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March 7th, 2013:

Report of succesful Zero Waste Europe conference in the European Parliament in Brussels

Zero Waste Conference at the European Parliament

7 March 2013

More than 300 people—including many members of the European Parliament; mayors and local decision-makers from across Europe; members of the European Parliament; Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for the Environment; and Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons—came together for the first Zero Waste Europe Conference in the European Parliament on 7 March 2013—by far the most successful zero waste event in Europe to date.

“Zero waste might be an ambitious goal in our highly industrialized societies; but it is the right aspiration,” Commissioner Janez Potocnik told a room packed with interested listeners—as well as the overflow crowd watching the streamed event from a second room. He also reminded the audience of the commitment of the Commission to phase out land filling and burning/incineration of recyclable waste by 2020, saying, “No new landfills should be built in Europe (…) incineration is not optimal in the midterm.”

Currently in Europe, 60% of waste is to be disposed, of which 37% goes to landfill and 23% in incinerators. Europe aims to reduce waste by 20% by 2020, but the tools today are not enough. Recycling is not supported the way it should be and financial incentives still go to promote incineration, undermining the very waste hierarchy.

Following the Environment Commisioner’s speech came one of the highlights of the conference—when officials from communities achieving zero waste successes explained their path to zero waste. The mayor of Capannori, the first zero waste town in Europe, explained how after having defeated an incinerator proposal, the town managed to build a system in 2008 that achieves very high recycling rates, reduce waste generation, create occupation and all this without burdening the local finances. He noted,

“We do normal and concrete things, for example: the elimination of plastic bottles in school canteens, no plastic cutlery, self-composting, incentive for the use of cloth diapers, distributors of milk/water on tap, we have a Research Center of Zero Waste for the analysis of the residual waste to the center of repair and reuse”.

Following in the footsteps of Capannori, 123 Italian municipalities, with about 3.3 million inhabitants, have adopted zero waste resolutions.

Iñaki Errazkin, the Environment Minister of the Province of Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country in Spain, spoke next. He explained how in his province, too, the community rose up and defeated an oversized, expensive incinerator proposal, and then embarked on the zero waste path. Gipuzkoa is now reaping astonishing results after only three years. More and more people in Gipuzkoa are covered by the collection service door to door which together with other measures and only in a few years is delivering impressive recycling rates well above 70 percent. For best results – said Errazkin – we need to involve citizens and become involved in the change process.

The event continued with presentations from the Cradle to Cradle Foundation, Friends of the Earth, and many zero waste practitioners, who highlighted programs including:

  • The Renewable Energy House in Brussels, which will reduce by 95% the waste they are sending to disposal.
  • The shop Effecorta, sourcing local products and selling them without packaging.
  • A zero waste family from the UK proving that a normal family can live without generating waste.
  • ZW fashion, making new clothes out of discarded garments in Bangladesh.
  • The recycling factory DISMECO which recovers 90 to 95% of the materials from electronic waste for reuse and recycling.
  • The Leisure Reuse park from the Zerowaster Pal Martensson in Sweden where they divert huge amounts of waste from the Swedish incinerators.

Pål Mårtensson explained the importance and urgency of moving toward zero waste: “This is a very important and clear message, we have to take care of all the recyclable items we can. We can’t burn or landfill these resources, we have to be careful with all things we call waste, because most of it is not waste, it´s very valuable products that we can reuse and recycle in a modern and intelligent way—and we have to do so, we can´t wait, we have to do it now!”

Enzo Favoino, expert and researcher at the Agricultural School of Monza Park reinforced, with data in hand, that zero waste is not a vision of the future, but something real—something that we not only have to do now, but can do now. Cities such as Turin, Milan and Salerno have already achieved major goals, he noted, calling for a systematic commitment.

Speakers also noted the need for policies to catch up with best practices. “In order to meet the waste related objectives of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap the EU will have to reduce disposal and increase recycling at 5% annual rate until 2020. This is a major leap forward that cannot be achieved with the current legal framework.” said Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe and European Regional Coordinator for GAIA. “Eurostat shows how recycling is stagnating in Europe and incineration is going up; we need to change the drivers if we don’t want the EU to waste one more decade”.

The day ended with the screening of the documentary “Trashed,” introduced by a panel that included the film’s narrator, Jeremy Irons; the EU Commissioner for Environment; and the film’s director, Candida Brady. “Trashed” draws on members of GAIA and the zero waste movement to help describe the dangers of wasting the economy, livelihoods, and the climate and point in the direction of a zero waste solution.

Before the film, Irons said, “I would like to see a Government policy implemented of zero waste. Worldwide commodity, prices are rising it seems obtuse to bury or burn those commodities that could be reused at far less cost than producing them anew.”

He added, “I hope ‘Trashed’ will allow people an insight on this quite curable but global problem. It will not be cured without the communal and political will to do so.”

In addition to raising the profile of the problem and of real-world solutions, the conference also laid the groundwork for future collaborations and successes. Thanks to the help of the Green Group in the European Parliament, some 50 activists were brought to Brussels from across Europe, creating a fantastic networking opportunity to share problems and initiate collaborations between civil society and decision-makers. Town-twinnings to implement zero waste programs, for example between municipalities from France and Italy or Spain and Romania, were proposed and stand as remarkable and hopeful outcomes of this gathering. In addition, the day after the conference a group of 30 people went to visit best practices on reuse, pay-as-you-throw and composting from Flanders, Europe’s best performing region.

This conference illustrates how the Zero Waste Europe network is growing stronger and expanding to more and more countries—it now includes France, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Hungary Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. On the policy side, zero waste is now presented in Brussels as a clear and viable alternative to the traditional waste management policies of the EU. As a consequence the Zero Waste Europe network will be a crucial player during the negotiations of 2014-2015 on the review of several EU laws such as the landfill directive, the recycling and prevention targets of the Waste Framework Directive, the Packaging Directive and many others. Zero waste is now the point of reference for progressive ambitious waste and resource practices and policies.

To See pictures of the event visit:

Download PDF : Zero-Waste-Europe-conference-Brussels-7-8-March-2013