Investing in greener cities
As the EU steps up efforts to encourage the circular economy, cities across Europe need look no further than Ljubljana for inspiration on how to reduce waste and use resources in a smarter way.
The Slovenian capital, which is this year's European Green Capital, is the first European capital close to achieving a zero-waste society where products and resources are recycled or reused and almost nothing ends up in landfills. This is a remarkable achievement, accomplished over the past decade, in which policy-makers, businesses and citizens have worked together to create a more sustainable urban environment.
Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella
"Until recently, we were happy to call our capital "White Ljubljana'. Today, when many cities are ever-more polluted, Ljubljana is even cleaner and greener, so we are proud to be able to refer to it as Europe's Green Capital," said Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar. "The improvements implemented in Ljubljana in recent years prove that environmental measures are not a cost, but boost the quality of living."
Green ambassador city
To celebrate its award, Ljubljana will act as an ambassador for sustainable urban development, sharing and promoting best practices proven to have a considerably positive impact on both the urban environment and quality of life.
"The title of European Green Capital 2016 is well deserved and brings with it great responsibility. Taking care of the urban environment means taking care of the health and well-being of the people who live in our cities. You have shown that with good investment you get great returns," said Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
The Slovenian capital's exemplary approach to managing urban waste and developing a local circular economy is multi-pronged. Such a strategy facilitates recycling and reuse, improves the separation and treatment of waste, and encourages citizens and businesses to reduce the amount of waste they generate in the first place.
Among the five finalists for European Green Capital 2016, Ljubljana was the only city without a waste incineration plant or plans to build one. Instead, it focuses on alternative solutions, including a comprehensive waste-management plan that has made significant progress towards developing a zero-waste society.
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar
The city actively encourages product recycling through its public Reuse Centre – a shop fittingly equipped with second-hand furniture – where on average 75 products are exchanged each day, 100 are sold, and others are collected and repaired. The initiative, which is operated by public waste-management firm Snaga, is now being expanded across Slovenia. It also forms part of Ljubljana's educational programme to teach young people the importance of creativity, innovation, social entrepreneurship and the green economy.
Reusing more, wasting less
Through greater awareness of the importance of reusing products and resources, Ljubljana residents have reduced the amount of waste they generate by 15 % over the past 10 years. And in 2014, each person, on average, disposed 283 kg of waste, which is 41 % less than the European average.
Easily accessible recycling and waste-collection points, together with door-to-door collection of some types of urban refuse, ensure that around two-thirds of household and business waste in Ljubljana is recycled or composted. As a result, the quantity of recovered materials in the city increased from 16 kg per person in 2004 to 145 kg in 2014, reducing the amount of rubbish ending up in landfills by 59 %.
Collection and separation is handled by Snaga which operates one of the most modern waste-treatment facilities in Europe. Developed with the support of EU Cohesion Funds, the Regional Centre for Waste Management outside of Ljubljana is the largest environmental project in Slovenia. EU Structural Funds have provided €78 million towards its upgrade.
The plant is set to produce 25 000 tonnes of sorted secondary raw materials and green energy. By using state-of-the-art technology, it ensures that only around 5-10 % of the waste it receives ends up in landfill. Everything else, from paper and plastics to glass and metal, is recycled. Organic matter is either processed into biogas to power the facility, or turned into compost for Ljubljana's green spaces. In turn, this reduces greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane, caused by decomposing organic waste in landfills, and prevents groundwater contamination.
Ljubljana has ambitious targets for the future. The city aims to increase separate waste collection to 75 % and reduce annual residual waste to 60 kg per person by 2025, ensuring its continued status as an exemplary green city for the future.
As Commissioner Vella pointed out: "Future generations have the right to a healthy environment and we need to secure it."