This weekend saw the beginning of the European Week for Waste Reduction, a move by EU regions to draw attention to the continent’s waste problem and some of the grassroots initiatives looking for a cure.
Waste reduction week began on Saturday (16 November) and will run until this Sunday. The end goal of the initiative is to change European waste habits, focusing on reducing consumption, and increasing the reuse and recycling of products.
The project is coordinated by the Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Waste Management, a network of nearly 100 local and regional authorities created in 1994.
The project is supported by LIFE+, the EU’s fund for the environment, and 21 countries take part, including non-EU states, Benin, Bosnia, Brazil and Iceland.
At the start of the week, Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik issued a call to unleash the recycling potential of Europe’s municipalities, some of which still landfill over 90% of their waste.
"There is enormous potential in reusing and recycling waste. We are making great progress in moving up the waste hierarchy… reducing landfilling and increasing recycling,” he said.
The EU's waste hierarchy defines the order of ways to deal with waste, with the technique with the lowest impact on the environment at the top and the most damaging at the bottom. Prevention is top of the list, followed by preparation for re-use, recycling, recovery, and landfilling.
Landfilled waste pollutes the atmosphere and rivers, and the vast number of discarded products needs to be created from new materials, which in turn has an effect on the environment.
The EU is therefore pushing regions towards a so-called ‘circular economy’ in which as much, or even all, waste is reused or recycled.
“Grassroots initiatives like the European Week of Waste Reduction are an important way of involving everyone in the creation of a zero-waste society," Poto?nik said.
There are a number of initiatives taking place throughout Europe to try to cut back discards.
The Spanish Association of Recyclers for the Social and Solidarity Economy (Aeress), also formed in 1994, has taken part in EU waste reduction week five times. In the 2010 waste reduction week, it won a prize for its role in the so-called ‘waste watchers’, a campaign to raise awareness of the problem among different stakeholders, including shop-owners, in particular.
Aeress also makes up its workforce by hiring the long-term unemployed or socially vulnerable.
The association’s members are present in 14 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, or regions. In September 2010, the Ministry of the Interior designated Aeress an association of public interest.
In connection with waste reduction week, 10 May 2014 will be European Clean-Up Day, a bid to get volunteers to remove litter from their neighbourhood and beaches.