Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste



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.