August 15, 2004 | General


BioCycle August 2004, Vol. 45, No. 8, p 66
While challenges are substantial, a transformation is in full sway to shift to effective resource management that integrates economic, environmental and social needs of each community.
Neil Seldman

ALTHOUGH the recycling movements in France and the United Kingdom are vastly different, they may soon converge on a zero waste future.
In the UK, recycling is at the classic economic take-off stage. Basic infrastructure and institutions are in place. The decision to recycle has been made. Private and public capital is flooding into the sector focused on local government and at least 300 social enterprises. The Community Recycling Network (CRN), the country’s recycling trade association, is controlled by grassroots, mission driven service and education organizations. In France, there is no comparable recycling infrastructure, yet the country is poised for fundamental change from the traditional burn and bury paradigm.
Four critical structural problems create a formidable barrier to a vibrant recycling economy in France: Solid waste policies are made at the national level of government, which undermines local creativity and initiative; The packaging industry controls recycling, which prevents a real market for secondary materials from developing and limits the amount and types of materials recycled; Put or pay contracts with incinerators force communities to burn instead of divert materials despite cost-effective alternatives; and Many cities rely on burning waste for over 50 percent of the energy for cogeneration and steam district heating networks. Whereas New York City can convert its Marine Transfer Stations to accommodate recycling, Paris cannot so conveniently transform its incinerators into recycling facilities without replacing the source of energy. Thus, the current solid waste management system in France is addicted to waste incineration just as the U.S. economy is addicted to oil.
Sensing the opportunity for change stimulated by European Directives, internal opposition to incineration and an aggressive international Zero Waste Movement, the Decentralization and Initiatives Locales (DIL), a nonprofit policy and technical assistance organization, coordinated the Zero Waste Conference to present the theory and practice of this alternative approach to the National Legislature. Led by Didier Toque of DIL, a delegation of technical experts from Canada, the U.S., Philippines, New Zealand, Australia and the UK met with a series of government agencies for private talks. This was followed by a two-day public conference to enhance dialogue and understanding. For a list of delegates, position papers and agenda, see the DIL web page at
Initially, the dialogue between agency heads and Members of Parliament and the Zero Waste Delegation was strained. French officials felt that zero waste was too theoretical to address the problems they faced on a daily basis. Wasn’t recycling and incineration with electricity and steam recovery the formulae for zero waste? However, when the details of operating systems from places like Toronto, Halifax, Boulder, Manila, Canberra, San Francisco, Wales and Colchester were presented, a dialogue pregnant with opportunities ensued. Representatives from numerous jurisdictions throughout France expressed interest in following zero waste options. Equally promising, national officials agreed in principle to waive existing rules to allow local initiatives to be introduced. For example, developments in Alsace directly after the Conference demonstrated strong interest in such alternatives as source separation and composting systems. Policies that could be waived include put-or-pay contracts with incinerators; exemptions from industry-controlled programs that actually limit types and amounts of recyclables and interrupts a free pricing marketplace.
Parallel to these efforts, grassroots activists, through organizations such as M.D.R.G.F Association Ecologiste, and the French affiliate of the Global Anti-Incineration Alliance (GAIA), are pushing to ban new incinerators and phase out existing facilities.
Coming from the U.S. where the national recycling organization has long been impacted by the waste disposal and beverage industries, participating in the CRN annual conference was an exciting and motivating experience. The event was organized and run from the point of view of grass roots, mission driven, recycling and environmental organizations. Hundreds of recycling organizations have emerged in the past few years and have been embraced at the local level. These have been dubbed “social enterprises” because they are fully integrated into the economic, environmental and social needs of each community. The process of transforming waste management into resource management is now in full sway. Community market forces “are sneaking their way into the edifice of the industrial system,” states Ray Georgeson, director of Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the UK’s national recycling market development agency.
Recycling based social enterprises have introduced mobile education and game centers, personal collection vehicles, new contracting procedures, mandatory recycling for households and businesses, pay-as-you-throw schemes and new funding mechanisms. The CRN Conference featured presentations by successful recycling entrepreneurs as well as government officials who have responded to the movement’s political and economic organizing. Myriad programs now channel capital and operating funds to local agencies. These include the national disposal surcharge, Community Recycling and Economic Development Programme, National Procurement Strategy for Local Governments, Social and Economic Regeneration Fund, Department of Environment, Food and Agricultural Affairs, Clean Stream Fund, Future Builders Fund, Intermediate Labor Market Fund and WRAP. In addition, recycling service contracts, training contracts and purchasing schemes create an expanding market for recycling practitioners. One private firm reports the doubling of profits every two years. Some of these resources have been used to finance Resource: A New Perspective On Waste, the highly professional nonprofit journal of the UK recycling movement.
Mal Williams, director of the Welsh Recycling Association, CYLCH (Welsh for Circle) and a leader in the UK Zero Waste movement, pointed out that there might be too much money available. He estimates that some L 500 million has already been spent on planning. Ben Max, CRN’s London organizer, also fears funds have disappeared without results even as the recycling goals for London have been raised to 60 percent by 2015. Mandatory recycling as well as new commercial programs are being considered to boost recovery levels in London estimated currently to be between 10 and 20 percent.
The time is now for funds to be transformed into expanded infrastructure, industrial parks, industry sponsored take-back programs, disposal bans and bans on “impossible to recycle” materials. Above all, CRN members are calling for investment in people and people oriented resource management to replace solid waste disposal.
Mayor Martin Winter of Doncaster, UK (pop. 300,000) is among the local leaders fully embracing the zero waste approach. CYLCH has been engaged to implement programs in that city. ILSR has already identified a waste based manufacturer interested in locating in one of Doncaster’s industrial parks. In that same city, ILSR connected owners of an industrial rubber recycling plant producing a virgin rubber substitute to sell materials to the industry at lower prices than virgin. No waste comes out of the plant, and the owners have UK investors who are meeting with the Mayor.
Parallel to the recycling implementation efforts, Communities Against Toxics, an independent network of local organizations, is fighting against new incinerator proposals as well as phasing out existing incinerators, and thus pave the way for sustainable management of resources generated in cities and towns.
The UK is in the midst of a wave of anti-incineration organizing similar to the U.S. anti-incineration movement in the l980s which catapulted the U.S. recycling movement. Also similar to developments in the U.S., the UK recycling movement is moving towards the Zero Waste Paradigm; featuring waste elimination, clean production and maximum recovery and community economic development.
The discussions in France and the UK are being carried to the U.S. in August 2004 in San Francisco as an International Dialogue on Zero Waste. Over 100 zero waste practitioners are meeting to define the paradigm. The event replicates the National Recycling Research Agenda prepared by ILSR and the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) in 1980 when over 120 recycling practitioners developed and presented the recycling paradigm in the U.S.
The event is being coordinated by Richard Anthony on behalf of the Global Recycling Council (GRC) of the CRRA, with support from ILSR and the Grass Roots Recycling Network. Representatives from France, the UK, Canada, Philippines, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Switzerland, Indonesia and the U.S. will participate. For detailed information about the event, go to
The resulting document will be circulated internationally and presented at the Recovery, Recycling, Re-Integration 7th World Congress and Exhibition (R’05) conference in Beijing, China, September 2005. For more information on that event, visit
Neil Seldman is cofounder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) based in Washington, DC. His e-mail is Website address is
Zero Waste Defeats Incinerator In France
WITHIN one month of its introduction in France, the concept and details of Zero Waste was selected as a cost-effective and environmentally-sound solid waste management alternative to disposal in incinerators and landfills. The Haut-Rhin Department in the Alsace Region on the German border rejected an incinerator in favor of a comprehensive recycling and composting solution. The region has a tradition of strong support for the environment. The decision came after a two-hour meeting of over 50 mayors and local decision-makers with staff of the Decentralization and Initiatives Locales (DIL), a nonprofit policy and technical assistance organization.
“The department is the first locality in the country to become a Zero Waste pilot program,” states Didier Toque of (DIL) “We anticipate much more interest in this approach throughout the country.”
The meeting in Haut-Rhin was the result of long-term citizen agitation by local community and environmental organizations. “Even with our differences, we now are all looking in the same direction,” one participant commented. “The global implications of Zero Waste shifted the discussion from focusing on narrow technical problems of incineration.” Another participant said that “it has been a long time since we had a peaceful debate on the subject. Progress is being made.”
In May, 2004, the DIL coordinated the Zero Waste: Utopia or Reality Conference at the National Legislature in which an international delegation of practitioners met with over 200 national and local officials. Zero Waste is defined as waste reduction, clean production, maximum recovery and use of materials for local economic development. Practical applications by government, private industry and grass roots organizations from around the world were presented. National decision-makers agreed that exploration of new approaches is timely.
“The Conference opened minds to new ideas.” notes Sonia Mendoza a member of the Zero Waste Delegation. Ms. Mendoza is a chemist by training and a leading Zero Waste activist from the Philippines, the only nation in the world to ban waste incineration.
“We now have a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate how France can meet stringent European solid waste disposal standards with Zero Waste implementation; and meet economic growth targets.” explains Natacha Sengler of DIL. The organization is coordinating technical assistance teams to assist local jurisdictions, including Paris, in implementation of programs.

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