any given situation and design a system to capture most of organic waste present in MSW and ensure high quality output, saving costs to the communities and bringing the nutrients back to the soils.
With the aim of contributing to the development of well-designed and efficient organic waste management systems, Zero Waste Europe organises the first International Training Course on Organics Management. This hands-on high-profile course will empower waste managers, policy makers and activists with all necessary tools to design and implement cost-efficient high-quality programs for biowaste management.
The course will be given by Dr Marco Ricci, Dr Enzo Favoino and Dr Alberto Confalonieri from the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza, all of them pioneers in the separate collection and treatment of organic waste in Italy and in Europe. Moreover, it will be an excellent opportunity to network with European zero waste groups and be part of strategic discussions and vision development.
This is an awakening moment for cities and countries that have invested heavily in incineration infrastructure in the last decades and that have not been able to consider a way out of a burning-focused system in all this time due to the strict 20-30 year contracts to provide stable amounts of waste to the incinerators (“put or pay” contracts). This has been the inheritance of the 80s and 90s, when well-resourced European governments relied on large industrial incinerator infrastructures to deal with their waste and decrease reliance on landfills as a first and only priority. Today, many of these old incinerators are arriving at the end of their life, opening up a door for municipalities to consider the opportunities in an incineration-free system. This is, a system aiming at zero waste that would minimise reliance on waste disposal by means of reduction, reuse, recycling and better design of products. Enough is enough!
The most remarkable examples of cities that are moving on from incineration and have committed to decommissioning the plants are in the North of Italy, that once more calls our attention for being at the frontline of zero waste development and innovation.
One of the most remarkable examples is the city of Reggio Emilia where the old incinerator that had been burning waste for the last 40 years was finally shut down in 2012. As is often the case, the incinerator had raised the alarms for its harmful emissions, the lack of pollution monitoring and the administration failure to provide adequate information to the population in the area. Such problematic performance had even been brought up to the European Commission.
Right now Reggio Emilia has tabled its exit strategy from its old ties to the incinerator through maximising separate collection and reuse. In regards to the management of residual waste, the city has developed a plan was to build a MRBT (Materials Recovery Biological Treatment) site, aiming at recovering further materials from residual waste, instead of burning or producing Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF) for co-incineration.
This approach, in combination with progressive policies to increase separate collection and recycling rates, keeps the system adaptable to ever-increasing recycling rates, hence it’s been regarded as an option towards embracing a zero waste vision and system. Indeed, one of the most important advantages of the MRBT site in comparison to the incinerator is that the former is a flexible system, meaning that it does not require a stable amount of waste to function as incinerators do, and it may deal with increasing amounts of materials coming from separate collection, so in this sense it does not contradict policies encouraging waste prevention, reuse and recycling.
Remarkably, the need to dismiss excess capacity for incineration and adopt options for the management of residual waste that are flexible and efficient, has been formally stated in a Resolution adopted by the Council of Region Lombardy, the most populated Region in Italy, with10 million inhabitants.
The Resolution, which was approved unanimously, states that there is a need to table a regional strategy for “decommissioning” of existing incinerators so that “(incinerator) sites shall be progressively shut down, consistently with the ongoing increase of separate collection, waste reduction, and the resulting minimisation of residual waste”. Moreover, “options for the management of residual waste that minimise landfilling by means of further recovery of materials (and not incineration) shall be promoted”.The local Zero Waste networks and NGOs are now engaged to make sure that the Resolution will be complied with in every specific case.
One of the first cases where the Resolution has prompted plans to shut down the incinerator is Busto Arsizio, where the Council is considering the decommissioning of the plant. If the incinerator was to be kept running, it would need a technological revamping to renovate the installation, which in a context of general overcapacity, increased recycling rates and less waste to burn, would be a high financial risk for the Local Authorities. Moreover, an incinerator technology upgrading could be far more expensive than dismantling the plant and investing in designing a new incinerator-free waste management system, which could then be more suitable to support a zero waste policy.
Similarly, the debate to dismantle existing incinerators or dismissing plans for building new ones has been tabled in the Region of Veneto, with a population of 6 million and the best separate collection rates – regional average already beyond 60%, with peaks around 90% in single Municipalities. The city of Verona, for instance, recently shifted to the incinerator-decommissioning trend. As a matter of fact, the Regional Council of Veneto has recently acknowledged that if good recycling policies are implemented and taken to their full potential (which may require far less time than building and running a new incinerator), there will not be enough waste to feed new incinerators. Following up this eye-opening vision, the City recently declared they might as well get rid of plans for the new incinerator and invest in a more resource-efficient path, maximizing recycling and putting emphasis on reduction and reuse.
Italy is today at the frontline of zero waste innovation, and yet many other countries may be following suite. We’ve recently heard important messages from Denmark, the European country with highest incineration rates: its latest report about Danish waste policy acknowledged that it needed an exit strategy from its old-fashioned waste management model if it was really going to care about being more resource efficient, never mind increasing its recycling rates that are currently far lower than elsewhere in Central Europe (and kept low in order to feed their ever-hungry incinerators).
Other ambitious incinerator projects are being abandoned due to the financial uncertainty of their investments, notably in Norfolk (United Kingdom), where a 500 million pounds contract has been cancelled, or in Guipuzcoa (Basque Country), where the long dispute over the incinerator plant was finally over with the dismissal of the proposal.
In brief, we may be staring at the beginning of the end of an era; a time of less waste travelling around Europe to feed the always insatiable beasts and more resource-efficient strategies to boost local economy, through separate collection, reuse and recycling.
Welcome to the age of decommissioning! Incinerators, it’s time to rest.
Note: do use the hashtag #ageofdecommissioning to keep list of ongoing stories on incinerators decommissioning.
In view of the coming Clean-up actions planned for May 10, we issues a joint statement together with other European NGOs, calling for the European Union to implement 10 steps necessary to lead to a resource efficient Europe.
The 10 steps in full are:
Set a binding EU material reduction target based on the Total Material Consumption indicator
Set a zero residual waste target (the waste that is not reused or recycled) by 2025
Introduce binding waste prevention targets for municipal, commercial and industrial waste at the European and national levels
Set preparation for reuse targets for municipal solid waste and packaging, with targets for – at a minimum – textiles and furniture, based on the weight of material per capita put back on the market by approved reuse centres. The targets must not be combined with recycling
Increase recycling targets to at least 70 per cent of municipal solid waste, using only one harmonised methodology for all Member States to report on, based on the recycling output. Set an overall packaging recycling target at 80 per cent and boost plastic packaging recycling to at least 75 per cent
Set a binding quantitative marine litter reduction target of 50 per cent with an explicit definition of litter included in waste legislation, in recognition of the serious negative impacts on the marine environment
Introduce obligatory separate collection of waste by 2020, in particular for biowaste from homes and the hospitality sector as well as separate collection for materials including paper, cardboard, metals and textiles
Promote economic instruments that support the full implementation of the waste hierarchy, such as extended producer responsibility, pay-as-you-throw schemes and the taxation of resources where appropriate
Design out single-use, non-recyclable products and toxic materials such as microplastics and oxo-fragementable plastics
Ban landfill and incineration by 2020 for all recyclable and compostable waste. Ban the financing of incinerators and landfills via structural and cohesion funds.
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.
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.
Waste is contributing to climate change but it can also be part of the solution if true Zero Waste principles are implemented. Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on mitigation of climate change, an attempt to provide a state-of-the-art on strategies and technologies available to reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change. What did the IPCC say about waste?
As the Zero Waste Europe team has been able to confirm, the report has turned up with shocking controversies.
On the one hand, the report does confirm once more the 101 bases on waste and climate change – basically, that waste reduction, reuse and recycling are the most effective options for emission reduction in the waste sector.
It also acknowledges that zero waste strategies do exist and offer visionary development for waste reduction strategies. But apart from these, the report devotes little attention to elaborate on the current state of the best practices on upstream solutions and focuses mostly on downstream industrial options.
Following this narrow-focused vision, the report includes the misleading consideration of burning waste as replacement of fossil fuels in combustion plants, i.e. cement plants, as a climate mitigation strategy for the waste sector –considering that burning waste is better than disposing it in landfills and that this is the best option we can aspire to. This perspective is out of touch with reality. Zero Waste towns prove on an everyday basis that prevention, reuse and recycling are better options and can be implemented rather quickly.
In the Summary for Policy Makers, the specific text argues that replacing fossil fuels with waste may be a significant mitigation option since ‘reuse and recycling levels are still very low’ at the global level. Again, this appreciation ignores the daily experience of Zero Waste municipalities and regions that are achieving recycling targets above 80% and that have substantially reduced their waste generation. Moreover, since waste management is a dimension of public policy generally dealt with at the local level, why should a global rate be taken as the key reference? This seems to be just inappropriate reasoning. The point is further referenced in the full report (Ch. 10.14, Ch. 10.4).
Interestingly enough, some of the claims are quoted to authors such as Holcim or CEMBUREAU (Ch.10, p. 26), which, as cement producing companies, should be considered very invested parties and thus biased. Other authors that have contributed directly to the report are publicly known for promoting waste as fuel and incineration technologies in general, which also raises questions about whether the IPCC has or should have a conflict of interest policy to its own authorship.
GAIA– Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives has responded with this letter to such misleading claims and it has urged the IPCC to correct and amend this language.
“We feel compelled to urge the WGIII to amend its support for using waste as a fuel to reduce the demand for fossil fuels. This is not a sustainable climate mitigation strategy, but a highly controversial and ultimately misleading suggestion. If we are to change our energy system and decarbonise our electricity supply, waste cannot be taken as the new coal“, said Mariel Vilella, Climate Policy Campaigner with GAIA.
Precisely, the IPCC fails to report on the most innovative approaches to waste reduction, reuse, recycling and energy recovery through composting and anaerobic digestion within zero waste strategies that are taking place all over the world, which do not necessarily or exclusively come from the industrial sector but from the redesign of our resource management systems.
Furthermore, it is important to realise that in the US, for example, 42% of emissions come from resource management – that is, considering all the life-cycle of products in their extraction – production – distribution – consumption – and disposal stages of stuff. This reality requires social innovation to stop waste reaching the landfills and incinerators in the first place. Limiting our vision to industrial options on how to deal with landfill emissions it is not a useful approach; even worse, it will only accentuate the tendency to allocate the least resources and effort to waste prevention, which is found at the top of the Waste Hierarchy.
It is not too late for the IPCC to amend the report before the final publication in October 2014. If the IPCC is committed to fight climate change it is vital that it looks into solutions that really reduce emissions and starts working with unbiased experts.
At the end of the day, the relevance of the IPPC depends on its usefulness to fight climate change and currently, in the waste sector, it seems to be more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.
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…
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.
Gipuzkoa is located in the north of Spain, in one of the richest regions, with a GDP similar to that of Germany or Denmark and a population of 710,000hab. Yet, like the rest of Spain, Gipuzkoans have been sending 70% most of its waste to landfills until not too long ago.
Over the last years the Zero Waste groups in the country have been pushing for the change in the waste and resources paradigm. The town of Usurbil pioneered a system that was followed by Hernani and others in what today is a growing tide in the country.
At the end of this text you can see the fast progression of Zero Waste initiatives which would have been stopped if the incinerator would have been built, effectively locking the prospects for recycling. Today reuse and recycling go up and waste generation goes down.
In only one decade Gipuzkoa will have been able to move from 30 to more than 70% separate collection and is engaging all players in society in the path towards Zero Waste.
Denmark is perceived to be one of the world’s greenest countries. But is it really? Besides the Danish windmills and bike lanes there is a not-so-well-hidden secret of this otherwise rather environmentally friendly country; their passion for burning garbage!
This burning passion has received widespread and often misleading coverage by international media such as the New York Times or the National Geographic who didn’t bother to dig too much into the details and instead succumbed to the charms of well-designed green washing.
Objective facts about Denmark are that is one of EU countries that generate more waste per capita, and is world leader in incineration of household waste, burning 80% of it. For comparison this means that after discounting recycling Denmark burns more waste than what is generated in countries such as Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria or Poland. How green is that?
Contrary to best practices in the sector, in Denmark most household waste is not separately collected this means that recycling rates are as low as 22%. Most organic waste, which is 90% water, ends up in the oven.
More waste is good, less waste is bad
It might look like a contradiction but in Denmark the system is set up in a way that the worst thing you can do is reduce the size of your waste bin. Why? Well, every city in Denmark has its own incinerator and they are mostly publicly owned. This means that the citizens are actually the owners of the burners and hence if less waste is sent for burning -because it is being avoided, reused or recycled- the incinerator will function under full capacity, lowering the efficiency to generate heat and power. Yet the incinerator has to meet the capital and operating costs with less income which will result in an increase in the waste management fees. I.e. the more waste you generate, the better for your pocket.
With the current system of incentives in Denmark getting to Zero Waste would be a financial catastrophe. It is therefore unsurprising that the country that burns the most also generates more waste than any other. Denmark is the perfect example of the linkage between waste burning and waste generation.
But burning waste is good to heat and power the Danish homes!
This has been the mantra in Denmark and in some other northern-European countries. Scandinavian long dark cold winters of course justify higher intake of heat and power and this has been the main reason why generation of energy from waste has been pioneered in these countries. However waste burning in Denmark is a 19th century practice which is clearly unfit for the 21st. Not only because burning waste is extremely inefficient way to generate energy but rather because there are already other carbon neutral technologies that are put on stand-by for as long as the incineration capacity is in place.
In other words, incineration is one of the main obstacles in the path of Denmark towards becoming a carbon neutral country. Indeed, 20% of heat production and 5% of electricity in Denmark are generated from waste incineration but this heat and power could be replaced with a combination of geothermal, wind and biogas from separately collected bio waste, all mature and available technologies. Moreover, EU law dictates that as from 2020 all new buildings will need to be carbon neutral radically reducing the need for energy input. Last but not least, there is a clear overcapacity of installed power between the waste incineration and large combustion plants which causes that in the coldest months of the year the windmills are stopped despite the strong winds, only to give priority to the thermal installations due to the need of heat.
The case of incinerator with the ski slope. Why not building a sauna instead?
Have you heard of the latest Danish contribution to waste management? It is about merging garbage and sports by skiing on piles of garbage burning under immaculate synthetic white… and in order to remind skiers of the real purpose of the plant, each time a metric tonne of CO2 is released the smokestack will puff out a 30m wide ring into the sky. This is the project of the Amager Bakke incinerator, the jewel of the crown of Danish incineration.
As usual the too-good-to-be-true things are actually not that good at all. This half a million tonnes burner is the latest attempt to sell this technology to the world. As long as you keep people entertained talking about the ski slope they will not think about avoiding or recycling this waste instead. Why is it that Danish composting plants don’t try to use the heat generated in the organic decomposition of food waste to sell fancy saunas? Well, firstly because they don’t need this kind of marketing to operate and lastly because there aren’t many composting plants in a country where most organic waste is not recycled but burned.
The truth is that the construction of the Amager Bakke incinerator has sparked lots of debate in the country. Danish citizens and politicians are more and more aware that they are recycling too little and burning too much, and that the incineration overcapacity of the country is not something to be proud of. For this reason, the ministry of environment led by Ms Ida Auken opposed the construction of this incinerator and in the end it was only because of the pressure from the finances minister, Mr Bjarne Corydon, that this project got the green light. If you wonder what does the minister of finance have to do with waste incineration it will help understand that he is elected in Esbjerg, the city where happens to be the headquarters of the company which will build the incinerator.
This conflict of interest that in southern Europe would be quickly associated with corruption did spark some public debate in Denmark but didn’t stop the process. Actually just after the decision to stop the incinerator was changed through secret negotiations the director of the supplier company wrote an article in the national business paper thanking the finance minister for good lobby work in the case of Amager incinerator. It has also been implied that the interest from Chinese companies to order a good number of burners from the Danish company has played a decisive role in rubberstamping this unnecessary and expensive infrastructure.
Two more interesting facts are the uneasiness of the neighbours who will have to pay for this piece of design and above all the fact that for the moment no company is interested to run the famous ski slope. As explained, household waste incinerators in Denmark are publicly owned but this doesn’t apply to ski resorts. In other words, for the moment the ski slope doesn’t have an operator and the neighbours have said that one thing is to have to pay for the incinerator and another thing is shouldering the costs of running the ski slope. Stay tuned because the saga of the Amager Bakke is far from over.
Denmark is leaving behind the incineration age
Leaving behind these isolated desperate attempts to make incineration fashionable in order to sell the technology to Asia, the truth is that Denmark is planning to embark in a very challenging journey. The country aims at becoming independent from fossil fuel by 2050 and this will mean having to close down all polluting power plants by then, including of course the waste-to-energy incinerators.
This will not be an easy task because as already explained the link between waste and energy in Denmark is very strong. This has an impact on waste management, creating perverse incentives which are contrary to waste reduction, reuse and recycling and it also has an impact on energy policy, effectively blocking cleaner technologies from taking over. Moving away from incineration allows hitting two targets with one shot and the Danish ministry of Environment knows it.
This is why the new waste management plan that minister Auken presented in November 2013 is called ”Denmark without waste – Recycle More, Incinerate less”. In her own words: ”in Denmark we have been incinerating almost 80 % of our household waste. Even though this has made an important contribution to green energy production, materials and resources have been lost which could otherwise have been recycled. Now, we are going to change this.”
Some measures envisaged by the plan consist in replacing incineration with separately collected garden and food waste to produce biogas and compost, with the recycling of plastic and paper that are now being burned or to landfill toxic materials such as PVC instead of releasing them into the air through combustion. It also implies the privatisation in the ownership of the incinerators so those that are not profitable will have to close. All in all it aims at reducing the waste sent for burning in 820,000 tons by 2022.
It looks like the showcase for incineration in the world will be changing business. This will be good for the Danish recycling industry which might see a rebirth after having turned to ashes by decades of burning fever. It will also be good for the Danes for the decrease in incineration will reduce the pollution and associated health impacts and the increase of recycling will generate jobs and a more self-sustainable economy. And finally it will be good for the rest of the world which finally will be able to import good waste practices from Denmark.
This change of paradigm will not happen overnight but considering the determination and efficiency of the Danes once they set their minds into something it is to be expected that they will be as good in moving towards zero waste as they have been in championing incineration.
Thousands of public events such as concerts, sports events or festivals print t-shirts for that occasion and after being worn only once they are relegated to the closet. Imagine the amounts of water required for the production of those millions of t-shirts!
Thanks to new up-cycling design and production methods it is now possible to organise the mass production of a t-shirt with a 80% smaller environmental footprint. How?
The thing is, factory made t-shirts yield up to 40% wastage. That means 40% of that cotton is grown in vain and huge amounts of water and earth resources are wasted, not to mention spinning the yarn, transporting the fabric, factory labour … you get the idea.
It’s taken years of hard work and research but Upmade came up with a design and production model to mass produce t-shirts using that leftover 40%. They believe that if they can show the world that mass up-cycling works, they could really change how the fashion industry impacts the environment.
Reet Aus is a fashion designer and environmentalist. She has been up-cycling her own fashion collections for many years, as well as designing costumes (also upcycled) for theatre and film.
Recently Reet completed her PhD in sustainable fashion design. Her research took her to Bangladesh, where she began working with a factory called Beximco. Beximco make garments for many well known brands, and in the process accumulate a LOT of waste fabrics. But Reet didn’t see a mountain of garbage, she saw treasure! And she set to work.
Reet gathered her team of experts, and together we took cutting leftovers (8-30%), roll ends (1-10%) and over production (3-5%) and got creative. The result is the up-shirt.
Many people ask us to describe what are the guidelines, the must-have of a Zero Waste strategy in Europe. Here is the answer you were looking for. The main principles any ZW strategy should follow!
Every community has its own characteristics and will need to adapt the philosophy to the local conditions, there is no one-size fits all Zero Waste system. However we have tried to summarise the main principles and components of a Zero Waste strategy for the European context in a brochure.
Generally speaking what these principles transmit is that Zero Waste is more a path than a destination and what matters most is the commitment to continuously reduce the residual waste to zero; i.e. phase out disposal options of landfilling and incineration, whilst continuing to improve sustainability, economic resilience and social cohesion.
How to distinguish a petrol-based plastic from a bioplastic? Are they all recyclable? What about degradable plastics?
These are questions that a normal citizen has to face when dealing with the myriad of plastic-made products, packaging and alike. Is it toxic? Is it recyclable? Is it biodegradable? In which bin does this plastic go? With the recyclables? With the organics? With the residuals? What do all these logos mean?
The answer is not easy; there are thousands of different plastics serving many different purposes, from flexible, air-tight and see-through to hard, thick and coloured. If well used its good properties can make our life easier, if badly used it can poison us or pollute the environment for the next 500 years…
The applications of plastic are unlimited and with this material the demand drives the production; in other words, factors such as toxicity and/or recyclability are very rarely taken into account when the plastic object is designed. On top of bad design one should also bear in mind that in Europe most plastic escapes separate collection circuits which causes that only one fifth of all plastic is separately collected for recycling.
– How to monitor the inflows of different kinds of plastic,
– How to stop plastic from entering the environment,
– How to make sure that we make the best use of plastic
Only 21% of EU’s plastic waste is recycled – How to increase it?
Following the waste hierarchy most plastic should be prevented, a good deal of plastic should be reused and an even smaller amount should be recycled at the end of its life. Sadly the reality illustrates the opposite picture; in the EU of the 25 Million of tones of generated plastic waste (2008) 48.7% was landfilled, 51.3% was incinerated, and only 21.3% was recycled.
Currently there are plastic recycling targets for municipal solid waste, construction and demolition (C&D) waste, end-of-life vehicles (ELV), Packaging, Battery and WEEE. If the targets were met it would mean that 16 Mt of plastic waste would have been recycled (i.e. 64%, three times what is being recycled now). Why is plastic recycling so low in the EU? How do we stop plastic from ending in landfills and incinerators?
First of all it is clear that the current legal and economic incentives are not strong enough to steer plastic recycling. The separate collection of waste is not efficient enough and too many plastics –and other waste streams- end up in disposal facilities. Moreover, the extended producer responsibility schemes for plastic waste are scarce and its performance uneven; Germany recycles 98,5% of plastic packaging whereas Spain collects less than 30%. Also, markets for recycled plastic are not yet fully optimised and the demand of this secondary material low. Some measures to fix these problems are:
– Ban or heavily tax disposal of recyclable plastic waste in landfills or incinerators,
– Encourage as much as possible separate collection of plastic waste –pay as you throw- and penalise mixed waste,
– Limit or promote replacing of toxic substances that contaminate the recycled pulp such as BFRs, POPs, PBB, HBCDD.
– Targets for quality of recycled output –such as end of waste criteria that equals high quality recycled plastic with virgin plastic- in order to provide a good market for the secondary product,
There are 1000s of plastics out there and many more are coming every year, no wonder many people are getting confused as to what can be recycled, composted or disposed of.
“Traditional” plastics are made of non-renewable sources such as oil or gas and if well designed they can be recycled. On the other hand bioplastics are plastics which can have the same properties as oil-based plastics but with the difference that they are produced from renewable biomass sources such as vegetable fats or corn starch. Bioplastics can be designed to be either recyclable or compostable, but not both. Moreover most compostable bioplastics do not decompose the same way, whereas some can biodegrade in the conditions of home-composting the big majority of biodegradable bioplastics require very specific conditions of temperature and humidity which are only fit for industrial composting plants.
To complicate things further there are petroleum-based plastics that claim biodegradability when what they do is fragment thanks to an oxidising additive; the oxo-degradable plastics. In other words, they don’t degrade but break into small pieces which can pollute soils, increase risk of ingestion for animals and endanger quality plastic recycling.
One can wonder why we don’t have a target of recycling 90 or 95% of the plastics when we know that they are all potentially recyclable but truth is that the different kinds of plastics and the many additives and toxics used make plastic recycling or composting difficult. Some ways to address this confusion can be:
– Restrict the use the real biodegradable plastics for the purpose of food packaging so that they can be collected with the organic waste and properly composted,
– Ensure quality recycling for the non-biodegradable plastics and promote design-for-recycling and not design-for-the-dump approach,
Plastic production comes at a high environmental and economic cost, yet it is still very cheap –and subsidised- in comparison with the alternatives. One of the results is the wide-spread use of single-use products, most of them made of plastic. Plastic bags are the best example of this practice.
From the design point of view it is quite stupid to use one of the most durable materials to produce the shortest lived products. And as we have seen one of the dangerous solutions in the market is to add additives such as the d2W to make plastic “disappear” when in reality it only breaks it into smaller pieces making impossible recovering it for recycling and endangering composting. See what the plastic recyclers and bioplastic associations say about oxo-degradable plastics.
It is a no-brainer that single use plastic bags –which represented 92% of the 95,5 billion carrier bags in the EU in 2010- should be phased out (with bans or with taxation).
Other packaging such as PET beverage bottles can be made subject to a deposit and return system which would motivate the holder to recuperate his deposit. For certain plastic items, new entrepreneurial models such as lease systems, where the producer remains the owner of the product, could be a useful tool to ensure that the item is collected and treated in an environmentally sound manner.
Another less known example of single use plastic that goes to pollute the environment are the micro-plastics and micro-beads which are present in personal care products such as soaps and creams. These micro plastics also end up in the environment and they enter the food chain.
Once in the environment – particularly in the marine environment – plastic waste can persist for hundreds of years, harm to the coastal and marine environment and to aquatic life follows from the 10 million tonnes of litter, mostly plastic, which end up in the world’s oceans and seas annually, turning them into the world’s biggest plastic dump. Waste patches in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans are estimated to be in the order of 100 Mt, about 80% of which is plastic. Plastic debris causes sea species to suffer from entanglement or ingestion.
Plastic is not inert
Conventional plastic contains a large number, and sometimes a large proportion, of chemical additives which can be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic or provoke other toxic reactions and can, in principle, migrate into the environment, though in small quantities. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as pesticides like DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can attach themselves from the surrounding water to plastic fragments which can be harmful and enter the food chain via marine fauna.
All in all, a strong and concerted action regarding plastic and especially single use plastic is necessary. The Zero Waste strategy works at three levels;
Better design is needed to make plastics non-toxic and recyclable or compostable,
Better organisation is needed to make sure recyclable plastics are not mixed up with the compostable ones and separately collected to be properly recycled or composted,
Better legislation is necessary to ban/tax bad products or bad use of products, incentivise good prevention and recycling practices and build markets for recycled materials.
In the future plastic will be an asset or a liability depending on our capacity to address the above-mentioned issues. Zero Waste provides a strategy to make the best use of this great human invention so that it continues to make our life easier without endangering life of other species and future generations.
It is a fact that since the approval of the new Waste Framework Directive in 2008 recycling has not gone up in the EU. One must take into account that transposition of EU law to national laws delayed the implementation but it is also true that in most countries not much has changed with the new law. Despite the binding waste hierarchy, the recycling targets, waste prevention plans, etc the market incentives don’t seem to work to steer waste to recycling plants. Incineration in Europe increased and so did export of valuable waste such as WEEE…
Secondly it should start promoting legal and economic incentives such as landfill bans, bans on incineration of recyclable waste, obligation to separately collect bio-waste, pay-as-you-throw schemes and taxation on toxic or less sustainable waste (low durability, repairability, recyclability, biodegradability, etc).
Thirdly, adopt clear and ambitious waste reduction, reuse and recycling targets by concrete waste streams with policy instruments to make them possible.
Finally, lay the necessary ground for innovation in the use of resources and materials so that toxics are minimised and the technical cycle (recycling) is separated from the biological cycle (composting).
By 2020, waste is managed as a resource. Waste generated per capita is in absolute decline. Recycling and re-use of waste are economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of functional markets for secondary raw materials. More materials, including materials having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials, are recycled. Waste legislation is fully implemented. Illegal shipments of waste have been eradicated. Energy recovery is limited to non recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated and high quality recycling is ensured.
The Resource Efficiency Roadmap is very much inline with our view of a Zero Waste Europe but we must remember that 2020 is in 7 years time and if the EU doesn’t radically change its waste & resource policy in 2014-2015 the resource efficiency objectives can not be met. And we Europeans cannot afford to send to waste all the potential job creation, economic activity and financial savings associated to a Zero Waste Europe.
Plastic represents one of the biggest contradictions of our society. One one hand it is a material that it is strong, cheap and light and hence its convenience means it is everywhere and use for almost everything. On the other hand the main advantages of plastic are also the problem why plastic is such a problem.
Because it is cheap it gets disposed a lot more than it should, because it is light it is often blown away and because it doesn’t biodegrade it pollutes forests, rivers and oceans and has already entered the food chain.
The wise thing to do would be to limit the use of plastic to what is necessary and make sure that there is a plan for all plastic that enters the market to maximise the time of use and then ensure that it is all collected and recycled.
For instance; as we can see in the graph below from Education Database Online Blog it takes 1/4 liter of oil and 3 liters of water to produce the plastic bottle that we will use only once and for a very limited amount of time to drink 1liter of water!
From the design point of view it doesn’t make sense to engineer a material that will take centuries to degrade to be used only during some hours in the best case. The wise thing to do is take advantage of the fact that the material is indestructible to design a system to collect and refill it like it is done in some deposit systems in Europe.
In 2009, Europe landfilled 45% of plastic (11,2 million tn, equivalent to more than 10 million tons of crude oil!), it burned 22% (5,5 Mtn) and recycled only 31% (7,6 Mtn). Landfilling and burning of plastics (even with energy recovery) is a waste of energy and resources. As we can see in the graph below producing a new bottle out of recycled material needs only 12% of the energy that would be needed to manufacture a new one.
Isn’t it time for the EU to gear up and design better plastics -with less toxics-, better products and better systems that allow us to make use of the advantages of plastic without having to suffer all the disadvantages?
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