Friday, 9 September 2011

Making 2020 Zero Waste Work: Coventry Conference

Professor Paul Connett, presenting at the Coventry conference

Today, representatives from central government, local authorities and universities gathered together in Coventry along with social enterprises, mulitnationals, waste management companies, the third sector and environmental bodies, to explore how UK society can create a proper zero waste economy in line with aspirations for 2020.

For many, zero waste translates as 'zero waste to landfill', but a strong message that was made clear at today's conference was that a zero waste goal should be exactly what it says...simply ZERO waste, achieved through innovations that design out waste during manufacture and a society that promotes reuse and technologies that enable precious resources to be properly recycled rather than the assumption that the simplest destination for residual waste is to be burned with no other opportunity for recovery.

Anyone who has any doubts over whether this zero waste vision could become a reality, should consult with American waste campaigner Professor Paul Connett, pictured above, who presents a strong case for product redesign, economic incentives, community empowerment and the development of separation & research facilities at landfill\incineration sites, as being vital components in making it work.

And the key to success is everyone in the chain working together to drive the results forward, an example of which was announced in Coventry today, where Coventry University, which already runs 50 courses in sustainability and the environment, revealed plans to create a Zero Waste research centre, working closely with the local authority.

Today's programme also presented examples of industry's approach to creating zero waste through manufacturing processes and facilities management as well as examplers of community-based programmes and waste stream development.

The presentation by Garden Organic's Myles Bremner particularly struck a chord, as it was one of the strongest case studies  for how individuals can make a difference, not only regarding reducing their own waste, but by empowering their communities.  Through the Master Composter scheme, Garden Organics has been successful in creating a peer-to-peer network, where members of the public are able to help others, by sharing their expertise locally.

Of course I couldn't leave the conference without highlighting my strong belief that a similar peer-to-peer network is needed to nurture recycling champions across the UK, where trusted and enthusiastic members of the community are empowered to share their knowledge through local groups and at key events.  Social-networking has already demonstrated the power of word-of-mouth. If this could be replicated throughout local communiities, this greater awareness could bring beneficial results to not just recycling rates but to waste arisings too.

Although this event was organised independently of National Zero Waste Week, it was a welcome coincidence and well-timed for this week's calendar.  It would have been news to most of those who attended today's conference that this week is indeed the 4th national awareness week of its kind.   And with reference to my earlier point about community champions, National Zero Waste Week, as organised by Rachelle Strauss of MyZeroWaste is an excellent example of how a positive role model can engage with the community around them, allbeit a virtual one.  With over 12,000 visitors to the campaign page, it certainly has proven its wide reach.

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was in attendance today and stayed for a short while following her keynote speech.  Although the government is placing waste prevention high on its agenda and has created a path towards a zero waste economy, today's  conference demonstrated that it needs to work harder and be tougher on manufacturing to design out waste and solutions for maximising the waste that remains.  I hope that government now shifts its expectations to fit more closely in line with the visionaries we saw today, who are passionate about better use of the world's resources and the socio-economic opportunities of managing them more effectively.

Mal Williams, CEO of the Welsh community recycling network Clych, who also spoke at today's conference, really couldn't have put the point more bluntly.

"Waste is a mistake, not a resource," he asserted and referring to how society goes forward, he added that it is time to move from a "Careless system to a CAREFUL system".

And I have to agree, this should be the barometer against which a sustainable zero waste strategy should be measured and judged.


This blogpost has been written in support of National Zero Waste Week 2011. More information about the awareness week can be found at  Further details about the Making 2020 Zero Waste Work conference are available at, where the speakers' presentations will be published very soon.


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