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.