EU countries obstructing key measures that would bring the EU closer to a circular economy are revealed – and they are not your usual suspects.
The European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe asked member states whether they will support key proposals to boost EU waste policy in the negotiations taking place in Brussels in the coming weeks.
The proposals, already approved by the European Parliament in March, include higher recycling targets for municipal solid waste; targets for preparation for reuse of municipal solid waste and reuse of packaging; better separate collection of all waste streams, including biowaste; EU-wide rules for producer responsibility; and objectives to reduce waste generation by 2030.
The investigation shows that ambitious reform of EU waste laws is under attack by a number of countries. If a regressive position is to prevail in the negotiations, plans to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the coming years will most likely stall.
Recent leaks (paywall link) of the Council’s current common position show that the laggards are winning out, despite higher individual ambition by some member states in areas including recycling targets, extended producer responsibility and biowaste separate collection.
Ferran Rosa, waste policy officer at Zero Waste Europe said: “Member States all agree to go towards a circular economy, but when it comes to making it happen, many are reluctant. It is time for Member States to stop being short-sighted and push for a real transition”
Countries opposing most of the proposals include Denmark and Finland – often regarded as leaders in waste policy despite their enormous amount of waste generated. Other countries set to categorically reject higher ambition are Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia.
While eventually supporting a 65% recycling target, countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Luxembourg and Slovakia are expected to oppose plans to make preparation for reuse mandatory, set a 10% target for packaging reuse and set waste prevention targets–all top priorities in a circular economy.
On the other hand, southern countries that generally struggle with waste management such as Greece and Romania as well as Spain are calling for stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.
Other progressive countries supporting the reforms are France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
What happens next?
• High representatives from member states will meet before the end of the month to define the position of the Council of the European Union.
• By the end of May, all three EU institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – will enter the final inter-institutional negotiations before agreeing on the final text of the new waste laws.
A future without waste in Europe is now closer to reality, after today, the European Parliament approved the Bonafè report. In a clear signal to both the Commission and the Council, the European Parliament has confirmed the increased ambition of the Environment Committee on four legislative proposals on waste. Now a common text needs to be agreed with the Council before it becomes law.
The Italian MEP Simona Bonafè has managed to raise the level of ambition of the Commission proposal by setting a 70% recycling target for all waste (5% to be prepared for reuse), 80% for packaging waste and by making separate collection truly compulsory, further extending it to bio-waste, textiles and waste-oils. In addition, the text generalises the use of economic instruments, such as pay-as-you-throw schemes and taxes or levies on landfilling and incineration.
Ferran Rosa, Zero Waste Europe’s Policy Officer said: “Zero Waste cities across Europe have already been successfully implementing the measures that were approved today. If the European Parliament decision becomes law they will become the mainstream”
The text adopted at the European Parliament today includes proposals to close the loop the call to review the Eco-design Directive with a broader scope and the emphasis on eco-design-guided Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to bring sustainable products.
Additionally, the report calls on the Commission to bring in new legislative proposals, such as a EU-wide waste prevention target in kg per capita along with new legislation and targets for construction, commercial and industrial waste. The role of prevention has also been improved with three aspirational targets (50% food waste reduction, 30% marine litter reduction and a decoupling of waste generation with economic growth) but remains far from being top priority.
Zero Waste Europe’s Rosa added: “The Parliament has raised the stakes for the circular economy. It’s time for the Member States to make it happen.” In this sense, Vice-President Timmermans when addressing the Parliament this morning acknowledged the emphasis on prevention and said he would do his best to make the final text be the closest to the one of the Parliament.
Zero Waste Europe congratulates the European Parliament and the team of rapporteurs and calls on the Council to accept these proposals. ENDS
By Erika Oblak, Ekologi brez meja / Zero Waste Slovenia
The municipality of Bled (with a population of 8,171 people) is one of the most famous and popular Slovenian tourist destinations, both nationally and internationally. The town is located in the foothills of the Julian Alps, on the picturesque shores of Lake Bled. At the beginning of 2015 Bled became the 7th Slovenian municipality on the road to Zero Waste. As a part of the recognition process we analysed their waste management data, and noticed a steep increase in municipal waste and residual waste generation during the summer months, starting at the beginning of June and lasting until the end of September when the data plummeted again. When we linked the data to tourist arrivals and overnight stays, and it matched perfectly.
When I started researching tourism it became obvious that waste is one of its major environmental impacts. Hotels, restaurants and other facilities use a huge amounts of products, very often delivered and packed in personal single use plastic packaging. For example, small plastic shampoo and soap bottles in hotel rooms. Or personal packaging for marmalade, honey and butter served at breakfast. Multiplied by the number of hotel beds and the number of overnight stays, it gives a rough picture of the magnitude of the problem. Data I came across claimed that as tourists we use more water, electricity and create more waste than when we live our ordinary everyday lives.
Looking for a solution, I was surprised how little literature is available on waste management in the tourism industry. The majority of those I could find mainly discussed strategies and recommendations, but in most cases lacked the data showing the effects of carrying them out. Zero Waste tourism soon became a focus of the Zero Waste Slovenia team. We set up a project aimed at finding waste minimisation and recycling solutions for events, hotels and restaurants.
The events turned out to be the easier part. There is a fair amount of literature with solutions and examples from different countries, including detailed guidelines. We integrated those which correspond best to our solid municipal waste management systems and legislation, and included the Zero Waste International Alliance recognition requirements for businesses. Again, Zero Waste Europe member organisations and staff turn out to be a priceless source of information: with their help we came across some inspirational stories like Boom festival in Portugal or Ecofesta Puglia in Italy. Armed with Zero Waste Events Guidelines, tailor-made for Slovenian circumstances, we organised several workshops around the country, which were eagerly accepted by event organisers.
Workshop for event organizers in Maribor (Photo: Ekologi brez meja)
Hotels were a harder nut to crack. First we checked the requirements of various green certificates, which mainly require waste separation and some basic prevention measures. The WRAP program is a good source for the ideas on how to minimise food waste in restaurants and hotel kitchens. The share of biodegradable waste in all waste generated in an average hotel is between 40% and 60%. After a while we started believing hotels might be too big a challenge for a small team as ours.
That was until Zero Waste Europe’s Enzo Favoino came to our rescue (again). He connected us with Antonino Esposito, who started introducing Zero Waste principles to hotels in famous Italian tourist destination, Sorrento. Antonino kindly accepted our invitation to join the project and we slowly began to understand why we couldn’t find much literature. Every hotel is its own story. They are diverse in size, services they offer, stars categories they need to comply with, some have already adopted green policies, others have not, etc. Reaching Zero Waste goals requires a complete change of the hotel’s culture, including employees, guests and suppliers. Such changes are only successful if they are developed slowly.
While Antonino trained and equipped our team with his Zero Waste tips and tricks, we were eager to find a pilot hotel ready to embark on a Zero Waste adventure. It turned out the concept fit perfectly into the vision of Hotel Ribno in Bled. At the moment our team – with Antonino’s support – is drafting proposed actions towards Zero Waste goals.
The co-funding by the Ministry of Environment ended at the end of February with the closing event at Astoria Hotel in Bled, a learning centre for catering and tourism. Antonino Esposito and Roberto Paladini (Ecofesta Puglia) presented their work to a number of hotels, event organisers, municipalities, NGOs, waste management companies and representatives of the Slovenian Tourist Organization. Since several hotels and event organisers expressed their interest in Zero Waste, we are convinced Zero Waste tourism will become one of our success stories.
Antonino Esposito and Roberto Paladini presenting their work in Bled (Photo: Ekologi brez meja)
Globally, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries, with Europe contributing half of international arrivals and about the same in income. More tourists equals more waste, and more waste inevitably translates into a larger environmental footprint. It is not just a problem in the areas where establishing an efficient waste management system is challenging, like small islands or remote, sparsely populated areas. Bananas or pineapples travel hundreds if not thousands of kilometers to end up at the breakfast buffet of a Northwest town in Slovenian Alps, using energy and adding GHG emissions. Waste, especially plastic, became a huge problem also in terms of the decreased value of tourist destinations. Solid waste minimisation should therefore become an important task for tourism sector. Not only to manage its own waste, but also to support and participate in setting up efficient waste management of tourist destinations. After all: who’d want to lie on a beach covered by plastic trash or stay in a mountain camp with waste rotting nearby?
A new petition asks large supermarket chains in France to stop using non-recyclable plastic in their own-branded milk bottles. The bottles are causing mayhem in recycling plants and stalling the country’s circular economy goals.
What’s in a circle? Well at first glance we might think nothing of it. Its simplicity evokes plainness, but as we look deeper we discover harmony at its core. Harmony in the form of completeness and sustainability. Harmony in the form of collaboration and sharing. Harmony in the form of life as we know it. There’s much more to a circle than meets the eye. Just like with a circular economy. Although the concept seems simple, creating a truly sustainable economy means careful planning, attention to detail, and that every section of the economy works together in harmony.
While across Europe, the circular economy concept has taken root, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone is entirely on board with circular design.
Recently, Zero Waste France discovered that many of France’s large supermarket chains who stock their own branded milk on the shelves use bottles made from the non-recyclable polymer commonly known as opaque PET. That equates to millions of non-recyclable bottles in the French marketplace alone. And with the implementation of proper recycling methods far from being ready, the presence of opaque PET in recycling centers disrupts the entire process because it can’t properly be identified by current machinery. This has led to the unnecessary allocation of manpower and resources to handle this difficult material, the costs of which fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer.
We can all help solve this problem while also checking one for mother earth by signing Zero Waste France’s petition which aims to stop the usage of opaque PET among supermarket chains in France.
Although a small effort, the signing of the petition not only pinpoints a major sustainable ‘no-no’ in the bottling industry, but also contributes towards the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system. As a tool that can be used to provide economic incentives for producers to better design their products, EPR schemes are designed to penalize non-circular products, ensuring that the polluter pays, not the people.
The idea behind it is to create a closed-loop economy and incentivize producers to either create products that are durable, reusable, repairable, and recycle or pay the price.
EPR schemes can be one of the essential cornerstones for transitioning to a circular economy, however, it’s clear that there’s much room for improvement regarding their performance and implementation here in Europe.
With your help and support, we’re one step closer to closing the loop on that circle and building a future fit for both the environment and the people living in it.
Graph showing results of recent research showing the gap between amount of EU municipal waste eligible under an EPR scheme (70%), and how much is actually covered (45%). Source: Zero Waste Europe, Extended Producer Responsibility: Creating the Frame for Circular Products, January 2017.
This blog was written by Christopher Nicastro for Zero Waste Europe
The tireless work of Zero Waste Romania, recently won many victories, here they share some of their achievements. To find our more get in contact via their Facebook page or email them directly. In the coming weeks we will be looking at other stories of zero waste practices in Central & Eastern Europe.
Iasi, the first big municipality in Romania to adopt the zero waste strategy
The city of Iasi has joined the “Zero Waste Municipality” international network and become the biggest city in Romania, with a population of over 350 000 inhabitants, that engaged to adopt the zero waste methodology with proven impact in other over 350 cities across Europe, in facilitating the transition towards circular economy.
The affiliation process started in September 2016, when Mihai Chirica, the mayor of Iasi, signed a formal engagement letter and organized a task force group with all the main actors involved in the waste management at local level from the waste operator, local Police and NGOs to the Ministry of Environment.
The first solutions which are to be adopted in local legislation are the following:
separate collection at source of three types of waste: recyclables, compostable/biowaste and residual waste. The source collection will be programmed on different days for each type of waste category and the biowaste will be composted or converted in biogas;
introduction of the “Pay as you Throw” system;
Funding is also being sought for the extension of the existing Municipal Waste Collection Center with a repair and resale center for furniture, textiles, electronics and construction waste, a pioneering initiative in Romania.
The “zero waste” methodology has been adopted by 40 other small communities and cities including Targu Lapus, the first Romanian city to adopt the strategy in 2014.
PAYT legislation in Romania
In October 2016, Romania included in the waste framework legislation the “Pay as you Throw” instrument to be implemented at national level, whenever it is technically and economically viable following the 2008/98/EC recommended language. Even if not mandatory, this event marks a historical milestone in the battle for an improved waste management system still based mostly on landfilling and opened the door to municipalities to adopt the instrument in local legislation and modify their commercial contract with the waste operator. The first city in progress to adopt PAYT is Iasi (+350 000 inhabitants), followed by Oradea (+250 000 inhabitants) which will be announced in April 2017.
On 24th January the Environment Committee of the European Parliament adopted the legislative report for the four waste directives under discussion. With this, the legislative process goes a step further in the path to full adoption and will be voted at the Plenary in March. In the meantime, the Council is still negotiating its own position, so the final text will probably have to wait until Autumn.
Although the text approved on the 24th isn’t a final document, it certainly gives a clear direction on how to move towards a circular economy and zero waste. The MEPs and the rapporteur Simona Bonafè delivered the ambition the European Commission had forgotten and included brave measures to drive Europe towards a sustainable use of natural resources.
Among the amendments approved to the Commission’s proposal, the MEPs included an increase of the recycling targets for 2030 for municipal waste and for packaging to 70% and 80% respectively. Within the recycling target, it is particularly interesting to see that, at least, 5% of it should be prepared for reuse. For packaging, a target of 10% of reusable packaging by 2030 was inserted. Besides, the maximum target is reduced to 5% of all municipal waste. Zero Waste Europe welcomes the increased ambition, but regrets the lack of specific accompanying measures to the landfilling target. In this sense, Zero Waste Europe warns that the reduction of landfilling and progressive phase out shouldn’t mean an increase of incineration capacities, but rather a shift towards prevention, reuse and recycling.
In order to meet these objectives, MEPs took note of the success stories across Europe and proposed making separate collection truly compulsory for paper, glass, metals, plastic and extending it to bio-waste, textiles and waste oils. MEPs approved getting rid of current loopholes that allow Member States not to roll out separate collection. In addition to separate collection, MEPs proposed making extensive use of economic incentives, such as landfill and incineration taxes or pay-as-you-throw schemes.
The Environment Committee of the Parliament also approved bolder minimum requirements for Producer Responsibility Schemes that will have to cover now the whole cost of waste management of the products they put in the market and will have to modulate their fees to drive eco-design. Another important amendments approved is the push on Member States to support the uptake of secondary raw materials.
Despite these strong messages, the most significant problem with the report adopted at ENVI Committee is the role of prevention. Although it sets three aspirational targets (50% food waste reduction, 30% marine litter reduction and decoupling of waste generation from GDP growth), these remain non-binding and prevention is still far from being the cornerstone of waste policies. However, MEPs called on the Commission to set up a EU-wide waste prevention target, which is very much welcomed by Zero Waste Europe. ZWE also call on Member States to truly aim at achieving these targets.
Although this is only the first step in the legislative process, Zero Waste Europe overall welcomes the report adopted at ENVI Committee and urges on national governments to step up their level of ambition and make sure waste directives are properly implemented.
Is the Circular Economy strategy on the right track? Yes but it is still too slow, in need of some fine-tuning and to escape bad habits from the past.
The exercise we are undertaking is an ambitious one, close the material loop and turn waste into resources; creating a zero waste society from which the EU’s economy and environment should benefit.
How do we know if the Circular Economy strategy is on the right track? In my opinion there are three guiding principles to follow which shed light on the path to follow.
Is doing the right thing easier and cheaper than doing the wrong thing?
Today in many places in the EU mixing all the garbage together and have it processed in expensive ineffective facilities before burning it or dumping it in landfills is still the easiest and cheapest thing to do. Unless you plan to turn 500 million Europeans into environmentalists we need to change the way we do things and make it easier for the citizens to do the right thing whilst making visible the reward for this effort.
In this sense the proposals from the text of the European Commission and the European Parliament to make separate collection compulsory for most waste fractions, especially of biowaste, is a good one, as it will set high targets for recycling because it provides legal certainty for investment.
It is also good to make recovery and disposal activities more and more expensive so that recycling and composting become comparatively cheaper.
For this purpose fiscal incentives are very important; from landfill and incineration taxes to widespread use of pay as you throw systems.
The examples from the ZWE case studies from the network of Zero Waste municipalities illustrate very clearly how it is possible to implement aggressive source separation schemes in less than 10 years (in the case of Parma less than 5 years) doubling recycling rates and radically reducing the waste that is to be sent to landfills and incinerators; what is known as residual waste.
These examples prove that working on the upper levels of the waste hierarchy are more effective and cheaper than any other option and hence that the recycling targets set by the European Commission and increased by Bonafè’s report are perfectly realistic. However we warn about the danger of lock-in situations which can jeopardise the implementation of a zero waste strategy and also substantially delay the achievement of the EU waste recycling targets.
This applies notably to the cap on waste sent to landfilling which the EC wants to set at 10% of all MSW generated and the Bonafè’s report proposes to reduce to 5%. Whilst it is important to progressively reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, if we are serious about moving towards a Circular Economy we need to focus on reducing “leakage” from the system and that means landfill and incineration.
Failing to do so will mean repeating the same mistake that some countries committed when implementing landfill bans and which caused that the waste diverted from landfills to end up in incinerators proportionally more than to recycling. In the cases of Austria and Norway they saw waste sent for recycling decrease in favour of incineration. The graph below shows how landfill bans tend to drive more incineration than recycling or waste reduction.
We need to gradually phase out incineration and landfilling and the most effective way to do that is by using a residual waste reduction target. We advocate for the inclusion of a residual waste target of 100kg per person per year for 2030. Slovenia is very close to achieving this and Holland has set it as a target. Why not having it at the EU level to complement the recycling targets?
The EU needs to change the lenses with which it looks at waste management and complement the recycling targets with residual waste target to tackle the amount of waste leaking the system.
In a Circular Economy consumers and providers interests should be aligned when it comes to what they expect from the product
When I rent a car my interests and those of the rental company regarding the car are the same, we all want a car that works well, that lasts and which is easily and quickly repairable when I buy a phone they are not. I want a phone that works and lasts and the company wants to my phone to break soon so that I get a new one.
It will be impossible to have a circular economy for as long as the business model of producers is based on selling as much stuff as possible in as little time as possible. This results in wasteful products, designed for the dump, which break to soon and are neither repairable nor recyclable.
In a CE both producers and consumers should benefit from products that are toxic-free and designed to preserve the energy and the value of its components. If these interests are aligned we will see the amounts of waste decrease sharply.
For this to happen we need to design the right incentives for providers and cosumers. This goes beyond waste legislation and entails working on extended warranties, products passports, facilitating information about life-expectancy of the product, reduced VAT for second hand and repaired products, changing depreciation rules to adapt them to the new extended lifes of products and progressive green procurement rules.
A basic point that is relevant for the discussion on waste is the creation of a feed-back mechanism between waste and design in order to avoid the product becoming waste in the future.
In the following graph about EPR we can see how in Europe the implementation of EPR is still not covering most of the products – 55% not covered and is performing poorly for those that are covered by EPR with only 18% of a product’s waste is collected through EPR.
With these results it is clear that the EPR schemes should improve their performance but we should also consider expanding the scope of EPR to cover more product categories than the current ones packaging, ELV, batteries, tyres, WEEE-. Expired medication, phytopharmaceutical products, textiles, domestic linen and shoes, domestic chemical products, graphic paper, lubricants, frying oils, construction & demolition materials (C&D), printer cartridges, fluorinated refrigerants or nappies are all potential targets. In fact we should reverse the question and ask, of the 70% of the waste products, which product categories should be exempted from producer responsibility?
In France they have alreadymodulated producer responsibility fees according to the circularity of the product, we should explore a similar approach for Europe.
Finally, there are some items that should have no place in a Circular Economy and would need to be banned outright, microplastics in cosmetic products are just one example.
The prospects for the Circular Economy package look bright and after a soft start from the side of the European Commission it looks like the European Parliament with the Bonafè report is committed to raising the stakes. A fantastic opportunity to create jobs and economic activity in Europe whilst reducing the burden on environment and moving towards Zero Waste Europe.
Zero Waste is on the agenda at the region of Madrid. Despite the negative situation, positive changes are expected.
Last Friday 18th March, the Assembly of Madrid hosted a conference on Zero Waste. The aim was to present the initiatives already taking place in the Region of Madrid, across Spain and in Europe and to define proposals for the upcoming Waste Management Plan for the Region of Madrid.
The event was crowded with representatives of more than 15 cities and towns of the regions, among which included the cities of Madrid and Alcalá de Henares. Zero Waste Europe presented the situation of waste management across the EU and the main proposals emerging to turn the current situation upside down: institutional initiatives such as the Circular Economy Package and civil society ones like the network of Zero Waste municipalities.
The event was split into two sessions. The morning served to present the Zero Waste Madrid Platform, composed of a wide range of civil society organisations, from environmental NGOs to trade unions and neighbourhood associations, and to expose the major challenges of the current system of the region. The session addressed the main policy alternatives for the region and what the new Waste Management Plan could include to reverse their very negative situation. Among the panellists, there was broad consensus on the importance of collecting separately organic waste and addressing it specifically, and on the need to make use of fiscal instruments to incentivise the upper steps of the waste hierarchy, such as a tax on landfill and incineration. Other concerns were related to the limited existing infrastructure, and the need to shift investments away from big and rigid end-of-pipe infrastructures, such as landfills, incinerators or MBT plants, redirecting resources to those at the top of waste hierarchy, such as composting plants.
The afternoon session was mostly devoted to initiatives taking place at the local level and main plans for the municipalities of the regions. Although the session intended primarily to present changes taking place in the Region of Madrid, it also enjoyed the presence of Michele Giavini, a representative of the city of Milan, who illustrated the case of door-to-door separate collection of bio-waste in a city of 1,5 million inhabitants. Additionally, the session counted on the local councillors for the Environment of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares and Soto del Real. The three cities, along with other municipalities represented in the room committed to introducing separate collection of bio-waste and to set up a mid- and long-term strategy to become zero waste.
Despite the very negative situation of the Region of Madrid, very poor separate collection, lack of infrastructures at the top of the hierarchy, abuse of end-of-pipe solutions, landfills on the verge to close down, etc., local powers proved their commitment to redress the situation and their intention to push the regional government for an ambitious Waste Management Plan that accompanies and facilitates their transition.
Urban biomass is a common term to refer to all the food waste from restaurants, households, farmers’ markets, plus the garden waste, textiles, clothing, paper, or anything of organic origin within municipal solid waste. We call it ‘urban biomass’, given its urban origin in comparison to the agricultural, forestry or industrial origin of other kinds of biomass.
Ideally, a municipality committed to a zero waste strategy would sooner or later organise the separation and collection of this organic waste at the source, enabling for this extremely rich resource to be turned into compost (and returned to the soils as fertiliser), or to biogas, via anaerobic digestion, both of which are fundamental technologies that are required to play a key part in our low-carbon future.
However, as shocking as it may sound, most municipalities in the EU today are still mixing all of this organic waste, urban biomass, with the residual waste going to landfill and incineration, creating quite a big mess.
Organic waste going into landfills is responsible for generating methane – a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72-times greater than CO2 over a 20 year period, and for contaminating the soils and ground-water with leachate. Similarly, organic waste going to incinerators to produce energy (along with all kinds of fossil fuel derived plastic products) is an equal waste of resources – worse yet, this is misleadingly considered “renewable energy”.
Renewable energy from burning ‘urban biomass’?
Urban biomass like food waste, paper or textiles are a human product, i.e. it would not exist without our intervention. Moreover, it is very often the result of unsustainable modes of industrial or agricultural production, so considering it a ‘renewable’ source is definitely a challenging concept. Of course one could argue that food will continue to be produced as long as our civilization exists, but that does not make it an infinite resource, in the way that wind, solar or geothermal energy could be.
Precisely, one of the major pitfalls of the current EU Renewable Energy Directive is the consideration of this ‘urban biomass’ amongst the renewable energy sources, which allows incinerators, biomass plants or any other energy plant using biomass as a fuel, to receive financial incentives for doing so.
In this way, subsidies that should be committed to clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energies are being misused in the most inefficient way by supporting the burning resources that should be composted, recycled, reused or just never wasted in the first place. Today, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the major obstacles to fully implementing a Circular Economy, as they continue to finance and green-wash the building of waste-burning facilities all over Europe.
Not renewable, and also not carbon-neutral
The big mess caused by considering biomass waste a renewable energy source gets even worse with the further misleading idea that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning biomass can be considered to be zero, or carbon-neutral.
This concept originates in the idea that the GHG emissions related to cutting a tree, for example, will be compensated with another planted tree, creating a net balance in the carbon cycle of the atmosphere. Those promoting large-scale biomass energy believe that even if you would cut these trees and burn them, GHG emissions would be compensated overtime with the appropriate forestry policies, and therefore be, carbon-neutral.
That may make sense in the abstract world – and indeed sustainable forestry practices that allow for the appropriate supply of trees are extremely important, but being by being realistic, it’s easy to see the flaws of the concept. Using biomass for fuel can eventually be sustainable with the appropriate practices on a small-scale, but it’s just not going to be carbon-neutral.
Firstly, the very activity of burning biomass produces GHG emissions, regardless of whether you plant a tree or 200, in the next day or in the next year. Those emissions are unique and additional, and it’s time that that they are recognised and accounted for as such.
As Eunomia put it in our latest report: “It is a mistake to assume that CO2 from non-fossil sources does not mater. The argument that CO2 from such sources is all short-cycle, and so, it can be ignored, is tantamount to assume a separation in the pools of carbon dioxide from fossil and non-fossil sources. It is as though the argument runs that the climate only changes if emissions come from fossil sources. This is so obviously wrong that it seems genuinely surprising that this argument could ever have been considered acceptable: (…) the only correct way to process is to account for emissions of all greenhouse gases since they will all have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin”.
Secondly, how does the carbon-neutral reasoning apply to ‘urban biomass’? It is stretching a concept far beyond what could be justified to assume that GHG emissions from burning food waste, paper and textiles can be ‘compensated over time’ and therefore could be counted as zero. And yet, this is what incinerators, biomass or even cement plants will argue and apply in their accounting methodologies: the ‘urban biomass’ they burn is carbon-neutral and a key climate mitigation strategy for the sector!
Thirdly, the burning of urban biomass it’s in fact a very inefficient and polluting source of energy, generating even more GHG emissions per unit of electricity than coal. Even if paper and textiles can burn reasonably well, food waste is 70% water, which makes it a rather inadequate fuel. So, burning biomass of any kind is not only not carbon-neutral, it’s in fact more carbon-intensive than coal and responsible for a great deal of air pollution, as it’s been pointed out in both this and that report.
It must be noted that the IPCC guidelines to account the GHG emissions from biomass energy in national inventories do require to report these emissions but only as an information item, mostly for methodological reasons. This is an unfortunate solution to a methodological problem, as these emissions then tend to go under-reported and are generally underestimated. Still, the IPCC remains ultimately clear on the carbon-neutrality of bioenergy and responds: “the IPCC approach of not including these emissions in the Energy Sector total should not be interpreted as a conclusion about the sustainability or carbon neutrality of bioenergy.”
Impacts of harmful subsidies and accounting errors
In practice, accounting errors related to GHG emissions feed and maintain the misuse of public funds that should be supporting low-carbon solution pathways and that are instead supporting carbon-intensive, wasteful and polluting technologies.
Ultimately, at the EU policy level, the contradiction is obvious. While the Circular Economy Package is all about resource-efficiency and material recovery, the renewable energy subsidies end up being perverse economic incentives and a fundamental misallocation of resources.
The right solutions at the right scale
As previously mentioned, urban biomass is a rich resource that can be composted or treated in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas. Paper can be recycled, textiles can be reused, and all measures to prevent these products from entering our bins will be infinitely more sustainable than burning them to extract what little and polluting energy we can get from them. Not in vain does the waste hierarchy suggests that wastes should only be combusted once the potential for reuse and recycling has been fully explored.
When it comes to using forestry or agricultural biomass for energy purposes, the matter of scale is critical. The use of agricultural or forestry biomass for energy purposes can be sustainable at small-scale and in fact, communities around the world depend on it for everyday heating and cooking.
However, in a world with increasing pressure on land, food, and forests, large scale industrial biomass energy should be questioned and avoided, along with their corresponding renewable energy subsidies. Not only there is increasing evidence of deforestation related to this practice, the large amount of biomass needed to operate an industrial plant may require additional fuel, which will often be Refuse-derived Fuel – mixed waste, including plastics and all kinds of residual waste. This dramatically increases the toxic mix of emissions and prevents the proper management of this waste.
At the end of the day, energy policies for a low-carbon economy, should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resources.
Final words for EU policy makers
Europe should become a leader in renewable energy and develop a long-term, secure, sustainable and competitive energy system, as outlined in the EU Energy Union Framework Strategy. For this, increasing the share of renewable energy sources it’s as important as ensuring that these sources are clean, efficient and science-based.
Whether the final share of RE for 2030 is 27% or higher, none of it will do any favours for climate change mitigation if it ends up increasing deforestation, resource depletion and air pollution.
Since 2006 the seven municipalities of the lower Međimurje (The City of Prelog and the municipalities of Kotoriba, Donja Dubrava, Donji Vidovec, Sveta Marija, Goričan and Donji Kraljevec) have been developing a joint waste management system. Organised by the municipally owned company Pre-Kom, waste has been separately collected in the region since 2007. With the region currently ranked top in terms of separate collection within Croatia, it seemed the next logical step was the creation of a society without waste, or the implementation of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’.
Zero Waste 2020 commitments
By the adoption of a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the municipalities of the region have committed to meeting the following waste management conditions by 2020:
70% of useful waste to be extracted, processed and recovered (recycling, composting, anaerobic processing, or other acceptable means of useful waste recovery) through separate waste collection.
The amount of bulky waste and combined waste will be reduced from the current (2015) level of 98.8 kilograms per capita per year to 50 kilograms per capita per year by 2020.
The priorities in the field of waste management (prevention of waste, reuse and recycling) will be reinforced to the fullest extent, waste incineration will be avoided, the amount of waste deposited on landfills will be reduced to the lowest possible level.
An analysis of useless waste will be conducted yearly, and an operative strategy and campaigns for further improvement in waste management will be defined based on the results of the analysis.
In addition to the initiated activities in waste management, and according to Waste management plans of municipalities of lower Međimurje, the municipalities commit to start and take part in the following activities:
Organising educational sessions related to sustainable development and waste management and to promote the zero waste development strategy.
Work on projects related to reuse of the collected waste (clothing, shoes, etc.).
Promote separate waste collection of biodegradable communal waste and the composting of it.
Promote the use of compost given back to users.
Promote increasing the amount of households included in the waste management system.
Introduce a billing system based on the volume of collected waste.
Start projects on all levels of development, or public and private initiatives in order to secure improvement of living standards and sustainable development in their areas.
Encourage green construction using environmentally friendly materials.
Take part in sustainable mobility (car sharing, walking, bus transport, etc.).
Promote new lifestyles (tourism, catering, Fair trade commerce, etc.).
In order to track their progress, the municipalities have formed the ‘Council for Waste Management in Lower Međimurje’ which will track the fulfilment of the goals of the international strategy for “Zero waste”, this council will consist of:
The president of the Council is a Director of PRE-KOM, and the council will meet at least once every six months.
In adopting a ‘Zero Waste Strategy’ the region of Lower Međimurje will join an international community of municipalities moving towards zero waste. This community includes; New Zealand (the first country in the world to include the Strategy in its national legislation), New Scotia, British Columbia in Canada, Buenos Aires in Argentina, San Francisco in California, Canberra in Australia and many other local communities, regions and cities across the EU.
The municipalities of lower Međimurje are becoming a key example of good practice in waste management, and an exemplary model for other local communities in Croatia and around the world in the struggle towards a zero waste society.
Current waste management practices & infrastructure
In the area of lower Mešimurje, mixed communal waste is collected in black containers, biodegradable communal waste is collected in brown containers, bulky waste is collected after a phone call, paper and carton are collected in blue containers or bags, plastics in yellow containers or bags and metal and glass are collected in free bags. Aside from the gathering infrastructure, Pre-Kom. manages a composting plant, a sorting plant and a recycling yard.
Amounts of bulky and mixed communal waste disposed on a landfill per household:
2011 2,888 t — 424 kilograms per household (128.5 kg per capita)
2012 2,801 t — 409 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2013 2,794 t — 407 kilograms per household (123.9 kg per capita)
2014 2,862 t — 412 kilograms per household (124.8 kg per capita)
2015 2,299 t — 326 kilograms per household (98.9 kg per capita)
Amount of separately collected, processed and recovered waste:
2011 16.93 %
2012 19.04 %
2013 19.63 %
2014 22.39 %
2015 49.58 %
By completion of the separate waste collection system and by introducing containers for biodegradable waste, Pre-Kom. has already significantly increased the amount of separately collected waste in 2015, compared to 2014. Analysis show an increase in other materials collected separately door-to-door. In 2015, 49,58% of waste has been collected and processed separately, which is a better than EU average of 43%. The results weren’t achieved quickly, they were achieved by continual investments and upgrades to the waste management system.
Considering what has already been achieved, municipalities of lower Međimurje aspire to demonstrate some of the best waste management practices in the world and to lead the way a zero waste society.
On Wednesday 24 February, representatives of the city of Prelog and six surrounding municipalities signed the European “Zero Waste 2020” strategy at a conference in Prelog organised by NGO Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia and the communal waste company PRE-KOM. In signing the strategy, the local authorities – which are already leaders in sustainable waste management in Croatia – have committed to meet the ambitious goal of 70% separately collected waste by 2020.
Attendees at the conference included Minister of Environmental and Nature Protection Slaven Dobrović, Assistant Minister Lidija Runko Luttenberger, head of the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund Sven Muller, the Assistant Minister for Enterprise and Trade, the Head of Međimurje County, relevant Mayors, Heads of Districts, communal companies and representative of Zero Waste Europe. 18 NGOs from the Zero Waste Croatia* network were also present. After the conference the NGOs met with Assistant Minister Luttenberger on the topic of advancing sustainable waste management in Croatia.
The seven local authorities in Lower Međimurje for whom Zelena akcija / FoE Croatia drew up recommendations (the city of Prelog, and the districts of Goričan, Donji Kraljevec, Sveta Marija, Donji Vidovec, Donja Dubrava and Kotoriba, with altogether more than 25 000 inhabitants) managed to separately collect more than 50% of waste in 2015. As this moved them to the top of the league tables for separate waste collection and recycling in Croatia, signing on to the international Zero Waste 2020 strategy was a logical next step.
Siniša Radiković, Director of PRE-KOM commented:
“Our wish, by accepting this strategy and implementing Zelena akcija’s recommendations, is to separately collect and treat 70% of useful waste by 2020, landfill less than 30%, and reduce the amount of landfilled waste to less than 50 kg per inhabitant per year, which is in the range of the most successful cities and districts in the world”.
Slaven Dobrović, Minister of Environment and Nature Protection said:
“Thank you for making our task easier, and that is to continue changing waste management policy in the Republic of Croatia. Until now the policy has been to mix and burn waste – thank you because you have shown that another way is possible”.
Erika Oblak, representative of the Zero Waste Europe network and Zero Waste Slovenia co-ordinator emphasized that:
“According to the experience of many zero waste communities in the world, three ingredients are needed for success: political support, good management and commitment to meeting ever higher targets. The town of Prelog and the surrounding districts have shown that they have all these ingredients. I hope that other communities in Croatia will soon join them, to the benefit of their inhabitants and the environment.”
Bernard Ivčić, president of Zelena akcija (Friends of the Earth Croatia) said:
“Lower Međimurje has shown that in a relatively short period of time it is possible to create a good quality waste management system and become a good example for others. I’m proud that Zelena akcija contributed to this success with its analysis. This shows that NGOs have relevant knowledge and that when the authorities are ready to listen to well-argued recommendations, significant results can be achieved”.
In order to enable the commitments in the Strategy, the Lower Međimurje Waste Management Council was formed, which will include the local waste management companies along with Zelena akcija. Together with Zero Waste Europe, Zelena akcija will monitor progress towards the targets and assist with implementation of the measures to prevent, re-use and recycle waste.
At the meeting of the Zero Waste Croatia network with Assistant Minister, Marko Košak, Waste Managament Programme coordinator in Zelena akcija and Zero Waste Croatia network presented the current situation with waste management in Croatia. Erika Oblak from Zero Waste Europe presented the Zero Waste Europe network and successes by particular cities and districts. Ms Luttenberger presented the priorities of the Ministry for Environment and Nature Protection with regard to implementing a good quality waste management system. The NGOs provided comments on problems with the system and suggestions for the planned new national Waste Management Plan for the period until 2021.
The main message from the NGOs was that the new plan needs to ensure a long-awaited shift from mixing and burning waste to reducing, re-using, separating and recycling waste, as done by Prelog and neighbouring districts. The Assistant Minister clearly stated that the Ministry will ensure that the system is changed for the benefit of people and the environment, and that environmental organizations will have an important role in this process. A similar sentiment was expressed by Minister Dobrović during the conference “The problem in Croatia is large and I therefore welcome NGOs which actively work on the promotion of the zero waste concept. We all have a common task and even if it has not been like that until now, from now on problems will be resolved by sitting together around the table and all suggestions will be examined.”
Zelena akcija believes that the city of Prelog will achieve its ambitious targets by 2020 with the implementation of the proposed measures. We hope that other communal waste companies, with expert assistance from NGOs and support from the Ministry and Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency, will also advance their waste management systems according to Lower Međimurje’s example and satisfy the needs of both residents and the environment.
Further information on their strategy and commitments for 2020 can be found here.
On October 4, in Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, the annual celebration of Basque schools ‘Ikastolas’ took place, and this is the first year that the organisation have considered taking a zero waste approach.
This is already a traditional meeting point for over 10,000 people who come together to support the Basque language “Euskara”, and this year it was also used to showcase how it is possible to radically reduce waste and increase recycling rates. This event was particularly useful to highlight how wrong and unnecessary is to build the incinerator of Zubieta which the regional government wants to build next to the town of Usurbil in the Basque country.
The event implemented three steps to be a zero waste event:
Prevention: the promotion of tap water to avoid the use of disposable plastic bottles.
Reuse: drinks were mostly served in reusable cups,
Separate collection; over 90% of the waste was separately collected.
Prevention: promote the drinking of tap water!
For the first time, and thanks to adopting the zero waste approach, it was possible to provide tap water to the participants. The organisation of the event partnered with the municipality to promote the tap water from the municipality as being healthy free.
The results were incredible! In past editions around 15,000 disposable plastic bottles were bought during this day and thanks to this measure the number went down to only 3,548 bottles. This will be the mark to beat for future years!
Reuse: Reusable cups
The celebration planned to move away from single use glasses and therefore heavily promoted the use of reusable glasses. 49,350 glasses were rented and 85.89% of them were recovered and washed for future use. Prior to adopting the zero waste approach the same festival was getting back 66% of the glasses.
Thanks to an innovative separate collection system and the involvement of more than 110 volunteers, 7,750 kg of segregated waste was collected during the day of the celebration.
More concretely the organisation and volunteers managed to separately collect:
1,160kg of packaging
1,180kg of paper
1,140kg of biowaste
106ltr of oil
380kg of special plastics
720kg residual waste
This totals a separate collection rate of 90.19% leaving only 9.81% (760kg) of residual waste.
In addition to the successes in waste management the zero waste strategy managed to produce many positive spin-offs such as promoting sustainable mobility with use of bicycles, chemical free cleaning products and toilets, etc.
As a result of this successful experience, the local Zero Waste Europe member, Zero Zabor, will be helping to produce guidelines to host similar events elsewhere. Watch this space for more!
All in all, it was an incredibly successful experience considering it was the first time it was organised and Zero Zabor is already looking forward improving the results in 2016!
Want to see what this event looked like? Watch this 5 minute video:
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!
Between the 4th and the 9th of October a team of Zero Waste experts toured the Italian peninsula prior to attending the World Resources Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The “Zero Waste Dream Team” was composed of leading experts in the field of Zero Waste and circular flows of resources.
The “Zero Waste Dream Team”:
Captain Charles Moore, Scientist and discoverer of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”
Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of environmental chemistry, international proponent of the ’10 steps to Zero Waste’ strategy
Rick Anthony, President of Zero Waste International Alliance
Ruth Abbe, President of Zero Waste USA
Tom Wright, Packaging expert and founder of Responsible-Packaging.org
Rossano Ercolini, President of Zero Waste Europe
Enzo Favoino, Chair of Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee
This panel offered a unique possibility for the exchange of ideas and sharing of best practices between European Zero Waste efforts and the pioneering efforts taking place in the USA stemming from the state of California, which have now spread across the country all the way to New York City.
The Italian “Zero Waste Dream Team Tour” included talks in a number of different cities across Italy, many of which having particular significance for the issue of zero waste.
In Parma, the administration of the city have taken on a ‘zero waste strategy’ which includes curbside collection, resulting in reduced residual waste effectively reducing the available fuel for the IREN waste-to-energy incinerator.
The tour also visited Turin, Vercelli and Rome, before ending in Capannori, the first municipality to adhere to a Zero Waste policy in Europe. Discussions took place in front of lively crowds of students, volunteer organizations, environmental associations, local members of council and actively engaged citizens.
Key messages from the panel included the importance for community responsibility to meet industrial responsibility, allowing for the convergence of both downstream recovery and prevention further upstream. The panel emphasized the characteristic value of the Zero Waste movement as “a politics of yes”, which requires collaboration between local politicians and local activists against incineration and in favour of prevention, re-use, recycling and ultimately re-design.
The audience was able to see how Zero Waste concepts are intricately tied with the notion of the circular economy, advocated for at the European and international level. This emphasised how Zero Waste seeks to emulate nature through cradle to cradle resource flows, and in so doing minimizing environmental impact through a “no burn, no bury, no toxins” policy.
The panel emphasized how Zero Waste does not require technologically complex machines, but better organization, education and industrial design. While the responsibility of industrial designers was called upon to design products for circular resource flows, the key message for the public revolved around the importance of individuals separating materials at source. The Zero Waste Dream Team reiterated throughout their tour how reaching Zero Waste requires only the existing forms of technology, and using our brains and hands in segregating materials. Panellists emphasized how more so than physical infrastructure for Zero Waste, social infrastructure is vital in bringing about culture and behaviour change in the development of new habits.
In this respect, the footage and relics shared by Captain Charles Moore from his many journeys to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre offered unequivocal evidence of the global impact of waste. His presentation particularly highlighted the importance of the simple gesture of disposing of plastic waste.
“I come to you as an ambassador of an area which has no constituents. I am in a state of desperation. All I can do is measure it and tell you the amount. Represent it. As a scientist I am looking for a political movement that can make something happen. The only political movement I can find to ally myself with is the Zero Waste movement.”
– Captain Charles Moore
Throughout the tour the resonating message has been one of hope yet urgency. There is no “away” to throw our rubbish, no end of life and because there is no end of life there is a next life. Zero Waste is ultimately not the end. It is the beginning. The beginning of the ‘politics of yes’. The question the Zero Waste Dream Team will be taking to Davos at the World Resources Forum will be the same as that of their Italian tour:
“if you’re not for Zero Waste how much waste are you for?”.
The study published today  analyses the waste composition of 15 European cities showing that 70% of municipal solid waste is product waste, and therefore not food or garden waste, and as such could be included under an EPR scheme. However, on average, only 45% of this product waste (by weight) is currently covered by producer responsibility schemes. This means that, on average, EPR schemes only cover 32.5% of total municipal waste, with coverage varying from 14.9% in Copenhagen to 47.6% in Paris. Furthermore, only 18% of product waste is collected separately through an EPR scheme.
Joan-Marc Simon, director of ZWE said “The current interpretation of EPR was useful to increase recycling rates in Europe over last 20 years but it will need updating for it to help move us towards a circular economy. We call on the European Commission to use the upcoming waste package to include incentives to redesign systems and products in order to drive prevention and reuse, foster a serviced-based economy, put recycling as last option and progressively phase out disposal.”
The report makes a series of recommendations to the European Commission. Among these it calls for a broader definition and a more comprehensive approach to producer responsibility which includes the use of economic instruments. The introduction of legally binding eco-design requirements as well as better EPR schemes with full-cost coverage, individualisation, targets for separate collection and considering expansion of the current EPR scope to include more products and incentivise reuse.
The study also finds that existing EPR schemes have been ineffective in driving eco-design, both because of its limited coverage of product waste and the lack of modulation of EPR fees based on eco-design. Zero Waste Europe urges the European Commission to develop minimum European-wide individualisation criteria based on eco-design.
1. Zero Waste Europe– Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
In this article we hear about how the Indian town of Alappuzha, made drastic improvements in organic waste management, through the installation and community management of aerobic compost bins across the town. A move which will result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of landfilled organic waste. Whilst Alappuzha might be an exceptional case in India, it is hoped the model can be expanded to other towns and cities across the country. With the potential to revolutionise waste management as a climate solution in India.
Zero Waste Town – Alappuzha
Excerpts from Dr. T. M. Thomas Issac’s article on Alappuzha, an elected representative from the constituency of Alappuzha in Kerala. Edited by Zero Waste Europe & GAIA
No other Indian State has been able to revolutionise municipal solid waste management in the same way as Kerala. Kerala has historically enjoyed social advantages such as total literacy, better healthcare, effective land reform and decent housing for almost everyone. This may not be the situation in most parts of our country. Nevertheless, there are significant lessons to be learned from Alappuzha.
Alappuzha – A historic town
Alappuzha is a sleepy old town situated between the great Vembanad lake and the sea, nearly 60 kilometres south of Kochi. The port town, established by the king of Travancore in the late 18th century, had grown along the two trunk canals connecting the port to the great lake. The web of canals in the city and its surroundings earned Alappuzha the name, “Venice of the East”. It became the major port and industrial town in southern Kerala. But by the 1970s, it began to resemble a ghost town, as its port was eclipsed by Kochi’s and the coir industry moved out. This decline continued till the late 1990s, when backwater tourism gave it a new lease of life. But by then, the canals had got silted and become garbage pits. The town also began to rapidly lose its architectural heritage, a process that has been marvellously documented by Laurie Baker through his inimitable sketches and comments in Alleppey — Venice of the East (1991).
The insanitary conditions made the town an abode of ill health. In the state with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality, we had a paradox of high morbidity, dominated by environment-related traditional diseases. Alappuzha became notorious as one of the most unclean towns in Kerala, seriously jeopardising its future as a tourism centre. Things came to a head in 2001, when the transport of solid waste from the town to its central processing plant in the neighbouring Panchayat was disrupted. Though called a processing plant, it was really a dumping yard and an environmental hazard. The local population rightfully protested and blocked the movement of waste. The streets of the town were littered with garbage. Finally, an agreement was brokered with the protesters, reducing waste movement from 50 tonnes a day to five tonnes. The municipality pursued an aggressive policy of landfilling within the town, an evidently unsustainable policy.
With centralised processing ruled out, at least for the time being, what was to be done? Scavenger’s Son (1947), the first novel of the Jnanpith award winner, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, an illustrious son of Alappuzha, held a clue. The novel, narrating the story of three generations of scavengers of the town, created such a social stir that it put an end to the century-old institution of manual scavenging in Alappuzha. The human excreta dumping yard in Sarvodayapuram was used for other solid waste from the town. The human excreta depot shifted to latrines within the town itself. Almost all the houses in the town now have latrines that are either inbuilt or in the compound. This raised a simple question. If human excreta could be processed in our own houses, why not the little bit of kitchen waste? The town folk usually lumped together all sorts of waste into a plastic kit and demanded that the municipal corporation collect and process the garbage. It was the duty of the present generation of sanitation workers in the municipality to segregate the waste. A new edition of Scavenger’s Son was in order.
Processing at Source
That was how a people’s campaign for processing waste at the source was born. A change in mindset was required. Normally, all government programmes consider sanitation to be merely an issue of technological choice. This was our major point of departure. Our pilot project for 12 wards was funded by the sanitation mission of the government of Kerala. But then it was converted into a popular campaign for better sanitation.
The approach was simple. Every household was to install a biogas plant or pipe compost to process its organic waste. Three wards have already achieved this. If, for some reason, a household was not able to process its waste, it should not be littering the street. Anybody caught doing so would be fined. The organic waste was to be brought to the collection points set up by the municipal corporation, which would compost it in aerobic compost bins installed in various parts of the city. The aerobic composting system in Alappuzha is an innovation by the Kerala Agricultural University where layers of organic waste and dry leaves are laid in a bin with sufficient ventilation. Inoculum cultured from cow dung is sprayed on dry leaves before a layer of organic waste is deposited over it. Each bin can process two tonnes of waste and in three months, high quality compost is ready. Instead of being garbage collectors and segregators, municipal workers now manage community compost bins.
Initially, wherever we attempted to put the compost bin, there was stiff local opposition and the plans had to be shelved. So we chose the worst garbage dumping areas in the town to set up our compost bins. Nobody objected. Nothing could be worse than the existing situation. These sites were cleared and the sheds housing the bins decorated with plants and murals. The artists of Kochi Biennale lent their support in setting up the largest community compost centre, WATSAN Park. All meetings of the sanitation campaign are normally held at this park. Visitors and curious onlookers are amazed that there is no smell. The place truly has been converted into a park, with a vertical garden, poly house and flower pots. Thus, we broke the backbone of the opposition to community compost bins.
There are two innovations worthy of mention in our biogas plant and pipe compost campaign. Heavily subsidised programmes have generally failed in Kerala and other parts of the country. There are two reasons for this. One, sufficient attention is not paid to user education. The service provider installs the plant, pockets the service charge and moves on. Even if user meetings are held, they are normally attended by the men who do not handle the waste processing. Because of faulty handling, most plants break down after some time. Second, there is no local maintenance team that could respond quickly to plant breakdowns. Sooner or later, the biogas plants and pipe composts are discarded and can become another hazard. Our campaign involves intense, targeted awareness programmes and also a maintenance team of two or three trained women in every ward.
Commercial establishments are to segregate their waste and either process the organic refuse themselves or enter into a contract with a service provider to remove it. Most of the waste is further segregated as feed for fish, chicken or pigs. The rest is composted. Just through systematic segregation, most of the organic waste can be transformed into inputs for agriculture. The plastic waste is periodically collected and given to contractors for recycling. We intend to collect the e-waste and store it till the government establishes a centralised processing plant.
The resident associations and the neighbourhood women’s groups of Kudumbashree are the main organisational support for the campaign. There is also a band of committed local resource persons, many of whom are experts with technical competency. Schoolchildren organised in WATSAN clubs are the main sanitation messengers to households. Every second Saturday, student leaders meet to chalk out certain simple activities that can be undertaken. Songs, street plays, exhibitions, marches and so on are effectively utilised for environment creation.
Currently, efforts are being made to scale up the Alappuzha experience to the rest of Kerala.
We cannot claim that we have achieved total sanitation in Alappuzha. But the difference between the situation two years back and the present is too marked for anybody to miss. Today, the transport of waste to the centralised processing plant has completely stopped. But the city is clean.
This blog is the second article in our series on “Waste & Climate Solutions” from around the world. We are releasing this series to mark the final push before COP21, and will release a different climate and waste solution across the world for the next 3 days until 27 September. Yesterday we told the story of São Paulo’s household composting schemes which have resulted in a significant reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions from landfills.
Today, our article looks at the zero waste model of CERO in Boston, where the innovative worker co-operative had provided a strong economic boost for the local community whilst simultaneously working to reduce GHG emissions. Find out how below.
This following article is based on an interview with Alex Papali, an organizer with Clean Water Action and the Boston Recycling Coalition; and Lor Holmes, a cooperative worker-owner and business manager at Cooperative Energy Recycling and Organics (CERO) in Boston.
Imagine a city where all products are reused, repaired, or recycled, and all workers make a family-supporting wage. Where local economic development projects are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate.
Boston, Massachusetts is on its way.
Last year, the Boston Recycling Coalition submitted a set of “Zero Waste Recommendations” to the city government detailing a proposal for Boston to vastly expand their recycling and composting programs, with the ultimate goal of a 90% recycling rate. The final Climate Action Plan adopted a zero waste goal, which the coalition is working to strengthen and implement.
Most of Boston’s garbage is currently burned in incinerators. Garbage incinerators (sometimes falsely named “waste-to-energy facilities) are major contributors to climate change—burning waste emits even carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. On the flip side, community-led zero waste solutions like recycling and composting have enormous benefits for clean air and the climate while revitalizing local green economies.
This model is already happening at CERO, a worker-owner zero waste coop in Boston.
While providing family-supporting jobs for the community, CERO works with businesses on separating out materials that can be recovered. They then collect this waste in a truck and bring it to facilities where it can either be recycled or returned to the soil as compost. The COOP diverts thousands of tons of waste per week from being burned or buried, and is still expanding.
CERO’s board members and employees are people like Guadalupe Gonzalez and Josefina Luna, who have been recycling informally for years or decades. Guadalupe Gonzalez used to do backbreaking work, cleaning commercial buildings during the day while picking bottles from the trash at night. She was one of the thousands of underrated recycling workers, earning precious extra money to support her family. Josefina Luna explains that, at CERO, “Now we can earn a living while protecting the environment.”
Dan Moche, Claudio Spinola and Magdalena Donoso*, September, 2015
Although landfills have not always been the main destination for waste in São Paulo, this practice was massively expanded until it reached a critical situation in 2013. Until then, 100% of the organic waste, 95% of dry waste and 100% of all residual waste would go directly to two specific landfills, the CTL Landfill (Central Waste Treatment Leste) and the Caieiras Landfill.
The motivation to reverse this situation was triggered by changes in legal obligations within the new Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS)i, and the urgency of extending the life of these landfills to save land space in the metropolitan region. Moreover, the solid waste management sector in São Paulo was the second largest source of GHG emissions (Municipal Inventory, 2012), being responsible for the 15.6% of the total GHG emissions in the city, 14% of those coming from landfills. In this way, reducing the contribution of the waste sector to the carbon footprint of the city was critical, and composting was a particularly well-suited opportunity, as studies showed that the practice of composting would potentially decrease 5-10 times the emissions of methane in landfills,ii integrate efforts to reduce leachate while increasing the benefits from retaining organic matter to provide nutrients and improve soil properties in the state of São Paulo.
The implementation of the Solid Waste National Policy (PNRS) began with citizens participating in 58 events with more than 7,000 participants, which was organised by the Public Administration of São Paulo. 800 delegates elected by thousands of São Paulo citizens and supported by experts and technicians from the authority ad hoc, agreed on the main guidelines as to what to do with the waste generated in the city.
These points formed part of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan of the city of São Paulo – PGIRS, published in early 2014, and determined the recovery, over twenty years, of 80% of all compostable waste and recyclable waste. Among the approved guidelines, source separation of organic waste, selective collection, composting, mechanical biological treatment (MBT) and promotion of home composting were included.
“Compost São Paulo”
Home composting began to be encouraged by the government of São Paulo shortly after the publication of the PGIRS in June 2014 by delivering compost bins to houses. In six months, 250 tons of organic waste were recovered.
The project called “Composta São Paulo” handed kits for home composting with worms to 2,006 households in the city of São Paulo. Through a public announcement, the project achieved 10,061 registrations in 40 days on the website, from various regions of São Paulo. Those selected were from 539 apartments and 1,467 houses in eight regions.
“Now I pay a lot of attention to my organic waste and also my neighbours waste. I’m more critical of how much food to buy. I have affection for worms”, said one of the participants in the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program.
The delivery of compost bins was accompanied by 135 training workshops for over 5,000 participants. Participants were encouraged to respond to scheduled polls and assume the role of multipliers of home composting.
After two months, the participants were invited to other workshops (88 workshops), where they received advice and techniques for planting in small spaces in order to use the produced compost. The questions and concerns raised were shared and addressed in a virtual community on Facebook. The community of “composters” (comunidad de “composteros”) finished the first year of the project with more than 6,000 members.
Subsequent information gathering on program results indicated that 89% of participants significantly decreased the amount of waste for collection. There were no significant differences in the evaluation of the practice of composting between social classes or between types of housing and only 47 households (2.3%) gave up the activity. Meanwhile, 97% of respondents of a survey to measure the level of satisfaction (1,535 people) were satisfied or very satisfied with the technique, 98% considered it a good solution for organic waste and 86% considered it easy to practice.
Strong economic basis
In its economic analysis, the Municipality of São Paulo found that the costs of delivery of compost, monitoring and technical assistance provided by the local government could be covered through the savings achieved in reducing the collection, transport and disposal of the organic waste in landfills. The study compared the (estimated) costs of collection, transportation and disposal of organic waste in landfills with the (estimated) costs that compost bins, delivery, communication, workshops, etc, would imply. Then, the calculation was made with what was actually spent to develop the above actions in the context of “Compost São Paulo”, working with 2006 households. Considering the “contagious” effect explained below, costs would be matched within 5 years.iii
The communication strategy and the contagious effect
Linking the practice of home composting with participation was an important part of the communication strategy developed for this program in terms of the involvement of the population. In addition to the novelty of the composting process itself, and the use of modern techniques of social communication aroused interest in the project, and the desire to “be a part”.
The multiplier effect was immediate. The results of the survey indicated that 29% helped others who did not receive compost bin, to make, install or manage one. Participants witnessed a contagious effect, which attracted 2,525 new people to try to assemble or buy their own composting system.
“We realized that every time we went to throw the waste into the compost bin we felt a deep sense of wellbeing … kind of like we had stopped making the city a dirty place and turned garbage into flowers. We exchanged ideas with other people who were doing composting and they had the same feeling! Composting is therapeutic!”, read the testimony of another participant at the “Composta São Paulo” 2014 program.
27% of participants donated worms for others to start practice. Also, behavioural changes in other areas also came to light: 84% said they greatly expanded their knowledge of urban sustainability; 96% considered themselves far more diligent in handling properly the waste produced; and 54% said they began to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables.
The new “master composters”: dream big, start small, and act now!
The 2,525 new participants, excited by the project members themselves, are a sign of the potential for citizens to transition from mere objects of public policy to true subjects in the exercise of their citizenship: in this case, transforming themselves from “trained” to “master composters”. By attracting new participants and sharing their learning, project members should be recognized for what they really are: “master composters”.
On the other end, public managers are called to support what people can build. Just dream big, start small, and act now. Home composting is an empowering tool for public policy, and of collective commitments, with a multiplier effect that encourages responsible behaviour with base on joy, discovery and learning.
* Authors: Dan Moche Schneider, who coordinated the area of organic waste in the PGIRS of Sao Paulo / Claudio Spinola, ideologue and operator of “Compost São Paulo” / Magdalena Donoso, Coordinator for GAIA Latin America
i Obligation to recover waste under the National Solid Waste Policy – PNRS, approved in 2010.
iiInacio, Caio de Teves. O papel da compostagem de resíduos orgânicos urbanos na mitigação de emissão de metano. Caio de Teves Inácio, Daniel Beltrão Bettio e Paul Richard Momsen Miller. Embrapa Solos, 2010. 22 p.
iii Calculations estimated by Dan Moche, former Coordinator at the Organic Waste PIGRS of Sao Paulo. Internal economic analysis of the Municipality of Sao Paulo.
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.
This case study proves that high recycling targets are not only feasible, they also save money and create jobs
Zero Waste Europe publishes today a new case study showing the impressive transition of Ljubljana towards zero waste. The Slovenian capital is the first capital in Europe to declare the Zero Waste goal and today separately collects 61% of its municipal waste. It should be recalled that Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 and before then it didn’t have proper waste separate collection in place.
Executive Director of ZWE, Joan-Marc Simon said “The case study of Ljubljana proves that it is possible for newest member states to reach most ambitius recycling targets in only a decade whilst keeping record low waste generation and costs. There is no reason for other Eu capitals or for the EU policy-makers to aim at less than what this experience proves as being possible and desirable.”
Snaga is the public company managing waste in Ljubljana and in 9 suburban municipalities serving around 380.000 residents. In average they have reached levels of source separation of 61% whilst generating only 121kg of non-recyclable waste per inhabitant and year. In contrast, the EU average level of source separation is 42% and a 285kg per inhabitant and year of residual waste.
In less than ten years, Ljubljana has become a frontrunner and is now 20% above the EU’s recycling rate and 10 points above EU’s 2020 targets. Furthermore, Ljubljana is committed to halving the amount of residuals and increasing separate collection to 78% by 2025.
Ljubljana has avoided incineration, while proving that going towards zero waste is completely feasible in a very short time. At the same time, it has made once again evident that effective door-to-door separate collection don’t only fall in the realm of small villages, but also work in large cities. Ljubljana has, therefore, managed to become the best performing EU capital, keeping one of the lowest waste management cost in Europe.
Today, these case studies show that, in contrast with the outdated idea of burning or burying our waste, preventing, reusing and recycling it create jobs and resilience, save money, and protect the environment and public health.
Zero Waste Europe was created to empower communities to rethink their relationship with resources. In a growing number of regions, local groups of individuals, businesses and city officials are taking significant steps towards eliminating waste in our society. Read more about us here.
This is the last of 5 case studies published by Zero Waste Europe. If you want to learn about these amazing practices download the case studies of Capannori (Italy), Argentona (Spain), Vhrnika (Slovenia) and Contarina (Italy), and review the stories of their successes to date, providing an analysis of the key elements that allowed such impressive transition.
Belgium managed to be the best performing country in waste management in 2013. Thanks to reducing waste generation and good recycling rates the Belgians managed to send for disposal in landfills and incinerators only 197kg per person.
The big (negative) surprise was Estonia, the European waste champion of 2012 managed to keep low waste generation rates but because of building an expensive incinerator it has reversed the virtuous progression of last years and 55% of the waste, mostly recyclable, is being now turned into ashes.
Same as in preceding years, the country that generates more waste is Denmark with 747kg per person (2kg per person per day!) and the one that generates less is Romania with 272kg, almost three times less. Of course the devil is in the details and an important factor for this big difference is the way statistics are processed in different countries but the graph shows the staggering disparity in the EU. In absolute terms Romania sends a lot less waste for disposal, 213kg per person, in comparison to 416kg in Denmark, but in percentage the former disposes of 78% whereas the latter burns and landfills 55%.
A worrying trend
However the figures confirm a worrying trend; recycling continues to stagnate. Whereas composting and recycling in 2012 were at 41,19%, in 2013 they only slightly increased to 41,79% (0,6% up).
In the same period landfilling has gone down 2% but this waste has not moved to recycling… instead it has been transferred to incineration. If we look at the following graph we will see how the current policies in the EU are taking waste out of landfills to throw it into incineration instead of recycling it. This is what some people, including some EU officials, call zero waste to landfill; definitely a bad idea!
When a system doesn’t work, you change the system
We have been denouncing since decades that incineration competes with recycling in getting waste out of the bottom of the hierarchy and that the current legislation lacks the tools to move waste up the waste hierarchy.
Since long time words have been backed by facts; our case studies and the story of the hundreds of European municipalities in Europe prove that it is possible to move away from landfilling to prevention, reuse and recycling –reducing waste generation at the same time as recycling increases- in 5 to 10 years. This is the real zero waste direction!
The stagnation of recycling in the EU should surprise no one. The Union lacks tools to promote prevention and reuse, it is victim of a system that economically rewards generating energy from burning waste instead of supporting the savings associated to reuse and recycling; plus it still doesn’t require countries to separate organic waste (the biggest waste stream) to allow for proper treatment as well as quality recycling of the rest.
The waste hierarchy was considered to be the ladder which waste should climb to be phase out of the system. However the EU doesn’t give the right tools to member states to be able to climb this ladder and continuous to insist in getting out of the landfills not worrying where this waste ends up.
No time to waste: circular economy package needed urgently!
The figures dating back to even before the approval of the Waste Framework Directive show the strategy from DG Environment doesn’t work. New tools are necessary to stop wasting time; the waste package recently binned by the Juncker Commission contained useful measures to move forward. The Circular Economy package that the European Commission intends to present end of 2015 should at the very least preserve most of them.
From December 8th to 12th, Zero Waste Europe welcomed Yimin of Eco Canton, an association based in Guangzhou, South-East of China, member of the China Zero Waste Alliance. Yimin, who has been taking part of a twinning exchange with Zero Waste France for the last weeks, travelled all the way to Spain, in order to learn more about waste management and reduction systems in Barcelona and the Basque Country.
Her trip, supported by GAIA, started in Barcelona, where Yimin met ZWE Director Joan Marc Simon. They visited a Community Compost Site, a Reuse and Recycling Centre and Yimin got useful insights on how waste collection works in Barcelona. Yimin was positively impressed in particular by the color-based waste separation system (brown bins for organic waste, yellow bins for packages, blue bins for paper, green bins for glasses and grey bins for residual waste), as well as by the recycling rate of the city (around 40%). This is of course still far from the Zero Waste goal, but already much higher compared to Guangzhou, where waste is mostly sent to landfill, and sometimes incinerated. Waste picking is a common phenomenon in China and it is also increasing in Barcelona, due to the economic crises and the rise of unemployment: this is surely a common topic for future cooperation between Zero Waste Communities in China and Spain!
Yimin then travelled to the Basque Country, where the local Zero Zabor (Zero Waste in Euskera) association guided her around several villages to discover pro and cons of their different waste collection, separation and compost systems. She learnt in particular about the door-to-door waste collection scheme in Usurbil, the first town to implement such a system in the Basque Country. Usurbil also introduced an innovative Pay-As-You-Throw method (PAYT), providing additional incentives for citizens to reduce, separate and recycle waste. Although the schemes implemented in the Basque villages might not be adapted for Guangzhou, a city of 15 million inhabitants, their experiences are of the utmost interest for the villages in the outskirts the Chinese megalopolis. The following days the visit continued at a compost plant, a landfill, and at a quarry site in Gipuzkoa. The quarry has in fact been identified by GHK, the provincial waste management organization in the Basque country, as a potential dump site for residual waste.
Yimin appreciated GHZ’s commitment to close all landfills and explore innovative ways to deal with residual waste in the future. But what probably struck her the most during her visit, it was the citizens’ awareness of the importance of waste avoidance and separation, and their involvement in community initiatives, being them compost sites, city farms, or reuse centres. Zero Waste Europe looks forward to welcome more foreign visitors in the future, to exchange best practices and create synergies, on the road to Zero Waste!
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.
In view of the coming Clean-up actions planned for May 10, we issues a joint statement together with other European NGOs, calling for the European Union to implement 10 steps necessary to lead to a resource efficient Europe.
The 10 steps in full are:
Set a binding EU material reduction target based on the Total Material Consumption indicator
Set a zero residual waste target (the waste that is not reused or recycled) by 2025
Introduce binding waste prevention targets for municipal, commercial and industrial waste at the European and national levels
Set preparation for reuse targets for municipal solid waste and packaging, with targets for – at a minimum – textiles and furniture, based on the weight of material per capita put back on the market by approved reuse centres. The targets must not be combined with recycling
Increase recycling targets to at least 70 per cent of municipal solid waste, using only one harmonised methodology for all Member States to report on, based on the recycling output. Set an overall packaging recycling target at 80 per cent and boost plastic packaging recycling to at least 75 per cent
Set a binding quantitative marine litter reduction target of 50 per cent with an explicit definition of litter included in waste legislation, in recognition of the serious negative impacts on the marine environment
Introduce obligatory separate collection of waste by 2020, in particular for biowaste from homes and the hospitality sector as well as separate collection for materials including paper, cardboard, metals and textiles
Promote economic instruments that support the full implementation of the waste hierarchy, such as extended producer responsibility, pay-as-you-throw schemes and the taxation of resources where appropriate
Design out single-use, non-recyclable products and toxic materials such as microplastics and oxo-fragementable plastics
Ban landfill and incineration by 2020 for all recyclable and compostable waste. Ban the financing of incinerators and landfills via structural and cohesion funds.
This week we celebrate the International Compost Awareness Week, an initiative of the US Compost Council that invites everyone to organize activities to promote compost around the world as the sustainable solution to soil and water.
Yes indeed, we love compost! Closing the loop through composting our organic waste and returning the nutrients to soil has extremely important benefits for the sustainability of our environment, our food supply, and our zero waste strategies. Interestingly, the latest report from the World Bank on waste issues at the global level, provides its own version of the Waste Hierarchy, with composting and anaerobic digestion being the only two organic treatment techniques included in the Recovery category. As shown in the figure below, incineration is then placed further down with the rest of waste disposal options.
There are so many reasons to do composting, but here’s a selection of some good ones:
1. Composting turns waste into a resource. It was organic waste in your kitchen but once in the compost bin, it turns into a treasure! This is not to say that wasting food is OK as long as we compost it. Absolutely not. Reducing food waste is still our very first priority in a Zero Waste strategy – check out these inspiring initiatives to reduce our food waste.
2. Composting diverts waste from landfills and incinerators. Sadly, most of food waste in the EU still ends up in landfills or incinerators. Organic waste in landfills contaminates our soil, our groundwater water and creates methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times more heat trapping potential than CO2, hence a major contributor to climate change. In its turn, incinerating food waste it’s just a waste of resources. The key to end these contradictions is as easy as doing source separation of organic waste and do not ever mix it with any other waste stream. Once you have clean food waste, composting can be just the right next step.
3. Composting saves GHG emissions. Composting does not only save GHG emissions by diverting waste from landfills and incinerators. Putting compost in arable soils acts as a temporary carbon sink in itself, as the soil sequestrates the carbon that if burned would otherwise be immediately emitted to the atmosphere. Members of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee wrote this paper about the great potential role of compost in reducing green house gas emissions.
4. Composting replaces chemical fertilizers. Compost provides key nutrients to the soil in a way that makes chemical fertilizers unnecessary. In this way, composting saves the GHG emissions associated with the production of chemical fertilizers and avoids their toxic contribution to our soils and food chain. Moreover, farmers can save the money!
5. Composting reduces the use of pesticides. Compost makes plants healthier and stronger to face biodiversity imbalances and combat pests, hence reducing the need to apply chemical pesticides. Once again, this saves the GHG emissions associated to the production of pesticides and avoids their toxicity in our food supply. It’s important to note that pesticides have been linked to severe health problems in children, and may act as carcinogens or damage the endocrine system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
6. Composting builds topsoil and tilth. Compost makes good soil in itself and contributes to stopping soil erosion and degradation. Using compost improves the soil structure, moisture content, degree of aeration, rate of water infiltration, and drainage, making land better prepared to grow healthy food in a sustainable way.
7. Composting helps retaining water in the soil. Water is a precious resource and using compost helps soil keeping it underground. Healthy plants and their roots retain water close to them, preventing water from running off.
8. Composting is cheap, easy and time-effective. Once the essential structure is in place, composting is inexpensive, only requiring your eyes and hands to separate waste at source and place it in the correct bin. Once the organic waste is in the compost bin, you can forget about it for a few weeks, so the process itself requires very low-maintenance dedication, and the returns are extremely valuable. In brief, little effort for a major gain.
Gipuzkoa is located in the north of Spain, in one of the richest regions, with a GDP similar to that of Germany or Denmark and a population of 710,000hab. Yet, like the rest of Spain, Gipuzkoans have been sending 70% most of its waste to landfills until not too long ago.
Over the last years the Zero Waste groups in the country have been pushing for the change in the waste and resources paradigm. The town of Usurbil pioneered a system that was followed by Hernani and others in what today is a growing tide in the country.
At the end of this text you can see the fast progression of Zero Waste initiatives which would have been stopped if the incinerator would have been built, effectively locking the prospects for recycling. Today reuse and recycling go up and waste generation goes down.
In only one decade Gipuzkoa will have been able to move from 30 to more than 70% separate collection and is engaging all players in society in the path towards Zero Waste.
Nowhere is the phrase “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” truer than in the small town of Capannori, Italy, where a small but determined movement to stop the construction of an incinerator led to an Italy-wide grassroots Zero Waste movement. The area has one of the highest municipal recycling rates in Europe and is an example of strong policy decisions and community participation achieving groundbreaking results.
Battle of the Burners
Capannori, a town of 46,700 inhabitants near Lucca in Tuscany, was set to be just another step in the relentless march of waste incineration in Italy. The northern European model of burning waste to avoid the environmental and social problems associated with landfill and to produce energy was gaining traction in Italy, a country beset with a dramatic and urgent waste management problem. Local medical organisations and even environmental NGOs put up little resistance, seeing incineration as the least-bad solution to a seemingly impossible dilemma. Business interests and pressure from northern Europe contributed to a rush to incineration that seemed unstoppable.
Those who should have mounted the most strenuous defence against the encroachment of incinerators were lacking. The public debate did not discuss the fact that incineration encourages waste generation, competes with recycling, aggravates the sustainability challenge, sparks corruption and releases toxic emissions while capturing just a tiny bit of the energy stored in waste.
Communities such as Capannori were left to fight the construction of incinerators on their own. In 1997 primary schoolteacher Rossano Ercolini recognised the potentially damaging effects the planned local incinerator would have on the health of residents and on the surrounding landscape. With the help of Dr Paul Connett, a world expert on incineration and Zero Waste, he set about convincing local residents of the potential danger of erecting an incinerator in their community. The movement was successful in blocking construction and soon spread to three other communities threatened with incineration in the region.
What’s the alternative?
Tasked with implementing an alternative to incineration, Ercolini decided that the only approach was that of waste reduction. He took over the running of the local waste collection corporation, ASCIT, to create a door-to-door waste collection pilot scheme. After a year he stepped down from his role and went back to campaigning against incineration around Italy. Ercolini managed to persuade the town council of Capannori to be the first in Europe to sign up to the Zero Waste Strategy in 2007, committing to sending zero waste to landfill by 2020.
Door-to-door collection was introduced in stages across the municipality between 2005 and 2010, starting with small villages, where any mistakes could be identified and corrected early on, then extended to cover the entire municipal area in 2010. By that time, 82% of municipal waste was separated at source, leaving just 18% of residual waste to go to landfill. In 2012 a number of villages in the municipality became subject to a new ‘Pay As You Throw’ waste tariff, where the frequency of collection per household is measured using microchips in stickers on residual waste bags, scanned by a reader on the collection vehicle. In those areas the new tariff incentivized better separation and prevention, driving local source separation rates up to 90%.
Transparency and consultation
Local politicians recognize that the key to their success with the door-to-door collection scheme and other zero waste measures was the early and active consultation of residents. Meetings were held in public places to gather input and ideas and involve the local population in the Zero Waste Strategy. Printed information was sent to every address. A few weeks before door-to-door collection was introduced in a given area, volunteers distributed free waste separation kits to all homes, including the various bins and bags required and further printed information. Volunteers were trained to answer residents’ questions about the new scheme, all of which meant that participation was smooth, immediate and effective.
A study carried out by La Sapienza University in Rome, comparing door-to-door collection in three communities in Italy (Capannori, Rome, Salerno) found that in Capannori participation (99% of inhabitants sort waste) and satisfaction (94%) were higher than in the other two communities. This correlates to the high percentage of Capannori residents who received literature about the changes (98.6%), attended meetings about changes in collection (46%) and know where to go to ask for information about waste collection (91%).
Economically viable solution
The savings from no longer sending most waste to expensive landfill sites, and earnings from the sale of materials to recycling plants mean the scheme is economically self-sufficient, even saving the council over €2m in 2009. These savings are ploughed back into investments in waste reduction infrastructure, and reducing fixed waste tariffs for residents by 20%. It has also funded the recruitment of 50 ASCIT employees, boosting employment in the region.
One of the most successful elements of the new collection system has been the diversion of the organic waste stream. Not only does ASCIT carry out frequent door-to-door collection of organic waste, which is sent to a composting plant in the province, in 2010 public canteens in Capannori were supplied with Joraform composting machines. In the future these local collective composting machines could be extended to cover groups of residents, which can help to reduce the cost of collecting, transporting and treating organic waste by between 30 and 70%.
Residents have been encouraged to take up home composting, with 2,200 households picking up free composters and receiving training on composting techniques. Those households that home compost are given a 10% discount on their waste tariff as an incentive, and spot checks have shown that 96% of households are still using their composters correctly. A biogas plant for the area is in the planning and consultation stage.
Designing waste out of the system
In 2010 Capannori set up the first Zero Waste Research Centre in Europe, where waste experts identify what is still being thrown in the grey residual waste bags and come up with solutions to get that 18% figure down even further. Finding that items such as coffee capsules were among the most commonly discarded items, the Research Centre held meetings with coffee manufacturers such as Nespresso and Illy to work on biodegradable or recyclable alternatives.
The high volume of disposable nappies in residual waste led the municipality to offer subsidized washable nappies to local parents. Taking a collaborative rather than combative approach has meant that manufacturers have responded positively, with coffee manufacturers initiating research into alternatives to capsules.
One man’s trash is another’s treasure
Not only has work been done to improve recycling rates – emphasis has also been placed on reuse. The municipality opened its own Reuse Centre in the village of Lammari in 2011, where items such as clothes, footwear, toys, electrical appliances and furniture that are no longer needed but still in good condition can be repaired where necessary and sold to those in need, thereby diverting them from landfill and serving a vital social function. The centre is steadily expanding its activity- in 2012, 93 tonnes of objects were dropped at the centre and in 2013 those figures look set to rise.
According to Rossano Ercolini, “The record figures from the Lammari ‘Ecology Island’ (drop-off point for bulky waste and reusable items, ed.) show that our culture is changing, partly due to the municipality’s policies. Whereas before people threw everything away, now they realize that recovering things not only benefits the environment, but also those who can buy them at affordable prices”.
The centre also provides training in upcycling skills such as sewing, upholstery and woodwork, so as to spread the values and practice of reuse as far as possible.
Waste prevention pioneers
Where Capannori is truly leading the field is in the area of waste prevention – between 2004 and 2012 the overall volume of waste generated per person dropped by 39% (from 1,92kg to 1,18 kg/person/year) and it is foreseen that it will continue to go down thanks to the extension of pay-as-you-throw scheme to all the municipality. More impressively, the rate of unseparated –or residual- waste per capita was reduced from 340 kg per year in 2006 to 146 kg in 2011, a drop of 57%. Compare this to the figures for Denmark, 409 kg unseparated waste per capita per year (2011), and you can appreciate the scale of the achievement.
This means that beyond just boosting recycling rates, local policymakers have looked at ways to reduce waste generation at source. As part of their Zero Waste Strategy, they have identified 11 areas for action. Perhaps the most visible of these is the sale of products loose or on tap – the municipal council provided tax incentives to local small businesses to stock products that could be refilled with customers’ own containers, such as liquid detergents. A grocery shop, Effecorta sprang up in Capannori in 2009 selling over 250 locally sourced food and drink products in bulk. Local residents can buy pasta, wine, oil and many other necessities without having to throw away any packaging.
The Short Chain – a boon for local agriculture
Two self-service refill stations for milk were opened, introducing a model of food distribution called ‘the short chain’ –the stations are supplied directly by a local farmers’ cooperative and consumers buy without the intermediary of a packaging plant or retailer, so that they pay lower prices and farmers make more on each litre.
It has been enormously successful, with 200L a day sold through the stations and 91% of customers refilling their own containers, thereby cutting about 90,000 bottles out of the waste system.
Other initiatives have included a campaign to increase consumption of tap water rather than bottled (Italians are Europe’s biggest consumers of bottled mineral water), doing away with disposable cutlery and flatware in public buildings including schools, distributing cloth shopping bags to all 17,800 households and 5,000 to businesses and stocking reusable nappies and sanitary products in municipal pharmacies. All of these initiatives are a result of proactive political nudges in the right direction, leading to residents becoming aware of and able to implement virtuous consumption habits.
A flagship community
Taking a proactive, holistic approach and involving residents in all stages of policy development are the key elements that have led Capannori to top the European waste prevention leagues and, through its position as the Zero Waste Network’s Flagship Municipality, inspire other communities to aim higher than just fulfilling recycling targets. Its committed, visionary leaders have seen opportunities rather than problems, and through transparent engagement with the population have made this the achievement of an entire community.
Creativity is at the core of a Zero Waste strategy. Sometimes this implies creating new processes and using innovative technologies but some other times it just requires combining the existing tools to create a low-tech win-win situation to reduce waste, create occupation, save money and increase sustainability. The example of Castelbuono is a good prove of this.
Castelbuono is a Zero Waste town of 10.000hab in Sicily, Italy, which has managed to develop an innovative system to marry sustainability, social work and economics. The mayor, Mario Cicero, decided to link the recovery of a traditional donkey-breed from Sicily –called Ragusa- with the challenges of the waste collection in narrow streets and the social work to reintegrate people into society… and all of this without scaring off the big number of tourists that visit the fantastic medieval castle or buy local products of this Sicilian town.
This is how Mr Cicero decided to use the donkeys to do the door-to-door separate collection. On one hand it makes donkeys useful so that recovering this breed stops being a cost to become an asset, on the other hand it becomes a way to reintroduce socially excluded people -with mental or addiction problems- thanks to using contact with animals as a therapy –onotherapy– and finally it turns waste collection into a tourist attraction and an education tool. A win-win situation!
Economics for donkeys
Mr Cicero explains how buying a small truck to collect waste costs more than 15,000eur and lasts 5 to 10 years whereas a donkey costs less than one tenth and last longer. Plus the maintenance costs of donkeys are a lot lower and they don’t need oil or electricity to run which makes them more cost efficient in a world of ever rising oil prices.
Besides, donkeys can be useful when they are not working collecting waste; on one hand their milk is considered to be the closest to human milk and hence very much valued. On the other hand onotherapy –therapy with donkeys- is proving wonders on mentally disabled people. Finally from the cultural point of view it makes cost-neutral recovering this important element of Sicilian and Mediterranean culture which is now once again participating in ceremonies and other local festivities.
It is difficult to make a cost-benefit analysis of this practice because it overarches on different fields but the fact is that;
– money-wise the municipality has balanced accounts in waste collection and treatment,
– the municipality has less expenses in subsidies to socially excluded people and has very high rates of integration to society,
– the municipality is recovering an important part of its culture and even creating a tourist attraction at zero cost.
As a comparison; since 2008 –when the system was introduced in Castelbuono- the neighbouring municipality of Cefalú, which is following the “modern” system of waste collection with road-containers and trucks, has generated millions of euros in debts to the regional public waste company whereas Castelbuono is one of the few municipalities in the region with balanced accounts.
Moreover, the region of Sicily has spent 1,5 million euros to reintroduce the Ragusa donkey but is not doing anything with them –it is a net cost-; instead Castelbuono started with 4 and now has 45 of these donkeys which are self-financing themselves.
But even when they are collecting waste donkeys work wonders; tourists in Castelbuono appreciate this silent and gentle creatures and stop to play with them.
The personal story – donkeys help communities
It is impressive to observe how neighbours in Castelbuono know the donkeys by the name and many stop to feed them when they pass by. When we visited them we accompanied one of the workers who does the tour with the donkey “Valentina”. Having had problems with depression & addiction in the past, before the introduction of donkeys he will not show up for work 5 days in a row. Since he started working with Valentina in 2008 he has not missed a single day of work and he has managed to reorganise his life. The bind between him and the animal and the daily contact with neighbours and tourists has managed to bring him back to society.
This personal story is just the top of the iceberg of a successful story of integration, education, creativity and sustainability in Castelbuono. Separate waste collection rates in this municipality are higher than in any of the neighbouring towns, they host a composting plant that treats the separately collected organics of the province and they are a proud member of the Italian network of Zero Waste municipalities. Many other ZW municipalities with similar characteristics inside and outside Sicily are studying importing this successful ZW practice.
Many cities have built Mechanical Biological Treatment Facilities (MBT) during the last decade with the aim of reducing the waste to be finally dumped or burnt. The results depend on every case but it is clear that MBT alone is not the sollution for anything. However it can play a role in transitional strategies to reduce residual waste without having to depend on more expensive undesirable options such as incineration. A well-designed ideal Zero Waste strategy shouldn’t need MBT.
What are MBTs?
MBT covers a wide range of activities and technologies to deal with residual waste –i.e. waste that hasn’t been separated for recycling or composting-. As the name explains it is composed of a mechanical part -in which waste is mechanically separated to recover recyclables- and a biological part –to either compost or digest the organic fraction-.
There are three main outputs from an MBT plant are; recyclables –such as PET plastic that can be sent for recycling-, low quality soil –the biologically stabilised part is used for land reclamation, almost never for agriculture- and RDF, Refuse Derived Fuel, which is a mix of materials with a homogeneus calorific value to burn in incinerators or in some cement kilns.
MBT became popular with the entry into force of the Landfill Directive which obliged member states to reduce the biodegradable waste going to landfill. MBT has the capacity to reduce the volume and methane emissions from waste, plus since it is modular it allows some flexibility and is cheaper and faster to build than any other big scale centralised options.
The draw-backs of MBT are that the bad quality of the compost they produce; almost always too polluted to be applied as soil improver. As a consequence, some authorities see MBT as a way to meet recycling rates without actually recycling and the production of RDF aimed at being burnt in incinerators and cement kilns.
MBT in Europe
MBT have been used with different success in Europe. For instance, in Germany they have been in use for more than 10 years and albeit having obtained some good results, the bigger the plant the more malodours and bacteria for the neighbourhood. The experience has been proven that MBT is not necessary when biowaste collection works well and there is high quality separate collection of other waste-streams combined with a good product policy promoting prevention of chlorine/PVC, heavy metals and flame retardants.
In Barcelona, Spain, MBT facilities were called ecoparcs and have been in operation since 10 years. Although they have managed to considerably reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and are recovering materials for recycling it is a fact that no good compost has come out of these facilities whilst their production of RDF has increased. In fact, after all the expensive investments in MBT the city of Barcelona ended up implementing separate collection of organics (2010) after realising that the only way to get good compost is with input coming from biowaste source separation.
MBT and Zero Waste
A Zero Waste strategy means that waste should be prevented and source separation should be maximised. If all the products in the market would be recyclable and properly separately collected there will be no waste and hence no need for MBT. If MBT has a place in a Zero Waste strategy is only when dealing with the current 20-30% of total municipal solid waste that can’t be source separated and collected. In these cases MBT can be a temporary solution but always keeping in mind the goal of continuing minimising the residual waste.
In fact, the real name for MBT in a Zero Waste strategy would be a combination of a Material Recovery Center together with a Zero Waste Research Center. In these facilties the recoverable materials are recovered and the few residuals left are stabilised so that they can be safely landfilled after they go through the Zero Waste Research Center which analyses the defects in design in order to work upstream to make them recyclable in the future.
One of the pillars of Zero Waste is source separation of organics –the only way to obtain clean high-quality compost- and experience proves that this can’t be replaced by MBT.
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.
No Zero Waste policy is possible without waste separation.
Waste doesn’t exist “per-se”, we create it when mixing our discards. If our discards are separated they are not waste but a resource. This is why the second step in waste management (after having done everything possible to prevent waste) is waste separation.
Waste can be separated at source –i.e. the citizen sorts out the waste- or at the end –i.e. a waste company separates the waste after it has been mixed-. When comparing both options source-separated systems not only significantly out-perform commingled collections on both material quality and diversion rate but also cost less.
For example, in order to re-melt glass into new containers, a high level of purity and colour sorting are required. Mixed or crushed glass is of no use for re-melting and is usually sold much cheaper for use as aggregate, which has no climate benefit. There is a big environmental benefit to recycling glass – each tonne of glass re-melted in the UK saves 314kg CO2 – so if possible glass should be separated by colour as it is collected. This is why the new Waste Framework Directive of the European Union requires source-separated collection except when it can be proved that it is not “technically, environmentally and economically practicable”(art.11).
But when it comes to source-separate collection there are ways to optimise the process and achieve the highest diversion rates together with the highest purity of materials. In this sense, door-to-door separate collection provides a lot higher results than separate collection in containers. The European best practices in waste management use door-to-door collection.
Right now Flanders separately collects 75% of their waste and some municipalities are above 80% recycling.
In Italy more than 1500 municipalities have adopted “door-to-door” separate collection and are already above 55% source separation. 20% of them (300 municipalities) are over 80% source separation.
Door-to-door collection takes place in all kinds of communities; the whole of Torino province (2,5 million hab.) has achieved rates above 50% separate collection. Downtown Torino in only 3 years since the start of door-to-door they have jumped from 25% to almost 60% separate collection. Other cities such as Trento (110.000hab) or Novara (100.000hab) have achieved impressive separate collection rates and even Milan is starting to use door-to-door collection.
Economic impact: The cost of moving into door-to-door system were entirely covered by the savings of recycling 16000tons of waste instead of sending it to disposal. In total a saving of 2.348.000 million € for 2007 which allowed to reduce the bill of the citizens by 20%.
Environmental impact: only looking at the effects of recycling the 6000 tones of paper and cardboard that was being burnt and now is recycled: it avoided logging 100.000 trees, the consumption of 2.85 millions of liters of water (enough to provide water to 31000hab) and the emission of 9.100 tones of CO2 (equal to the emissions of 680.000 oil barrels).
The system is also starting to be used elsewhere in the country, more concretely in Mallorca (30 municipalities) and the Basque Country: In the Basque Country Usurbil was the first Zero Waste municipality in the Basque Country and hence the first one to adopt door-to-door collection in 2009 and in 7 months managed to jump from 28% to 82% of separate collection and achieved 36% of waste reduction. The success has encouraged other municipalities (Hernani and Oiartzun) to join the Zero Waste strategy and source-separate waste and they are both currently recycling more than 80% of their waste whilst reducing their waste generation with measures such as home composting.
Right now in Spain the percentages of separate collection for those municipalities with door-to-door collection almost triple those with containers.