As European society has grown wealthier it has created more and more rubbish. Each year in the European Union alone we throw away 3 billion tonnes of waste – some 90 million tonnes of which is hazardous. This amounts to about 6 tonnes of solid waste for every man, woman and child, according to Eurostat statistics.
Estimates from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveal that, by 2020, EU citizens could be generating 45% more waste than they did in 1995.
Popular approaches to waste management in the EU include incineration or burial in landfill sites. However, both these methods create environmental damage, pollution and potential health risks – both directly and indirectly – to human, plant and animal life.
Innovations in waste management are needed to solve these problems and address tomorrow’s societal, economic and ecological challenges. The quest for new solutions was the driving force behind the creation of the Waste management focussing on Knowledge and Integration to create Transnational economic development (WasteKIT) project, a consortium of 19 partners from four European countries financed by the EU’s FP7 Regions of Knowledge programme.
By analysing the characteristics of current waste-management infrastructures, research and technical development (RTD) and innovation processes, WasteKIT aimed to identify ways to significantly cut the amount of rubbish generated by means of new waste-prevention initiatives. In addition, it explored increased efficiency in the use of resources, as well as encouraging shifts towards more sustainable consumption patterns.
The project, which ran until December 2012, was particularly interested in developing efficient strategies for turning waste into energy, improving recycling programmes, utilising agricultural and bio waste, and encouraging waste prevention and minimisation.
As well as researching new approaches, WasteKIT set objectives to create a European network of regional waste-management-related clusters and an international mentoring programme designed to disseminate knowledge and educate waste-management-related actors.
“The European funding we received was particularly helpful in allowing us to carry out detailed analysis of the waste-management methods used in the partner regions,” says Ilse van den Breemer, the project’s cluster manager at the Amsterdam Innovation Motor. “We also utilised the funding to set up the mentoring guide that will help all regions interested in more efficient waste management or those facing particular challenges to improve their handling of waste.” The completed mentoring guide has since been distributed throughout the WasteKIT project’s network, she adds.
In addition to providing those involved in waste management with the information to make positive changes to infrastructure and processes, the WasteKIT team also hopes that its outreach programme will highlight the European dimensions in RTD and business-oriented projects which focus on innovation in this field beyond the project’s end date.
In turn, WasteKIT hopes that the ambitions of regions, with respect to regional economic development based on waste management, will expand in line with the new initiatives.
“We have already received a lot of interest from other prospective partners and parties and we are now involved in a new project, Wastecosmart, which we hope will be granted in 2013,” Ilse van den Breemer concludes.