Waste is food: going all the way on sustainability

Waste is food: going all the way on sustainability

Ten European regions have created a network to share best practice in waste prevention and management by applying the cradle-to-cradle concept for sustainable development.

The idea that there is no such thing as waste, only raw materials yet to be put to good use, underpins the cradle-to-cradle (C2C) concept being promoted by ten European regions. Their approach is apt. The EU 2020 strategy calls for smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth. One of its seven flagship initiatives is to create a more resource-efficient Europe and Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik is preparing a roadmap for 2011 to achieve this.

Regions step ahead

The Cradle to Cradle Network (C2CN) was born in July 2010 in Limburg when representatives from all ten partner regions and the European Commission inaugurated this EU-funded Interregional co-operation programme (INTERREG IVC) project. This is a fast-track project with Commission guidance and investment.

The network’s goal is to enable EU regions to share and capitalise on best practice in implementing C2C principles for waste prevention and management, and ultimately to drive eco-innovation, sustainable development and social and economic well-being. Funding of €3 million is behind the initiative which will run until the end of 2011.

There are four main deliverables:

  • Creating a European platform for sharing experience on C2C;
  • Drawing up action plans showing how C2C policies can be designed and implemented, and, importantly, what they can deliver;
  • Establishing links with regional policy goals, especially in the fields of competitiveness and employment; and
  • Promoting stakeholder involvement.

The concept of C2C is broad and the network is studying its application well beyond traditional industrial processes. As well as its role in industry, the value of C2C principles in area-specific spatial planning and building design are on the agenda. The network will also examine what form of governance can get the most out of the C2C concept.

Starting capital

All ten partners bring a wealth of experience to this initiative from across the EU. Lead partner Limburg, from the Netherlands, showcases for example the world’s first C2C-certified toilet paper, made by Van Houtum Papier. This consists of 100% recycled paper and is 100% biodegradable. All chemicals used in its production have been carefully scrutinised and the company says the result is a product that is part of the natural world.

Meanwhile Romania’s North-East Regional Development Agency boasts a sawmill run by SC Holzindustrie Schweighofer in Radauti, Suceava County that has invested €20 million in a co-generation power plant to produce energy from wood waste left over from the 1.1 million m3 of logs it turns into timber every year. Part of the energy is used to produce steam for drying the timber and part is fed into the national grid. The environmental impact of the mill is further reduced because it leaves no bark waste on the forest floor that could change the local ecology.

Suffolk County Council in the UK describes a new warehousing and distribution centre built by brewery Adnams in a disused gravel pit in Southwold. The centre has won a BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) ‘excellent’ rating, the highest recognition offered by this voluntary UK green building certification scheme. Made of lime and hemp, the building does not need a mechanical heating or cooling system and saves 450 tonnes of carbon emissions compared with a conventional brick building.

Finally, Venlo in the Netherlands is applying C2C principles to the design of its Floriade 2012 Park, site of the World Horticultural Expo, held in the Netherlands every ten years. It is using the natural characteristics of the site as a starting point for its plans, including for example creating ponds where they best fit into the landscape and where they promote the greatest diversity of habitats. Venlo is already thinking about what to do with the Floriade site once the Expo is over.

Useful results

Experiences like these are the foundations of a C2C good practice handbook and four thematic reports – focused on industry, buildings, spatial planning and governance – the network plans to publish in its first phase in 2010. These will inform the action plans the project envisages for its second phase in 2011. All outputs will ultimately help put flesh on the bones of the EU’s 2020 strategy.

In the run-up to its reports, the network is organising meetings along its four content themes. The first, on area-specific spatial planning in Limburg in July 2010, drew over 70 participants and revealed some of the practical problems that arise when implementing C2C theory, including how to define ‘sustainable’. Case studies presented included the Floriade example as well as ‘Feeding Milan’, an idea for a rural-urban area both producing food and giving citizens a green zone to explore.

Work on the other thematic reports has started. The challenge now is to identify the best of the best in C2C application and work out how to replicate these initiatives in each partner region, taking into account their own characteristics and potential.

The beauty of C2C is that it aims to deliver on all fronts – economic, environmental and social. It looks for business opportunities in the process of greening economic innovation and growth. As an important contributor to the EU’s 2020 strategy, the C2CN can help deliver the benefits to well-being we so eagerly await.

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