Well, I trust that you're sitting down, because I most definitely could not have guessed that three years to the exact week that I took the Zero Waste Week challenge I would end up at an international strategy meeting in Brussels.
Trangressing away from the question of "how the blimmin' 'eck did a housewife from Suffolk end up in an international forum on the continent, and more importantly ...who was left sorting out the recycling back at home", I really want to emphasise what an important step, the creation of a Zero Waste Europe alliance actually is to the future of sustainable waste practices on the global platform and at local level. Anyone who is at all interested in the subject of reducing waste should certainly keep the development of this alliance at the forefront of their awareness, and if appropriate tap into the emerging network of Zero Waste expertise that is developing across Europe.
So what is it? At its most simple definition Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) is an alliance that brings together municipalities, companies, universities and organisations committed to work to eliminate waste in Europe.
It's about raising awareness of the philosophy, the strategies, and defining practical tools that seek to eliminate waste, not just manage it and the alliance coordinates the development of these concepts throughout Europe and organises activities to promote it.
With links to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), which itself was created in 2003, ZWE works at a more local level, acting as an umbrella group for the Zero Waste interest groups that are starting to emerge throughout Europe. Some of these groups were represented at Monday's strategy meeting, including the ZWUK, Zero Waste Italy, Zero Waste Catalonia, and Zero Waste Hungary, along with waste reduction campaigners and strategists from organisations such as Friends of the Earth, WasteWatch, the European Environmental Bureau and Centre national d'information indépendante sur les déchets (CNIID).
I could go on, but I think it's enough to say that with representation from countries that included France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Romania and the UK, we are looking at great potential for change and sharing of best practice.
As well as coming together to define the strategic direction of the alliance, the group was also able to hear first hand about the successful experiences in developing local Zero Waste vision and practical examples within communities, ranging from villages to municipalities.
Rossano Ercolini, founder of Rifiuti Zero Italia shared the latest update from Italy, where over 35 municipalities have now formally adopted the Zero Waste goal in a move that improves waste reduction processes for a combined population of over 12 million people. They have also developed an official Zero Waste Research Centre, an idea that demonstrates the necessity of knowledge management and research in the move towards Zero Waste economies.
The UK's Mal Williams, founder of ZWIA, ZWUK and trustee of CLYCH, Wales Community Recycling Network, outlined the success stories of Zero Waste areas in Wales, including St Arvans and more recently Presteigne, With news that the community should achieve an 89% recycling and waste reduction goal by the end of the year.
One thing that struck me about Mal's presentation, was that aside from the practical processes and economic or sustainable benefits of Zero Waste, his vision is to implement the philosopy as a productive instrument for social change. By rethinking the whole idea of waste management, there are opportunities to empower ownership within communities and to redistribute wealth drawn from recyclates back into the community, supporting a movement towards renewed self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
With so much information that was shared at the ZWE and strength of collaboration that exists, I have to concede that this blogpost could not even stretch to covering it all. Just this minor snapshot cannot do it proper justice.
However, the message that I really want to convey is that the goal of Zero Waste is certainly here to stay, as is the visionary journey towards it. And it is thanks to the commitment, knowledge and skills of professionals and practitioners who are developing a world where the idea of waste will eventually be regarded as historic as a world without wheels.
So, if this is something that you or your oganisation supports and would like to find out more information, then I'd encourage you to make contact with your local representative body.
In the UK, your first line of contact should be the Zero Waste Alliance UK, which also happens to have its AGM taking place in April. Of course, if you're elsewhere in Europe, Zero Waste Europe will be able to direct you to your local alliance.
Finally, would I ever dream of coming back without a souvenir of my recycling memoires? Of course not. So, courtesy of Eurostar and Brussels-Midi train station I'll leave you with a photo of the most colourful and fabulously designed set of recycling bins I've ever had the fortune to experience. And look at those holes, so reminiscent of a toddlers' shape-sorting toy, I bet I could have kept my kids entertained for days!