Scottish Resources Conference speaker Jack McQuibban, Head of Local Zero Waste Implementation at Zero Waste Europe, shares his thoughts on the immediate steps cities can take today to tackle rising waste generation.
It can be easy to become disheartened by the volume of negative news and the seeming inaction from our legislators to tackle climate change these days.
For those of us interested in making Europe a circular economy in the not-too-distant future, it has been tough watching negotiations unfold for the latest EU proposal for the Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).
Since the original proposal was published, the level of ambition placed upon producers and governments to introduce greater reuse measures has dropped month after month.
This watering down can be seen as a direct consequence of the aggressive industry lobbying that’s been going on over the past few months. Regardless, the outlook is not positive for a piece of legislation that promised to drive forward a transition to circular packaging.
The level of ambition placed upon producers and governments to introduce greater reuse measures has dropped month after month.
So, what do we do with this new reality? We can push for Brussels to adopt more ambitious targets within other pieces of legislation that will be discussed under the new mandate in the
Parliament and Commission starting from mid-2024 and 2025 respectively.
But this will take some time, which is something we do not have. Waste generation in the EU and UK continues to rise, despite the lofty goal of creating circular economies across the continent.
Therefore, in the meantime, at Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) we’re pursuing a strategy that showcases how effective reuse systems and models can be implemented at the local level to bring about positive change.
For example, within our RSVP project, we are working to develop and test reuse packaging models with some of Europe’s biggest cities – Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Ghent and Leuven – to help understand the necessary conditions for reuse to flourish within a city environment.
We are not starting from scratch with this project though. Already, we can see positive solutions being implemented in many cities and municipalities, both in Europe and beyond, ranging in size, geography and population density.
For example, big cities like Paris and Geneva have created plastic-free strategies, which coordinate several actions by both the city and local businesses to prioritise reuse over single-use items. In Tübingen, Germany, the city introduced a pioneering tax on single-use packaging and cutlery, whilst providing subsidies for local businesses to procure the necessary equipment to transition to reuse, such as dishwashers.
However, we still lack a clear and widely tested understanding of the conditions that enable reuse to flourish in different communities. This year, we began a new project to develop our knowledge in this field further with a much more diverse pool of municipalities.
Through our “Elevating Reuse in Cities” (ERIC) project, where we’re working in 10 ZWE member countries with a group of more than 20 municipalities, we will create a template for designing and implementing plastic prevention plans (PPPs).
With these plans tested and validated in a range of contexts, from large French cities to small Sicilian tourist towns, they can be replicated and used as guides for hundreds of others to follow suit in the coming years.
These plans are more than just blueprints; they will be strategic roadmaps for the municipalities adopting them – boosting local reuse of plastic packaging and other items in public events, spaces and buildings.
We believe that cities can, and should, become the hubs that spark and enable reuse to be scaled up across Europe.
They also create the opportunity to go one step above the waste hierarchy by focusing on key waste prevention measures that can be implemented at the local level. This can take the form of innovative public procurement that avoids single-use plastics and fake substitutes, as well as the introduction of a tax on single-use plastics, among other impactful actions.
Time will tell what preventive actions can and will be taken, as well as how they should be implemented. In this sense, the ERIC project represents a great learning opportunity, as we need more actions and knowledge on how to phase out single-use materials from our economy, and not just through reuse while encouraging the local economy and social cohesion.
We believe that cities can, and should, become the hubs that spark and enable reuse to be scaled up across Europe. With the right support and resources, including greater access to finance that is flexible and outcomes-based, there is enough evidence to showcase that cities can have a dramatically positive impact on reducing waste – whilst also helping to foster a growing economy for new, sustainable business models.
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