A European initiative involving municipalities, companies and citizens' groups is encouraging its members to commit to the elimination of residual waste, thereby ending landfill and incineration as waste management practices.
Zero Waste Europe promotes infrastructural change in local waste management. It calls for waste prevention to be implemented in local plans, adoption by municipalities of waste separation so that waste streams are sorted at source, and for residual waste to be progressively reduced. For the latter to be achieved, according to Zero Waste Europe, “residual waste should be constantly studied in screening facilities so that kerbside schemes and reduction programmes [can] be further implemented, and non-recoverable products can be redesigned or removed from the market.”
So far, the zero waste approach has taken off most strongly in Italy and Spain, where dozens of municipalities have signed up. The pioneering zero-waste champion is Capannori in Tuscany, a town of about 47,000 inhabitants. It has achieved a 39% waste reduction since 2004, cutting the amount of waste generated per person per year from about 700 kilogrammes to about 430kg. More than 80% of Capannori's waste is now sorted at source and subsequently reused, recycled or composted. A residual 18% goes to landfill, but Capannori is working to reduce this, and has committed to zero waste to landfill by 2020. Capannori should be well positioned to meet European Union waste targets, that are likely to be revised in 2014 as a result of a review of waste policy. The targets could include a limitation, or even a ban, on sending waste to landfill by 2020.
It is no coincidence that Capannori is at the forefront of Zero Waste Europe's efforts. Rossano Ercolini, a school teacher from the town, has played a leading role in the zero-waste movement, since campaigning in the 1990s against an incinerator that was planned for Capannori. Ercolini is now president of Zero Waste Europe. For 2013, he was awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize, a prominent scheme that recognises “grassroots environmental heroes.”
Capannori provides a case study for any municipality looking to reduce its residual waste without resorting to incineration. It has fully involved its citizens in decisions about waste management, and has been economically worthwhile - sale of materials to recycling plants and a reduction in landfill costs meant a net financial benefit for the municipality of €2 million in 2009. To help design waste out of the system, Capannori has set up a Zero Waste Research Centre, at which residual waste is studied to see how it can be eliminated.
Zero Waste Europe is part of the Zero Waste International Alliance, and is supported financially by the non-profit organisation GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives/Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance. Information is available at http://www.zerowasteeurope.eu
Information about the review of EU waste legislation is available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/target_review.htm