Circular approach to waste management
How can we reduce the amount of domestic refuse that is landfilled or burned? An EU-funded project is running pilot schemes in four European towns to promote a circular economy in the processing of municipal waste.
© romaset #189997513, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Less than half of Europe’s municipal waste is recycled or composted, with the rest either incinerated or sent to landfill. As a result, 80 million tonnes of potentially valuable material is lost every year. Much of this is food waste which can either be largely avoided or processed to produce fertiliser and biofuels.
How can Europe’s local authorities reduce this waste? The EU-funded WASTE4THINK project is promoting the concept of a circular economy in waste management, whereby everything is reused and nothing is sent to landfill. It is bringing together 19 partners to design holistic solutions and pilot them in four municipalities across Europe.
‘The challenge is to improve waste management not only in economic or operational terms but also considering the environmental and social impacts,’ says project coordinator Ainhoa Alonso, of Deusto Tech in northern Spain.
Challenges and targets
The four contrasting municipalities have been chosen for the diversity of challenges they present for waste management.
Building on its current rather basic recycling system, Halandri, in Greece, is focusing on processing waste from kitchens and supermarkets, as well as disposable nappies, to produce biofuels and high-quality compost.
In Portugal, the popular tourist resort of Cascais is implementing a ‘pay as you throw’ (PAYT) scheme in which residents use an access card to open a locked bin. The aim is to boost the resort’s recycling rate from 13 % to 30 %.
Zamudio is an industrial area in northern Spain which is also implementing a PAYT scheme. Two thirds of its waste comes from industry, including a major technology park.
Seveso in northern Italy, the site of a notorious accident at a chemical plant in 1976, now has ambitious environmental goals and aims to raise its already high recycling rate to 80 %.
Each of the four pilot schemes draws on several of 20 ‘eco-solutions’ supported by the project and used alongside the technical innovations. These include operation and planning tools to be used by local authorities; mobile apps to help citizens and businesses; educational campaigns at all levels from schools to technical professionals; ‘citizen science’ tools to encourage local people to come up with innovative solutions; and mechanisms to promote behavioural changes.
Sense of ownership
So far, the 42-month project has created around 39 jobs. ‘This project has been conceived from the very beginning as a project by, with and for people,’ says Alonso. ‘We are carrying out research for the benefit of the whole society and to contribute not only to solving the problem of waste management but also to creating new green jobs and sustainable governance models.’
The project coordinator points out that improving recycling rates is not just a matter of technological innovation but of working with communities to raise awareness, encourage responsible behaviour and build a ‘sense of ownership’ of the schemes in their localities.
For this reason, she hopes the legacy of WASTE4THINK will not only be the 20 eco-solutions but also a philosophy about managing waste that can be applied in many different places. ‘We want to think of global solutions to help different municipalities move towards a circular economy with their waste schemes,’ explains Alonso. ‘We have an open data policy to share all the project results with the scientific community as well as with other institutions and administrations interested in implementing these solutions in the future.’