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 European Commission published today the Communication on the role of waste-to-energy in a circular economy. The text, although non-binding, provides clarity for the implementation of the waste hierarchy and gives guidance for Member States to avoid problems such as incineration overcapacity.
For the countries with low incineration capacities and highly dependent on landfilling, the Commission advises to focus on improving separate collection and increasing the recycling capacity. Priority should be given to collection and recycling of bio-waste and to take into account a long-term perspective when assessing the need of so-called waste-to-energy facilities, as mixed waste is expected to be significantly reduced in the coming years as recycling rises.
Those countries with high incineration capacity (typically Northern European countries) are, however, recommended to raise incineration taxes, to phase out primes and subsidies to waste-to-energy incineration and to introduce a moratorium on new facilities, as well as decommissioning old ones.
Member States are recommended to phase out public subsidy for the recovery of energy from waste, and so is the support from the Commission for this infrastructure through EU funds.
Zero Waste Europe urges Member States to implement these recommendations so they move up in the waste hierarchy.
Despite these positive recommendations, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) regrets that the European Commission did not include the call to phase out subsidies for waste-to-energy in the recent Renewable Energy Directive proposal. ZWE would remind the commission that energy savings via prevention and recycling are currently undermined by subsidies going to lower levels of the waste hierarchy such as waste incineration. ZWE calls on MEPs and the national governments to fix this during the legislative process.
Ferran Rosa, ZWE’s Policy Officer said “We cannot keep wasting our money and resources in subsidising waste-to-energy. Divestment from waste-to-energy is needed if we want to create the right incentives for a circular economy”.
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”.
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
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 study provides clear evidence that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes in Europe are insufficient. In the Executive Summary, released on Wednesday 15, July, it has been found that despite 70% of municipal solid waste being product waste, only 45% of this product waste is currently covered by an EPR scheme and only 18% of the product waste is collected with existing EPR schemes.
In the full study to be released in October, there will be included a number of detailed and clear recommendations to the European Commission on improving the current EPR mechanisms and implementing truly effective EPR scheme with a broader definition which as the ‘father of extended producer responsibility’ Thomas Lindhqvist stated, would serve as “an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product”2.
For EPR thinking to fit into the circular economy, the study claims that it is necessary to connect waste managers with producers using economic instruments as well as the introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements that allow for better process and product design.
This study comes at important time for the European Commission who are currently conducting a review of waste policy and legislation. The aim of which is to “help turn Europe into a circular economy, boost recycling, secure access to raw materials and create jobs and economic growth”3. All ambitious targets which will need to incorporate strong EPR protocols to have achieve the desired goals, and move Europe towards a zero waste circular economy.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of Zero Waste Europe said “This study provides new evidence about the potential for improving EPR schemes in Europe and the need to use the upcoming waste package proposal to ensure that producers really take responsibility whilst providing the appropriate incentives to redesign systems and products”. It is clear that whilst EPR schemes across Europe do not manage to reach most producers there is real potential in the current review for their reform, and it is hoped that if the European Commission takes these findings into account. That would be a real step forwards for the circular economy and another step towards a zero waste Europe.
2Thomas Lindhqvist, “Mot ett förlängt producentansvar — analys av erfarenheter samt förslag” (“Towards an Extended Producer Responsibility — analysis of experiences and proposals,” in Swedish), 30 April 1992, published by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources ini “Varor som faror — Underlagsrapporter” (“Products as Hazardous — background documents,” in Swedish), Ds 1992:82. The definition was published in English for the first time in: Thomas Lindhqvist, “Extended Producer Responsibility,” in the proceedings of an invitational seminar at Trolleholm Castle, 4-5 May 1992: “Extended Responsibility as a Strategy to Promote Cleaner Products,” edited by Thomas Lindhqvist, Department of Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund, June 1992.
Plastic has permeated every corner of our oceans and rivers, leaving virtually no inch of ocean plastic free.1 But all around the world, communities and cities are showing that another way is possible. From Manila to Montenegro, people are saying no to plastic pollution and calling for a world without plastic bags.
On Friday the 3rd of July groups and organisations from across the world took action for the 6th International Plastic Bag Free Day. The day saw creative events across five continents, in a unified call for reusable, responsible alternatives.
Montenegro saw a ‘plastic bag monster’ roaming the streets of Podgorica, the capital city, as Zero Waste Montenegro raised awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags and informed people of the alternative zero waste solutions. Hungarian campaigners from Humusz held a flashmob and trolley race to from a central square to a nearby market, highlighting the alternative solutions to plastic bags, such as shopping trolleys. In Sofia, Bulgaria, there was a ‘plastic bag free party and fotomarathon’ with theatre, music and drinks. A German group held a film showing of ‘Trashed’ in Konstanz. And in Slovenia a trade in scheme was held, where people could swap 10 disposable plastic bags for a re-usable cotton bag. In addition to having fun and raising awareness, groups in Europe had concrete policy goals. In Europe, groups including; Zero Waste Europe, Fundació Prevenció de Residus, Friends of the Earth Europe, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and the European Environmental Bureaurenewed their call for for EU Member States to put into effect the new EU directive to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, and make this policy a reality.
In Manilla, Philippines, a forum was held by a number of organisations exposing the truth behind many types of ‘degradable’ plastic bags and their impacts on the environment. Sonia Mendoza, President of the EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines, said “Degradable plastic bags will not help solve our environmental problems concerning waste and pollution, as their use will merely instil and promote further the throwaway attitude and culture that have so permeated modern society,” and called for a ban on plastic bags in the Philippines.
Members of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Networkworked to raise awareness in front of the Seoul Jongno Tower Saengtegye, encouraging South Koreans to stop using single-use plastic bags, and instead use reusable shopping baskets. And in Hong-Kong and Taiwan groups encouraged people to “Say no to plastic bags!” and reduce their use of disposable bags.
In Botswana, Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), called upon the Botswanan government to enforce their levy on plastic bags, which officially came into force in 2006 and use the proceeds to fund environmental activities in Botswana, saying “We also call on the government to use the levy as it was intended to create a cleaner Botswana,”.
The Kicking the Bags Out campaign in Zambia lobbied for a plastic bag ban or fee across Zambia as part of a community solution to the issue of clogged drainage systems from plastic bag waste and donated reusable bags to legislators and ministers.
In Canada volunteers on Vancouver Island offered reusable bags by donation and held a voluntary plastic bag ban, where shoppers were encouraged not to use single-use plastic bags as part of their daily shop.
In Argentina a comedy event was held where monologues highlighted the ‘pointlessness’ of plastic bags.
More and more people on every continent are choosing to take their reusable bags to the shops, and ditching disposable plastics. But we don’t have time to wait for everyone in the world to follow this trend. The disastrous effects that single-use plastic bags are having on our environments, means that we need bold policies to tackle the issue of destructive disposable plastics and begin to move towards a world where single-use plastics are completely eliminated.
Many of the events and actions which took place are available to view on world map at http://www.plasticbagfreeday.org/ where you can read stories, view actions and add any of your own actions which may be missing.
1Doyle, Christopher, “No part of the ocean untouched by plastic rubbish.” ABC Environment, 11 December 2014.
The 6th Spanish Gathering Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns took place the last 13–15 of March in Vilafranca del Penedès (Catalonia, Spain). It was organized by the Movement Against Waste incineration in Uniland – a cement company that started burning tires in the cement plant located next to Vilafranca del Penedès in 2010, raising huge concerns at the local level.
The gathering was a success of participation, with more than hundred people attending the morning conferences and representatives from over 25 platforms against waste incineration from all over Spain.
“The purpose of the morning conferences was to share the latest scientific and medical information on the effects of waste incineration on people’s health and the environment”, explained Mercè Mestres, one of the organizers of the gathering and founder of the Movement Against Waste incineration in Uniland.
All presentations confirmed, once again, that burning waste and by-products in cement kilns is the most untenable and dangerous form of handling waste. On the basis of the latest peer-reviewed papers in the field, the experts agreed in considering emissions related to waste incineration in cement plants as a health hazard for people, animals and plants, soils, air and water.
Dr. Eduard Rodriguez Farré, medical doctor and professor at the Institute for Biomedical Research of Barcelona, presented the results of two peer-reviewed papers elaborated by the Health Institute Carlos III in Madrid and recently published in international journals.
“We must insist that in an area like the Penedès, where the economy is based on the vineyards and the production of wine, this polluting practice can be very damaging to the local economy, as the pollution will show up in the final product, the wine”, said Dr. Rodriguez Farré. “We have enough data to be concerned about the increase of certain types of cancers, endocrine disorders, disruption of brain development and cognitive functions in foetal process resulting from waste incineration”, he concluded.
Dr. Carmen Valls, specialist endocrinologist and Director of the Public Health Program “Women, health and quality of life” unveiled the results of a survey conducted in early 2015 in the regional Hospital of Vilafranca del Penedès, in which the healthcare professionals detected subjectively an increase of cancer rates in the county. Vallès also provided detail about the short-term effects of waste incineration, mainly looking at in thyroid alterations, decreased sperm production, and increased congenital diseases, among others. The development of tumours and cancers were considered long-term effects.
Dr. Fernando Palacios, researcher at Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), presented about the economical impacts of waste incineration in cement plants, focusing on the damage made to public health during 2011.
Palacios explained that according to data from the European Environment Agency, 6 cement plants in Spain were amongst the 622 most polluting facilities in Europe. For these plants, Palacios presented figures for the loss of life expectancy in the surroundings of these plants, which would represent an economical cost ranging between 45 million EUR from Lafarge SA in Villaluenga de la Sagra and 70 million EUR in the cement plant in La Robla.
The final result stressed that the loss of life expectancy implied a cost of 319 million EUR for the public health systems as care for diseases resulting from this potential contamination.
The Gathering concluded with the public reading of a collectively elaborated Manifesto, that put forward the following demands:
The review of environmental authorizations given to the cement plants for the use of municipal solid waste, industrial waste and Refuse-Derived Fuel as combustion fuel.
The undertaking of epidemiological studies in areas where cement plants are already burning waste as fuel.
The implementation of healthy and sustainable waste management plans that aim at zero waste, as a main goal and guiding principle.
Do not political support to political parties that appear to be in favour of waste incineration, specially looking at the coming municipal election in May 2015.
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.
“Recycle the grey bin” is the name of the campaign that has been conducted Zabor Zero – Zero Waste Basque Country in recent months to denounce the containers for mixed waste as one of the main reasons for low recycling rates and high levels of waste generation. This campaign has consisted in sealing the containers for residual waste in various towns with two main aims. Firstly, to highlight the inconsistency between what some politicians say and what they do and secondly, to underline how a well-implemented separate collection at source makes this container redundant.
They tell you to recycle and then they give you containers where all waste gets mixed
Many politicians say one thing and then do the opposite. Even those who know little about waste management understand that the materials
separated have a value and it’s only when they are mixed up that waste is generated, with its impact on the economy and on the environment. The containers for mixed waste are the instrument to justify not separating waste and mixing up resources. One should just observe how they are designed to accept anything of any size and texture. It’s because they have been placed “there” that we got used to having them “there” but this is not the result of a divine action but of a political decision; A political decision taken by someone elected by us and which is responsible for promoting waste generation and costs money to all of us. What is the point of using our taxes to finance the generation of waste? What sense does it make to invest public money to generate a problem? When are we going to break this vicious circle?
If you remove the grey bin the separate collection will increase
The second goal was to highlight the impact of removing the container for mixed waste on separate collection. Indeed, the systems that have marginalised the collection of residual waste are the ones with best separate collections.
Despite 90 to 95% of the waste generated is recyclable, in most cases only 20 to 25% is separately collected. The remaining materials are mixed and become garbage. Whilst in the practices without container for mixed waste separate collection ranges between 70% -95%. Experience proves that very little residual waste is generated when the trash container is removed.
The old dichotomy of collection Door to Door vs 5th container
In the recent years, some towns in the Basque Country, especially in Gipuzkoa, have made great changes in waste management. This has allowed the discussion to evolve from “What to do with the waste generated?” to the new zero waste paradigm “What to do in order not to generate waste?” In this transition towards zero waste model there have been profound changes in the system of waste collection with the door-to-door system becoming the target for political fights. Some have opposed the door-to-door separate collection system to a system with 5th container to collect organic waste. The results have differed and new systems have been tried in the search of high separate collection rates; mixed systems with two streams collected door-to-door (organic and non-recyclable) or one stream ( for non-recyclables) with other fractions in containers, whilst small villages compost all organic waste in situ, and lately collection systems with containers with controlled access (by chip). All these systems are different but they all have in common that they have removed the container for mixed waste or grey bin from the streets and this has allowed separate collection rates to increase.
New experiences have confirmed the message of the campaign
Since the campaign was designed and launched back in June 2014, the message has been reaffirmed and even enriched with new experiences. For instance in Azkoitia, 11,000 inhabitants, the container for mixed waste was removed and replaced with tailored poles to collect non-recyclable fractions whilst keeping the other containers for recyclables where they were. As a result separate collection rates increased from 40% to 80%. Another example is Tolosa, with 20,000 inhabitants, where the mixed waste containers were replaced with two kind containers with limited and controlled access for residual waste and organic waste and as a result separate collection has gone from 26% separate collection over 70%.
The more systems are available the less excuses are left not to act
In Gipuzkoa we have experimented different sorts of systems and hence enlarged the set of tools available to organize a good separate collection of waste. As a consequence the authorities and politicians are increasingly less capable of finding excuses not to act. Zero Zabor will not tell to politicians what system to use because the best option might change from town to town, however we will continue to demand them to fulfill their duty of protecting the health of their citizens, the environment and the future generations according to the best practices in Europe.
There is ample scientific evidence warning of the imminent dangers of climate change and inaction – not only the last 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC has been clear on these projections: while the UN Climate Change COP20 negotiations were taking place in Lima, another typhoon called Hagupit hit the Philippines.
In other words, there is no time to waste for climate action, and municipal solid waste sector can be not only a place to reduce GHG emissions, but also to provide clean air, clean water, clean energy, healthy food, healthy people, healthy wildlife, and the availability of resources for future generations.
Precisely, this was the spirit of the Zero Waste and Low Carbon Forum celebrated in Shanghai last 4-6 December 2014, which brought together Chinese policy-makers, city officials from Shanghai and San Francisco (US), university professors and the members of the China Zero Waste Alliance, amongst other allies, to discuss the specific ways in which Zero Waste Strategies can contribute to this low-carbon future.
Moreover, some of the international speakers took the chance to visit some cities and learn further about the potential of the waste sector in China, which was reported in the media in several articles, such as this.
An International Panel to introduce the Zero Waste vision
The Forum counted with the celebrated interventions of Professor Paul Connett, professor emeritus at St. Lawrence University in New York, and Rossano Ercoloni, Zero Waste Europe President and Goldman Prize winner, both visionary leaders that have inspired the international zero waste movement with their energy and enthusiasm.
Prof. Connett explained how Zero Waste solutions can directly reduce GHG emissions and toxic pollutant releases from waste disposal facilities, which are a significant source of both. “Burning waste feeds a linear system that drives a climate changing cycle of new resources pulled out of the earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then wasted in incinerators, landfills and combustion plants that use it as fuel, such as cement kilns”, said Prof. Connett. “With zero waste we turn into the circular system”, he added.
Ercoloni presented the main zero waste experiences in Europe, with special emphasis on the organic waste separate collection system in Milan, which is an example of a very high-condensed city that has successfully diverted tones of organic waste from landfill and thus reduce large amounts of GHG gases.
Precisely, the Forum put especial emphasis on the climate benefits from treating organic waste. Calla Ostrander from the Marin Carbon Project, presented their research on the matter, showing that compost avoids methane emissions from waste disposal and most importantly, it contributes to soil restoration and helps increase its capacity to act as carbon sinks. Ostrander’s research showed that if compost was applied to just 5 percent of the California state’s grazing lands, the soil could capture a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s farm and forestry industries. 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.
Jack Macy from the San Francisco Zero Waste Program presented the very successful progress made in the city in the last decades since they started with the zero waste strategy. According to Macy, the key elements of their strategy were to establish convenient source separation with processing, conduct extensive outreach and education, provide incentives, and implement producer and consumer responsibility policies.
Moreover, the City believed that its zero waste and climate action goals would not likely be achieved under voluntary participation programs alone, so it develop a city ordinance to make recycling and composting mandatory for everyone in San Francisco.
“Before the Mandatory Ordinance we were collecting about 400 tons of compostables a day, and thanks to the Ordinance since it passed in June 2009 we’ve seen almost an overnight a 25% increase of collecting about 500 tons of compostables a day!”, Macy explained.“Today San Francisco has the goal of achieving zero waste by 2020. We are getting close by being at a current diversion rate of 72%”, he concluded.
The Zero Waste Experience in China
One of the main highlights of the Forum was the opportunity to learn from the local experiences on the ground, places in China that are already making difference by changing the way they handle waste.
One of the most inspiring experiences has been developed in Xiao Er Township in Gong County, Yibing, Sichuan Province. Facing a waste generation peak without proper systems to sort it in 2006, the local government collaborated with the local NGO Partnerships for Community Development (PCD) and undertook a pioneer pilot project on waste separation was launched in 2007. After six years of trial, most people of Xiao Er Township now give greater importance to waste treatment and they are much more aware of the issue than before. Moreover, the volume of greenhouse gas emissions of Xiao Er has gone down which in turn contributes to improving the environment.
Even if these local experiences are illuminating the path towards a Low-Carbon, Toxic-Free development for China, the Forum devoted special attention to the policy obstacles that may be hindering further progress. Mao Da from RREI presented its research about the national renewable energy subsidies given to waste incinerators. The full report is available here, in Chinese.
“Waste incinerators receive benefits for every kilowatt of electricity put on the national grid. In this sense, there is a strong economical interest in burning waste and this is an uneven playing field for policies aiming at waste prevention, reuse and recycling which would offer higher climate benefits”, Mao Da said.
His research, which is planned to be published in early 2015, recommends the cancellation of the renewable energy subsidies for trash incineration, as well as its classification as a low-carbon technology. Moreover, it suggests implementing Pay-As-You-Throw system (see examples such system in Europe here) and shift subsidies towards waste management systems that can be truly low-carbon, such as recycling and composting.
Overall, the Zero Waste and Low Carbon Forum was an excellent opportunity to explore the potential of such development in China, opening up new exciting connections, conversations and projects for the future.
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.
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.
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.
On the 10th and 11th of May, tens of thousands of volunteers from communities all around the Mediterranean Sea and from three continents gathered to participate in simultaneous Clean-Up Events that took place in 15 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, becoming the most widespread civic-led event ever organised in this area.
With this project, Let’s Do It! Mediterranean aimed to draw attention to the pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and motivate communities to work together to change the situation. Studies show that the contamination of the Mediterranean Sea is very high and the level of plastic waste is beyond critical. In certain places the volume of micro plastic in the water exceeds that of plankton.
Faisal Sadegh, the project coordinator of Let’s Do It! Mediterranean emphasized that the impact of marine litter and waste in general goes beyond national boundaries. “Pollution does not stop at a country’s border, and the problems are spreading to affect the Mediterranean region in more direct ways than ever before,” Sadegh said.
Eva Truuverk, Head of Partners and Finance with Let’s Do It! World explained further; “for example, huge landfills can be found on Lebanese beaches, and trash is carried into the sea by winds and due to the currents reach the shores of other countries”, she said.
Precisely, Sadegh pointed out that this is exactly the reason why Let’s Do It! Mediterranean invited the whole region to participate and clean up together.
“There have been separate cleanup actions, but the scale and scope of this project is unprecedented. We need to work together for the environment we all share.” Indeed, Let’s Do It! Mediterranean invited everyone to participate with their families, neighbors, colleagues, and make this event a truly community empowering experience. “It simply works better and is much more fun together,” encouraged Sadegh.
Moreover, actions were supported by fishermen, schools, local people, tourist groups, and most importantly by diving organisations. One of the coordinating organisation for underwater actions, the Greek diving club Samos Divers, has the experience of removing trash from even 40 meters deep.
“Living on an island, the sea has been my ‘playground’ for four decades. I have been scuba diving for 20 years. The comparison of my childhood memories of the sea and its current state often saddens me. The truth about marine debris is that just because we often cannot see it, does not mean it’s not there,” said the leader of Samos Divers, Alexandros Malagaris.
“My deepest motive for getting seriously involved with underwater cleanups is so that my son Philippos, age 6, and my daughter Olympia, age 3, will be able to enjoy the wonders of the sea the way I did as a little boy. Abundant sea life in crystal clear waters, with the absence of tires, boat batteries, bottles, cans and plastics,” expressed Malagaris.
In Croatia, more than 5000 people took part in 30 Clean-Up Actions on the Mediterranean coast. During the Clean-Up action in Split, on the Croatian coast, more than 40 Estonian volunteers joined 300 local people, including 100 divers and marines, and together cleaned up the sea bottom from waste. As a result of this cooperation, four tones of waste were collected from the sea and beach in Split. Other actions took place in Egypt, Montenegro, Estonia, Malta, Lebanon, Tunisia and many other countries, as reported by Let’s Do It! Mediterranean.
The Let’s Do It! Mediterranean campaign is run and organised by volunteers, and the team plans to organise massive actions in concentrated periods until 2018. The “Let’s Do It!” movement started in Estonia in 2008, when a country with a population slightly over 1 million brought together 50,000 people to clean up the entire country in just five hours. By today, almost 10 million people and over 100 countries have joined the Let’s Do It! network. Find out more about Let’s Do It World and join in!
The Annual Forum on EcoInnovation took place in Hannover during April 7 and 8. This year the topic of the forum was waste and resources and was entitled: “Wasted potential!: Towards circular economy in cities”
Many members of Zero Waste Europe were invited to present the good practices of the network. Among others; the experience of the best performing European district, Contarina, the fist town in Europe to declare the Zero Waste goal, Capannori, the impressive results of Gipuzkoa and Hernani, the fantastic Reuse & Repair Centre of Kretsloppsparken and the project the People’s Design Lab.
Other presentations in this forum included the visionary thinker (and doer!) Gunter Pauli, the EU Commisisoner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, the founder of the Repair Café, Martine Postma, the CEO of Circle Economy, Guido Braam and the vicepresident of ACR+, Jean-Pierre Hannequart. All of them can be found further down.
All in all, another little step to redesign consumption and production in Europe whilst phasing out landfilling and incineration.
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.
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.
Chewing gum as we know it today serves much the same purpose as it did for the ancient Greeks, chewing on Mastiha gum, or the Mayans with their chicle. It freshens the breath, tastes good and can provide a meditative distraction. But in terms of what you’re actually putting in your mouth, all similarities with traditional gums end there.
Modern gums consist of entirely synthetic petrol-based polymers and a host of synthetic sweeteners and stabilizers. Aside from the obvious sustainability problems of deriving consumer products from non-renewable resources, and the under-researched health problems, chewing gum presents a huge problem for disposal.
Modern synthetic chewing gums are hydrophobic (don’t dissolve in water) and have polymers that bind easily to asphalt, making removal of black wads from pavements a costly, time-consuming exercise for local authorities. Current methods include blasting dried chewing gum with corrosive chemicals, freezing or steaming it off.
It’s estimated that each lump of gum costs taxpayers between €0.65 and €2.30 for local cleanup services to remove. The total cost of cleaning chewing gum off streets is estimated at £10 million in London alone. Even when disposed of in bins, chewing gum ends up in landfill where it never biodegrades.
A piece of chewing gum may not seem like a great deal of trash, but consider that around the world we chew 100,000 tons of it a year and it starts to add up.
Chicle gum is a natural product of the chicle tree that grows in the rainforests of central and North America. It became the key ingredient in the first mass-produced chewing gum when in 1866 Thomas Adams, having failed to vulcanise 2 tons of chicle latex into rubber for carriage wheels, decided to add sweetener and flavouring to it, and sell it to Americans. Bought out by a certain William Wrigley, the gum rapidly became a phenomenon. During World War Two, U.S. chemists developed synthetic rubber, which has now largely replaced gum base from natural sources.
However, while the company that dominates the chewing gum sector continues its research into new biodegradable elastomers, a Mexican cooperative, Consorcio Chiclero, is resurrecting the traditional technique of sapping the chicozapote trees of the rainforests of southeastern Mexico to harvest the chicle gum. This is one of the only rainforests to have been sustainably managed in Mexico, much of the rest having been cleared for cattle grazing and extensive agriculture.
The harvested chicle gum is boiled and mixed with natural waxes to create the chewy gum base, then natural sweeteners (including agave syrup) and flavours are added. As well as tasting delicious, supporting traditional livelihoods and helping to conserve precious rainforest, Chicza gum is also entirely water-soluble and biodegrades completely in contact with bacteria and enzymes in just 2 weeks. The nutrients of the decomposed gum even enhance soil.
If we want to close the materials loop and avoid sending valuable resources to landfill, finding biodegradable alternatives that can be properly reintegrated into the ecosystem is part of the solution.
When faced with a choice between a gum that uses precious finite resources and will litter the environment for eternity, or one that comes from renewable, natural sources and returns to the earth, which would you pick?
One of the most challenging fractions of waste in a zero waste vision is all that is left over after recycling—because it is either too toxic to be safely recycled or is made out of non-recyclable material. It’s the fearsome residual fraction.
It is also that fraction of waste that proponents of end-of-pipe technologies such as landfills or incinerators use as their failsafe excuse to expand, as if the residual fraction is inevitable, a given by nature that is here to stay.
Well, far from it. Instead of blind acceptance, if you take a good look at what this residual fraction is made up of, then you’ll be able to assess the most appropriate solutions. At a minimum, if something cannot be reused, composted, or recycled, it needs to undergo a proper redesign!
A good place to start is outing residual waste. Enter the People’s Design Lab, where you can nominate products that can’t be recycled, re-used or repaired; vote for the worst of the nominated products; and share better ideas. The People’s Design Lab was formally launched on April 27th at the gorgeous and inspiring Good Life Centre in London, where lots of zero wasters had a first go nominating the worst and best products for a zero waste future.
The four People’s Design Lab Award categories are self-explanatory and rather eye-opening:
– The Weakest Link Award for Products You Thought Would Last a Long Time, but broke and then couldn’t be fixed. Maybe these items are impossible to open or take apart without inflicting terminal damage to the product, or it could be that spares just aren’t available. Take, for example, affordable headphones, which break easily and are very hard, if not impossible, to fix. That’s a nomination for the Weakest Link.
– Award for all Other Products Needing A Redesign. If your nomination does not fit any of these categories, just submit it here! Small electronic chargers for example, just need to be re-designed. Why do they all have to be so different? So incompatible? Share with People’s Lab your discomfiture and join forces to rethink these products.
Get involved! There is no time to waste! The People’s Design Lab will be open for your nominations and votes until May 27th. Let’s all support this creative and fun strategy to raise awareness about our fearsome residual waste fraction.
Zero Waste is about minimising waste generation, maximising reuse & recycle and redesigning the economy in order to phase out those products that are either toxic or not recyclable.
However, during the time in which we can’t stop producers from selling badly designed stuff we need to find the best option to treat the waste that today can’t be recycled or composted and which amounts to 5 to 20% of total household waste -depending on the community-. For instance in the first European town to declare Zero Waste, Capannori, this amounts to 8%. In the Gipuzkoa province the waste that is not recyclable is 19%.
So what to do with what is left? According to a scientific study recently published the disposal option with the lowest impact is MRBT to landfill, or in other words, pre-treat the waste, recover as much as possible, biologically stabilise and landfill it.
The European Commission and the waste incineration industry promote the belief that after maximizing recycling, reuse and composting, the best thing a community can do with leftover waste is to create energy with it. But this is a political choice with little science behind.
A new lifecycle analysis report, which compares the environmental impacts of the three most common disposal methods used globally, finds that the best approach to protecting the public health and the environment isn’t mass burn waste-to-energy, and it isn’t landfill gas-to-energy. The report found that, after aggressive community-wide recycling, reuse and composting, the most environmentally-sound disposal option for any waste that may still remain is a third option: Materials Recovery, Biological Treatment (MRBT).
Material Recovery, Biological Treatment is a process to “pre-treat” mixed waste before landfilling in order to recover even more dry materials for recycling and minimize greenhouse gas and other emissions caused by landfilling by stabilizing the organic fraction with a composting-like process. Very similar to the MBT systems used widely in Europe, the goal of MRBT is to capture any remaining recyclables and then create inert residuals that will produce little to no landfill gas when buried. The system can also classify non-recyclable dry items for the purpose of identifying industrial design change opportunities, which helps to drive further waste reduction.
This report emphasizes that source separation for recycling and composting is still the best environmental option for managing all discards and should be the focus of community efforts. However, “on the way to Zero Waste” there is still the need to reduce the negative impacts of disposal and minimize the need to invest in new disposal facilities. Communities should look beyond the two traditional options—burying and burning—toward building MRBT systems that have the lowest overall environmental impact of the technologies commercially available today.
Using a tool developed by economist Dr. Jeffrey Morris called MEBCalcTM, or Measuring Environmental Benefits Calculator, the study compared the three disposal strategies—MRBT, mass burn waste-to-energy and landfill gas-to-energy—across seven environmental categories, including climate change, water pollution, air pollution and human health impacts.
The MRBT system was shown to be the best choice for a community to dispose of its leftovers because it recovers the greatest amount of additional recyclables, stabilizes the organic fraction of the residuals, reduces the amount of material to be disposed of in a landfill, and minimizes the negative environmental and public health impacts of landfilling leftovers compared to the other disposal alternatives, landfill gas-to-energy or mass-burn waste-to-energy.
“MRBT is not a replacement or substitution for source separation, but it is a tool for helping communities reduce the environmental impacts of managing their leftovers as they progress on their way to Zero Waste,” says Eric Lombardi, the Executive Director of Eco-Cycle and sponsor of the study.
When utilized in a community with successful recycling and composting programs, MRBT has further benefits beyond its lower environmental impacts. Because the pre-treatment process includes additional sorting and recovery of recyclable dry materials, MRBT can help support very high levels of landfill diversion. The study modeled an 87% diversion rate for the city of Seattle, Washington based on 71% diversion from current source-separated recycling efforts and an additional 16% from the MRBT process, including increased recovery of recyclables and the weight reduction of the organic materials from moisture evaporation and biogenic carbon conversion to carbon dioxide.
MRBT infrastructure is also flexible and dual-purposed, able to handle both mixed waste and source-separated recyclables and organics. This means a community is not tied to feeding the facility a continuous flow of mixed waste over the next several decades and is not investing in a future of ever-more waste. Rather, as a community’s Zero Waste efforts improve, the MRBT model can adjust to a declining volume of leftover waste and support the growth of source separated collection systems. In addition, MRBT infrastructure can be built and operational on a shorter time scale than landfills and incinerators, and can be modular in size to help communities manage their leftover waste more locally.
According to Joan Marc Simon, Founder of Zero Waste Europe, “This report is exactly what we need at the right time to help guide the debate on what to do with residuals once we reach high separate collection rates. Europe has over-invested in waste incineration and needs solutions that deliver environmental safety while still focusing on increasing recycling and reducing material consumption.”
The report was an international effort authored by Dr. Jeffrey Morris, an economist and life-cycle assessment expert with Sound Resource Management Group based in Olympia, Washington; Dr. Enzo Favoino, Senior Researcher at Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza in Milan, Italy; Eric Lombardi, Executive Director of Eco-Cycle, a Zero Waste social enterprise based in Boulder, Colorado; and Kate Bailey, Senior Analyst for Eco-Cycle.
In this resolution the EP joins the European Commission in expressing the need to bring residual waste close to zero and consequently calls on the European Commission to make proposals by 2014 with a view to gradually introducing a ban on landfill in Europe and for the phasing-out by 2020 of incineration of recyclable and compostable waste (point 33)
As you can see in the graph on the left, currently 80% of the municipal solid waste in Europe is recyclable or compostable and if the ecodesign directive is boosted in the way the EP asks for in point 5, it is likely that non-recyclable, non-compostable products by 2020 will be less than 5% of total MSW. Hence, this practically means the end of waste disposal in Europe.
It also urges the European Commission to agree by 2013 on clear, robust and measurable indicators for economic activity that can take account of climate change, biodiversity and resource efficiency from a life-cycle perspective. (point 2)
This resolution paves the way for radical changes in how waste is managed in Europe but let’s not forget that no legal binding measures have been taken yet. Currently:
We all use or have used nappies in a time of our life. Nappies are a fairly recent invention that has eased the workload to many generations of parents –specially mothers-. Consequently, nappies are here to stay. The question is how to make its production, transport, use, re-use and disposal sustainable? What kind of nappies are suitable for a society that aims to phase out waste?
Why are single-use disposable nappies a problem?
Ca 4000 to 5000 nappies are used per child until its 3rd year of age, which equals 1tn of waste per child. Seniors also use nappies and hence generate vast amounts of highly putrescible waste. In fact, even though nappies represent only between 1 and 2% of total municipal solid waste, in the places with highest separate collection rates they represent almost the biggest fraction left in the residual waste. For instance, in Capannori , the first Zero Waste municipality in Italy , nappies represent almost 15% of the waste fraction that can’t be recycled or composted. With the increase in diversion of other waste streams and increase in the age of the Europeans that will need nappies we shall see an increase both in percentage and weight in the next years in Europe.
The problem with nappies is its high fermentability combined with the composition of the nappy –combination of plastic, cotton, creams and faeces-. This means that, firstly, disposal of the nappy in the waste bin (as mixed waste) and, secondly, forces a very frequent collection of the garbage bag -because of smells and other hazards caused by its putrescibility-.
If we could solve the problem of nappies in the waste bin it would be possible to reduce the frequency of collection which would reduce the collection and disposal costs. Moreover less nappies in landfills means less methane in the atmosphere and less impact to human health.
How to get nappies out of the waste bin?
The best way is to avoid using disposable nappies by expanding the use of reusable nappies. If we want to keep on using single-use nappies another way is to find a way to seal them so that they don’t smell and therefore can endure more time in bin. However this doesn’t solve the disposal and sustainability problems.
Another solution is to facilitate special bins/collection days for nappies so that they don’t contaminate the other waste in the bin and hence reduce the frequency of waste collection. This is done in most door-to-door collection systems.
Lastly, another option if we were to continue using the single-use disposable nappies would be to produce nappies with compostable bio-plastic. This does seem a solution at first hand for our busy societies. However, studies have shown high levels of zinc present in the compost, which originate from hand-creams and other additives used to avoid nappy rash. Toxins in compost speak against the option of compostable nappies.
The advantages of reusable nappies
Reusable cloth nappies have many advantages:
– they save money for the user (from 1000€ to 2000€ per baby) and to the community (less putrescible waste = possibility to reduce the frequency of collection = lower collection costs and odours). Moreover, these nappies can be re-used when the baby has grown up, meaning that they could be sold, passed on to the next child or friends/relatives!
It is also important to note that single-use nappies externalise the costs of collection and treatment to the public administration and hence to the consumer. In other words, the price of single-use nappies in the supermarket doesn’t include the costs for the society and the environment once the product leaves the shop. In the end we all end up paying for it when the company, following the polluter pays principle, should be the one shouldering these costs. If these costs would be internalised in the price the economic advantage for reusable nappies would be even bigger.
The traditional systems of waste management are designed to hide waste. The claim that landfills and incinerators make waste disappear it’s nothing else but a myth. As Professor Paul Connett says: landfills bury the evidence and incinerators burn it (i.e. bury them in the atmosphere and in toxic ashes). If we want to act against waste, we have to make it very visible.
This is why the Zero Waste Research Center was created; to study what is left in the residual fraction of the household and commercial waste. Capannori, like many other italian municipalities where the door-to-door collection systems are applied is above 75% separate collection. Therefore it is time to look into what is left in the remaining 25% in order to advance towards Zero Waste.
The first step is to do a caracterisation of the residual waste; i.e. analyse samples of residual waste to know its configuration. See the next table to know what was found in the residuals:
As we can see 85% of what is found in the residual fraction can be prevented, composted or recycled. 28% of it are plastics, 22% is biodegradable, 16% is clothing and 13% nappies. This means that if the right policies are in place the total household and commercial waste that should be sent to disposal would be less than 5% of the total waste generated!
The ZW Research Center is composed of an operative team with industrial designers charged with the task of proposing changes to the design of badly designed products. These proposals are then sent to the producers responsible for the manufacture of toxic and/or non-recyclable and/or non-biodegradable in order to give them sustainable alternatives.
The Center also has an Scientific Committee composed of waste experts, university professors and other technical people who can provide useful advice.
Albeit its very limited resources the Zero Waste Research Center is setting an example to follow for any municipality who wants to advance towards Zero Waste.
Europe imports 5 times more energy and resources than it exports, hence most of the trash that we bury or burn in Europe is not “ours”; is not always going to be there. In a world with finite resources and where emerging economies use more and more resources the Europeans will have to learn to make more with less if we want to keep our comfort standards. This is a radical change; what matters today is not labour productivity –as it has been since the industrial revolution- but the material productivity. Europe has to dramatically increase the efficiency with which it handles the resources and burning or burying them is not sensible.
See in the graph below -Eurostat data- the difference between the increase in labour productivity and material productivity in EU15.
Zero Waste as a continued effort to prevent, reuse, recycle, and still look into residuals to see what can be done further is a good approach to measure material productivity; an economy that minimises the residual fraction of the waste is more energy and material efficient than an economy that generates waste -be it in the extraction, transport, manufacture and consumption phase-.
Why is it good to minimise the residual fraction
Besides the necessary increase of the material productivity for the future of the European economy there are other reasons to minimise the residual fraction.
When we talk about municipal waste the most expensive waste to treat once we consider the obligation of pretreatment, financial liability, reduced thresholds for emissions, etc is the residual fraction (landfill and incineration), therefore if we reduce the amount of residual waste the costs for the municipality decrease which means that the citizen also saves money –less taxes-.
Also the treatments of residual waste are never clean; be it in a landfill where the waste will leach and pollute the soil and the water or in an incinerator where the waste will be turned into CO2, other organic and inorganic pollutants and toxic fly and bottom ashes that again need to be disposed of. In both cases there are health aspects related to the disposal of residual waste that have to be shouldered by the community and the citizens –hospitals, healthcare costs, losing of labour productivity…-.
Lastly, in order to minimise the residual part of the waste it is necessary to have regulation but also a good separate collection scheme that makes sure that no recyclables end up as residuals. This means more jobs for the community, jobs that cannot be delocalised and that bring in sustainability. Is this expensive? If we look at total costs the experience shows that it is cheaper to implement a separate collection scheme that minimises the residuals because the extra costs of separate collection are more than compensated with the reduction in the cost of residuals treatment –not to talk about hidden costs such as health, local employment…-.
Hence, also from a health and economic perspective it is always better to minimise the residual waste.
European examples of residual waste minimisation
The average waste generation in Europe is of half a ton per capita per year. Some countries generate 800kg/person and some others 350kg/person. The average recycling rate varies from country to country but if we look only to generation of residual waste –what cannot be reused or recycled- the average is around 300kg/person/year. An awful amount of waste!
In Europe there are already fantastic examples of minimisation of the residual fraction:
Flanders is the European champion in waste management not only because it recycles more than any other country in Europe (75%) but also because it focuses on minimising the residual waste. The average residual municipal solid waste in Flanders is around 150kg per person. 42 Flemish municipalities are below 100kg/person/year and there are two municipalities below 70Kg: Herenthout with 8.350hab generates only 59kg per person and Balen with 20.000hab 66Kg are the two leading municipalities.
But there are many others such as Aarschot (30.000hab and 84 kg) that are doing really well in their course towards sustainability.
In Italy thanks to the implementation of the door-to-door collection system 1500 municipalities are increasingly reducing their residual waste. For instance, the province of Treviso -with a population of 1 milion- generates an average of 85kg/person/year of residuals and there is a district around Udine that generates only 65kg/person.
In some small municipalities (some thousands of inhabitants) the results are extraordinary: Costigliole d’Asti thanks to achieving 82% of separate collection and the prevention policies the residual waste sent to disposal was of only 58kg/person/year. In Vilafranca d’Asti with 85% separate collection it was of 50kg/person, and in Castgnole delle Lanze with 84% separate collection they achieved the mark of 45kg/person/year!
The results of the door-to-door collection system are proving to be so successful that the region of Lazio (5,5 million inhabitants) has made it compulsory for all the municipalities.
Basque Country and Catalonia in Spain
In Spain the door-to-door collection has been implemented in more than 300 municipalities in Catalonia, Mallorca and the Basque Country and they have not only managed to increase the collection of recyclables –all above 60%- but also they have managed to reduce the generation of residual waste.
For instance in the Basque Country, the municipalities of Usurbil, Oiartzun and Hernani in one year managed to divide by four their generation of residuals thanks to the door-to-door separate collection (see graph). Currently Usurbil is at 80kg/person and Hernani and Oiartzun are approaching 100kg.
The economics, the physics and the common-sense show that it is necessary to move towards Zero Waste – reducing the residual part of our waste to the minimum is vital to plan a future without landfill and incineration.