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| Sustainable urban waste management

Waste in its broadest sense includes greenhouse gases and other environmental emissions, as well as domestic, commercial and industrial refuse. It all has a big effect on the sustainability or otherwise of Europe’s cities. The six projects in the European Waste Management Cluster studied many of the issues surrounding municipal waste, from measuring it to taxing it, with the aim of giving practical backing to the EU’s policy of reducing and recycling waste. Modelling tools and handbooks developed by the projects, with the associated workshops and conferences, have been of real help to European cities trying to get to grips with their waste mountains.

The six projects in the European Waste Management Cluster studied many of the issues surrounding municipal waste
In the city of tomorrow, waste will be a crucial issue in achieving sustainability—or not achieving it. Since 1996 European policy on waste has been overseen by a Directive setting out the priorities: avoid generating waste if possible; re-use or recycle it; and as a last resort, dispose of waste safely. All this is easier said than done, however, and much of the responsibility for cutting waste volumes falls on local government.

Enter the six research projects of the European Waste Management Cluster (EUWMC). From 1999 to 2005 the project partners, including a large number of local authorities from across Europe, developed tools and know-how that can be used at every level of the waste hierarchy.

The AWAST project created a methodology for integrated and sustainable management of municipal waste. LCA-IWM delivered two planning tools for waste management. SWA-Tool created a standardised method of analysing solid waste. PAYT developed guidance for the “pay-as-you-throw” approach to waste minimisation. ORMA dealt with the simulation of resource use and waste creation in eco-industrial parks, and RELIEF was the driving force behind the Procura+ campaign for sustainable public procurement.

Measuring, predicting…

The issue of translating EU and national waste standards into effective waste management at the local level is particularly acute in transition economies such as those of the new Member States. The LCA-IWM (Life Cycle Analysis–Integrated Waste Management) project, led by the Technical University of Darmstadt, addressed this by developing two tools based on LCA. The first tool predicts the future quantity and composition of household waste in a given area, based on their current values plus some limited information on historical and predicted future trends in prosperity. The second tool allows up to four waste management strategies to be compared. The Lithuanian city of Kaunas, for instance, used the model to compare the costs and benefits of different degrees of recycling, aerobic digestion and landfill. Following testing at five European municipalities, the two tools and a handbook are now freely available.

It’s difficult to plan waste management, of course, if you don’t know what kind of waste you have, or how much. Measuring waste is a surprisingly complex business, because the way in which the waste is sampled and analysed depends on the budget available and the purpose for which the data will be used. To complicate matters further, the use of many different definitions and analysis techniques makes it difficult to compare the results of different studies. SWA-Tool, a project led by Austrian consultancy firm iC consulenten Ziviltechniker, set out to lay down a methodology that could become a European standard. The project partners developed a system that lays down the minimum standards to be met by any waste analysis, plus a series of optional criteria that can be adjusted to fit the circumstances. The result is a rigorous yet flexible tool that makes it much easier to compare waste figures from different cities and different countries.

Sustainable development in the context of municipal solid waste has two aspects, explains Dr. Jacques Villeneuve of the French Bureau de Recherche Géologiques et Minières (BRGM), the co-ordinator of the AWAST project. One is the future volume and nature of the waste itself, and the second is the performance of the system that handles the waste, including its economics, energy efficiency and environmental performance. City councils know that they need to improve their waste handling, but the question is how; the issues are complex, and the answers depend on the timescales involved. To help with decision-making, the AWAST partners developed simulation software that allows users to model waste handling, treatment and disposal processes in detail and compare different options. The French city of Orléans, for example, was able to assess its plan to collect and ferment biowaste in terms of its effect on landfill, energy, costs and jobs.

…and making policy

One sure-fire way to reduce waste volumes is to increase charges for collection and disposal. Making this work to everyone’s satisfaction, however, needs good knowledge and careful planning. The PAYT “pay-as-you-throw” project looked at variable-rate waste pricing schemes across Europe, and distilled the lessons learned into a 200-page handbook. The partners concluded that where PAYT is used, increasing charges can markedly reduce waste volumes; with flat-rate charges for waste disposal, increasing the charges can simply increase the amount that people throw away.

The ORMA project investigated the optimisation of resource use and waste management in eco-industrial parks. EIPs are targeted especially at rural areas with low levels of industrialisation, and are characterised by their low environmental impact. Seven partners in Italy, the UK and Israel, led by the Città delle Langhe consortium, developed six tools covering many aspects of the design and operation of an EIP, from biogas plants to lifecycle analysis of products.

Governments and municipal authorities buy huge amounts of goods and services—more than €1,000 billion every year across Europe, according to one estimate. This gives them huge potential to encourage the market for greener products. The RELIEF project (“Harnessing the power of sustainable public procurement”) brought together six municipal authorities and six research institutions from across Europe to study green procurement. They found, for example, that by switching to renewable electricity, Europe’s public bodies could cut CO2 emissions by an amount equivalent to 7 million people. At the end of the project, in 2003, co-ordinator ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability launched the Procura+ initiative to promote sustainable procurement. It can be done: the Danish city of Kolding, one of the RELIEF partners, in five years changed virtually 100% of its purchasing policies to include environmental considerations.


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