Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste



Don’t lose the thread – new technologies to make textiles circular

17 July 2019

Fast fashion is in the way of the transition to a circular economy – in a recent report the British organization WRAP estimated that around £140-million (€ 163 million) worth of clothing is sent to landfill every year in the UK alone. causing CO2 emissions, resource depletion, and pollution, in the production process as well as in the disposal stage.

In a past edition of Sector Watch, we have reported about the Dutch waste management organization Circulus Berkel and their recently opened textile sorting facility that has a strong focus on the sustainable and social reuse and recycling of textiles.

In the interview, Michiel Westerhoff, director of Circulus Berkel, stresses one of the major challenges for the textile sector to become sustainable and circular: Textiles today are not produced for recycling. They contain a mix of synthetic and organic materials, such a polyester and cotton, which improves wearing comfort but makes the material hard to recycle.

The use of polyester in the textile industry has risen from 8.3 million tonnes to 21.3 million, which equals a rise of 175%. These numbers illustrate how crucial it has become for the textile industry to develop better recycling techniques. Most of the mixed material products are still going to landfill or incineration, burdening the environment while becoming unavailable as a new resource.

Innovations in the textile industry are on the way to change this problem and to come up with recycling technologies that allow businesses, including SMEs, to recycle mixed material textiles.

The ‘Tex2Mat’ project is developing a technology that makes use of an enzymatic process, combining mechanic and biochemical separation techniques. The process separates the polyester based components of the textiles from the cellulose, cotton based components. The goal is to make the polyester available for reuse in the textile industry at high quality levels.

Other projects, such as the Relooping Fashion project, have developed techniques to recover the cellulose used in cotton based textiles and reuse it for new textiles while maintaining the quality of the material.

London based startup Worn again technologies has also developed a recycling process that recovers polymers from polyester based textiles. As the company claims, with this technology they are able to separate, decontaminate and extract polyester polymers and cellulose (from cotton) from non-reusable textiles and make them ready to be reused in textile production.

In true circular economy fashion, recycling textiles must come second to designing them to last, reducing overall consumption, and to improving reusability before recyclability. But until all fashion follows these principles, promising recycling techniques can help to recover material that would otherwise get lost in landfills and incinerators.


Climate killer plastic?

2 July 2019

It is beyond clear that we need to address climate change at a global scale. Many have criticized that the transition to a circular economy requires large amounts of energy – the emissions of which cancel out environmental gains of reducing resource consumption and waste. Are waste reduction and the fight against the climate crisis competing goals – or maybe even best allies?

Landfilling and open dumping of solid household waste are associated with the highest amount of GHG emissions due to anaerobic digestion of organic material. This methane released is one of the most potent climate greenhouse gasses and reducing it is paramount to fighting GHG emissions in the waste sector. For this reason, many countries have or will phase out landfilling entirely.

With organic matter a well-known culprit, what about other sources of waste? The adverse impacts of plastic pollution have been discussed at length and public awareness about the issue is rising together with some tangible action from politics and the economy. The effect of plastic on the climate is far less obvious to many.

A recent study by scholar from UC Santa Barbara on plastic’s carbon footprint has shed light on this question.  All in all, the emissions from plastics in 2015 were equivalent to nearly 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2. Over half of the CO2 emissions in the plastic life cycle are related to emission during production. A total switch to renewable energy sources during the entire production process would result in a 51% reduction of GHG emissions in the plastic production chain.

When looking forward, global waste is expected to grow to 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050, more than double population growth over the same period. Daily per capita waste generation in high-income countries is projected to increase by 19 percent by 2050, compared to low- and middle-income countries where it is expected to increase by approximately 40% or more. With these numbers in mind, it is clear that waste generation needs to be tackled at the source, but GHG emission need to become a priority along the entire value chain, with recycling posing only a suboptimal solution in terms of GHG emissions.


Take a tour around Copenhagen's (in)famous incinerator

18 June 2019

Adorned with a ski slope, the Amager Resource Centre (ARC) cuts an imposing figure just outside the centre of the city of Copenhagen (Denmark) itself. The new facility is one of the world’s greatest capacity incinerator in Europe, and one of the world’s most efficient. Aiming to be the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025, the country of Denmark still produces some of the highest rates of municipal waste in Europe at 16 million tonnes; 80% of which is incinerated. How does this fit into a carbon free future? And at a cost of 59 Million Euro, is it a feasible solution to our waste problem more widely? We took a tour with ARC’s Sune Scheibye around the famous landmark to find out.

Part of the city

The incinerator’s design uses recreation to incorporate the €500 million 2-year-old waste centre into the city it powers. “Our focus as a city, as citizens, is all about livability." says Copenhagen Lord Mayor Frank Jensen. The city intends to replace coal with biomass, to upgrade energy inefficient buildings, and to lure even more residents onto bikes and public transit. Not to mention add more wind and solar electricity to the grid, exporting surplus wind electricity to other parts of Denmark to offset Copenhagen's remaining several hundred thousand tons of transportation emissions.  


The cleaning process and recycling pollutants 

Even state-of-the-art incinerators emit dioxins and other harmful pollutants. Here (at the first energy plant in Denmark equipped with a catalyser to remove it) 40m tall scrubbers “take out the NOX emissions (minimised to a tenth of the former plant it replaces) and SO2 (reduced by 99.5%) things you wouldn’t want to emit into the air.” The electric filter removes most of the dust or “fly ash” in the smoke which is used for road construction, while the flue gas cleaning product is landfilled at controlled sites for hazardous waste. 


What about the city’s goal to go CO2 neutral, especially given the high percentage of plastic in imported waste?

While the new plant will increase carbon dioxide emissions by 43% - from 140,000 tons a year to 200,000 tons—ARC says new technologies will make the plant 25% more efficient than the old incinerator. Posing a net benefit to the atmosphere, at least compared to landfill, the process also creates much less potent methane. Poor plastic recycling rates, which present a loss of up to 1.6 billion kroner (€214 million), means more toxic gases being released, although plans have been put forward to raise it by extending the current deposit return scheme. 

Recycling rates: how are they being raised?

While metal recycling rates are exemplary (111%; some imported); plastic recycling remains low, at 15%. Work is being done to raise rates including a small pilot plastic sorting plant next to the incinerator built in 2017 and the introduction of EPR (extended producer responsibility). But the separation of contaminated, multi-composite containers remains an issue. “People are sorting waste at home more, but a lot of it comes down to production, where you produce too many different types,” says Sune.

Does the overcapacity of the new incinerator create a conflict of interest with the European Commission’s plans to achieve zero waste? Aside from importing waste from Europe e.g. the UK, how is it dealt with?

Imported waste is not necessarily reported. Currently, 40% of imported waste comes from the UK for one, where it would otherwise be landfilled. “This plant will be here for the next 30 years, so you’d rather have overcapacity than too little. We’re producing heat and electricity from the waste which we’d otherwise have to get from fossil fuels. [Using renewables] is not possible 100% of the time. Geothermal energy for instance can only provide a small amount. It would be great if we could have only renewable energy, but we need to be pragmatic and realistic about it. Until then, this is the better option. Instead of depending on the regimes of coal, oil or gas producing countries - Russia, Ukraine etc. we can keep it [...] here in Copenhagen.”

Do you have insight into product stewardship and/or total cost of ownership throughout the life cycle of products to ensure circularity?

“Not within our business. We’re managing the waste people produce. We’d like to see people sort it more. But producers need to make smarter products, in essence. We’d like to incinerate as little as possible. We’re actually working towards not incinerating anything. But there is waste that cannot be recycled.” Several Danish waste incinerators have though in recent years actively involved life cycle assessment (LCA) modelling, including world-leading assessment model EASEWASTE in collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark.

From symptoms to source

Alongside climate impacts, the question of power, communication with and involvement of the public and feasibility of alternatives to the incinerator and incineration itself have caused controversy. Some argue incineration makes sense in the transition to a sustainable society. Meanwhile, the Regional Development committee of the European Parliament (REGI) proposed to stop burning funds in the form of incineration subsidies. Zero Waste Europe warn “that safeguards are needed to prevent other countries from committing the same mistake [of overinvestment in waste-to-energy facilities]”. Especially since one can obtain 5 times as much energy from recycling, much of the incinerated waste is non-renewable and imported from afar. Taiwan and cities in Spain, Italy and Japan for example have shunned incineration for waste reduction as part of a zero-waste commitment/ strategy, with an emphasis on composting, recycling and disincentivising waste. The jury is out on whether incineration is a necessary and sound solution in the short term transition towards a circular economy or simply legitimises our throwaway culture, distracting from the complete system change that could be possible.


Climate Action and the future of SPP

11 June 2019

Climate emergency

Four years from the Paris agreement and the implications of the need to drive deep decarbonisation are setting in, now discussed by central banks and finance ministries. At the recent Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund, Finance Ministers from more than twenty countries launched a new coalition aimed at driving stronger collective action on climate change and its impacts. How fast can they provide tangible results to drive global green investment? And how will public procurement be affected by the new climate goals, specifically coalition of finance ministers for climate action?

Helsinki Principles

The newly formed Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action endorsed a set of six common principles, known as the “Helsinki Principles,” that promote national climate action, especially through fiscal policy and the use of public finance. The number of countries involved now totals 20 countries, with Costa Rica joining in April 2019. World Bank CEO, Kristalina Georgieva emphasised the crucial role procurement has to play in climate-resilient economy of the future and that the coalition “demonstrates new levels of ambition from decision-makers in the fiscal policy arena and provides an important platform for Finance Ministers to share best practice on the jobs and growth benefits of the new climate economy.”

Green New Deal vs. greed

Facing the reality of the climate emergency will require collaboration of the collective, public and private interests and beyond, to implement the measures required; from putting a price on carbon, to soft and hard adaptation. In Helsinki, where 100% of procurement processes will integrate sustainability by 2020, a network based organisation called KEINO was created to support Finnish public contracting authorities with the development of sustainable and innovative procurement. It is comprised of key stakeholders working towards the objectives set for public procurement across all governmental levels in Finland. It is funded by The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (MEAE), and jointly steered by a conclave of six ministries. A proven way to kickstart the circular economy is to generate demand by launching a ‘green deal’ between the government, cities and companies on green public procurement.” These deals include an accompanying training programme where purchasing managers learn how to procure in a circular way.

Going forward

As Christian Aid's global climate advisor, Dr Kat Kramer urged: "vague incrementalism [...] is too little too late. We need rapid and radical action on climate, not financial risk assessments." Will states avoid or embrace the opportunity to be pioneers in the transition for planet friendly procurement?


World's first zero waste town: Cappanori

6 June 2019

“Capannori, a town of 46,700 inhabitants near Lucca in Tuscany, was set to be just another step in the relentless march of waste incineration in Italy”, according to Zero Waste Europe. With waste overflowing and dumps full after years of mismanagement by the local mafia and with little mention of the environmental impacts and small fraction of the energy incineration managed to capture, the town was virtually convinced by the “incinerator crazed” Northern European model. Until a schoolteacher turned waste management leader, Rossano Ercolini came in. Bringing a trash bag with him to show how the content could be used again, he corralled residents at town hall meetings to discuss alternative ways to deal with their waste. With the help of Dr Paul Connett, a world expert on incineration and Zero Waste, he managed to persuade the town council of Capannori to be the first in Europe to sign up to the Zero Waste Strategy in 2007, committing to sending zero waste to landfill by 2020. Having since managed to reduce landfill by 40% and recycle some 82% of the rest to reach a residual 55kg household waste per capita per annum, they are not far off.

The way to go: pay as you throw

After scrapping the initial incineration plan, the town put Ercolini in charge of ASCIT, the local waste collection corporation. Door-to-door collection was introduced in stages across the municipality between 2005 and 2010, starting with small villages, where any mistakes could be identified and corrected early on, then extended to cover the entire municipal area in 2010. By that time, 82% of municipal waste was separated at source, leaving just 18% of residual waste to go to landfill. In 2012 a number of villages in the municipality became subject to a new ‘Pay As You Throw’ waste tariff, where the frequency of collection per household is measured using microchips in stickers on residual waste bags, scanned by a reader on the collection vehicle. In those areas the new tariff incentivized better separation and prevention, driving local source separation rates up to 90%.

Economically and socially sustainable

Key to Capannori’s success was early and active consultation of residents. Meetings were held in public places so as to ensure openness, transparency and citizens’ involvement. Volunteers delivered sorting kits including bins, bags and information in person, thus ensuring their understanding and improving sorting rates. Savings from expensive landfill and recycling earnings not only made the system self sufficient but actually saved the council over €2 million in 2009 to be reinvested into waste reduction infrastructure.       

Compost spreading success

One of the most successful elements was the composting element of the scheme, which encouraged participants with a reduced tariff for residual waste. Waste management company ASCIT carried out frequent door-to-door collection of organic waste, which is sent to a composting plant in the province. In 2010 public canteens in Capannori were supplied with Joraform composting machines. These local collective composting machines are planned to be distributed to residents, reducing the cost of collecting, transporting and treating organic waste by between 30 and 70%.

World without waste

In 2010 Capannori set up the first Zero Waste Research Centre in Europe, composed of an operative team with industrial designers charged with the task of proposing changes to the design of poorly designed products. These proposals are then sent to the producers responsible for manufacturing toxic and/or non-recyclable and/or non-biodegradable products in order to provide sustainable alternatives. The centre also has a Scientific Committee composed of waste experts, university professors and other technical people to consult. On the experts’ analysis, coffee capsules and conventional plastic nappies dominate the residual  (non-recyclable) waste, leading to a collaboration with coffee companies to work on biodegradable or recyclable alternatives and a subsidised reusable nappy scheme.

Procurement and political nudges

Other initiatives include a campaign to increase consumption of tap water (Italians are Europe’s biggest consumers of bottled mineral water), swapping disposable cutlery and tableware in public buildings for reusables, distributing cloth shopping bags to all 17,800 households and 5,000 to businesses and stocking sanitary products, in addition to reusable nappies in municipal pharmacies. Just a few examples where political nudges in the right direction have lead to increased awareness amongst residents, empowering them to implement virtuous consumption habits.

Changing culture

Record levels of second hand items for reuse at nearby Lammari’s Ecology Island prove that "it is an ethical and ecological principle, a goal and a vision, but above all a culture and a way of engaging communities and spreading information. The aim is to prevent waste by recovering, fixing and lengthening the life of an object. Recycling only comes in when all other options have been exhausted," as Ercoloni asserts.

Setting an example for a circular future

Collaboration and incentivisation were key to the incredible turnaround that in 2013 saw Ercolini win the Goldman prize, the world's foremost environmental award. Going beyond just boosting recycling rates, with local policy makers looking at ways to reduce waste generation at source, and collaborating with experts at their pioneering Zero Waste Research Centre, Capannori reduced from 340 kg per capita per year in 2006 to 146 kg in 2011, a drop of 57%, to reach their current 55kg. Despite its limited resources, compared for instance to a country such as Denmark who stands at 409 kg unseparated waste per capita per year (2011) or perhaps indeed due in large part to its grassroots, community orientated approach, Capannori sets an example to follow for any municipality who wants to shun incineration and advance towards Zero Waste.




How will Zero Waste Scotland step up to the landfill ban?

4 June 2019

It was the first country to declare a climate emergency. And one of its cities plans to become one of the first to reach zero waste status. But with many councils unprepared for its upcoming landfill ban, can Scotland “change the behaviour of people and organisations across Scotland to create a fundamental shift towards a more resource efficient and circular economy.”, as Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) the expert body that delivers the country’s circular economy plan, says will be needed.

The Scottish strategy

According to their first (2016) circular strategy, Making Things Last, two key elements will bring together all sectors and individuals, to work together towards a more circular economy. Producer responsibility - ensuring that end-of-life impacts are fully taken into consideration when goods are placed on the market - “and a food waste reduction target of 33% by 2025, the first such target in Europe, will act as a catalyst for action along the whole supply chain, from farm to plate.”

Landfill no longer

Up until now the “most practical” way to manage the majority of the million tonnes of waste the country produces, the upcoming landfill ban could prove very costly in the short term for councils due to lack of alternative waste management methods. Treatment capacity could be short by between 1.01- 1.28 million tonnes. However, cost impacts could be reduced if waste is minimised and recycling targets of 70% of all waste by 2025 are met, sending no more than 5% to landfill and instead embracing the potential billion Euro opportunity in circular economy.

Procurement possibilities are endless

The Making Things Last strategy identifies four focus areas: manufacturing, construction, energy infrastructure, and food and drink and the wider bioeconomy. An overall emphasis on repair, refurbishment and re-use of devices is set to exploit the potential £130m benefit from processing recyclable materials that would otherwise be exported. The Scottish Materials Brokerage was set up to tackle the fragmented recycled materials market, and provide increased market stability for recycled materials, provide economies of scale by allowing local authorities to pool materials. Amongst the detailed guidance on procuring for Repair, Re-use and Remanufacturing, the Revolve project provides a reuse quality standard for second hand goods. Within food, drink and bioeconomy, the public sector are also trying to phase out the purchasing of non-renewable biological materials, such as peat, which will serve to protect peatlands and help stimulate demand for renewable fertilizer and soil conditioner products from anaerobic digestion and in vessel composting. And the beer, whisky and fish industries also have many circular opportunities to explore including waste and by-products being recycled into animal feed and products like beer made from surplus bread thanks to startups supported by ZWS.

Mentoring and training

ZWS’ procurement work to date has focused on upskilling public and private sector procurement professionals, by raising awareness of sustainable alternatives and enabling measures to embed these into procurement practice. Training, guidance encouraging procurement on lease, re-use or remanufactured basis, and mentoring e.g. relating to contract management, for instance regarding life cycle impact mapping, have proven to be key. An E-learning module by the Scottish Government in collaboration with Zero Waste Scotland helps spread this knowledge.

Excelling in the domestic furniture department

Scotland Excel’s Furniture Framework demonstrates a 360° approach to sustainable procurement. Developed to support furnishing requirements for temporary accommodation, to meet new obligations arising from the Social Welfare Fund (SWF), the framework has unexpectedly become a benchmark for sustainable procurement. And helped councils maximise funding, minimise their administrative costs, and provide a more convenient service to vulnerable members of their communities who require essential domestic goods. Instead of cash payments, goods are supplied, delivered and installed by one company, resulting in a shorter timescale, easier co-ordination and more efficient logistics i.e. a lower carbon footprint. 150 tonnes of waste were also diverted from landfill through recycling initiatives with third sector partners. Winning the Sustainability/Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative of the Year Award at the  at the National Government Opportunities (GO) UK Public Procurement Excellence Awards, Judge Peter Smith, said: “Not many procurement projects can claim to have positive corporate social responsibility effects in terms of everything from job creation to carbon reduction, from supporting [employing] disadvantaged people to reducing waste.”

ICT for circularity

The Scottish Procurement Team’s 2015 frameworks for the supply of ICT client devices used by public sector organisations are a great example of performance-based procurement along circular economy principles. Scottish Procurement prescribed contractors to extend the useful life of workstations and computers. As a result, contractors offered products with modular product design that enabled the reuse of these products, or their components. Contractors were required to include take-back-schemes so that devices or their parts could be re-used and not end up as waste. They were also requested to minimise packaging waste generation, with minimum specifications for recycled content and returnable, reusable options. However, a recent 360° review (framework developers, suppliers and users) undertaken by ZWS, demonstrated that ICT was, still largely being procured in a linear way and the take-back, repair and refurbishment services of the suppliers were underused by public authorities. Cited barriers include limitations of the hardware processing speed of older models & data cleansing requirements.

Incinerating vs. zero wasting

The move to a value-focused, circular society requires a complete cultural shift. One that, Scotland’s zero waste strategy states, puts people first. And avoids “sleepwalking away from recycling and down the incineration route” as local resident and former BBC Scotland environment correspondent, Louise Batchelor, put it and other parts of Europe have succumbed to, despite the strong opposition of campaigners: “We are about to be locked into decades of having to feed incinerators instead of doing something more sensible with our resources,” says Dr Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth, instead of embracing the potential billion Euro circular economy opportunity.


Trash tech: smart city and IoT infiltrate the industry

31 May 2019

New emerging infrastructure and capabilities offered by Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), Blockchain technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are expected to play a vital part in the paradigm shift towards reducing waste and extending product lifecycles within the circular Smart Cities of the future. The IoT concept predicts a world in which physical, digital, and virtual objects are interconnected in a network with the ability to share data. If used correctly, the IoT ecosystem could see improvements in safety, turnaround times and customisation. But perhaps most far-reaching impacts will involve large data systems that drive sustainability in logistics and supply chains, via increased transparency of the product lifecycle through data collection and analysis, helping cities manage resources and infrastructure more efficiently.

Fast forward to the future   

IoT has the potential to improve in all three main waste management practices: prevention (e.g. product design, awareness campaigns, legislation), end-of-pipe strategies (e.g. recycling, waste separation, incineration, proper landfill) and environmental restoration. Prevention offers the most effective method with the lowest impact control costs, while environmental restoration is the most expensive practice with the lowest effectiveness. Currently, data are collected everywhere by different organisations, but communication between sources and an integrated and connected (product lifecycle) data cloud that can be shared between them is lacking.

IoT hierarchy

IoT may involve three core layers: (1) collection of product lifecycle data to maximise use (2) new business models based on connected and involved citizens for sharing products and service information to avoid waste generation, and (3) an intelligent sensor-based infrastructure for on-time collection and separation of waste to assure effective waste recovery operations. The first two aim to prevent waste, the third to improve efficiency of collection and recovery.


Working to become the “smartest city on the planet” (Fortune 2014), Barcelona’s mantra is to be an “inclusive, self-sufficient smart city in a hyper-connected zero emissions Metropolitan area”. Their end-to-end Smart City strategy impacts almost every urban service via open data initiatives, smart lighting, e-mobility and energy (heating and cooling networks). For street lighting for example, which uses most of a city’s energy consumption, a highly efficient remotely managed system saves energy, optimises maintenance and provides a safe environment for citizens. A smart water irrigation hydric balance system enables watering and irrigation organisation through sensor and electrovalves. The projects delivered 43 million Euro of benefits between 2011-2014, with an expected cumulative 832 million Euro by 2025, saving 9,700 tonnes of CO2 equivalent and 600,000 liters of water each year in the long term through reduced lighting power consumption, reduced travel and office space while increasing attractiveness and liveability.  

Transportation efficiency

Transportation is one of the greatest contributors to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and one of the largest costs of waste management, IoT technology has great potential to improve its efficiency. Sensor-enabled and internet-connected garbage bins can collect information on fill level, temperature, location, or whatever data types the sensors gather and the sanitation department finds useful. With a user interface revealing the locations and fill levels of all bins, waste collectors can get an automated route planned for them that has prioritized areas in urgent need of cleanup and avoided disposal units that still have room. It is possible to track the location of waste containers, monitoring the level of garbage deposited, identify locations with the highest demand, suggest the shortest route for collection optimization of solid waste, or even interface with citizens to encourage disposal at times when the container can receive waste, which promotes citizenship and avoids significant problems resulting from the accumulation of garbage outside garbage collectors.

Focus on: Glasgow’s waste collection using GIS               

As well as optimising fleet logistics operations and reducing fuel consumption, the bins also record the number of times they’re emptied and how fast they fill up. Such data, when combined with statistics from other smart city systems, can facilitate more insightful, multi-pronged actions e.g. planning better distribution of garbage bins, zeroing in on problems like incorrect disposal practices) or reducing waste going to landfill.

Trash tracking

Sensor-based tracking technology has proven crucial for monitor recycling and recovery of e-waste after leaving of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) hands. A project by Greenpeace for example GPS tracked broken television sets, revealing the illegal actions of UK formal recycling sectors in selling second-hand items to developing regions, violating EU regulations. The Basel Action Network (BAN) and MIT Senseable City Lab tracked certain electronics dropped in charities and recycling sites, showing the export of e-waste from the US abroad - mostly to Asia - while others have exposed informal facilities and dump sites.




Concrete jungle: sustainable procurement in construction

27 May 2019

The latest "Global Resource Outlook 2019. Natural resources for the future we want” presents a potential future circular economy plan that fits within planetary boundaries. The report states that 50% of total emissions is related to material use: mining, transport, production of goods and waste disposal. 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress are caused by resource extraction and processing. From 2000 to 2015, climate change and health impacts from extraction and production of metals doubled. The most used material by far, second to water, concrete has far reaching environmental impacts. In fact, if it were a country the industry would be the third largest carbon emitter after the US and China. Various safety and quality rules in EU and national legislation apply to buildings. Yet the number of EU initiatives that address sustainability issues in this sector are much more limited.

Closed material loops

The built environment consumes 40% of natural resources globally and produces 40% of global waste and 33% of emissions; construction and demolition waste (CDW) making up up to 30% EU waste. But reuse and recycling of material so as to improve circularity can be done in many innovative ways. The efficient use of room space and multi-purpose buildings provide opportunities for new multifunctional furniture and fixtures, and reduces the need for more buildings. New market opportunities related to recycled material-based products also arise in the field of building components. For example, ecological wood stone – a stone made of recycled fibres (Destaclean, 2016), biocomposite products for outdoor construction and cladding (UPM Profi, 2016) or other similar products could also be utilised in public buildings and spaces. Techniques such as recycling materials like ash and soil from nearby construction sites into roads and tarmac in Finland as well as roofing felt waste into asphalt make use of materials while minimising transportation. Currently recycling of doors, windows or frames does not take place at large scale, which could also be explored.

Concrete example: Paris’ recycled public works materials

The City of Paris carries out public works by obtaining local recycled materials. All the finest materials (flagstones, sandstone or granite borders) are recovered from building sites, and once treated, are re-used for refitting or maintenance operations instead of new materials. This demand is formalized in the public procurement contract. Pursuant to Paris public works regulations, penalties are incurred if suppliers fail to deliver natural stone materials to be recycled. In addition to the financial gain, this practice prevents natural quarry mining and the transportation of materials over several kilometers.

Building construction in Berlin

In 2013, the City-State of Berlin launched a pilot project with the aim of encouraging greater reuse of recycled concrete in building construction. A total volume of around 5,400m3 of certified ‘circular economy’ recycled concrete was used in the construction of a slurry wall and building shell of the new life science laboratory building at the Humboldt University. In comparison with concrete made from primary aggregates, the recycled concrete alternative saved 880m2 of virgin gravel, 66% of the energy required for production and transport, and 7% of the associated CO2 emissions. If a product cannot be reused then designing for recycling is the next alternative in making it circular. This means ensuring that the product purchased contains materials that can be easily and effectively recycled into a new product. Alternatively, or in addition to the previous point, the product could be made from recycled content and thus further contribute to resource efficiency.

Zurich: A pioneer is sustainable building material

The City of Zurich is a pioneer in concrete recycling. As part of the European project UrbanWINS, a study trip was organised for practitioners from across Europe  to learn about Zurich’s experiences. The European expert group exchanged about how to handle construction and demolition waste, how to procure public buildings that contain recycled concrete and how to involve architects and builders in the process.  More information about Zurich’s concrete recycling experience and the study trip can be found here.


186 countries take action to fight plastic waste

22 May 2019

We have frequently reported about the environmental, social and health impacts of plastic waste. Now, governments globally have acknowledged this issue and pledged to tackle it together. On 10 May, in a landmark unison decision 186 countries have agreed to put restrictions on the export of plastic waste.

An amendment to the global framework governing the movement of hazardous chemicals was adopted at the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, in Geneva, Switzerland. The Convention places trade controls on hazardous wastes and regulates its disposal. This decision means that countries seeking to export plastic waste need prior consent from countries they are sending their waste to.

This will stem the flow of plastic waste into poor nations. Currently countries can send lower quality plastic waste across the ocean without obtaining the receiving countries government’s consent.  The export of plastic waste to these countries is a major problem for marine litter, since they lack the facilities to manage the amounts of waste imported. Much of the plastic that is dumped or landfilled eventually ends up in the ocean.

There have been NGO reports of US origin plastic trash spilled across villages in Indonesia, Thailand, and Maylasia. Even though the US is not part of the Covention it will no longer be able to export waste without consent from the countries that are part of it.

Supporters credit this successful development to raising awareness among the general public and political leaders, not least because of the relentless reporting of trash filled animals and nano-plastics found even inside humans.

In UrbanWINS, the city of Cremona took on the issue of plastic waste in agriculture, where it is at risk of remaining in the environment and not being properly discarded and recycled. Read more about this pilot action on the project website.


How can waste management benefit from the use of information and data?

16 May 2019

Information can be used to optimise waste collection, improve analysis and policy-making in the field of waste, and provide feedback to the citizens to steer their behaviour in the desired direction. Already today, cities and regions across Europe are doing this, but they can achieve even more by working together. This is the outcome of the first seminar of the WINPOL project, where European experts exchanged good practices and identified first opportunities for collaboration.

On 14 May 2019 the first of a series of seminars on innovation in the waste field kicked off in the framework of the European-funded project WINPOL. This event was hosted by Snaga, the public waste management company of the City of Maribor (Slovenia), and focused on the collection and use of information to optimise waste management. It gathered project partners and their local stakeholders to exchange relevant good practices existing on their territories. Additional experiences were brought by external experts invited by ACR+, the Advisory Partner of the project.

More than 10 practices, interesting and inspiring to both project partners and external experts, were presented during the seminar, which is part of the “Interregional Learning” phase of the project. This phase is meant for WINPOL partners to exchange, identify good practices and elaborate action plans on the transfer of relevant experiences on their territories. Thus, the meeting also included two site-visits to waste management company Snaga’s installations: the automated sorting plant for communal waste and one of the three collection centres located in the city of Maribor. The seminar already counts with successful outcomes as the project partner City of Antwerp and two of the experts invited by ACR+ – LIPOR, the public waste management of the wider Porto region in Portugal, and the City of Amsterdam in the Netherlands – identified possibilities for collaboration and will continue bilateral exchanges.

In the following months, partners will continue identifying good practices in preparation of the second thematic seminar focusing on innovative models for collection, prevention and recycling, which is set to take place in late Autumn 2019 and hosted by the City of Antwerp. In the meantime, local actors in the partners’ territories can get involved in the WINPOL project through a series of events organised by the partners.

Maribor, circular economy in action

The WINPOL project meeting was not the only event linked to circular economy happening in Maribor this week. On 16 and 17 May 2019, Maribor is hosting the 4th edition of the Circular Change conference. The ambition of this edition is to move towards “less talk, more action”, that is translating the numerous reports, data, guidelines and other documents existing on circular economy into concrete actions, radical collaboration and scalable success stories.