Thursday, 28 March 2013

In Norfolk? Fancy going Gleaning?

Recently, Martin Bowman from Feeding5K (one of my fellow finalists in the Nesta Waste Reduction Challenge) got in touch to invite me to join their next Gleaning Day in Norfolk,  which is taking place at the beginning of April.  Sadly, I can't make it but I think the idea is so fab I wanted to extend the invitation out to anyone else who may be available locally.  Martin explains more in detail below:

Gleaning day coming up on Saturday 6th April

On Saturday 6th April, the Gleaning Network will be heading down to a farm in Norfolk to harvest tonnes of parsnips and save them from going to waste, redistributing them to food poverty charities. We need volunteers to help harvest the tasty produce! Contact to find out more, sign up to volunteer, or help coordinate. The day will be roughly 10am-4pm (TBC), and travel expenses are covered for those travelling from Cambridge and nearby- the farm is near Kings Lynn station. If you can't join us this time, sign up to our gleaning list and we'll let you know of all future gleaning days. Join the Arable Spring!

What is Gleaning?

Gleaning Network UK, recently featured on BBC Radio 4's Food Programme and Al Jazeera, and organised by Tristram Stuart and Feeding the 5,000, is an exciting new initiative to save the thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables that are wasted on UK farms every year. Farmers across the country often have no choice but to leave tonnes of their crops unharvested and get ploughed back in the soil. These crops often cannot reach the market either because they fail to meet the retail strict cosmetic standards or because of overproduction.

We coordinate teams of volunteers, local farmers and food redistribution charities in order to salvage this fresh, nutritious food and direct it to those that need it most, such as homeless hostels and charities. To date, we have salvaged several tonnes of excellent unmarketable British produce, including apples, cabbages, cauliflowers, spring greens and kale, and redistributed them to charities such as FareShare and the Best Before Project. Here's some more info, our video, and pictures of our last gleaning day. The movement is gathering pace, and we're rapidly expanding into a national network, with a hub now launching in Cambridge and Norfolk.

Here's more info in this video here:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Zero Waste standards, tours & a party for good measure

The last few days of the international Zero Waste convention in San Francisco and the East Bay area have been very hectic with much debate and learning taking place.  It has become evident that this part of the world is very justified in having such high standards in its expectations regarding the future of zero waste initiatives.


On Thursday, there was much heated debate in Oakland City Hall, led by Gary Liss, on defining a Zero Waste standard for business certification.

It was clear that Zero Waste certification is already being carried out on some major international businesses and is currently being managed by a range of organisations, including UL, NSF-ISR and the US Zero Waste Business Council who, in consultation with the Zero Waste International Alliance, are preparing an American standard for Zero Waste for submission to ANSI.   Even though the current programmes are working towards high standards for Zero Waste (without landfilling or burning), it was debated that they aren't yet high enough and there could be a range of loop holes.  Also there needs to be clarity of a standard for businesses that have very minimal wasted resources.

Pigs & Peacocks

Following the day's debate at City Hall, it was back on tour again, this time for dinner at Marin Sanitary Service, a family-run waste management company that serves Marin County in the East Bay area.

I've now been to a wide range of MRFs but I've this is the first time I've ever visited a site that keeps pigs or even peacocks, not to mention the chickens, which feature as a popular and unexpected item on their educational tours.

The philosophy of Zero Waste is at the heart of the company's activities and I love this poster where our host Devi Peri outlined how once you've harvested the low-hanging fruit, it is possible to incorporate other services to a point where the only things left are Extended Producer Responsibility, including redesign.

Mattress Recycling

On Friday we visited a mattress recycling company in Oakland, which is now processing 150,000 mattresses per year with only 10% of its waste ending up in landfill.

Mattress Recycling is a great example of how recycling is progressing but if manufacturers designed products for better deconstruction at end-of-life, waste reduction achievements could be even better. 

The company's landfill stats may appear to be minimum but there still needs to be a push for products such as the one below, which cannot be disassembled, to be redesigned for disassembly.

However, for the majority that can be separated, the company is able to deconstruct the mattresses into good quality components, including metal that is sold onto metal dealers, wood that can be used in mulch, compost or energy production and cotton & fabrics that are sent onto the textile markets.

Dual Stream Bins & Buy Back

Having stayed in Berkeley this week, it was interesting to have a peek behind the scenes at Berkeley Recycling, the city's waste management company that serves residents and businesses locally.

One of the key points I drew out of the tour was the success of the company's dual stream collection, i.e. collecting recycling in split wheelie bins.

This allows for better quality of materials as plastic & metal packaging can be kept separate from paper and cardboard, which means easier and more efficient sorting at the MRF and maintains their ability to create one of the cleanest streams of recycling the the Bay Area.  Currently Berkeley Recycling's MRF maintains just a residual rate of only 2-3% and thanks to the quality of its recycling streams doesn't experience any rejections.

It was also interesting to see how there are different service levels of participation to engage the public.  Residents have a range of options for recycling, which include the kerbside service through the dual-streamed bins and a front-end recycling centre at the MRF.

The bins shown above cater for all the kerbside materials plus hard plastic, but as you can see below there is also a Buy Back service, where visitors can get paid separately for bottles, cans, paper and scrap aluminium, incentivising those who want to earn some extra dollars either for themselves or a community initiative.

I was intrigued to know the amount of materials collected through these different service levels.  The figures are as follows:

Bring back: 100 tons per month
Buy back: 250 tons per month
Kerbside: 650 tons per month

It was also interesting to note that 'Buy back' services are an integral part of recycling services, not just in Berkeley but across California.

Innovations in Reuse

Throughout the week I have seen many examples of how Reuse has been an important feature in this area's waste hierarchy but it was the visit to El Cerrito's recycling centre which really demonstrated how this can be made not only visible to the public but also integral to a local culture.

The El Cerrito site underwent a major redesign in 2012 and has fast become one of most attractive recycling sites I have ever seen.  Its popularity amongst local residents is such that it restricts visitors to two hours onsite.  Two hours?  Most people I know are in and out of a recycling centre in just 20 minutes.

The attraction of El Cerrito is that it is not just a recycling centre, it is also an exchange centre, featuring an onsite book 'store', where you can pick up items of interest for free and those who are registered can also pick out various items from some of their deposit bins.  As well as managing a range of recycling streams on site, it also supports local community reuse organisations such as Urban Ore and the Goodwill charity.

For anyone interested in modelling reuse and community exchange facilities into their own recycling centres, it really is worth looking closely at the El Cerrito model and more information can be found on its website.

Party Time at Urban Ore

On the topic of reuse, one of the most amazing centres in this part of California... or indeed anywhere else that I've had the pleasure to visit is Urban Ore, which is a huge reuse and building materials exchange operation in Berkeley.  It is also an active contributor to the Zero Waste programme and its website is really worth a visit for anyone who want to push activities further up the waste hierarchy in their own localities.

Urban Ore was also the venue for the end-of-week party and with the opportunity to browse around the store, I couldn't think of a better place to be.

This place is cool with a capital C!

It's not even afraid of reselling electricals and electronics.  The onus is simply on any interested purchasers to test them out onsite first!

But when I say that Urban Ore is huge!  It really is!  Even this photo of 'party central' doesn't do it justice.  And in fact, the outside is even larger than the inside.

The Urban Ore party really was a fitting venue for the end-of-week celebrations.  It has been a great study tour of some of the best practice Zero Waste practices that are taking place in the world right now and if there are any local innovators, great thinkers and aspirational leaders in the UK's waste sector who want to be connected up to what I've seen this week, I would be delighted to make those connections.

I know waste management and working towards Zero Waste to conserve resources isn't easy, but it starts with rethinking the impossible and realising its potential towards a new reality.  We should never be scared of these levels of innovation but should be excited about the technological, economic and social opportunities that they bring.

What I've witnessed this week have been communities that care about making the impossible actually possible, forging ahead with their vision and working together with City officials, service providers and strategists who are not daunted by moving away from old models of thinking.

This is something that is worth celebrating big time!  So thank you San Francisco, leading the way with your 80% diversion rate, and to all the organisations from the Bay Area that shared their experiences this week.  I feel very privileged to have been here with many of my International friends.

Folk, I think it's now time to watch this space.  Meanwhile, here's another photo from the coolest party I've been to in a long time... and most probably ever!

California rocks!  And so does its path to Zero Waste!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Zero Waste - The international scene

So, my adventures in Zero Waste continue in California and on Wednesday I attended the Zero Waste International Alliance Dialog, which brought together representatives and interested parties from the USA, Canada, British Columbia, Brazil, Colombia, Sweden, UK, Italy, the Philippines, Bhutan, India, Australia, China and Hong Kong.

Rick Anthony, Chair of the ZWIA, (pictured above), opened the conference with a history of how the Alliance was developed and how things have moved on from what started as a passion to protect resources from landfills through recycling facilities, to a multi-action programme of now diverting those resources from incineration and reducing waste at source through redesign.  The international Alliance now provides a sound umbrella group for supporting national programmes through the sharing of knowledge and solutions that demonstrate Zero Waste in its true form (i.e. without the alternative of burning) is possible.

The programme of presentations featured experts who have embedded successful solutions in their own countries, working with communities, politicians, manufacturers and technologists to ensure the development of waste management solutions that protect the resources for recycling back into the system.

This is a great slide from Ruth Abbe, from the US, which simplifies the keys to achieving better resource management to a rate of 90% though physical & social infrastructure, with the remaining responsibility for the journey towards Zero Waste in the hands of the manufacturers and legislators to redesign products and ban those materials that cannot recycled or broken down through organic treatment.

Paul Connett, a chemist and international speaker on the topic of Zero Waste, who many now know from his contribution in the Trashed Film, explained in more detail the 10 steps to Zero Waste, which are summarised as follows:

A key theme that I've picked up from the success stories in Paul Connett's presentation and the those that have been highlighted in my trips to San Francisco and Europe is the significance in making waste visible. i.e. to really find out what is being burnt or buried.

Once communities have a handle on that and the associated volumes, debates can then lead to solutions, whether through front end source separation, better community communications, waste hierarchy interventions or feedback to manufacturers for redesign.  It was reinforced again that if there is a political will to adopt this pathway towards Zero Waste, it is possible to embed alternative solutions to those that involve burning resources.

According to Paul Connett, the three international areas that are leading the way with embedding the true Zero Waste goals are Italy, Spain and California.

Again, like the NCRA conference, there was much to learn from the information exchange and here are some of the key points I picked up.

1. Canadians create the most municipal waste in the world, with only 33% being diverted through recycling and composting, but they are tackling it and Zero Waste Canada was created in January 2013.  As well as the challenges of developing its infrastructure, it looks like Canada will also have to protect one of the great things that already exists which is its deposit-based bottle reuse programme, which is currently at risk from centralised recycling schemes.  Elsewhere there are some great collaborative consumption schemes being implemented, including Toronto Toolshare.  Also Canada was the first place to declare BPA as toxic.

2. Great strides are being made in South America, including Bogota's Zero Waste plan, which has fought for its 20,000 waste pickers to be an official part of the recycling value chain.  Zero Waste Brazil has made significant progress too, creating a community based take-back model for recycling that pays participants in credits.  At a higher level, Zero Waste Brazil was invited by the UN peacekeeping force to find solutions for solid waste during the 2010 earthquake disaster in Haiti.  It will also be involved in pushing plans through for the Zero Waste Olympics in Rio.

3. Reports from the US showed how far Zero Waste commitments are spreading around towns and cities across the States and how the Solid Waste Association of North America has now changed the focus of its annual conference from 'Beyond the Blue Bin' to 'The Road to Zero Waste', following the Alliance's guiding principles.

4. From Europe, we saw the great examples once more coming out of Italy with 123 towns and cities that have now signed up to become Zero Waste communities.  It was also highlighted how business and government strategies in Europe have been heavily weighted towards the 'Zero Waste to Landfill' goal, which risks taking away the focus and opportunities for a future down the line that is actually Zero Waste.  Fellow trustee of the Zero Waste Alliance UK, Jane Green, highlighted the development of the Museum of Bad Design as an action-based research response to the need to design out waste.  Elsewhere, Mal Williams warned that whilst planning future models in consumerism and wastage, we also need to prepare for economic shrinkage and make communities more resilient in managing the potential of their resources in a way that also develops social capital.  

5. Froilan Grate of the Philippines spoke of how their strategy for Zero Waste was born out of a terrible tragedy in Payatas in 2000, where over 200 wastepickers died during a sudden landslide on a landfill site.  Since then his organisation has been instrumental in creating over 1000 MRFs to better manage the resources and have developed Zero Waste programmes for management of waste and environmental issues at community level.  The Philippines was the first country to commit to a ban on burning resources and is hence committed to striving high for zero waste goals, so much so that the Minister for Environment was also in attendance.

6. With Hong Kong facing an end to landfill in 2029, Lisa Christensen of Hong Kong Cleanup, called for the need for a Zero Waste Hong Kong strategy to be developed and has committed to sharing the ZWIA expertise locally.

As well as the need for managing rubbish from a resource perspective, various speakers at the conference on Wednesday highlighted that it is a human rights issue too, striving to change infrastructures that move from a world where practice is many areas is simply dangerous to local communities and those who work with with waste.

Examples from Mexico showed how much work has been done to stop the practice of burning waste in cement kilns and from China we heard an urgent call for better management of recycling where evidence has seen untreated plastic medical waste being recycled into poor quality children's toys.

This conference certainly taught me how there is still so much we don't know about the global problem of waste.  It was most definitely an eye-opening event that demonstrated not only how many amazing solutions there are out there if only we take time to look, but also if we look for long enough we realise too how many issues still need resolving.

However, what I saw on Wednesday was a room full of experts including resource managers, chemists,  designers, technologists, campaigners and professionals who are now Zero Waste managers, all sharing their expertise to address these issues. 

One of the key initiatives also announced at this year's Dialog was the development of a new Zero Waste Youth organisation, which held a successful conference of its own in San Francisco on Sunday.  It highlights that the issue of waste is also inter-generational and that the innovation of graduates and young people are needed too to help develop the research and technical skills to implement solutions now and in the future.

And of course, I welcomed the opportunity to share my very own Rubbish Diet story and the details of the forthcoming Rubbish Diet challenge.  It was a real privilege to have the opportunity to profile this blog and my projects on an international platform and hear the amazing responses that followed.  Something tells me that once my Nesta Waste Reduction challenge is over and having the right support in place for the UK programmes, I'd better get ready to roll up my sleeves to help support Rubbish Diet communities internationally.  With interest already coming in from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, it looks like life could get very busy!

But the week's not over yet, and there's still much more to learn and report back on, including the development of international and national zero waste standards and a visit to a MRF that has its own pig farm.

But first, breakfast!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

US impressions. Recycling updates in California

Well, it's 5am Californian time and I've realised that the only chance of keeping this blog up-to-date is to wake up this early.  I guess it's not too much of a hardship though because the whole jetlag thing that I'm experiencing for the first time is making sure I bob in and out of sleep at the end of the working day until the early hours of the morning.  I'm sure I'll get used to it by the end of the week, in time for the Friday night party!

But even yesterday's conference the NCRA Recycling Update  felt much like a party.  It was certainly much more relaxed than any conference that I've attended before. Still as professional, with representatives from federal and state departments, waste management companies, independent consultants etc, yet it felt like it was a large group of old friends getting together for a catch up.  As it turned out, many of the the people in the room were old friends, who have strived together over the last 20 years.  I loved the atmosphere of in-jokes and celebratory applauses during the event yesterday as well as the fact that attendees were encouraged to bring their own reusable coffee cups.

But what did I learn? 

Perhaps the fact that shouted most loudly yesterday was that San Francisco, with just 20% of its waste going to landfill is most definitely a shining light in the US recycling sector, with the rest of the US landfill rates currently at 54%.  And as for the value of wasted packaging materials in the US, that currently stands at a whopping $11,402,020,357.

 (Source: As you Sow)

Elsewhere, according to food waste awareness project Food Shift, $165 billion worth of wasted food is thrown out each year, with the US spending $750 million on its disposal.

These are huge problems and naturally very similar to those that we have to tackle in the UK.  And just like us, there is much strategising to resolve the issues at all levels of the waste hierarchy, with particular pushes to introduce single use bag bans/taxes, development of Anaerobic Digestion plants, managing construction & demolition waste, pushing for extended producer responsibility, standardising packaging labelling, developing reuse opportunities and pushing food waste further up the hierarchy.

So for anyone sat in the UK, pondering the impact of their own actions and thinking 'what's the point of me doing something, when we look at how much America wastes', from what I've seen so far my message is 'it's time to wake up and smell the coffee' because this huge continent is busying itself with solutions and action plans to sort it out.  It is also leading the way with zero waste ambitions while adopting good practice that's emerging from other countries too.

It would take me all week to feature all of the great things that came out of yesterday's conference, so being in no position to do that, I'm going to leave you with just a few of the highlights and links for you to ponder.

1.  Even when food waste collections are brought into place, examples from Portland and San Francisco show that home composting is still very much encouraged and adopted.  Stats from Portland reveal that 50% of Portlanders still home compost.

2. Across the States, there is still much work to do in improving the recycling infrastructure, as many residents still don't have access to easy recycling facilities.

3. Reuse is a growth industry.  Oregon's St Vincent de Paul provides a great example of how a thrift store, which once contributed much of its donations to landfill, now has a diversion rate of 95%.  The charity's Terry McDonald gave examples that despite competition from sites such as Amazon, its book retail charity brings sales of $1.2b per year.  In recent years, it has also found opportunities in the mattress sector, both in rebuilding mattresses for reuse and reselling components for recycling.  It imports dark oak furniture from Europe, which has a better resale value here, whereas in places such as the UK and Belgium such furniture could have been scrapped for wood recycling/landfill/recovery.  Other examples of innovative processing include creating tumbled glass for reselling to the floristry and creative industries, remelting candle wax to create fire-bricks and collecting single shoes to help amputees.

4. A great scheme that is piloting the reuse of what are normally defined as Hazardous Waste Products, is Tehama County's REAP project (Reuse of Available Products), which redistributes cleaning products, stains, paints, polishes, automotive fluids and more to the public free of charge.  More information can be found about it here.

5. There is still much to do with overcoming confusing packaging labelling, especially as the US has similar problems to the UK where the recycling facilities vary across counties and states.  However, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is trying to consolidate and standardise messages to help consumers. The website shows how new labelling has been developed, following the lead of the UK's own On Pack Recycling Label (OPRL).  There is also a list of organisations that are now adopting it.

6. Food Shift's Dana Frasz is a leading light in the area of food waste, campaigning to push food waste management further up the hiearchy, so that it is distributed to the hungry way before it ever becomes treated as a waste material and using it as an opportunity for job creation.  More details can be found at

7. Eric Lombardi of Eco-cycle and Dr Jeff Morris of Sound Resource Management Group presented one of their latest analytical models comparing MBT (which they've redefined as MRTB - Mechanical Recovery Biological Treatment) Landfill and Energy from Waste solutions, in relation to treating differing percentages of residual/solid waste.  Their tools model data against Climate Change impacts, Acidification, Respitory Diseases, Ecotoxity and much more. Further information about this kind of work can be found at

I feel guilty about leaving so much out, but as soon as links to the presentations are available, I will include them here.  Meanwhile, here's a link to the movers and shakers who featured in yesterday's jam-packed programme.

So with yesterday's California/US focus, today's conference moves towards the international scene, hosted by the Zero Waste International Alliance, where we look forward to hearing some of the challenges, opportunities and fantastic initiatives from around the rest of the world.

Please excuse me, while I head for breakfast, grab some much-needed coffee and get cracking on another busy day.  I promise, I will be back to respond to the emails, comments and tweets later.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Zero Waste greetings from California

So here I am, thousands of miles away from home, following in the footsteps of Jeremy Irons and his recent movie Trashed.  Except, I've not ended up in Hollywood.  I'm somewhere far more exciting! Yep, as part of this year's international Zero Waste conference, I'm 'on location' in San Francisco, visiting Recycle Central, which was featured in the documentary, and exploring how the city and county of San Francisco is so advanced in its journey towards Zero Waste.

And that trash truck that you see there, is one of the few that can be seen heading for landfill, taking less than 5% of waste from Recology's recycling MuRF/Recycling Depot, after the paper, plastic, cardboard and cans have been baled for processing.   Overall, thanks to its well-streamed organics and recycling facilities, San Francisco's diversion rate from landfill is 80%, not only placing it high on the Zero Waste league table, but well on its way to its goal of 100% Zero Waste by 2020.

And that's Zero Waste to landfill or incineration!

Now that's a very high ambition indeed and gives many of the best Zero Waste goals of even the UK a run for their money,  but judging by what I've seen on my first day, I would bet my bottom dollar (see how I threw in that local colloquialism there) that San Francisco is going to achieve it, or at least get pretty damn close.

And this stems from the fundamental belief that the rubbish generated by San Francisco's visitors, businesses and residents is too valuable to bury or burn and has much higher economic, social and environmental value being reused or recycled as a resource.   Consequently, San Francisco's municipal Environment Department and business community have overcome many of the perceived barriers and hurdles, working together to introduce alternative solutions that benefit their zero waste agenda and its local community.

As we drove away from Recycle Central yesterday, these solutions were pretty easy to spot, with the piles of demolition rubble that now has to be processed for construction reuse instead of being buried in landfill.  Further afield, but close to the city, organics (including all forms of food waste) are also diverted out of the landfill thanks to composting and AD facilities, creating a product that is now highly in demand by local vineyards, farms and recreation facilities.

But to achieve this, high levels of participation are needed and during our tour around the very popular Fisherman's Wharf, it became clear how re-education, attitudes and the right financial leverage tools are helping to realise San Francisco's Zero Waste culture, especially within the business sector.

Take Scoma's Fish Restaurant for instance.  According to one of its executive chef's Kelly, who gave us a behind-the-scenes tour, it now diverts 97% of its waste from landfill, saving an estimated $1100 per month. 

Scoma's is one the top 20 grossing restaurants in the United States, with 170 staff on its books, serving up to 2000 people a day.  Its corporate philosophy is heavily linked to sustainability and embraced by its staff and thanks to the supporting waste collection infrastructure, diverting restaurant waste from landfill has become very easy.

As Kelly says "it's not hard, it's just using a different coloured garbage can".

But businesses in Fisherman's Wharf don't just stop at recycling goals.  There are some great examples of waste prevention too, and one of these is the lead being shown by fish supplier Two X Sea, which has redesigned their distribution packaging from disposable cardboard boxes to reusable hotel pans.

Owner Kenny Belov took us through how his company's one off investment of $8,000 in the streamlined reusable system, which integrates with the storage facilities of his customers, not only saves his company huge amounts of money from being wasted through disposable packaging, but it also saves his customers time and cash too as they don't need to process or repackage the fish at the other end.

While all this is happening 'behind-the-scenes' in Fisherman's Wharf, there is also more visible change on the streets too.

Our guide for the day, Lisa Lukacs, a Zero Waste consultant who's working closely with the wharf, demonstrated how the port authorities are changing their management of recycling through the application of the Big Belly solar recycling bins on Pier 45.

With facilities for passers-by to fully separate compostables and recycling, the system also has a solar-powered compacting system to manage the residual trash, alerting the authorities electronically when it's ready to be emptied.  With a leasing agreement of $230 per month, this method has already demonstrated a reduction in labour costs associated with emptying regular bins.

The day's tour ended with a presentation from San Francisco's municipal environment department, which addressed a whole range of topics from the 10c single use bag charge, the significance of the food hierarchy in diverting usable food to the San Francisco food banks and the promotion of home composting.  Also covered were the success of the Green Apartment programme as well as links to schools.

As the county progresses further down the path towards zero waste, there will now be a focus on extended producer responsibility, including redesigning waste out of the system and greater financial contributions for disposal.

You can find more about department's Zero Waste programme here at

Of course, a day of introductions to San Francisco's Zero Waste initiatives wouldn't have been complete without a screening of Trashed at the Aquarium of the Bay, which is itself closely connected to the ZW goals.  The avid applause and whoop-whoops from the audience at seeing the achievements of San Francisco featured in the documentary were entirely appropriate, enjoyable and very well deserved.

It was inspiring enough to have seen these examples from afar as an audience member in the UK, but to have witnessed them in person has been even more of an eye-opener to the opportunities that are available to work towards zero waste efficiently and effectively.

There are great lessons to be learned from San Francisco and over the next few days week, I hope to find out more as well as discover news of what's happening from across the world at the zero waste conference that is bringing together experts from countries that include the US, Sweden, Italy, Wales, Brazil, Columbia, India, Bhutan, the Philippines, Italy, Canada and Australia.

It will be a real privilege to find out about some of the best practice from across the world and also share my experience of The Rubbish Diet with them too.  My thanks go to the Zero Waste Alliance UK and Zero Waste International Alliance for providing me with this fantastic opportunity.

More news will be shared soon.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Postcard from Corsham: Celebrating the Rubbish Diet in Wiltshire

Back row L-R Sarah, Jen, Emma & Pip
Taken at the Pound Art Centre, Corsham's screening of Trashed

Dear all, 

Well, I'm back from Wiltshire, having spent a great night out with some of the Rubbish Dieters and Emma Croft from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, who have been working through their Rubbish Diet Challenge over the last 8 weeks.  Initial feedback? According to Emma and the participants, it's been a great success in more ways than one.  Check out their great blogposts at, which includes some of the examples from the 15 households have taken part.  Please also visit Sarah's blog at Everyday life on a shoestring and Jen's Make do and mend year and keep your eyes peeled for the results of their current Zero Waste Week.  I had a great time staying over with Pip from Transcoco's Zero Waste group.  I reckon every town should have one (a Pip and a Zero Waste Group)!  Weather was fine, food delicious and the Q&A at the Trashed screening was very much of the positive kind!  Wish you were there.  Next stop -  the Zero Waste conference in San Francisco!  I'll send a postcard very soon.

Lots of love,

Me. x

Monday, 11 March 2013

The one where I popped over to European Parliament

European Parliament eh!  Well I'd never been there before, until last Thursday when I'd been invited to give a presentation about The Rubbish Diet at a conference organised by Zero Waste Europe.

The event, which was held in one of the large committee rooms in Brussels, brought together zero waste strategists, product designers, researchers, waste managers, communities and politicians from across Europe to discuss the cornerstones that are needed to move towards a society that is no longer so heavily dependent on landfill and incineration, integrating resource efficient solutions instead.

It was evident from the debates that we still have a long way to go, especially concerning national and local political will.  However it was also clear from the presentations that there are some great models of how society is changing, especially in Italy where there are now 123 towns, villages and cities actively signed up to Zero Waste goals, which are not just about waste but deliver economic, social and environmental benefits as well.  It all started with the small town of Capannori, where they now have a recycling rate of 82% and have introduced a range of waste reduction initiatives including a research centre, which now liaises closely with industry.

The province of Gipuzkoa in the Spanish Basque Country is also another case study to watch closely.  It was impressive to see how they have turned their waste strategy around from planned incineration, which would have cost 400 million Euros, to a solution supported by 3 MBT plants, 6 composting plants and a biogas generator, costing 183 million Euros by comparison.  Inaki Errakzin, the Environment Minister also outlined how, thanks to better recycling, their approach has helped reduce waste from a projected 240,000 tonnes in 2012 to 209,000.  In Hernani, an area with 20k residents, many living in apartment blocks, they have also seen the average amount of waste decrease from 250 kilos per person per year to just 70 kilos.  Currently 54 towns out of a total of 88 have signed up to zero waste goals, working towards a target of 75% recycling by 2020.

In attendance, for part of the day, was Janez Potočnik, the EU Commissioner for Environment, who also launched the Plastic Waste Green Paper that very same day, which I understand has already received a great deal of coverage in the UK media.

Potočnik sees waste not as a problem but as an opportunity, where with the right economic incentives and outcomes could see 400,000 new jobs across the EU.

It was encouraging to hear his drive, commitment, pragmatism and enthusiasm as he described how not only must we limit energy recovery to materials that cannot be reused or recycled, but we must also be careful about creating overcapacity.  He also declared that there should be zero plastic waste in the environment.

The Green Paper will now see consultations across industry alongside consumers and public administrations.  If you are interested in responding, you can access the relevant papers here and I suggest that you do.

I'm quite relieved I didn't have to give my presentation in that rather large committee room, with its daunting setting and a multitude of translators.  The afternoon was in a much more intimate space as shown below.

Here, we got to hear about some fantastic activities that are taking place across Europe, including an introduction to the excellent Reethaus design studio in Estonia, which creates clothes from fashion waste, an industry which suffers from all sorts of waste issues arising from cutting leftovers, roll ends, planned over-production and excess fabric, not to mention problems such as rejected and cancelled orders as well as faulty items.

Currently the design house works with factories in Bangladesh, where the fabric would otherwise be destroyed in incinerators.  Working in this way, they are able to produce garments using up to 95% less energy and 70% less water for each item.  I love creative design solutions like this and this practical case-study complemented an earlier presentation from the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute where we learned about products such as carpet being made from old recycled carpet and Puma trainers made from recycled PET, supported by a take-back scheme.  In the design world, there is much going on to change the way we look at manufacturing.

On the subject of designing out waste, if your Italian skills or Google Translate fancy a work out, you'll also be inspired by the Effecorta cooperative in Italy, a growing chain of shops which specialises in packaging-free produce.  Having begun in Capannori, the first zero waste community in Italy, the stores have now expanded to Ferrara and Milan.  More information is available on the Zero Waste Europe website.

One of my favourite presentations was from Pal Martenssen from the Kretsloppsparken, in Goteborg, Sweden.  Kretsloppsparken is a household waste recycling centre, but not as we know it.  It goes far beyond your average site, providing regular entertainment and education on tap as well as lovely gardens and a cafe too.  In fact, for some of the music events, they ask customers to pay in recycling rather than cash.

So if your Swedish is up to scratch, you can find out more about the park in this video.  But don't worry, even if, like me, you can't speak a work of Swedish, you'll still get a feel for what it offers.

The conference ended with the screening of the Trashed documentary, which was introduced by Jeremy Irons who had also been at European Parliament for the launch of the Green Paper.

Jeremy Irons addressed the audience, highlighting the issues of plastic waste that had witnessed during the making of Trashed.  If you haven't already seen it, you can read more in an earlier review I wrote about it here.

Some of his final words were that we have to make this problem as sexy as possible, to capture the interest and commitment from as many people as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and have a few cunning plans up my sleeve myself, but for starters here's a fabulous lip-smacking bin lorry poster that I saw the following day, on a field trip to a waste management plant in Flanders, which boasts a 74% municipal recycling rate.  I confess they implement a pay-as-you-throw scheme which has helped get residents more engaged, but I reckon some clever advertising must also go a long way.

It was a real privilege to be part of such a momentous event, which is now expected to draw further interest from the MEPs that were in attendance.  There must be many more great case studies to be shared from around the continent and this could be the first event of many.

'But what of the sexy recycling bins at European Parliament?' I hear you ask... I am sure you're keen to know.

Well guess what I found in the corridors of the power house of Europe?

It's not quite the sexy pose I had up my sleeve but a good dose of comedy enthusiasm must help surely and certainly beats the alternative idea of bin planking

How I ever got allowed through the doors of the European Parliament, I'll never know.

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