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zero waste

zero waste

Introducing zero waste systems in cities around the world would be one of the quickest ways to reduce global heating, finds a new report. The waste sector accounts for 3.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and a fifth of global methane emissions.

Better waste management could cut total emissions from the waste sector by more than 1.4 billion tonnes. That would be equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million cars – or taking all motor vehicles in the U.S. off the road for a year.

But this figure underestimates the potential impact of waste management reforms. At least 70% of global emissions come from the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of goods, and a focus on waste reduction could significantly reduce the emissions in these sectors too. For example, manufacturing something from recycled aluminium uses 96% less energy than starting with raw materials.

Potential for zero waste

The potential for zero waste policies to reduce methane emissions is also critical. Methane is over 80 times as potent as CO2 but lasts only a short time in the atmosphere. Reforming the waste sector could cut global methane emissions by 13% globally. This would bring enormous climate benefits within the next few decades and ‘buy time’ to cut other emissions.

Report co-author Dr. Neil Tangri at GAIA, said: “Better waste management is a climate change solution staring us in the face. It doesn’t require flashy or expensive new technology – it’s just about paying more attention to what we produce and consume, and how we deal with it when it is no longer needed.”

“Previous climate talks have largely overlooked the potential of reforms to the waste sector, particularly for reducing methane, which over 100 countries have now pledged to do. Zero waste strategies are the easiest way to rapidly and cheaply bring down emissions while building climate resilience, creating jobs, and promoting thriving local economies,” stated co-author Mariel Vilella, Director of GAIA’s Global Climate Program.

Missing the target

“As we prepare for another round of UN climate negotiations, we have a unique opportunity to put waste firmly on the agenda. Without a concrete commitment from global leaders to zero waste, we will not be able to meet the 1.5° C climate target.”

GAIA’s report modeled potential emissions reductions from eight cities around the world. They found that on average, these cities could cut waste sector emissions by almost 84% by introducing zero waste policies, with some, such as São Paulo and Detroit, able to reach net-negative emissions by 2030.

“GAIA’s report scientifically demonstrates that zero waste can actually get São Paulo to net-negative emissions from the waste sector while promoting new jobs, providing a decent dignified livelihood to waste pickers and compost to support local agro-ecological farmers, groups who have been historically marginalized,” stated Victor  H. Argentino de M. Vieira of Brazil-based organization Instituto Pólis. “What are our leaders waiting for?  The time is now to prevent waste and reduce poverty in São Paulo.”

The report also maps out how zero waste systems could help cities adapt to the escalating climate crisis, preventing flooding and droughts, strengthening soil and agriculture, reducing disease transmission, and generating employment opportunities.

Waste sector neglected

Despite this, more than a quarter of countries’ current climate plans neglect the waste sector. Waste management will be one of the critical topics tackled at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in November, where host nation Egypt plans to put forward the Africa Waste 50 Initiative, aimed at treating and recycling 50% of waste produced in Africa by 2050.

In order to keep global warming below 1.5°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement, and prevent catastrophic climate change, GAIA is urging global leaders to take urgent and bold action on zero waste by:

  • Incorporating  zero waste goals and policies into climate mitigation and adaptation plans.

  • Prioritising food waste prevention and single-use plastic ban.

  • Instituting separate collection and treatment of organic waste.

  • Investing in waste management systems, recycling, and composting capacity.

  • Establishing institutional frameworks and financial incentives for zero waste including regulations, educational and outreach programs, and subsidies to recycling and composting.

Janez Potočnik, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel of the UN Environment Programme, former European Commissioner for the Environment states: “This report demonstrates the huge importance of aligning our waste systems with climate goals. It shows how cities are already working to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from waste while building climate resilience and creating livelihoods. It highlights the absolute necessity of reducing root sources of waste through changing our production and consumption patterns – using all the tools at our disposal to achieve the deep emissions reductions we need.”

food waste in Europe

food waste in Europe

The food waste in the EU is higher than its imports. The waste damages EU food security amid the cost-of-living crisis. That is the finding of a new report released by environmental NGO Feedback EU.

In 2021, the EU imported almost 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, for a total cost of €150 billion. At the same time, the report estimates that the EU wastes 153.5 million tonnes of food each year. A figure that is nearly double previous calculations, due to better availability of data on wasted on farms.

All in all, food waste is estimated to cost EU businesses and households €143 billion a year, and to cause at least 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, in a critical moment for our food systems, facing the double crisis of agricultural losses due to last summer’s unprecedented droughts and skyrocketing food prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 20% of EU food production ends up in the bin.

Notably, the amount of wheat wasted in the EU is equivalent to approximately half of Ukraine’s wheat exports. Meanwhile, 33 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day in the EU.

In light of this scandal, an international movement called on the EU to set legally binding targets for member states to slash EU food waste.

EU laws to prevent food waste?

The EU addresses food waste within the Waste Framework Directive, which was last revised in 2018. The law requires member states to cut food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor food waste levels and report back regarding progress made.

Notably, the directive reaffirms the promise, made by EU countries in 2015 within the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. However, without ambitious and binding targets for governments to attend, this objective is bound to fail.

Today, the Commission has the opportunity to propose ambitious legally binding food waste reduction targets for EU member states, within its proposal for a revision of EU waste laws expected for Spring 2023. Negotiations with the European Parliament and Council will then decide on the ultimate targets, which should ensure member states honor their international commitment to halve waste from farm to fork. If adopted, this would be the first legislation of its type in the world.

Halving food waste will also help the EU meet its commitments under the European Climate Law, the Global Methane Pledge, the Circular Economy Package, and the EU Green Deal.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emission in the world, after US and China.

Time to cover the field

Besides demanding legally binding targets, civil society organizations and businesses call on the European Commission, the European Parliament and member states’ governments not to forget the food loss and food waste that happen at the production and processing level.

The report by Feedback EU estimates that 89.8 million tonnes occur at primary production – three times as much as is wasted in EU households. Yet most of this waste is likely to fall outside of the scope of current EU food waste measurement and national reporting, which currently excludes food left unharvested or used on farms, locking it out of targeted reduction.

To address this gap, the joint statement calls on the Commission to expand the scope of food waste measurement and include “edible food left unharvested or used on farm at primary production”.

Besides, focusing on retail and consumer food waste only risks creating perverse incentives to be offloaded onto producers and processors, rather than reduced.

Read more at EEB

 

european parliament

european parliament, circular economy package

With its circular economy package, the European Commission released a set of initiatives to speed up the transition towards a circular economy. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the Package as a potential game-changer but stressed the need for swift action to reduce our emissions and resource use while respecting planetary boundaries and human rights.

Stéphane Arditi, Director of Policy Integration and Circular Economy at the EEB, said: “This package could help drive the much-needed market and industry transformations to achieve a resource-efficient, sustainable and fair economy – but it still lacks teeth to truly make sustainable products the default choice for all.”

Sustainable products and Ecodesign

The Sustainable Products communication lays out a number of measures targeting the sustainability of products sold on the EU market, and the Commission restated its ambition to make sustainable products the norm.

The Circular Economy Package also includes a legislative proposal to unleash the potential of Ecodesign, extending its scope to virtually all products placed on the market, and opening the door to new innovative measures such as carbon and environmental footprinting of products, the development of a Digital Product Passport, and impact consideration beyond EU borders.

However, the new regulation will only deliver results through the delegated acts established for specific product groups. These will take time to establish, notably as the Commission foresees a limited increase in staff working on product policy. Opportunities to deliver results from the onset, such as an immediate ban on the destruction of unsold goods, were not taken. Moreover, the proposal fails to address and disclose social and due diligence aspects within the Product Passport.

The circular economy package consists of:

  • A Sustainable Products Initiative aimed at boosting the circularity of products on the EU market, including a reform of Ecodesign laws
  • A Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles
  • A proposal for the revision of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR)
  • New rules to reinforce the consumer power.

 

Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, Policy officer for products and circular economy at the EEB, said: “Applying Ecodesign to a broader set of products will save Europe emissions, resources, and increase our resilience, but we are still a long way from these measures being put into practice.”

Sustainable textiles

The ‘Textiles Strategy’ sets out the European Commission’s plans for new policies to bring more sustainability to one of the world’s most polluting, wasteful, and exploitative sectors.

The EEB welcomes the clear plans for binding rules on product design, targets for more reused textile products, and for more weight on producers to bear the end–of–life costs of textile waste. However, the EEB calls on policymakers to ensure strong civil society participation in the development of the initiatives announced in the Strategy, and to enhance measures that tackle human rights abuses in supply chains, a clear blind spot in today’s text.

Emily Macintosh, Policy Officer for Textiles at the EEB, said: “You can’t green fast fashion. Today the European Commission has named overproduction as the problem by calling out the number of collections brands put out every year. Now we need to ensure that the actions set out in this strategy are translated into real industrial accountability for all companies regardless of size and that there are no get-out clauses when it comes to the destruction of goods and ensuring fairness for workers.”

Construction products

Despite larger advancements in other files, the Construction Products Regulation revision inches forward in regards to alignment with the Sustainable Products Initiative and the Circular Economy Package. Faced with rising demands for a Renovation Wave, the CPR continues to set a lower bar for construction products. Although product requirements could be developed in the current proposal, a timeline to define minimum sustainability/environmental performance requirements has yet to be set, nor is it mandatory to disclose these requirements transparently using digital product passports.

NGOs have continuously warned such lack of ambition is especially concerning for an industry desperately in need of decarbonization, as the source of 35% of EU emission. The lack of ambition is most evident in a continued allowance of manufacturers to set environmental standards and classes of performance for products’ functional performance (i.e. the way products are used in projects). The reliance on industrial standards leaves the door open for dominant industry players to agree on the lowest common denominator that stifles innovations and SMEs.

Gonzalo Sánchez, Policy Officer for Circular Economy and Carbon Neutrality in the Building Sector at the EEB, said: “Defining a work plan to set minimum environmental performance requirements as soon as possible and a mandatory Digital Products Passport for construction products are key to decarbonizing Europe’s built environment by 2050. Postponing these actions will mean an insurmountable task in the next decade to decarbonize the building stock, due to the delay in implementing circular measures and investing in low-emission materials.”

Empowering consumers

The Initiative on ‘Empowering the Consumer for the Green Transition’ is set to strengthen existing EU legislation to prevent greenwashing and reduce obsolescence, by amending both the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) and the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD).

The proposal aims to improve the credibility of sustainability claims and labels – a measure highly called for, as recent research showed that 42% of green claims are potentially false or deceptive. Moreover, new rules on information provisions regarding the length of warranty periods, the availability of spare parts, and software updates, are meant to help consumers understand the expected lifespan of the products they purchase.

The EEB welcomes the measures as a much–needed step to stop greenwashing, but warned about possible loopholes: the initiative fails to clarify how some of the most problematic and widespread claims such as “climate neutrality” are going to be tackled, while the foreseen ban on planned obsolescence was dropped from the proposal.

The circular economy package is a fundamental step forward but still lacks teeth to make sustainable products the norm, the EEB warns

Blanca Morales, a Senior Coordinator for EU Ecolabel at the EEB, said: “We need bolder measures to prohibit unreliable credentials, especially on climate neutrality, and list those that are based on harmonized, robust methods. We call on the Commission to reinforce these provisions in the upcoming regulation on Green Claims. Companies should be obliged to publicly register their claims and evidence before use. No data, no market!”

 

fertilizer from bioplastic

fertilizer from bioplastic

Japanese scientists produced fertilizer from bioplastic. Bioplastics can be chemically recycled into nitrogen-rich fertilizers in a facile and environmentally friendly way, as recently demonstrated by scientists from Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech). Their findings pave the way towards sustainable circular systems that simultaneously address issues such as plastic pollution, petrochemical resource depletion, and world hunger.

Plastics have taken the world by storm over the last century, finding applications in virtually every aspect of our lives. However, the rise of these synthetic polymers, which form the basis of plastics, has contributed to many serious environmental issues. The worst of these is the excessive use of petrochemical compounds and the disposal of non-biodegradable materials without recycling; only 14% of all plastic waste is recycled, which hardly puts a dent in the problem.

Fertilizer from bioplastic a circular process

To solve the plastic conundrum, we need to develop “circular” systems, in which the source materials used to produce the plastics come full circle after disposal and recycling. At Tokyo Institute of Technology, a team of scientists led by Assistant Professor Daisuke Aoki and Professor Hideyuki Otsuka is pioneering a novel concept. In their new environmentally friendly process, plastics produced using biomass (bioplastics) are chemically recycled back into fertilizers. This study will be published in Green Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry focusing on innovative research on sustainable and eco-friendly technologies.

The team focused on poly (isosorbide carbonate), or “PIC,” a type of bio-based polycarbonate that has garnered much attention as an alternative to petroleum-based polycarbonates. PIC is produced using a non-toxic material derived from glucose called isosorbide (ISB) as a monomer. The interesting part is that the carbonate links that join the ISB units can be severed using ammonia (NH3) in a process known as ‘ammonolysis’. The process produces urea, a nitrogen-rich molecule that is widely used as a fertilizer. While this chemical reaction was no secret to science, few studies on polymer degradation have focused on the potential uses of all the degradation products instead of only the monomers.

First, the scientists investigated how well the complete ammonolysis of PIC could be conducted in water at mild conditions (30°C and atmospheric pressure). The rationale behind this decision was to avoid the use of organic solvents and excessive amounts of energy. The team carefully analyzed all the reaction products through various means, including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and gel permeation chromatography.

Although they managed to produce urea in this way, the degradation of PIC was not complete even after 24 hours, with many ISB derivatives still present. Therefore, the researchers tried increasing the temperature and found that complete degradation could be achieved in about six hours at 90°C! Dr. Aoki highlights the benefits of this approach, “The reaction occurs without any catalyst, demonstrating that the ammonolysis of PIC can be easily performed using aqueous ammonia and heating. Thus, this procedure is operationally simple and environmentally friendly from the viewpoint of chemical recycling.”

Finally, as a proof-of-concept that all PIC degradation products can be directly used as a fertilizer, the team conducted plant growth experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana, a model organism. They found that plants treated with all PIC degradation products grew better than plants treated with just urea.

The overall results of this study showcase the feasibility of developing fertilizer-from-plastics systems (Figure 1). The systems can not only help fight off pollution and resource depletion but also contribute to meeting the world’s increasing food demands. Dr. Aoki concludes on a high note, “We are convinced that our work represents a milestone toward developing sustainable and recyclable polymer materials in the near future. The era of ‘bread from plastics’ is just around the corner!”

plastic to fertilizer

Figure 1. A fertilizer-from-plastics circular system
Using the degradation products of PIC as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer closes a sustainable loop that makes bioplastics a much more attractive option for addressing the environmental issues posed by conventional petroleum-based plastics.
Image credit: Daisuke Aoki from Tokyo Institute of Technology

sharing cities sweden

sharing cities sweden

The national program Sharing Cities Sweden closed at the end of August 2021. The program has been an important element of Viable Cities, the strategic innovation program for smart and sustainable cities. The program has placed much focus on how city governments can facilitate the sharing of things, services, places and mobility.

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