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Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste

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Analysis

EU Ecolabel: untapped potential

14 May 2019

Out of the most common Type 1 (third party assessed) ecolabelled products (goods and services), the EU Ecolabel represents the best performing ones on the market, alongside ecolabels such as Blue Angel, TSO and Nordic Swan. The EU Ecolabel Regulation provides a voluntary framework for the setting of environmental criteria for defined product groups with the aim of reducing the negative life cycle environmental impacts associated with the production and consumption of the products. Although their benefits are far reaching, and are expected to see increasing popularity, such schemes, and the synergies between them, their advantages could be promoted more throughout Europe. One way being to purchase more strategically through public procurement.


EU Ecolabel in focus

Established in 1992 and recognised across Europe and worldwide, the EU Ecolabel is a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products and services meeting high environmental standards throughout their life-cycle: from raw material extraction, to production, distribution and disposal. It promotes the circular economy by encouraging producers to generate less waste and CO2 during the manufacturing process. Its criteria also encourage companies to develop products that are durable, easy to repair and recycle. Identifying goods that are within the top 10-20% of the most environmentally friendly in their industry/category, today it covers 34 goods and services including paper, textiles, cleaning products, lubricants, appliances, home and garden products and tourist accommodation. Criteria cover environmental as well as technical performance, with social criteria included for products groups where particularly relevant (e.g. textiles). All are locateable in their comprehensive catalogue.


Flooring, furniture and formaldehyde

EU Ecolabel furniture, which restricts the use of chemicals such as formaldehyde, solvents and flame retardants known to be toxic for human health and particularly for children, acts as a guarantee for safer products. For example, Italian company Mobilferro, awarded with the EU Ecolabel, manufactures eco-friendly furniture mainly for public schools that is carefully selected and closely monitored, with very little formaldehyde. The EU Ecolabel criteria for wood floor coverings similarly guarantees a high-quality product with optimal performance while restricting the number of harmful levels of chemicals like formaldehyde, polybrominated diphenyl ethers found in fire retardants and which have been found to be toxic to humans in furniture, as exemplified by the Polish furniture company Famos supplying Scandic Hotels. It also requires sustainable wood sourcing to limit deforestation, subject to third-party certification such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), and ensures the durability of goods, thus reducing long term costs.


Copenhagen

The City of Copenhagen’s Ecolabel procurement policy demands EU Ecolabel or Nordic Swan where there are many labelled products on the market. If there are too few products on the market, the ecolabel requirements can be used as award criteria, but a key challenge faced was how the issue of equivalence is addressed. However, the ecolabel was established to serve as a common instrument that ensures harmonisation and alignment of criteria of different labels so as to avoid confusion.


Green your spring clean

In the detergents and cleaning products category, the EU ecolabel saves energy, is safer for humans and for the environment including aquatic organisms - it must be biodegradable and free of contaminants to improve recyclability. “Conventional” non-ecolabelled detergents may include triclosan (suspected of interfering with human hormones[1]), nanosilver (linked to neurological disorders), or substances that release formaldehyde (suspected of causing cancer, allergies and asthma. As well as sustainable certifications for ingredients like palm oil, the label requires circular packaging, and promotes proportionate-to-its-content, refillable and recycled and recyclable packaging materials as well as recyclability, thus slashing plastic use. Austrian company Hagleitner for example offer refillable containers for their “clean chemistry and clean production” detergents that attempt to break the dichotomy of science vs. nature.


Synergies and scaling

Despite its long term business advantages and increasing expectations regarding environmental impact, the EU Ecolabel remains "very niche”, covering only 10% of the environmentally best-performing products, according to European Commission policy officer Kristine Dorosko. A recent drop in labelled products is likely due to the entry into force of new criteria to which companies willing to continue using their EU Ecolabel need to prove compliance. And it is getting stricter. Upfront costs can also put potential clients off. However, a number of funding support schemes are available and green public procurement is increasingly using ecolabels as award criteria, incentivising higher uptake of the label.

Report

Plastic - friend or foe in the fight against food waste

8 May 2019

It’s the oft-recited estimate: one third of all food is wasted across the world. Not to mention the farmers’ work, fertilisers, pesticides and fuel used to grow it, the energy to transport it and, finally, the impacts of its disposal too. In Europe, 88 million tonnes, 95-115kg per capita per year is lost, costing €143 billion (European Commission) and comprising 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (FAO). Yet for every Euro invested in Food Waste reduction, a city saves €8. From plastic packaging to participation, what is the best way to implement a sustainable food waste strategy? Our case studies include the city of Bruges, Belgium, who implemented a radical strategy to slash their waste to reach zero food waste status.


From food waste fiasco to fun opportunity    

Facing the food waste challenge plays a significant role in attaining climate goals globally. Indeed, as stated in the comprehensive study Drawdown, reducing food waste is ranked as the third most effective solution to reduce GHG emissions, even before solar farms and plant-rich diets. “It is also an easy and fun topic to work on [...] Citizens even contact me because they have too many courgettes and want to make sure they get eaten. This would have never happened 6 years ago.” says Mieke Hoste, Bruges’ alderwoman of environment.


Awareness first

Whether using a method as simple as disposing of organic waste in separate clear bags or a high tech intelligent camera that identifies the exact type, amount and cost of food being wasted, diagnosing the problem is the vital first step to fight food waste. As stated by food waste organisation FoodWIN, knowledge leads to action. Initially not included in their urban food strategy, after talking to food waste expert and activist Tristram Stuart, Bruges used Foodwin’s food waste calculator and was convinced by the “huge” costs - equivalent financially to investing in solar panels. Restaurants, citizens, retail and healthcare were found to create the most waste.


The (zero) waste hierarchy

Organic waste can be used as a source of bioenergy. However, the susustainability of this type of energy is contested. Zero Waste Europe best practise states a reduction of organic waste should be prioritised through improved labelling, portioning, awareness and educational campaigns around food waste and home composting. Unavoidable (excess) edible food should be targeted at human consumption first i.e. donated to social organisations, as done by Bruges, or otherwise for animal feed. Non-edible organic waste can be composted and used as fertiliser for agriculture, soil restoration and carbon sequestration; garden trimmings, discarded food and food-soiled paper in low-tech small-scale process sites whenever possible. In larger areas, composting could be centralised with more technologically advanced systems. Alternatively, depending on local circumstances and nitrogen levels in the soil, non-edible organic waste should be used to produce biogas through Anaerobic Digestion, a truly renewable source of energy and soil enhancer. If there is any organic waste within the residual waste stream, Material Recovery – Biological Treatment (MRBT) allows for the recovery of dry materials for further recycling and stabilizes the organic fraction prior to landfilling, with a composting-like process. Landfill and incineration are the least preferable, last resort option.


Participation and cocreation

In Bruges, a participatory approach increased awareness and ensured the involvement of citizens, e.g. via the creation of Bruges Food Lab - a local stakeholder council on sustainable food which includes organisations like social grocery stores and restaurants that redistribute surplus food, and via a crowdsourcing day to shape the urban food strategy, organise redistribution and reduction of surplus in public organisations. Bruges is the first city in Belgium taking the commitment to only use sustainable food at events. An annual food festival also “fed the 5000” with food waste; further boosting awareness.  


Collaboration and communication of organisations

From 2017, Bruges started to focus on different sectors such as hospitals, resulting in food waste reductions of up to 43%. Communication between the different services of an elderly home or hospital for example was crucial to cocreate a system to serve food right away to ensure freshness. Too Good to Go is an app that allows shops and supermarkets to sell surplus food for a significantly reduced price, and the city is planning to launch a logistical platform to help it reach social projects via car or bike. UrbanWINS’ pilot project in Cremona similarly saw surplus food distributed by bike to families in need, an app created advertising end of day discounts at eateries, and a second hand/vintage market.


Fighting food waste: is plastic packaging a help or a hindrance?

The linked challenges of food waste and plastic packaging waste must be tackled together, as stated in the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) Report UNWRAPPED. Aside from health and unknown chemical migration risks associated, they found plastic packaging to increase food waste overall. Practises such as trimming to fit packaging and multipacks for example were found to cancel out the benefits of preservation of foods. They also present solutions such as laser marking goods, which produces 1% carbon emissions of a typical plastic sticker.


Conclusion

Ultimately, energy policies for a low-carbon economy should progressively move away from extracting as much energy as possible from waste - such as energy from biomass - and instead increase measures to preserve the embedded energy in products, a far more efficient and sustainable approach to resource use. In Bruges, all government departments now work within a sustainable food framework, setting the foundation for zero food waste overall. Going forward, they plan to focus more on citizens and restaurants who have the biggest impact.

Report

Changing the (product-service) system

27 April 2019

“The future is not in low cost production. In making things with finite components. The future is in providing services that then materialise in products, instead of the other way round. Products that are used and reused time and time again.” These are the words of First Vice president of the European Commission Frans Timmerman, at one of the “defining moments” in the development of a circular economy in the EU. While the EU has made progress with Green Public Procurement (GPP), the adoption of circular economy business models has been slow, despite proven performance. But product-service systems (PSS) or product as a service (PaaS) could be key to the transition to a service-based economy and public procurement can play a key role as enabler of this transition.


The ‘performance economy’,

Was developed by Walter Stahel in the 1970s, who insisted on the importance of selling services rather than products. Via his method, “manufacturers can retain greater control over the items they produce and the embodied energy and materials, thus enabling better maintenance, reconditioning and recovery. Customers benefit too, as they only pay for the service they require and use, and often receive a better service as the manufacturer has a greater interest in providing a product that lasts.”


New business models

To ensure circularity will require cooperation of product life-extension, recovery and recycling and product-as-a-service business models. Although not by definition sustainable, by leasing or paying for a service instead of paying for the product outright, customers can pay per use, while ownership and life cycle costs of a product remain with the producer, setting incentives for resource efficiency along the complete life cycle. The energy embedded in the products at production is retained at the highest possible level.


WEEE and PaaS

Incorporating PaaS, e.g. for lighting, into the public procurement framework holds great potential for minimising waste, especially E-waste. Where eco-design and circular economy directive requirements can be costly in terms of collection and regulation for producers, Danish research suggests that Product-as-a-Service and Product Life-Extension are particularly relevant concepts to improve value chain performance, resource efficiency and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive compliance while at the same time offering an attractive commercial potential. They can, at least in part, support ecodesign, WEEE prevention, re-use and help official collection systems to better compete with the unregistered WEEE collection channels.


IoT to maximise efficiency

The company Bundles employs Internet of things (IoT) to turn use of appliances into a service, reusing materials to make new appliances to avoid creating waste. Starting with washing machines, they supply a plug measuring energy use which gives feedback on how to use it more efficiently. “What is actually innovative and really new to this economic model is the way different people, parties and institutes collaborate to deliver a whole different experience to the consumer which much less impact on the future of our planet.” says Marcel Peters, CEO.


Lighting as a service

A collaboration between Philips and Turntoo is a showcase for the pioneering ‘pay-per-lux’ model. Philips created a purpose built minimalist LED light plan that maximised use of a building’s natural sunlight while minimising costs. With a combined sensor and controller system dimming or brightening lighting in response to motion or daylight, the bespoke, intelligent lighting system can supposedly cut energy bills by 30-40%. Furthermore, by moving to a model in which the light provider maintains ownership of the materials, the client benefits from maintenance and service, as well as the option to adapt or upgrade the setup, with the manufacturer able to recover the materials when necessary.


Designing for disassembly

Brummen town hall in The Netherlands was looking for a temporary construction with a consistent use of reusable and renewable high-quality construction materials. “The first building in the world conceptualised as a raw materials depot”, their contractual approach guarantees circularity at the end of the intended use period. Minimal concrete and prefabricated wooden components mean over 90% of the materials can be easily dismantled and reused. Price and sustainability were placed on par during the procurement process.


Considerations and conclusions

Along with a clear vision/ objectives, inserting life cycle costing, extensive dialogue during tendering process and training on performance based (functional) specifications, a  UNEP report, co-authored by ICLEI Local Governements for Sustainability, suggests payment in terms to ensure service performance. PaaS is new, and may need more research, but holds much potential to decouple consumption from economic growth, by meeting needs with lower material and energy requirements.

 

StorylineInterview

Stopping Single Use Plastic: Interview with Zero Waste Europe

23 April 2019

Plastic production is rising. With single use bans and consumer boycotts simultaneously spreading, have increased awareness and action made a dent in the industry’s activities? How can we further reduce its use and ensure replacements alternatives are indeed more sustainable? We speak to Zero Waste Europe to hear their opinion.


Reusable revolution

While affordable alternatives to plastic are vital, the priority must remain to reduce packaging overall. A long term solution is needed to determine an EU-wide target for a minimum share of reusable packaging, along with the promotion of refillable, reusable food containers. Tap water can be 900 times more eco friendly than bottled for example, as capitalised upon by Copenhagen’s multiple mapped drinking fountains.

Zero Waste Europe’s Larissa Copello cites deposit return (DRS) and reusable schemes already in place in Germany - Recup and Freiburg cup rolled out across the entire municipality to slash the 12 million empty cups wasted per year, as well as for takeaway food containers such as ReCircle Switzerland. “These are two models we like to promote. In these areas there is no single use plastic ban, only an obligation to reduce. We don’t want to see certain single use items being replaced by others. We want a system change. New alternative business models. Local reuse schemes are going to keep growing in cities.” As part of the UrbanWINS project, the city of Sabadell similarly piloted a rental scheme for tableware. The city purchased tableware for associations and civil society organisations to rent when organising events. This way, the organisations do not need to buy single use items and avoid having to invest themselves.


Alternative materials

Zero Waste Europe have advocated cardboard as well as mycelium, a mushroom-based material, for necessary packaging. Compostable options include mycofoam and mycoboard grown from agricultural waste. But what about bioplastics? Bio-based approaches are associated with complications and greenwashing, including competition of biobased feedstock with the food supply and difficulty of recycling. Composed from renewable feedstocks such as wood, straw, sugar, maize, cassava, algae or biowaste (‘biomass’ as an umbrella term), biobased and compostable materials present a “partial solution”. Used where necessary, bioplastics like PEF, a biopolymer made from plant-based sugars can have preferable properties to PET (polyester used in plastic bottles) and be recycled together with PET, depending on the recycling infrastructure. Some bioplastics can reportedly be broken down by soil particles or don’t use land or water at all. But most still need specific conditions and facilities and time to break down, further complicating recycling, and can leave behind toxic residue, for example oxo-degradable plastics.

That said, bioplastics may can be relevant for specific applications such as organic waste. A household food waste collection system using compostable bags was introduced in Milan, Italy at the same time as a plastic bag ban. This drastically decreased contamination of non-compostable materials, while organic collection rates tripled from 28 to 95 kg per person, creating more compost for farmers. Elsewhere in Italy, reusable nappies have replaced plastic ones in private and public nurseries in Bologna.

 

Alternatives to the alternatives

Economic incentives like taxing virgin plastic and plastic bag fees tackle the source of the problem, says Copello. The European Commission is creating guidance on EPR¹ (extended producer responsibility) to enable producers to produce more sustainably. “Producers should pay more if comprised of composite materials and/or added chemicals, less if fully recyclable, none if reusable.” she suggests.

Such economic instruments a) reward the uptake of recycled plastics and favour reuse and recycling over landfilling or incineration and b) step up and improve separation and collection of plastics waste. Voluntary commitments also encourage the uptake of recycled plastics, however work must be done to ensure demand meets supply, with an expected supply of over 10 million tonnes (the EC aims) exceeding 6 million tonnes in demand by 2021. Public procurement could greatly fuel this by purchasing recycled plastic goods, and encouraging supply chain/ manufacturers and the public via recycled content labels, while sharing best practises for recycling, the OECD states. Meanwhile, Britain plans to tax manufacturers producing less than 30% recycled plastic packaging. And Norway recently adopted a system in which single-use plastic bottles producers pay an “environmental levy” that declines as the return rate for their products rises. The bottles must be easily recyclable, clear or blue in colour, without toxic additives, and water-soluble labels. While well-designed deposit refund schemes (DRS) and extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies can recover the costs of waste management. However, voluntary agreements may be more effective than obligatory ecodesign regulation.


Is it enough?

Copello points out several European Commission directive objectives that have unfortunately been weakened, and deadlines postponed. For example, 90% separation of bottles was delayed from 2025 to 2029, enforcement of EPR regulation from 2021 to 2024 and labelling of environmental impact of (plastic filters in) tobacco products to 2023: “the single use plastic directive is a good first step but definitely not enough. Plastic pollution is a multi-dimensional problem. Starting with the most visible items is great… but the directive does not address the production, it addresses only some items.” “To ensure effective use of plastics, they need to be reusable. But instead of reducing, we need to stop producing…” Copello concludes.

 

1 Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products. Assigning such responsibility may provide incentives to prevent waste at the source, promote product design for the environment and support the achievement of public recycling and materials management goals. (OECD)

Report

Ban the bag: the most effective way to beat plastic pollution?

10 April 2019

The UN has labelled it among the “most effective” ways to beat pollution. Over 112 countries, states and cities worldwide have already imposed bans on various single-use plastic goods. Of these measures, 57 are national and 25 are in Africa. And they’re on the rise. Frontrunner Kenya has set the bar for drastic change after banning plastic bags. After the recent EU-wide ban on single-use items from 2021, the UN Environment Conference in March 2019 pledged a somewhat softer “significant reduction” in single-use. Much to the protests of environmental groups, given that current plastic production levels (300 million tonnes per annum) are set to double in the next 20 years, according to industry experts. Especially with oil giants like ExxonMobile and Shell investing billions in petrochemicals.

Stop sucking

With China’s refusal of waste calling overdue attention to the global glut of waste, and the collect-sort-export model no longer possible, why stop at straws and not ban single-use altogether? Moreover, how can the challenges in sourcing alternatives be addressed, and are they actually more sustainable?

Labels and loopholes

The EU recently banned the ten single-use plastics most often found on Europe's beaches and seas: cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers, lightweight plastic bags, polystyrene food and drink containers, and ‘oxo-degradable’ plastic products, which will all have to be made from more sustainable materials instead. It has been argued however that their proposed definition of ‘single-use’ plastic items is too narrow, and could lead to producers easily avoiding bans by marketing disposable goods as reusable. The replacement of lightweight plastic bags with thicker ones also has its downfalls.

Benefits of the ban

UNEP estimated that good management of plastic could save consumer goods companies up to €3.5bn per year. Progressive systems designed to avoid or manage beverage packaging and take-away food, such as deposit and return systems and reusable coffee cups create more jobs than their single-use equivalents, and also incentivise alternatives.

Case study: Kenya

Local sellers have struggled due to the expense and inconvenience of using compostable bags or bowls made of renewable materials. Yet Kenya, who now imposes stiff punishments on violators, including jail time and fines of up to €34,000, “have achieved more in six months than in the previous five years,” said Samuel Matonda of the Kenyan manufacturers association, placing the country especially well to take a lead at the U.N. General Assembly in calling for talks on stemming the tide of plastic pollution.

Progress to abate the plastic plague

With the EU Plastics Strategy adopted in January 2018 a new model of the plastic supply chain system is sorely needed. And as much public consultation as possible to ensure a smooth transition through any ban to implementation, ideally aligned with international agreements.

The UrbanWINS project, a three year EU funded project, showcases how the public can be involved in these crucial decisions. The project piloted the concept of ‘Urban Agoras’, a series of physical gatherings of local citizens designed to reach a consensus on what needs to happen to fight waste. Seven European cities have developed three pilot actions each in the framework of these agoras. They are citizen driven initiatives, that support each city in reaching a circular economy.  

Banning plastic bags is a big win, but it’s just the beginning. Coming up next, we’ll take a deeper dive into feasible alternatives that will help turn off the plastic tap.

Report

Tokyo Trash Bar: designed to make people think as they drink

29 March 2019

Welcome to the Gomi-Pit bar. Based at Musashino Clean Center, a waste treatment facility located in the City of Musashino, Tokyo Metropolis (Japan), this is a place where you can taste local delicacies —  beer and cocktails made using honey-soaked mushrooms or locally harvested vegetables — while taking in the sight of waste being sorted and prepared for incineration.

Combining entertainment and education

It’s a process that resembles an elaborate dance, with cranes dumping, crushing and eventually burning trash to transform the waste into ash used for cement and tiles. Through this strange experience, the waste management facility aims to entertain, while raising awareness and creating a community around conscious consumption.   

“It’s surprising how much garbage is thrown away just in Musashino… It makes me think I need to do more to reduce trash at home” said local nursery school teacher Miki Takara.

In 2017, the Clean Center burned some 2.81 million tons of waste. Having resolved to make a dent in the amount of waste the city of Musashino produces, a large proportion of waste, with the exception of cans, glass and plastic bottles, is since collected for a fee. Like other areas of Japan, residents and firms in the city must also purchase special bags in which they dispose of garbage to have it collected.

Connecting the world to their waste

In an industry where strong NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard) sentiment has reigned whereby waste and heavy industry have faced strong opposition in local residential areas, it is symbolic that people agreed to the Clean Center being located right in town. Due in part to its social value and transparency, in the years since its opening in 2017, some 23,000 people visited the plant, and were shocked at what they saw:

“That garbage must be piled up somewhere, which means that for them it’s a kind of negative legacy from our generation” said Ayana Seki, an official with the local environmental department.

Witnessing the intricacies of the waste separation process incites empathy: “if we throw something away mistakenly, it may not get collected,” Ryota Kishii, an employee whose business has take up strict regulation, said. “When you watch how the garbage is processed, you get a better awareness of how waste is divided up, and watching those who work there makes you realize that you cause them trouble” if you incorrectly dispose of waste.       

Scaling up

Former adviser to the Environment Ministry of Japan Suzuki said that Musashino, which has already proven successful in engaging the public about the issue of waste management, could serve as a model for other waste disposal site operators. He also emphasised the importance of reaching out to the public through more frequently visited places such as medical institutions and schools.

Musashino may be a niche example, but underlines the importance of a holistic way of thinking, honesty and transparency that call into question our legacy, educate the population and include the next generation.

See more here and here.

Report

Circular secrets from one of the world’s most sustainable cities, Copenhagen.

22 March 2019

Copenhagen plans to become the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025. But though seen to be so "green”, as a country Denmark happens to be first in Europe for producing household waste, with an increase in municipal waste in the last decade. In the face of ever more ambitious European legislation to reduce waste, what progress has the city made?


Ambitious aims

With a purchasing power of €1.5bn each year, the city of Copenhagen is part of Danish national and European wide initiatives on Sustainable public procurement. The Danish “Forum for Sustainable Procurement” and “Partnership on Green Public Procurement” promote a circular production and consumption paradigm, aligning with the UN Global Compact, OECD guidelines and SDGs. Not least Objective 12: responsible consumption and production to achieve CO₂ neutral status by 2025, but also zero waste status by 2050. On a European scale, the city is a participant in the European Procura+ Network for Sustainable Procurement. All under the umbrella of co-creating a liveable city.


Waste as a resource

Since the 90s, the gradual development of a comprehensive Danish regulatory framework for waste handling has reframed waste to harness its potential as a resource. Increased international involvement, especially from the EU have helped achieve high recycling rates and minimise landfill, mainly by increasing separation of household organic waste, now at 72%, to be turned into biogas or fertiliser. Repair cafes and Fablabs also offer a way to reuse goods.


The building and construction industry, which makes up 35% waste overall and over one third of the city’s CO2 emissions, has some of the largest circular economy potential. Solutions include (an open platform for) reusing materials in building, recycled roofing to make roads (the “roof to road” project) and other materials recycling stations, with obligatory waste handling plans before any construction project commences. Meanwhile designing for disassembly creates highly flexible buildings that are faster to construct and optimise operation and maintenance.


Regulation and communication

The city of Copenhagen wants to put its purchasing power to good use. To encourage circular procurement, considerations of total cost of ownership including disposal and potential future use ensure more resource-efficient products and financial savings in the long run. Within regulation, including the EU directives on public procurement criteria promoting efficiency of use also exist, for instance suggesting that the procurer ask how the supplier promotes the reuse of devices (e.g. for ICT). In addition, a requirement that guidance will be given on the efficient usage and disposal of goods is suggested for many product groups. To ensure close cooperation between the person responsible for the procurement and an employee with environmental expertise during the tendering process, an environmental expert is a compulsory member of any working group in the city of Copenhagen.


Public-private Partnerships

Digitising purchasing processes and using e-commerce to improve efficiency, transparency and collaboration are key. Alongside partnerships with other municipalities, important public-private partnerships have included packaging deposit-return schemes - at Tivoli theme park - set to spread to events across the city. 30 different partnerships since 2014 have secured new data on air pollution, traffic patterns and waste, for instance. Copenhagen Solutions Lab for instance, with Cisco, is a live test area for various types of smart city solutions, serving to share data and drive further innovation.


Progress is promising. But change needs to happen fast if the city of Copenhagen wants to be not only a CO2 reduction but also a zero waste champion.

Report

Product Stewardship to rethink recycling of e-waste

14 March 2019

The United Nations have called it a tsunami. Others have highlighted its value, which exceeds the annual GDP of over 120 countries. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals were even made from it. Now at 50 million tonnes each year, left unchecked this ever growing pile of global e-waste could more than double to 120 million tonnes by 2050.


One man’s trash; another man’s treasure                   

Whilst there is great value to be obtained from e-waste, not to mention substantially lower CO2 emissions from mining raw materials/ rare minerals, currently only 20% is recycled. The cost and knowhow remain a challenge.


The solution to pollution: collaboration

A circular economy for electronics could reduce the costs for consumers by 7% by 2030 and 14% by 2040 (Ellen MacArthur). As always, collaboration is key, which is why researchers and SDU life-cycle centre in Denmark are building a knowledge platform for the circular economy and the management of end-of-life electrical and electronics products called the E-circle network. All interested parties will be able to obtain help and inspiration about recycling and reusing electronic devices, from “manufacturers’ drawings and data about the materials to companies that buy up discarded electrical goods to take them apart for recycling who could be informed what materials were valuable,” The platform will also enable designers and manufacturers to learn how they could change their designs to make them more recyclable when they no longer work.


Rethink recycling: product stewardship

In addition to shared knowledge and increased transparency, assigning responsibility to producers is key. China State Council has established the Producer Responsibility Extension System Implementation Program ("PRE Program") which sets ambitious targets including sourcing 20% of materials for new electronic products from recycled content and recycling 50% of all e-waste by 2025, moving towards a circular e-economy.

Such stewardships systems mean goods producers are given responsibility for the end life of the product. Australia, for example, currently operates under a mandatory product stewardship scheme and electronics businesses must contribute to recycling infrastructure to ensure that 90% of all e-waste is recycled. Victoria announced a $16.5m scheme to develop 130 electronic waste collection sites, ahead of a ban on e-waste in landfill in 2018. The funding includes $1.5m for a consumer education program to reduce e-waste or avoid it altogether.

With such schemes, 2019 could and should cause a shift to realise their potential.    

Report

Tackling food waste at the urban level

27 February 2019

In the European Union (EU), around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros. According to the FAO, up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it reaches the consumer. This food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain.

Wasted food is not only an ethical problem, but also has negative environmental impacts. Food production is one of the major contributors to climate change, it consumes large amounts of water and contributes to soil depletion. Production of food that never gets eaten exacerbates these issues in vain. On the other end, organic waste makes up about half of municipal waste in the EU. All the while poor households still struggle to afford healthy meals. 

When talking about food waste, we need to distinguish avoidable and unavoidable food waste and losses. Produce that spoiled, or is thrown out due to overproduction or for aesthetic reasons is considered avoidable, whereas waste associated with food production that cannot be used for human consumption, such as husks in grain milling is unavoidable food waste. This category of organic waste can still be used for other purposes such as compost or biogas, but not for human consumption.

It is the avoidable food waste, which makes up about 30% of food waste and loss, that policy makers  need to tackle.  Contrary to common belief, food production and processing industries – not the end consumer – contribute the largest share of avoidable food waste and losses. Cities can play an important role in addressing these stakeholders and effectively reduce food waste.

A public school canteen in Belgium has managed to cut their food waste from about 30% to only 10% of food prepared and served in the canteen. As part of the ambitious programme, the canteen operators weigh the occurring food waste every day and make adjustments to meal plans.

Together with citizens and stakeholders, the UrbanWINS project pilot cities Cremona (Italy), Leiria (Portugal) and Sabadell (Spain) are developing local pilot actions that seek to eliminate food waste. Among the initiatives, Cremona has started a “last minute market” for recovered and donated food surpluses and expiring products, which will also contribute to social solidarity.

The Portuguese city of Leiria is developing a guide for food waste reduction addressing restaurants, canteens, bars, catering services and citizens. And Sabadell has kicked-off a programme of activities to raise awareness on the topic. So far, they have conducted some talks at schools, organised “cooking with leftovers” workshops and are planning a popular “gleaning” – a collection of leftover fruits, vegetables and crops.

Representatives from the three cities will share their experiences in tackling food waste in an upcoming webinar, Tuesday 12 March 11.00-12.30, organised by the UrbanWINS project.

They will also be joined by a speaker from FoodWIN , who will present the networks views on the importance of fighting food waste.

To register to the webinar, click here.

 

Analysis

Modelling the Urban Metabolism for Circular Cities

22 February 2019

Becoming Circular is an important goal for cities worldwide. And it is promising. A circular economy could put an end to resource exploitation without halting global production.

But to get to that place, a deep understanding of current resource flows is necessary. Traceable data about most material stocks and flows is still scarce. This limits policy makers’ leverage to design new policies and hinders industry from reusing materials efficiently.

The UrbanWINS project sees cities as living organisms that eat, digest, and dispose of materials. It seeks to understand the process whereby resources enter, stay, and leave the system.

A key tool to reach this level of understanding is the Urban Metabolism Analyst (UMAn) model. It is a method of material flow accounting that allows decision makers to investigate the relationship between the economy, policies, lifestyles, and flows of resources. It helps to implement more efficient and targeted waste management and prevention tools – eventually transitioning to an advanced circular economy.

For this edition of Sector Watch, we have spoken to researcher Leonardo Rosado of Chalmers University (Gothenburg, Sweden) about the potential of analysing material flows on a city and regional level.

The UMAn model is a powerful tool to support cities and regions in the transition towards a circular economy. It is a holistic model of material stocks and flows that accounts for all product and material categories that enter, stay, and leave the urban system. Its power lays in the comprehensiveness that this overview provides to decision makers.

The model combines analysis of stocks and flows. The flow analysis provides insight into material consumption over time, which allows for comparisons and shows trends in material consumption. The stocks analysis shows which materials remain in the urban system – accumulating and eventually becoming so called waste in the future.

The UMAn model is about more than just waste. It addresses the broader topic of material consumption and therefore allows for active interventions rather than reactive waste management.

This can be achieved by modelling various future scenarios, which show the impacts of different waste management and prevention policies. Combined with environmental impact data on the materials that are tracked in the model, it can reveal hotspots in the environmental impacts of a city, identifying the most problematic product categories.

Results

As part of the UrbanWINS project, the UMAn model is used to research material stocks and flows of several cities. The results point to priority areas for intervention in the region. The analysis of the material flows in for instance the city of Leiria has successfully identified the top product groups and materials in circulation in the city.

Agricultural products such as straws and husks, maize and corn produced in the livestock industry and construction materials are among the biggest consumed products. These product types offer circular opportunities. By-products from straws and husks can be used to improve the nutrient level of the soil. Waste biomass can be converted to energy using the maize waste, and sands and other building materials can be used for new construction works. The City of Zurich is an inspiring example of how the construction and demolition waste can be used in new building material.

Challenges ahead

The UMAn model is designed to account for every conceivable product, which is a strength and a weakness since often the required data is either not available or it is confidential.

The fact that the model examines at the city level is another two sided coin: it allows for precise insight on the one hand, but on the other, the boundaries of a city are not as clear cut, and often it is more useful to look at regions.

Analysing the resource flow of a city with the UMAn model is just a starting point. The results need to be translated into solutions, such as sustainable procurement or urban planning tools and the model in turn can be applied to evaluate their success.

To learn more about the UMAn model and how you can apply it on your city join us at the UrbanWINS final conference in Brussels on April 4, 2019. For more information on this full day conference dedicated to the urban metabolism and local action for a circular economy click here.