I sometimes ask myself, ‘Why waste?’ I studied economics to help create a better world but quickly discovered the theory – that markets deliver efficiency – didn’t match reality. The challenge is making our economies compatible with life on Earth – and for me, the first step is redesigning our society for zero waste.
Hailing from Barcelona, Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe, and MAVA Leaders for Nature Academy participant, is passionate about transforming today’s throwaway society into one in which anything that can’t be repaired, composted or recycled should be redesigned, replaced, or banned from entering the market.
Since successfully lobbying on behalf of the Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives for the inclusion of recycling targets in the EU’s Waste Framework Directive in 2006, Joan Marc has carefully crafted a network of national zero waste organisations that reaches from Spain to Belarus and Ukraine.
Everything we do as a network comes from the bottom up, which means we all speak with one voice. Our power is in our local groups – that’s where real change happens, so we focus on giving them with the tools and techniques they need.
In pursuing its vision of creating a circular resource system, Zero Waste Europe combines advocacy for ‘enabling’ policies with strategic industry, community and consumer engagement, including working with more than 400 municipalities on local zero waste plans.
“Achieving a zero waste future relies on building a movement for change. We have to work beyond our circle of influence, harnessing the power of progressive businesses and NGOs like Greenpeace, and create a unified voice.”
Among other things, Zero Waste Europe have been instrumental in driving the #breakfreefromplastic movement in Europe, co-ordinating the Rethink Plastic Alliance, and playing a critical role in shaping new norms around plastic use, not least by helping secure the 2019 Single-Use Plastics Directive – a milestone policy promoting circularity and extending producer clean up responsibilities.
Making it easy
Notable local successes include Ljubljana becoming the first European capital to declare a Zero Waste goal, Swiss company ReCircle promoting reusable boxes for take-away meals, and a growing packaging-free shop movement.
In Europe, the waste we generate per person has doubled in the last 25 years but Joan Marc is optimistic. The number of Zero Waste municipalities is growing steadily, and the promise of standards and certification will enable any city in Europe to set up new waste systems more easily, offering the potential for change at scale.
It should be cheaper and easier for consumers to do the right thing. At the moment, it’s the opposite. We need products to last, be repairable and non-toxic. And new business models that incentivise producers to eliminate waste.