SECTOR WATCH 

Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste

SECTOR WATCH SEARCH RESULTS ( 1 - 3 from 3 )

Report

Plastic Waste: Global Solutions to a Global Problem

5 December 2018

The last two editions of Sector Watch have looked into policy developments and practice examples to deal with what some have termed the plastic waste crisis. But oceans do not respect country borders and plastic pollution is a global issue.

While Europeans are amongst the biggest plastic waste generators on the planet, in 2010, Europe and Central Asia combined only contributed 3,6% to global marine plastic litter. This is thanks to comparatively well managed waste disposal.

But 79% of global plastic is still accumulated in landfills or the environment, including the oceans.

And Europe is not exempt from responsibility in tackling the global marine litter problem. It hit the news last year when China refused to accept any more plastic waste exports: After 25 years as the world’s salvage king, China refused to buy any recycled plastic scrap that wasn’t 99.5 percent pure. And Thailand was quick to follow this October. This development sheds light on a key problem in European waste management: Plastic waste is a global issue and the fact that countries can get paid to accept plastic and other forms of waste poses a huge problem which the EU strategies to curb the plastics issue only partially address. Countries willing to take waste for cheap expose themselves to higher risks of pollution, particularly when they lack the capacity to treat plastic waste properly.

"East and West are inextricably connected by their plastic trash, as wealthy nations sell their recycled plastic scrap to Asia for the simple fact it’s easier to ship it around the world than process it at home." (National Geographic)

South-East Asian countries are among the biggest contributors to marine litter. It is also these countries that import the largest share of recyclable waste, including from EU countries. If the EU wants to address marine litter beyond its borders it needs to enforce strict waste treatment practices when exporting waste to countries at high risk of waste mismanagement.

Plastic waste: moving to solutions

Activists and policy makers alike have argued that waste treatment and recovery solutions are just the start of a comprehensive waste management strategy that tackles plastic waste globally. More efforts need to be focused on the source of plastic waste: packaging material and single-use items such as the ones banned by the EU.

Procura+ participant City of Oslo supports this stance: It is one of the first to completely phase out unnecessary single-use plastic. And the Mayor, Raymond Johansen, calls on the EU to take the next step and shift more responsibility to the industry through extended producer responsibility schemes, sharing the cost of cleaning up litter and to raise awareness. Industry stakeholders need to share knowledge about what is required for a product to be recyclable to get the design solutions that allow for high quality recycling, says the Mayor.

There are some inspiring examples out there showing that recycling can be profitable and environmentally sound. The Dutch company CeDo has combined a recycling business with a plastic bottle manufacturing line. The recycling arm of their operations is directly linked to the manufacturing end, closing the loop of the plastics value chain, a process that previously has been thought to be impossible.

The European Parliament seems to be on board: the ENVI committee (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) of the parliament proposed to direct EU funding to higher waste hierarchy options – waste prevention, reuse and recycling – to help member states advance towards a Circular Economy, while excluding funding for residual waste treatment facilities, e.g. waste incineration and Mechanical Biological Treatment.

While the policy world is slowly but steadily moving toward a plastic litter free world, others are taking on the task of removing the damage done: The Ocean Clean Up, a project seeking to remove plastics from marine environments without harming them, has launched its operations in the Pacific this October. So far, the newly developed technology seems to be highly successful. Hopefully, it will not have to run for too long.

Report

MEPs agree to ban single-use plastic items

21 November 2018

Plastic waste and marine litter are major environmental hazard that requires political action as pointed out in the last edition of Sector Watch.

EU policy makers have long looked to address the issue of plastic waste on multiple fronts. In what was celebrated as a major success, EU parliamentarians (MEPs) have recently approved a bill that bans various kinds of single-use plastics. The ban will have to be adopted by member states as of 2021. It covers plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks. These items were chosen because of readily available alternatives such as paper straws and cardboard containers. The new regulation also requires member states to reduce plastic items that have no alternatives by 25% by 2025.

The bill is part of a larger scale EU initiative to tackle the issue of plastic waste. The EU strategy for plastics in the circular economy, adopted in 2017, seeks to introduce a holistic approach. Among others, it requires that all plastic packaging put on the market is either reusable or recyclable by 2030.

So why are plastic bans necessary when top-notch recycling practices are implemented? Practice has shown that despite all efforts to recycle plastics, several issues are not solvable by better recycling: some items are highly likely to end up in the environment, they are used outside, taken by the wind, forgotten. Recyclable and reusable, after all, does not mean that all plastics are actually recycled or reused. The move to straight up ban certain single-use plastic products could even improve recycling rates – the less waste there is to treat, the more of it can be treated properly in recycling facilities.  On top, recycling of plastics, depending on the type of plastic, still means down-cycling: The process hampers the quality of the product and can only be repeated a few times until the material is not recyclable anymore.

Within a circular economy, the priority is always to reduce material use, before recycling it.  A future looking circular strategy thus not only improves recycling practices, it also reduces the need to recycle at all.

The European project CIRCPACK is one example of how this could be achieved in practice. In three demonstration cases, it shows how plastic packaging waste could be reduced and transformed into a resource. For the first case, new bio-based polyesters are developed that have the potential to replace fossil based materials. The second case looks into eco-friendly packaging design that requires little material input put offers the same qualities as regular packaging does. And finally, the project also develops and enhances sorting and recycling practices to improve the reuse rate of recycled material and this way keep them in the loop longer.

Improving materials and their use is just one dimension of a comprehensive circular strategy. UrbanWINS, a European project that develops and tests innovative waste management and prevention methods, looks at the Urban Metabolism of cities. This helps to understand waste streams and to prevent or turn them into resources wherever possible. To learn more about the pilot actions that are implemented as part of UrbanWINS, go to the project website.

In the coming edition of Sector Watch, we will take a look a global perspective on the plastic waste problem. Stay tuned.

Report

A Circular Economy for Plastics

15 November 2018

The tides are turning for plastics and with them marine litter and plastic pollution will hopefully vanish. From the first image of a turtle squeezing its shell into a fishing net to recent news of microplastics found in human poop, the issue of plastic pollution is looking dire.

Plastic is not per se an evil material. It is highly flexible, stable, and durable, while also cheap in production. It can be used for a wide range of purposes, from light weight vehicles to prostheses. But its longevity is blessing and curse: Plastic items left to their own devices in the environment tend to stick around for up to 400 years.

Experts estimate that the total amount of marine litter might be as high as hundred million tonnes, crumpling into ever smaller pieces of non-biodegradable micro beads, entering marine life’s food chains with toxic and harmful effects.

A lot is happening in the EU to tackle the issue. And two EU stories hit the news recently: The EU bans single-use plastic items from 2021 while 14 EU member states are lagging behind on meeting the recycling target. For a small Sector Watch series on plastics we look into these developments in plastic waste management, what has been achieved and what still needs to happen to implement a successful circular plastics chain and to once and for all stop plastics from entering the oceans.

In May this year, European Member states approved a set of ambitious measures paving the way toward a more circular economy: By 2020, all EU member states have to reach recycling rates of at least 50% of household waste, 55% by 2025, and 65% by 2035. For packaging waste, a target of 70% recycling by 2035 has been set. Household waste only makes up for 10% of waste generated in the EU, however, it is one of the most complex sources of waste in terms of management and hence a major contributor to landfills. Landfills are the least desirable option for managing waste as they come with a range of associated adverse environmental and public health impacts.

And while some EU countries are well on track to meeting this goal, a recent report issues early warnings: 14 members states are at risk of failing to meet this target. The early warning report urges policymakers in the respective countries to step up their game in municipal waste recycling.

The UrbanWINS project's pilot actions show the way on how to tackle the recycling issue on a local level, involving citizens in the solution finding process. The City of Bucharest is testing a promotional tool for separate collection of waste generated during public events. These events usually generate tons of waste and separate collection could lead to recycling rates of up to 75%. And the City of Cremona is piloting household waste disposal charges that raise with the amount of waste disposed as to incentivise recycling on a household level.

Public procurement of innovation can stimulate higher recycling rates as well as high quality material recovery. This has been shown during the PPI4Waste project where a group of public authorities procured eco-innovative waste management solutions. Cooperation between the authorities helped them to better formulate their tenders and find the solutions they were looking for. More guidance material for public bodies on how to stimulate innovation in their waste management can be found here.

Stay tuned for the next Sector Watch which will look at another way of dealing with plastic waste: banning single use plastic.