Circular economy and waste management: questions to be answered

Recently European Commission (EC) announced that it is scrapping plans to introduce a Circular Economy Package. Instead, it will launch a 'broader and more ambitious' waste package next year. The draft circular economy package was aiming to achieve a proposed 70 per cent recycling and reuse target for 2030, as well as a requirement for Member States to recycle 80% of packaging waste by 2030.

This announcement was faced as a step backwards from many stakeholders, including, Environmental Services Association (ESA, UK), Municipal Waste Europe and Friends of Earth but also companies like IKEA and Unilever who officially expressed their disagreement with the EC’s plans to postpone the draft package. On the other hand, CEWEP hopes that “we would like to see an ambitious approach to phasing out landfilling as soon and as much as possible so that the full potential of waste as a resource would be unleashed, by increasing recycling and energy generation from the remaining waste”, as CEWEP’s Managing Director Ella Stengler said (see more here).  

The whole discussion seems to be controversial and somehow difficult for the waste management sector. This is why I fully support ISWA’s recent decision to establish a new Task Force on Resource Management to investigate the contribution that the Waste Management Sector can offer to the Circular Economy and to identify the barriers and challenges that need to be overcome to support the transition from waste management to resource management (for more see here).

However, my personal approach is that before getting into the details of the relationship between circular economy and waste management industry, we better examine carefully the concepts of circular and linear economy. Because I believe that the biggest problems and challenges regarding the circular economy are included in its own definition. And although there is no doubt regarding the high benefits of closed loops of materials and the extension of prevention and reuse practices, I have a lot of doubts regarding the circularity of political correctness that is related with circular economy and its impacts to sound waste management practices.

So I will put some conceptual questions and in next posts I will try to outline possible answers.

1. Are there biophysical limits to circular economy or a close to 100% circularity is possible? What can we learn from natural sciences and physics regarding circularities?

2. What is really new in circular economy? How circular economy is related with new materials, product design and consumption? Are we focusing on the business models or the technologies involved? Why is it so attractive for many big companies? How it is related with Big Data systems and the Internet of Things?

3. What we call “circular economy” is the same in developed and developing countries? Is linear economy outdated? Can we have a global uniform approach or circular economy is a privilege of the already rich countries?

4. W
hat a circular economy means for waste management? How it is related with zero waste efforts and recycling? Are landfills and waste treatment plants going to be eliminated? Finally, does circular economy means the end of the waste management industry, as we know it?

Well, I will try to outline some answers for discussion, starting from next week.


Megacities and waste management in IN Perspective Edition 2

I was honoured to provide an interview on Megacities and Waste Management to the magazine IN Perspective, for its second edition. IN is an excellent initiative of the Dow Chemical Company, which drives the discussion regarding packaging innovation, redesign as well as its social and environmental impacts  - see at http://www.dow.com/packaging/resources/in-perspective/edition-two.htm

I was asked to speak about megacities and waste management and when I saw the publication I was surprised by the excellent quality and the set up of the whole magazine - my personal thanks to Liz and lauren for the interview and the editing.

My interview is part of a broader article about global cities and you can find it in pages 36-41, but I strongly suggest you to read the whole issue.
Find the interview at



Urban waste management challenges in LAC

Watch my recent interview on urban waste management challenges in Latin America  - available both in English and Spanish
Thanks to IADB for their excellent work and the opportunity to contribute to this important seminar
Read and watch the video here


Globalisation and waste management - the report is published

It took us almost four years of hard work, more than ten specially organised events (from Singapore to Buenos Aires), cooperation with almost 50 different scientists worldwide and hundreds of days writing and editing but the final report on Globalisation and Waste Management is published and you can download it from http://www.iswa.org/fileadmin/galleries/Task_Forces/TFGWM_Report_GWM_LR.pdf

The report has been prepared by the Task Force on Globalisation and Waste Management which has been set up by ISWA's Board in 2010. I am really thankful to my colleagues for the opportunity they gave me to work together and the things I learnt working with them so special thanks to:
Prof. David Wilson, scientific co-ordinator, Imperial College, London
Prof. Costas Velis, University of Leeds
Bjorn Appleqvist, editor, City of Copenhagen
Jeff Cooper, independent consultant 

The four key-messages of the report, which is supported from many individual studies for specific aspects, are the following:

There is a global waste management and resource system that should be further studied and understood 

There is a globalisation footprint in every local waste management system

The global footprint is particularly important in the emerging and existing megacities 

The emerging global interconnectivity should be utilised for better waste management

Global recycling markets represent a new challenge that affects local recycling programs

The dialogue between the formal and informal sectors, and transition to a formalised recycling activity within a city’s solid waste management system, is to the advantage of both 

There is a need for a radical reform and upgrade of the current minimum international aid related to waste management

I hope you will enjoy this report and please let us know any comments and suggestions for further research.


Ebola pandemics: interconnectivity, poverty traps and vulnerability

The Ebola pandemic is officially out of control. The situation in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone gets worse day by day. Just for Liberia and Sierra Leone, at the end of September 2014, it is estimated that there are approximately 8,000 total Ebola cases (21,000 total cases when corrected for underreporting).

With the current level of interventions, it is forecasted that on January 2015, without substantial changes in community behavior, a model estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone will have approximately 550,000 Ebola cases (1.4 million when corrected for underreporting).

One of the most important measures required is appropriate management of corpses – waste management during pandemics is a key-element in the effort to contain the viruses’ expansion. Leaving dead people in the streets or simply transfer them to open dumpsites is a certain contribution that make things much more difficult. Up to now, no one knows what is the fate of corpses, so we better get prepared for the worst case.

The news about the expansion of Ebola cases in USA and Europe are also striking. The so-called “advanced” security measures in USA and Europe proved completely incapable to stop the Ebola expansion. Many holes in the current protocols and inefficient preparation and training   were identified. Austerity measures left their footprints in emergency care too, creating additional barriers to an appropriate response. And the psychological weakness of “it is impossible to happen to us” has made an important contribution to the delays in identifying the infected nurses.

This is not a business as usual case. It is a serious global health risk, a pandemic that challenges our ideas and concepts regarding vulnerability, international cooperation and poverty.

First, speaking for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guiana, it seems that weak governance and administrative structures in national and local healthcare systems are completely unsuitable to manage such a pandemic, despite the heroic efforts of healthcare personnel and the contributions of volunteers, like the “Doctors Without Borders”.

Second, international aid mechanisms and tools are incapable to coordinate a global effort to control the pandemics – this is not the first time we realize it, but for sure it will be probably the worst for the last decades. International response to Ebola came too late and it is too weak.  And there will be a very high cost for it.

It is time to realize that in our interconnected world, where decades millions of people travel by airplane, cars, trains on a daily basis, no border can stop the expansion of pandemics, unless they are immediately spotted and controlled.

It is time to realize that as long as many countries are trapped to the so called “poverty trap” no citizen in rich western societies can feel safe.

We certainly know that the lack of a sound waste collection and disposal system creates health problems – now we realize that during pandemics, this is a lethal lack. Have a look at the recent Waste Atlas report  and you will find that 50 huge dumpsites serve more than 60 million people - what are waiting for closing them? They will never be closed by local efforts due to the poverty trap.

It is time to understand that global interconnectivity is growing exponentially faster than global cooperation and appropriate institutional development. The current international aid tools correspond to the Cold War Era, while the current global risks correspond to the post 9/11 world. The same pattern identified in climate change discussions (too slow, too late) is again identified in Ebola response.

The Ebola drama just started – let’s hope that besides the thousands of losses that are expected, it will also create a wave of change for our outdated international cooperation systems. And this is mostly for the developed countries that should take the lead and implement a new system of global cooperation patterns and initiatives.  Otherwise, no one is safe!