A North American perspective
The Recycling Council of Alberta’s annual conference Wide World of Waste attracted an attendance of some 400 waste professionals from Alberta and other parts of North America. A range of key topics was discussed, from producer responsibility and landfill diversion technologies to zero waste.
On the whole, Canada is diverting 29% of residential waste arisings away from landfill, but the industrial, commercial and institutional diversion rate is far lower at only 10%.
Much of this has been achieved through the use of dry recycling collections.
In Alberta these are linked to a deposit-return system, which encourages residents to collect and segregate packaging and then take items to the local bottle depot for a rebate.
But each province is responsible for setting its own regulatory approach. With an absence of a defined national policy on a range of waste issues, this is making for marked differences across Canada in terms of framework and performance.
San Francisco reported an interesting measure used to maximise diversion from landfill: through requiring restaurants and takeaways to use compostable or recyclable materials instead of polystyrene food trays. This enables the waste to be collected via existing collection schemes.
The view from Down Under
The Zero Waste Summit in Melbourne was organised by Zero Waste Australia. It was attended by around 75 delegates mainly from local authorities and government agencies across Australia.
Like Canada, each state is responsible for setting its own regulatory regime. This has resulted in significant differences in policies, legislation and enforcement across Australia.
With a national carbon tax and varying levels of landfill levies, there is increasing attention on the need for waste diversion, advanced treatment technologies and food waste collection and treatment options.
The lack of a co-ordinated approach to targets and implementation has resulted in significant instability and uncertainty. Australia has suffered from a number of technology failures.
In the past few years, £750m has been spent on alternative technologies including anaerobic digestion (AD) and gasification, but half of this has already been written off, with plants proving to be unsuited to their feedstock or technologies failing to deliver predicted levels of performance..
To date there has been little focus or progress made in terms of waste prevention, which is a little surprising given that Australia is seen to be leading the way in terms of zero waste.
This year’s International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) Congress was held in Florence and attended by 1,300 delegates from 64 countries. European delegates were particularly keen to share their experiences of developing national waste prevention plans in response to EU directives.
Some sessions considered the diversity of Packaging Directive implementation methods across member states and the different guises of Extended Producer Responsibility throughout Europe - none of the 12 implementing countries has gone about it in the same way, yet all so far seem to be meeting their targets.
For household waste, presentations from Italian municipalities showcased some effective pay-as-you-throw schemes, with smart bin recognition systems and community incentives reducing residual collection frequency to once monthly.
The US and central American delegates defined waste prevention as the avoidance of landfill, while
in the developing nations, waste generation is not just coupled with economic growth and consumerism, but is fuelled by them. This puts the progress being made in the UK and EU in a new light.
In conclusion, not only is the UK driving zero waste initiatives more than in other countries, but the progress made on food waste collections and AD infra-structure growth is proving a powerful story for delegates globally.
We should be proud of our progress, but should also keep an eye on what is happening elsewhere, just in case we can pick up a lesson or two.
Nia Owen, Maria Vinogradova and Adam Read of AEA