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On the Road to Zero Waste: Lessons from around the world

by Joan Marc Simon

Zero Waste is happening all over the world. To prove it GAIA presented a series of success stories from around the globe in a Side Event in Rio+20 negotiations.

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The publication On the Road to Zero Waste: Successes and lessons from around the world compiles 9 examples of how to make Zero Waste happen regardless of the geographical, socio-economical and political context.

It shows that when there is political will there is always a way to reduce waste generation, increase recycling and continue to shrink the fraction that cannot be composted or recycled. There are many reasons for the success of these case studies but what they all have in common is intensive prevention and source separation policies and flexible and decentralised, low-tech waste treatment systems. They are all more cost-effective and generate more employment than systems built around big incineration and landfills.

Here you have some highlights of the studies:

• Through incentives and extensive public outreach, San Francisco has reduced its waste to landfill by 77 percent—the highest diversion rate in the United States—and is on track to reach 90 percent by 2020.

• A door-to-door collection service operated by a cooperative of almost 2,000 grassroots recyclers in Pune, India, has been integrated into the city’s waste management system and diverts enough waste to avoid 640,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

• Aggressive standards and incentives for both individuals and businesses in the Flanders region of Belgium have achieved 73 percent diversion of residential waste, the highest regional rate in Europe.

• In Taiwan, community opposition to incineration pushed the government to adopt goals and programs for waste prevention and recycling that were so successful that the quantity of waste decreased significantly even as the population increased and the economy grew.

• An anti-incinerator movement in the Spanish province of Gipuzkoa led to the adoption of a door-to-door waste collection service in several small cities that has reduced the amount of waste going to landfills by 80 percent.

• In Alaminos, Philippines, a participatory, bottom-up approach proved that communities have the ability to solve their own waste management problems.

• In Mumbai, India, and La Pintana, Chile, a focus on organics has produced real value from their largest and most problematic portion of municipal waste.

• In Buenos Aires, by organizing into cooperatives and taking collective political action, grassroots recyclers called cartoneros have gotten the city to adopt separation of waste at source, an essential step toward its goal of 75 percent diversion by 2017.

The exercise to compile these world best practices will continue in the GAIA website and hence this list is not exhaustive. There are a lot more Zero Waste practices around the world. In Europe there are many communities that are driving the change to a zero waste society and which this website is presenting little by little.

To download the publication and learn how these communities managed to change the status-quo and become best practices click here.

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