On March 7, 2013, more than 300 people — including many members of the European Parliament, mayors and local decision-makers from across Europe, and Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons — came together for 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,” Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik told a packed room and overflow crowd watching the streamed event from a second room. He reminded the audience of the commitment of the Commission to phase out land filling and burning/incineration of recyclable waste by 2020.
Following the Commissioner’s speech came one of the highlights of the conference: presentations from communities achieving zero waste successes. 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 has achieved very high recycling rates, reduced waste generation, and created jobs, all without burdening 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, incentives for use of cloth diapers, distributors of milk/water on tap, and we have a Research Center of Zero Waste for the analysis of the residual waste.”
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 Spain’s Basque Country, 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 path to zero waste. After only three years, Gipuzkoa is seeing astonishing results, including recycling rates well above 70 percent.
Currently in Europe, only 40% of waste is recycled, while 37% goes to landfill and 23% to incinerators. Despite a commitment to recycle 50% of municipal solid waste by 2020, recycling in Europe is not supported the way it should be, and financial incentives still go to promote incineration, directly undermining the EU waste hierarchy.
Pål Mårtensson, Coordinator of Zero Waste Sweden, explained the 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.
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, proof that a normal family can live without generating waste.
- ZW fashion, a company making new clothes out of discarded garments in Bangladesh.
- The recycling factory DISMECO which recovers 90-95% of the materials from electronic waste for reuse and recycling.
- The Leisure Reuse park created by Zerowaster Pål Mårtensson in Sweden which diverts huge amounts of waste from incinerators.
The day ended with a screening of the documentary “Trashed,” introduced by a panel that included the film’s narrator, Jeremy Irons, 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 to show the way toward a zero waste solution.
Before the film, Irons said, “I would like to see a Government policy implemented on 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.”
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