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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign
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Creating Local Jobs
& Recovering Resources

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Optimising Waste Collection for Quality Recycling
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Returning Organic Material to Our Soils

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Advocating for a Zero Waste Future

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Supporting Local Groups to Drive Change

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Closing the Loop of Materials,
Phasing Out Toxics & Emissions

Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting in Ljubljana

On Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd Ljubljana, the 2016 European Green Capital, and first Zero Waste European Capital, played host to municipal representatives, entrepreneurs, zero waste campaigners and experts as part of the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting.

Erick Oblak opening the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting Foto: Maša Kores
Erick Oblak opening the Network of Zero Waste Towns Meeting Photo: Maša Kores

The conference was opened by an introduction to the history of Ljubljana and the implementation of zero waste policies in the city, from Erika Oblak of Ekologi Brez Meja. From the early struggle against the construction of an incinerator and the subsequent referendum, with overwhelming opposition in 1999 to just a few years later, having the neighbouring town of Vrhnika already leading the way with recycling rates as high as 50% as early as 2003.

When in 2012 another incineration plan was proposed, Ekologi Brez Meja with Zero Waste Europe’s support, successfully countered the plan with a zero waste alternative, which has led Ljubljana to being the waste management success story that it is today.

This was followed by Zero Waste Europe, Director, Joan Marc Simon expressing how amazing it was that such significant progress had been made by the city in only 2 ½ years.

The first discussion panel focused on reusable nappies, featuring Elizabeta Zust, from a nursery in Vhrnika that only uses cloth nappies and Hilary Vick, from Nappy Ever After, a nappy laundry service in London. The panel also included Joan Crous from the Eta Beta/Lavanda cooperative in Bologna, Italy, where 1,100 to 1,800 nappies are washed and delivered every day.

The panel covered the environmental and social benefits of reusable nappies as well as technical and commercial difficulties and issues surrounding the issue. This provided highly informative, inspirational and technical discussion by the participants.

Tourism was the focus of the next panel discussion. With Nina Kosin from the Ljubljana Tourism Board opened with a focus on the significance of the Green Capital award for the city, as well as the introduction of reusable crockery at the Christmas market with a deposit scheme in place.

Antonio Esposito spoke about Conka Park, the first zero waste hotel in Sorrento, Italy. With a wide range of initiatives promoting zero waste in the hotel, they have found significant success, and positive reactions from the hotel guests.

The afternoon of the first day covered the topic of food waste. Involving food waste entrepreneur Joris Depouillon from the Food Waste Entrepreneur Network, Laura Chatel, from Zero Waste France, and Albin Keuc, from Food Waste Reduction a Slovenian initiative which has provided 16 DIY tools for food waste reduction.

The participants emphasised the importance of differentiating between ‘food waste’ and ‘food surplus’ with the larger portion remaining fit for human consumption, the highest level of the ‘food waste hierarchy’.

The second day was opened by Zero Waste Europe’s President, from Capannori, Italy – Rossano Ercolini. Before hearing speeches from Zoran Janković, the Mayor of Ljubljana, and Irena Majcen, the Slovenian Minister for the Environment and Spatial Planning, offering their insights on Ljubljana’s success as a environmental leader across Europe.

The keynote speaks for the day was from Paul Connett, internationally renowned campaigner on zero waste, with over 30 years of experience in working on incineration and waste issues. Dr. Connett used his time to speak on zero waste as stepping stone to sustainability. His speech presented an inspiring vision of citizen action for the creation of a world without waste, a sustainable future and a better planet.

Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores
Dr. Paul Connett speaking at Network of Zero Waste Towns. Photo: Maša Kores

This was followed by a discussion of policies on a local level, with Tihana Jelacic, from Prekom, the Croatian waste management company for Prelog and the surrounding municipalities, who have recently adopted a Zero Waste Strategy, and are working to implement zero waste policies and practices. Stojan Jakin, from Vrhnika, the first Zero Waste Town in Slovenia spoke about how ranking towns by the recycling rates can be misleading when towns like Vrhnika are reducing the amount of residual waste year-on-year despite a less dramatic increase in recycling rates.

Matteo Francesconi, the Deputy Mayor of Capanorri spoke about how Capannori was first launched on the road to zero waste by the anti-incineration fight led by Rossano Ercolini, and now has a holistic approach to waste, with a system that adapts to the local reality and, therefore, integrates local people at every level.

In the afternoon. Mitja Praznik, from Snaga, the waste management company in Ljubljana went into great detail and depth on exactly how Ljubljana has become the best performing capital in waste management in Europe

This was followed by Mariel Vilella, Associate Director of Zero Waste Europe explaining the immense impact which waste management has on climate change, and how current accounting methods downplay this impact. Emphasising that it is time that we harvested this ‘low-hanging-fruit’ when it comes to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

The full presentation by Mariel is available online, with visual slides making a strong case for ‘Zero Waste’ as ‘Climate Action!’. The route to moving towards this low-carbon economy through zero waste is detailed in Zero Waste Europe’s recent report, ‘The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy’. Mariel, made the strong and compelling case that cities are at the forefront of this effort to move away from carbon intensive waste management practices, with cities being uniquely positioned to implement effective and efficient policies.

David Franquesa, then took to the stage to present eReuse, an open source reuse platform for electronic waste, which can be used to dramatically extend the use life of electronic products, as well as ensuring the traceability of the items from reuse through to recycling.

The final speaker at the conference was from the ECO-PULPLAST project which works with the paper industry in Northern Italy to recycle pulper waste from the recycling of paper to make ‘eco-sustainable plastic pallets’. This project has significant support from key players in the paper recycling industry where it forms a major alternative to waste incineration and offers a way to reduce costs.

The conference incorporated a wide range of expertise and experience. With inspiring and informative talks from politicians, industry representatives, social entrepreneurs, activists, and innovator. The focus on local action towards zero waste presented a number of concrete actions which can be taken by different municipalities in following the path to zero waste.


Reuse of WEEE: widening the cycle of materials

Giving a second life to products before they are –hopefully- dismantled for safe recycling is the most preferable option. Yet “some” say the demand for second-hand electric and electronic goods is low and it is better to send them to dismantle and get yourself a new one. Think twice! The opposite is true.

 

In many cases those who argue against reusing electric and electronic goods are the same companies that produce them and therefore have an interest in you buying a new a new one. But some other times it is true that some people just don’t want a second hand electronic appliance. What is for sure is that today there are plenty of electric and electronic goods which are discarded despite being still fully operative or easily reusable if fixed.

 

 

New data from recent studies on reuse in the EU indicate that:

 There is strong market demand across Europe for quality second hand electronic goods. On average, 50% of people in Europe –according to a survey by Flash Eurobarometer- would be happy to buy a second hand appliance.
WEEE reuse is a significant employer opportunity particularly if carried out by social enterprises and has potential to employ 10 times more people per tonne of material processed than recycling activities.
Lack of appropriate legislation is seen as one of the main barriers to WEEE reuse activities on the ground,

Indeed, the waste hierarchy as approved in the current European legislation establishes the clear priority of preparation for reuse before recycling and disposal but unfortunately there are no targets or incentives to make this happen yet.

However in October 2011 the Environment Committee in the European Parliament voted in favour of a 5% target for reuse in the collection targets, a requirement for producers to provide information free of charge about preparation for reuse and treatment of the appliances they out in the market, requiring all collection schemes to provide for the separation of reusable WEEE at collection points and the adoption of European standards for preparation for reuse (to be created in max 3 years).

 

This positive outcome still needs to be approved by the EU member states before it can enter into force. So far the member state have been very reluctant to these measures and if no agreement is reached during this month of December the negotiations will have to go to conciliation which would downsize the ambition of the targets.

Given the increasing prices of raw materials, the employment opportunities linked to the reuse sector and the high energy embodied in these products it is necessary to improve collection and reuse rates of goods to get closer to a Zero Waste economy.


The need for Zero Electric and Electronic Waste in Europe

Can you believe that from all electric and electronic waste generated in Europe only 19% is recycled? Yes, in times where materials are more and more scarce and the prices continue to rise and when the EU is almost completely dependent on foreign supply for metals and rare earths we still afford to let 81% of these resources escape from being reintroduced in the production process in Europe.

Today more than 50% of the WEEE generated in Europe follows unofficial collection routes, sometimes leading to illegal export and improper treatments. E-waste contains hazardous substances such as heavy metals and chemicals which can damage human health and the environment especially when treated incorrectly. Unfortunately there are plenty of well-documented examples of the environmental and health damage that this exported e-waste causes in Africa and Asia.

But also, if we let 81% of WEEE escape Europe this means that with it we let a big amount of manufacturing industry and jobs escape. This is like having a gold mine and letting others come and take the gold away –albeit paying a high price in health and environmental damage- whilst at the same time complain that the economic crisis is taking the jobs away. Action is needed to reverse these figures.

Action has to go inte direction of setting standards for WEEE recycling but also incentives to redesign them. An important reason why e-waste is not recycled is precisely because electric and electronic items are not well-designed. If designed differently it would be a lot easier and cheaper to manipulate WEEE to extract the raw materials.

This is why the EU is working on an update of the WEEE directive. On the 3rd of February the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted in favour of an ambitious collection target based on WEEE generated, setting standards on e-waste management and enabling financial incentives for optimized design. The European Parliament requires member states to address financial resources to increase collection and also asks for a better consideration for nanomaterials in treatment processes.

The problem is that in the current economic crisis most EU member states only think on cutting expenditure and sometimes fail to see the hidden benefits of economy booster that can represent investing in capturing more WEEE. The economic booster works in several ways: it creates local jobs in collection and reprocessing, it saves costs in buying new raw materials and saves extraction, processing and transport emissions related to new production.

Sending Zero Electric and Electronic Waste to landfill and incineration just makes sense but turning this waste into resource is an indispensable part of the new industrial revolution. Maximising material productivity is the way forward and Zero Waste is a vital part of it.


Zero Waste to reduce EU dependency on materials

The clever thing about minimising waste and recycling stuff is that we recover the materials and we can use them again instead of having to import them from far at increasing prices.

The resources in the world are not only limited; they are also becoming more and more scarce and hence more difficult, polluting and expensive to extract. In absolute terms, Europe is using more and more resources. For example, resource use increased by 34 % between 2000 and 2007 in the EU-12. This continues to have considerable environmental and economic consequences. Of 8.2 billion tonnes of materials used in the E-27 in 2007, minerals and including metals accounted for more than half, and fossil fuels and biomass for about a quarter each.
In the following graph we can see how heavily dependent is the EU from imports of metals (source EEA).

For the majority of metals the EU depends 100% on its imports. At the same time what we see is that in the EU 50% of the recyclable municipal waste is landfilled or incinerated and the exports –legal and ilegal- of metals and electronics to be recycled –mostly downcycled- have increased. From the strategic point of view –let alone environmental and economical considerations- this is nothing less than stupid.

The recycling sector in Europe has an estimated turnover of EUR 24 billion and employs about half a million persons. Thus, the EU has 50 % of the recycling industries in the world. Yet, the EU lets most of its electronic waste to be shipped abroad for low quality recycling when nobody in the earth needs more the resources than the EU.

The EU has been producing legislation to try to shift this exodus of materials into european recycling plants. So far the directive on waste from electric and electronic equipment has required that every member state collects 4kg per capita per year but right now there are countries like Belgium or Germany that are well above this target whilst others are far below. The revision of the WEEE aims to collect 65% of generated WEEE by 2016 which is a very necessary improvement to create jobs and a solid recycling industry in Europe that reduces necessity to extract, process, and transport the materials that we need.

Some companies are proving that, if they are given the chance, they can recover most of the materials and generate jobs and economic activity whilst avoiding the extra emissions of exporting waste for disposal and having to extract and manufacture new materials. Umicore, for instance, is one of the leading companies in Europe in recycling of WEEE and shows the changing trends; from being a belgian mining company with poor environmental record they understood that the future was to focus not on extracting materials from the earth but rather to extract them from the already produced equipments that had become waste. Thanks to this Umicore has not only managed to be a world leading recycler but it has also managed to pay its environmental liabilities.

Umicore treats 300.000 tones of electric and electronic waste from which only 15.000 tones become waste; that is 95% of the waste is recycled. Whilst there are some rare earths present in small devices such as mobile phones and which so far can’t be recovered the truth is that most metals are recovered at a higher rate than what can be achieved in backyard recycling –what would happen if exported outside Europe-. For instance, in Umicore 95 to 99% of gold is recovered whilst in backyard recycling only 20 to 25% can be recovered –with a lot higher enviornmental and health impact-.

It is therefore possible to close the loop in some sectors of our economy but in order to do so it is necessary that the authorities collaborate with the right legislation and market drivers. Highly efficient recycling systems keep jobs in Europe, reduce dependency from imports, lower emissions, reduce environmental impact in third countries and help move in the direction of sustainability if they are combined with the right prevention tools.

Zero Waste is about reducing the use of materials, reusing them as much as possible and recycling them as last option. Europe can’t afford to continue trashing resources; eliminating waste with incineration and landfill don’t make sense but this is even more true in the case of electric and electronic waste.

The clever thing about minimising waste and recycling stuff is that we recover the materials and we can use them again instead of having to import them from far at increasing prices.
The resources in the world are not only limited; they are also becoming more and more scarce and hence more difficult, polluting and expensive to extract. In absolute terms, Europe is using more and more resources. For example, resource use increased by 34 % between 2000 and 2007 in the EU-12. This continues to have considerable environmental and economic consequences. Of 8.2 billion tonnes of materials used in the E-27 in 2007, minerals and including metals accounted for more than half, and fossil fuels and biomass for about a quarter each.
In the following graph we can see how heavily dependent is the EU from imports of metals (source EEA).

The Story of Electronics

Tired of electronic devices that break some months after having bought them? This short film from Annie Leonard explains very well the problem with designing for the dump.

The current design of electronic appliances that are hard to upgrade, easy to break and unpractical to repair to the extend that it is cheaper to buy a new product than to repair it shows that there is something wrong in the process.

Zero Waste is about good design that maximises durability, reusability, repairability and recyclability of the products.