On The Road to Zero Waste

On The Road
to Zero Waste
Success es and Less ons
from around the World
Global Alliance for
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GAIA Secretariat
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26 Matalino Street
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Conflictos Ambientales (OLCA)
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Berkeley, CA 94704
Phone: +1-510-883-9490
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Email: monica@no-burn.org
GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 650 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and
individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration.
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Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance Authors and Contributors
Cecilia Allen is a sociologist active in environmental health and justice organizations with a particular interest in waste management;
she was part of GAIA’s coordination team for eight years.
Virali Gokaldas has a background in environmental science and business management with a focus on the green economy; she
advises social ventures and nonprofits on operational improvements and growth of new
programs, products, and services.
Anne Larracas has been with GAIA in the Manila office for six years. She helps coordinate work for zero waste and against
incineration in the Asia-Pacific region.
Leslie Ann Minot, GAIA’s Development Director since 2010, has been fundraising since 1996 for international, national, and local
human and civil rights, LGBT, health, environmental, and youth organizations and projects.
Maeva Morin, a researcher with expertise in solid waste management, consulted for GAIA in Buenos Aires from May to August in
Neil Tangri, a founding member of GAIA, works on GAIA’s waste and climate change campaign.
Burr Tyler, a lifelong environmentalist, is GAIA’s Publications Coordinator and has a Master’s degree in Education.
Bill Walker is a Berkeley, California-based writer, editor, and communications strategist who has worked with Greenpeace,
Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth and many other leading NGOs.
June 2012
COVER Cloc kwise from top left : Alaminos (Anne Larracas), Buenos Aires (Cooperativa El Ceibo),
Hernani (Gipuzkoa Zero Zabor), Mumbai (Michael Atkin), Flanders (OVAM), San Francisco (Larry Strong),
Pune (Amit Thavaraj), Taiwan (Allianz SE), La Pintana (DIGA)
Design and Layout by Design Action Collective
On The Road
to Zero Waste
Success es and Less ons
from around the World
This report is the work of many individuals, but we owe a special thanks to those who gave so
generously of their time, research, and materials: Gaspar Acosta, Michael Atkin, Sônia Maria
Dias, Marnie Dolera, Rhonda Douglas, Kevin Drew, Exequiel Estay Tapia, Lucia Fernández, Malati
Gadgil, Robert Haley, Herlin Hsieh, Jyoti Mhapsekar, Maeva Morin, Laxmi Narayan, Patricio
Navarrete Benavides, Grace Ravarra, Maitreyi Shankar, Joan Marc Simon, Amit Thavaraj, Manuel
Valencia Guzmán, Anne Vandeputte, Monica Wilson, OVAM, Pello Zubiria Kamino, and the Del
Oeste, El Alamo, El Ceibo, MTE, and Recuperadores Urbanos Del Oeste cooperatives. Most of
all, we owe thanks to the many thousands of zero waste pioneers who are creating the reality
this report seeks to describe.
Check GAIA’s website to read cases as they are added to the series:
Table of Contents
Introduction: Stories From the Front Lines of the Zero Waste Movement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Pune, India: Waste Pickers Lead the Way to Zero Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
San Francisco, USA: Creating a Culture of Zero Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
Alaminos, Philippines: Zero Waste, from Dream to Reality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Hernani, Spain: Door-to-Door Collection as a Strategy to Reduce Waste Disposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
La Pintana, Chile: Prioritizing the Recovery of Vegetable Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Mumbai, India: Waste Picker-Run Biogas Plants as a Decentralized Solution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Flanders, Belgium: Europe’s Best Recycling and Prevention Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Taiwan: Community Action Leads Government toward Zero Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Buenos Aires City, Argentina: Including Grassroots Recyclers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
2 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Intro ductio n
Stories From the Front Lines
of the Zero Waste Movement
Zero waste is both a goal and a plan of action. The goal is
to ensure resource recovery and protect scarce natural
resources by ending waste disposal in incinerators,
dumps, and landfills. The plan encompasses waste
reduction, composting, recycling and reuse, changes
in consumption habits, and industrial redesign. But
just as importantly, zero waste is a revolution in the
relationship between waste and people. It is a new
way of thinking that aims to safeguard the health and
improve the lives of everyone who produces, handles,
works with, or is affected by waste—in other words,
all of us.
Zero waste strategies help societies to produce and
consume goods while respecting ecological limits
and the rights of communities; they ensure that
all discarded materials are safely and sustainably
returned to nature or manufacturing. In a zero waste
approach, waste management is not left only to
politicians and technical experts; rather, everyone
impacted—from residents of wealthy neighborhoods
to the public, private, and informal sector workers who
handle waste—has a voice.
Practicing zero waste means moving toward a
world in which all materials are used to their utmost
potential, and the needs of people—workers and
communities—are integrated into a system that also
protects the environment while ensuring that nothing
goes to waste. It is much like establishing zero defect
goals for manufacturing, or zero injury goals in the
workplace. Zero waste is ambitious, but it is neither
unachieveable nor part of some far-off future. In small
towns and big cities, in communities rich and poor, in
the global North and South, innovative plans in place
today are making real progress toward the goal of
zero waste.
• Through incentives and extensive public outreach,
San Francisco has reduced its waste
to landfill by 77 percent—the highest diversion
rate in the United States—and is on track to
reach 90 percent by 2020.
• A door-to-door collection service operated
by a cooperative of almost 2,000 grassroots
recyclers in Pune, India, has been integrated
into the city’s waste management system and
diverts enough waste to avoid 640,000 tons
of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
• Aggressive standards and incentives for both
individuals and businesses in the Flanders
region of Belgium have achieved 73 percent
diversion of residential waste, the highest regional
rate in Europe.
• In Taiwan, community opposition to incinera|
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tion pushed the government to adopt goals
and programs for waste prevention and recycling
that were so successful that the quantity
of waste decreased significantly even as the
population increased and the economy grew.
• An anti-incinerator movement in the Spanish
province of Gipuzkoa led to the adoption of a
door-to-door waste collection service in several
small cities that has reduced the amount
of waste going to landfills by 80 percent.
• In Alaminos, Philippines, a participatory, bottom-
up approach proved that communities
have the ability to solve their own waste management
• In Mumbai, India, and La Pintana, Chile, a focus
on organics has produced real value from
their largest and most problematic portion of
municipal waste.
• In Buenos Aires, by organizing into cooperatives
and taking collective political action,
grassroots recyclers called cartoneros have
gotten the city to adopt separation of waste at
source, an essential step toward its goal of 75
percent diversion by 2017.
The stories of these communities and others are
detailed in this report. While few locations are bringing
together all the elements of a comprehensive zero
waste plan, many have in common a philosophy driven
by four core strategies:
Setting a New Direction Away From
Waste Disposal
Open dumps, landfills, and incinerators (including
so-called waste-to-energy schemes) are part of a
shortsighted and outmoded way of thinking that views
waste disposal as cheap because true costs are not
taken into account. The costs of pollution, resource
depletion, climate change, health problems, and human
suffering are externalized onto the environment and
people, including future generations.
Zero waste moves societies away from waste
disposal by setting goals and target dates to reduce
waste going to landfills, abolishing waste incineration,
establishing or raising landfill fees, shifting subsidies
away from waste disposal and into discard recovery,
and banning disposable products, among other
interventions. These policies are strongest when they
incentivize community participation and incorporate
the interests of waste workers.
Supporting Comprehensive Reuse,
Recycling, and Organics Treatment
Zero waste requires a system of safe and efficient
recovery of materials so that the discards that are
inevitably produced are returned to nature or to
manufacturing. Such a system operates through
separating waste at its source in order to reuse, repair,
and recycle inorganic materials, and compost or digest
organic materials.
Often, separate collection and processing of organics
is the key complement to existing recycling efforts.
Separate organics collection ensures a stream of
clean, high-quality material which in turn enables the
creation of useful products (compost and biogas)
from the largest fraction of municipal waste. It also
improves the recycling rate because the materials
remain free of contamination.
Engaging Communities
Zero waste relies on democracy and strong
community action to determine the direction of waste
management programs. Citizens need to be part
of the very design of the plan, and a lengthy initial
consultation process can pay off with better design
4 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
and higher participation rates. Residents must actively
participate in the programs by consuming sustainably,
minimizing waste, separating discards, and composting
at home. They should also be active in monitoring the
implementation of the programs in their community.
A successful zero waste program must also be an
inclusive one. Inclusive zero waste systems make
sure that resource recovery programs include and
respect the community and all social actors involved
in resource conservation, especially informal recyclers
whose livelihoods depend on discarded materials. The
workers who handle waste should be fully integrated
into the design, implementation, and monitoring
processes, as it is the application of their skills and
efforts which ultimately make the system function.
A successful zero waste system will prioritize waste
workers’ safety and well-being and ensure that their
interests are aligned with programmatic success. In
some communities, where waste workers come from
historically excluded populations, this may require
ending long-standing discriminatory practices.
Designing for the Future
Once communities begin to put zero waste practices
in place, new opportunities emerge. The residual
fraction—that which is left over because it is either
too toxic to be safely recycled or is made out of
non-recyclable materials—becomes evident, and
industrial design mistakes and inefficiencies can be
studied and corrected. Zero waste institutes can help
businesses and manufacturers establish cleaner and
more sustainable production processes and products
even as government policies push them to do so. Zero
waste goes beyond recycling programs and prioritizes
the redesign of products. If it cannot be reused,
composted, or recycled, it just should not be produced
in the first place.
Specifically, zero waste emphasizes efficient use
of resources; safe manufacturing and recycling
processes to protect workers; product durability; and
design for disassembly, repair, and recycling. Extended
Producer Responsibility, clean production, reducing or
substituting toxic materials, reducing packaging, and
environmentally preferable purchasing are important
The communities discussed in these case studies,
and many others around the world, are enjoying
significant environmental, climatic, social, economic,
and sanitation benefits from their adoption of various
elements of zero waste. Every community is different,
and no two zero waste programs will be identical.
The variety of approaches profiled is indicative of the
diverse approaches that all lead towards the same
goal. Although some of these systems also currently
include elements which are incompatible with zero
waste, such as incineration, the positive elements
offer a foundation on which to build comprehensive
zero waste systems. For now, these communities offer
enlightening examples of how the various elements
function in the real world, in a wide variety of economic,
cultural and political contexts. We can all learn from
their efforts.
| 5
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6 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Waste Pickers Lead the Way
to Zero Waste
By Neil Tangri
Over the last 20 years, Pune’s waste pickers1 have created
a remarkable transformation in their city’s municipal waste
management system and in their own lives. These informal
sector collectors of recyclable materials formed a union to
protect their rights and bring dignity to their work. The union
has been so successful that it has allowed them to implement
door-to-door collection, source separation, and separate
treatment for organics, all while improving waste picker
livelihoods and working conditions. Now, the waste pickers’
own cooperative is pioneering a wider-reaching and more
rigorous zero waste program.
Rally for dignity. (photo: Amit Thavaraj © KK PKP/SWaCH)
Maharashtra State, India
Area: 700 km2
Population: 3,115,431
Population density: 4451/km2
Average annual rainfall: 2,751 mm
Altitude: 560 meters above sea level
Average temperature range: 11ºC to 37ºC
Waste generation: 0.3 kg/capita/day
Avoided costs to city: US $2.8 million per year
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Like most Indian cities, Pune has long had an informal
waste management system operating in parallel with
an overburdened municipal system. Residents were
obliged to place their waste in roadside containers
made of steel (also called dumpsters or skips)—each
capable of holding several cubic meters of waste—
which were supposed to be emptied daily. In practice,
the city only emptied about 40 percent of them each
day, transporting the waste to the dump. As a result,
overflowing containers was a common complaint of
The containers did provide a livelihood for waste
pickers, who would look through them for recyclable
materials, which they bundled and sold to middlemen
(kabariwalas). However, some of the more valuable
material never made it to the roadside bin because
house-maids or security guards would lay claim to
it and sell it to itinerant scrap buyers. Other waste
pickers worked at the landfill. Under the most noxious
conditions, they recovered recyclables from what the
city dumped there. All of this material was sorted,
cleaned, and sold to industry, through a series of
middlemen, for eventual recycling.
In Pune, 92 percent of waste pickers are women,
almost all from the lowest, or Dalit, caste. Thirty percent
are widowed or deserted, and another 50 percent are
the primary breadwinners for their families. Before the
union, they moved mostly on foot, covering a distance
of up to 12 km per day with headloads of up to 40
kg. Some traveled by train or truck to the villages and
industrial areas around the city. They left their homes
at sunrise and returned at sunset after working a 10
hour day. The average daily earning was 60 (US
The occupation was extremely hazardous. Forced to use
bare hands to rummage through putrefying garbage
containing glass shards, medical waste, dead animals,
toxic chemicals, and heavy metals, waste pickers
collected bits of reusable, repairable, and marketable
materials. Many sustained repeated injuries, illnesses,
and diseases as a result of their work. Tuberculosis,
scabies, asthma, respiratory infections, cuts, animal
bites, and other injuries were common.
Other potential dangers in the city’s dumps included
injury from falling items—or even avalanches—in the
mountains of waste, or being hit by moving vehicles
when scrambling to get to the materials being dumped.
In addition, there were frequent squabbles between
Mangal Gaikwad lives
in a slum in Aundh,
Pune. The difference
that her involvement
in doorstep collection
and in the Union made
to her life is presented
in her own words. “Today I earn 3000 [US
$56]2 from doorstep collection and the sale of
scrap. The residents in the area who used to
frown at me while I was at the garbage bin, now
know my name and greet me. A resident gave
me a second hand bicycle. I had never ridden
one before. Today, I ride to work on that cycle.
When I was a child I used to envy the children
who went to school with their bags and water
bottles while I had to go wastepicking. Since
my work day is shorter now I was able to attend
the literacy class in my slum. I am now literate.
I am the Treasurer of the credit cooperative
and the representative for my slum. I used to
be terrified of my abusive alcoholic husband.
Twice I sent him to a deaddiction centre. He
stopped for a while but continues to drink. I
am no longer terrified of him. I do not give him
money to drink. I have bought a bigger house
for 65,000 [US $1200] from my savings and
a loan I took from the credit cooperative.”
8 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
waste pickers over territory, and they had to compete
from the bottom of a hierarchy of domestic workers,
sweepers, and others who had first claim to any
materials of value. Without rights to the garbage
they lived on, the lives and livelihoods of waste
pickers were very insecure.
As bad as the physical conditions of work were the
social conditions. Without any right to the garbage
they sifted, waste pickers were often accused of
theft. They frequently had to pay bribes to police and
municipal workers; they were vulnerable to sexual
assault; they were viewed with distaste, or worse, by
most of the rest of society; their children were refused
admission in schools; etc. Nevertheless, they preferred
waste picking to construction or domestic work—the
other principal occupations open to them—because it
afforded greater independence, flexibility, and relative
freedom from the feudal and often sexually exploitative
relationships prevalent in those fields.
A Waste Pickers’ Union
In 1993, with the encouragement of activists
associated with a local university, some 800 waste
pickers attended a citywide convention to give voice to
their grievances. They resolved to engage in collective,
nonviolent struggle to improve their conditions; thus
was born Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat
(KK PKP), the first waste pickers’ union in India. From
the beginning, the union was established with
a larger goal of fighting for social justice, and
against social, economic, cultural, and political
exclusion. In particular, it has a strong focus on caste,
class, and gender issues.
KK PKP’s membership rapidly grew to include 6,400
of the 7,000 waste pickers in Pune as it tackled a
number of issues of concern to its members. One of
their first victories was to confront police officers who
had taken bribes and sexually propositioned waste
pickers. Faced with several thousand waste pickers—
who were starting to garner the support of politicians
wanting their votes—the police backed down and
returned the money taken. The success of this
experience encouraged KK PKP to tackle even more
issues. In 1995-96, they won official recognition from
city government, which issued them identity cards—
something that in practice protected them from police
harassment but was also a tangible representation of
their improving status in society.
In 1997, KK PKP created a credit cooperative with
the participation of over 2,000 members; this freed
the waste pickers from their dependency on usurious
moneylenders. Another crucial milestone was
achieved in 2003, when the municipality took
the unusual step of paying health insurance
premiums for KKPKP members in recognition of
their financial and environmental contribution
to the city—the former calculated at €3 million
(US $3.85 million) per year.
KKPKP meeting. (photo: Amit Thavaraj) © KK PKP/SWaCH
Until now we were counted among the animals;
Baba Adhav [one of the KKPKP organizers]
has brought us to sit here as humans.
— Hirabai Shinde, KKPKP member
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KK PKP realized early on that changes in the waste
management system could deliver important benefits
to waste pickers. If residents separated their waste at
source and waste pickers retrieved it from individual
homes through door-to-door collection, both would
benefit: residents would have a convenience service
while waste pickers would spend less time sorting waste
and recover a higher percentage of saleable materials
(since cross-contamination reduces the quality and
amount of recyclable materials). However, getting
residents to source separate their waste also created
opportunities for middlemen and private companies to
step in and claim those recyclables. When the Pune
Municipal Corporation (PMC) considered handing
the entire waste collection process over to a private
company, KK PKP was compelled to act to prevent its
members from being completely displaced.
From Scavengers to Service
Providers—SWaCH Operations
For several years, KK PKP encouraged its members
to establish door-to-door collection routines; many
did so, and benefitted from the small service fees
residents would pay as well as access to cleaner,
better-separated recyclables. In 2008, KK PKP formed
a cooperative, Solid Waste Collection and Handling
(SWaCH),3 to regularize and expand this practice. Its
aims are to guarantee members’ access to recyclable
material, to improve their working conditions and
earnings, and to transform the status of the occupation
from scavenging to service provision.
As of May 2012, SWaCH’s approximately
2,000 members were providing door-to-door
collection for more than 330,000 households,
or 47 percent of the city, in both institutional
campuses and in ordinary neighborhoods, on a
contract basis. Its coverage continues to expand as
more residents sign up for its services.
The uniformed co-op members generally use a
pushcart to collect waste from each house.4 Residents
are supposed to source separate their waste, but
compliance is modest: about 30 percent do rigorous
wet/dry separation, and another 60 percent sort out
some recyclables but mix other dry waste with the
organics. The waste pickers do a secondary sort of
dry waste, using the 19 sorting sheds provided by
the PMC to pull out recyclable material from the
non-recyclable. The sheds are critical for keeping the
women and waste sheltered from the weather.
The members then sell their recyclables either to private
scrap dealers or to one of KK PKP’s own scrap shops,
where they are assured of fair prices. Non-recyclable
dry waste is put in roadside containers which are
collected by the municipality; but because of higher
recovery rates, fewer containers are needed than
before SWaCH—in its first two years, the municipality
was able to take 64 of them off the streets.
The transition from waste picker to service provider
has not been easy. It has required new attitudes and
behaviors from both waste pickers and residents;
but these changes have been mutually reinforcing.
The waste pickers have had to learn to be punctual,
regular, and cordial in their work, and to professionalize
their appearance. The residents have learned to treat
them as workers and human beings. This change in
SWaCH members collecting waste. (photo: Mariel Vilella)
10 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
the waste pickers’ social status and self-perception is
one of the most dramatic results of their organizing.
Tackling Organics for the
Public Good
Traditionally, waste pickers have not been interested in
organics (i.e., “wet” waste), as it had little commercial
value. But organic waste is a major pollution issue:
when buried in landfills, it generates toxic leachate,
bad odors, and methane—which can cause landfill
fires. And since it comprises more than 70 percent of
Pune’s waste stream, no waste management system
can claim to be complete without tackling organic
material. SWaCH has begun to prioritize proper
organics management, but several other entities—
public and private—are also processing organic
waste, and not all the approaches are successful or
Pune has 15 biogas plants which process about 75
tons per day (tpd) of organics. The methane produced
is burned in a generator to power street lights. This
is widely considered the best treatment for organic
waste, since it not only avoids the major problems
associated with organics but also produces energy,
and has minimal byproducts; even the slurry is usable
as compost.
But the biogas plants are very sensitive to the
introduction of plastic or hard-to-degrade waste
(including coconut shells, mango seeds and other
woody organic matter), which frequently plug up the
plants and take them out of operation. So the biogas
plants limit their intake to mostly source-separated
organic material from restaurants, which is relatively
clean. Only one plant accepts organics from SWaCH,
which struggles to get residents to fully source
separate their waste.
Some of the organics that SWaCH collects from
households go to centralized composting operations:
Disha, a local NGO, operates one large (100 tpd)
composting plant, and the municipality operates a
few smaller ones. Again, contamination is a problem;
although composting can tolerate higher levels of
contamination than biogas, the resulting compost is
of poor quality.
Most of the city’s organics are not effectively separated
and end up in mixed waste at a commercial facility
where they are processed into two different products:
low-grade compost and refuse derived fuel (pellets).
Both are significantly contaminated with plastics and
other toxins like mercury from lightbulbs, batteries,
etc. These contaminants are released, and some new
ones are created, when the pellets are burned.
In some communities, SWaCH offers a more
environmentally sound alternative. Its philosophy
is to deal with the organics as close to the point
of generation as possible. SWaCH members, in
addition to providing door-to-door collection, operate
composting facilities at 40 apartment buildings and
institutional campuses. These often take the form of
simple compost pits, but some are more elaborate,
with grinding machines and bacteria additives that
speed up the composting process. SWaCH members
only operate the facility; the resulting compost is
owned and used by the community or institutions that
generate the organic waste. Since residents can
see where their organics are being composted,
and see SWaCH members cleaning the
Composting operations on the Pune University campus.
(photo: Mariel Vilella)
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organics, they are far more rigorous in their
source separation—which results in better
quality compost. Apartment buildings operating
on-site compost pits receive a five percent rebate on
their real estate taxes, which far exceeds the cost of
employing SWaCH members to maintain the compost
Although on-site composting has the potential to
solve the organics problem, the program is threatened
by the introduction of burn technologies. In addition to
the existing refuse derived fuel plant, the municipality
has signed a contract to deliver 700 tpd to a new
gasification plant. Since the company building the
plant has no track record and Pune does not generate
sufficient waste to supply the plant, the implications of
this contract are unclear.
Table 1. SWaCH Waste Management (tpd)
Dry Wet Total
SWaCH collects 180 420 600
For recycling 90 90
For compost and biogas 123 123
For disposal 90 297 387
Diversion % 50 29 36
Table 2. Organics Treatment in Pune (tpd)
SWaCH-operated compost facilities 2.5
Disha compost facility 100
Other composting facilities 5
Biogas 75
Refuse-derived fuel 1000
Note: Not all of these organics are collected by SWaCH.
Source: Personal communication, Aparna Susarla, SWaCH.
SWaCH Member Income and
Organizational Finances
SWaCH members earn most of their income from two
sources: the sale of recyclables and the service fee
paid by residents. Some may supplement their income
with other work, such as street sweeping, but waste
work is generally preferred as it is more lucrative.
Incomes vary significantly, depending on the route,
among other factors: wealthier neighborhoods tend
to generate more saleable recyclables and also pay
a higher service fee; but they are also more spread
out, which increases transportation time and costs.
Households pay a monthly fee, between 10 (US
$.19) and 30 (US $.56) (higher in wealthy areas)
for the door-to-door collection service; those who do
not pay are cut off. Institutions and housing societies
pay SWaCH, which then passes the money on to
members. Private households often pay the waste
pickers directly.
SWaCH takes five percent of the service fees as
an administrative fee, which goes into building an
operational reserve. In addition, SWaCH receives
financial support from the PMC, which allows it to
pay professional salaries and support positions that
bring added value to the work, for example by doing
extensive data collection.
SWaCH members generally earn between 4,500 (US
$84) and 6,000 (US $112) per month, with more
than half coming from the sale of their recyclables
and the rest from collection fees; this is two or three
times what most waste pickers earned before SWaCH.
In addition, they often get other perquisites from the
households they service: secondhand clothing, food,
and access to water and toilets; SWaCH provides
health insurance and some educational benefits, such
as school books for their children.
Web of Accountability
SWaCH operates within, and is successful because
of, a web of relationships that provide accountability
to the major stakeholders in waste management. As
a mass movement that can bring thousands of waste
pickers, and sometimes other allied groups, into the
streets, KK PKP has the ability to put pressure on local
legislators who in turn can pressure the PMC. But
SWaCH also has to maintain a regular, dependable
service or face the ire of local residents, who have their
own political influence and ultimately pay the taxes
12 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
on which the PMC depends. Over the years, the
waste pickers and the municipal government
have developed a strong working relationship;
but it fundamentally rests on both SWaCH’s
provision of a quality waste collection service
as well as KKPKP’s ability to apply pressure
through large street protests and media
The PMC subsidizes SWaCH—both directly and by
providing equipment—but also takes the heat if there
are problems. This system of checks and balances
is not static; it is regularly tested and constantly
exercised. Ultimately, the working arrangement with
the PMC is essential for the functioning of SWaCH’s
entire program.
Further Growth
SWaCH and KK PKP continue to grow and experiment
with new approaches. In May 2012, SWaCH launched
a zero waste program that encompasses several
neighborhoods in an attempt to bring disposal rates
as low as possible. The key will be residents truly
complying with source separation mandates. This
will dramatically reduce the disposal rate by diverting
organics, and will generate a clean stream of organic
materials for composting and biogas. SWaCH
members will need to educate residents and enforce
the source separation rules.
Another goal is to increase coverage and integration
of waste pickers into SWaCH. Currently, less than a
third of the city’s waste pickers are SWaCH members;
some continue to do door-to-door collection on their
own, without the SWaCH umbrella, and are reluctant
to contribute five percent of their income to SWaCH.
And there are many neighborhoods—where neither
SWaCH nor independent collectors operate—that still
need door-to-door collection and source separation.
Towards Inclusive Zero Waste
Over 20 years of organizing, KK PKP and SWaCH
have achieved remarkable accomplishments. Waste
picker incomes have risen from approximately 60
(US $1.12) to 150 (US $2.80) per day. One of the
city’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations
has become integrated into society. Residents have
benefited from improved waste management services
at lower costs. The current program saves the city an
estimated US $2.8 million per year.5 Better treatment of
organics reduces emissions of methane, an important
greenhouse gas. Higher recycling rates translate to
energy savings, reduced climate impact, and less
pressure on natural resources such as forests.
SWaCH representative talking with waste pickers. (photo:
Amit Thavaraj) © KK PKP/SWaCH
A KKPKP Scrap Shop. (photo: WIEGO)
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As SWaCH grows, the quantity of waste needing
disposal will continue to fall. This will mean fewer
waste containers in the streets, lower disposal fees,
and less waste being burned—all of which will add up to
environmental improvements and lower expenditures
for the city.
Chikarmane and Narayan, “Organising the
Unorganised: A Case Study of the Kagad Kach
Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (Trade Union of Wastepickers),”
WIEGO 2005.
Chikarmane et al., “Study Of Scrap Collectors,
Scrap Traders And Recycling Enterprises In Pune,”
International Labour Organisation, 2001.
Cushing, “Waste-to-energy or Wasted Opportunity?
Informal sector recycling for climate change
mitigation in India,” Master’s Thesis, Energy and
Resources Group, University of California at
Berkeley, 2010.
Interview, Malati Gadgil, CEO of SWaCH, 29 April
Scheinberg et al., “Economic Aspects of Informal
Sector Activities In Solid Waste Management,” GTZ
1 “Waste picker” is the term used in English by the
KK PKP to refer to those workers in the informal
economy who recover recyclable materials from
trash. A variety of terms are used in different
languages and locations around the world.
2 US dollar figures are based on exchange rate of
US $1 = 53.635 as of 12 May 2012.
3 “SWaCH” means “clean” in Marathi. In addition
to its operations in Pune, SWaCH has a contract
with the neighboring municipality of Pimpri-
Chinchwad. The operations are rather different,
however, and this case study focuses on
SWaCH’s Pune program.
4 In neighboring Pimpri-Chinchwad, where SWaCH
also operates, the cooperative operates small
trucks to collect the waste.
5 Scheinberg estimates avoided collection and
disposal costs at €2.2 million per year; PMC
pays SWaCH about 400,000 per month. Not
included are additional PMC expenses, such
as the provision of protective gear to SWaCH
14 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
San Francisco has established itself as a global leader
in waste management. The city has achieved 77 percent
waste diversion, the highest in the United States, with a threepronged
approach: enacting strong waste reduction legislation,
partnering with a like-minded waste management company to
innovate new programs, and working to create a culture of
recycling and composting through incentives and outreach.
San Francisco, USA
Creating a Culture of Zero Waste
By Virali Gokaldas
Advertisement for composting on a San Francisco bus. (photo: Larry Strong, courtesy Recology)
San Francisco
State of California
Population: 805,235
Area: 121 km2
Population density: 6,633/km2
Average annual rainfall: 518.16 mm
Average temperature range: 8ºC to 21ºC
Altitude: 16 meters above sea level
Waste diversion rate: 77%
Waste generation: 1.7 kg/capita/day
San Francisco , USA | 15
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The City and County of San Francisco is small for
a major metropolitan area: only 127 km2 houses
805,235 residents and hosts 1.3 million daytime
workers. The population is highly diverse, and 1 in 2
residents do not speak English at home. About half
of residents live in small multi-family dwellings, with a
third owning their homes.
The city’s waste is regulated primarily by the San
Francisco Department of Public Works and Public
Health. The Department of Environment (SFE) is
responsible for reaching the city’s zero waste goals.
SFE works closely with Recology, the private waste
management partner with a union workforce that
collects, recycles, and disposes of all commercial and
residential waste in the city. SFE’s Zero Waste team
focuses on outreach, implementation of city-mandated
recycling programs in sectors, and advancing waste
reduction policy at the local and state level.
Building upon Legislative Successes
San Francisco’s zero waste journey began with
enactment of a state law in 1989, the Integrated
Waste Management Act. The law required cities and
counties to divert 25 percent of municipal solid waste
by 1995 and 50 percent by 2000. Over the last two
decades, San Francisco built upon this requirement by
passing several successive ordinances that targeted
additional areas of the waste stream.
In 2002, the city set an ambitious goal to
achieve zero waste to disposal by 2020. Since
then, legislation has pushed the city, residents, and
businesses to increase their recycling rates. These
waste reduction laws include the Construction and
Demolition Debris Recovery Ordinance of 2006 and
the Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance of
2007, which requires restaurants to use compostable
or recyclable take-out containers. In 2009, after
residents and businesses became accustomed
Figure 1. San Francisco Waste Legislation and Diversion Rates
Source: Adapted from San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, 2010.
SF adopts
recycling and
Plastic Bag
Food Service
Waste Reduction
Ordinance Passed
Food Service
Waste Reduction
Ordinance Passed
and Demolition
Debris Recovery
Ordinance Passed
SF Board of
adopt 75%
goal by
SF adopts
16 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
to voluntary composting, San Francisco passed
a landmark law that mandated recycling and
composting for all residents and businesses.
Most recently, the city passed an ordinance requiring
all retail stores to provide compostable, recycled,
or recyclable bags starting October 2012. All of
these laws have been timed so that the necessary
infrastructure is available, and participants are given
support, tools, and education. The legislation also
empowers SFE to roll out programs to every home
and business and enforce rules as needed.
One reason for the continued engagement on zero
waste is a citizen base that demands a political
commitment to environmental sustainability. San
Francisco has activated and empowered civic leaders,
including advocates from the environmental field. For
example, the Commission on the Environment, a sevenmember
group that advises the Board of Supervisors,
includes an environmental attorney and eco-educator.
This group highlights cutting-edge research on
environmental issues, and spearheads resolutions and
ordinances that then go on to the mayor and Board of
Supervisors for a vote. The Board of Supervisors, in
turn, reflects the environmental ethics of its residents
and regularly approves environmental legislation.
Another driver for passing these waste reduction
laws is the cost associated with landfilling at the
Altamont Landfill in Livermore, 82 km away, where
San Francisco hauls its waste daily. The city, which
does not own its own landfill, contracted with Waste
Management for capacity at Altamont in 1987. The
contract allows for 65 years of capacity or 15 million
tons of capacity, whichever arrives first. At a rate of
1,800 tons daily, the city expects to hit its capacity
limit by 2015 or, based on newer diversion figures,
by 2016. In anticipation, San Francisco just awarded
its next waste disposal contract to Recology, at a new
landfill in Yuba County, under similar terms: 10 years
or five million tons of capacity, whichever comes first.
Hence, increased diversion and hitting zero waste
goals will continue to create real savings in landfill
Partnering with a Local Company
Yields Inventive Programs
Along with laws obliging residents and businesses to
reduce their waste and source separate, San Francisco
has developed a robust collection and pricing
scheme with its waste-hauling partner, Recology,
to complement these efforts. The relationship with
Recology dates back to the early 1900’s when waste
collection was an informal sector activity. Following
the earthquake in 1906, the waste pickers created
loose federations to compete better. Two companies
emerged in the 1920’s: Scavengers Protective
Association and Sunset Scavenger Company. At the
same time, the city began regulating the industry
and awarded these two companies exclusive refuse
collection licenses in 1932. Each company developed
unique and complementary expertise—one in densely
packed downtown San Francisco, and the other
in outlying residential districts. These companies
eventually merged to form Recology, now the sole
waste collector in San Francisco.
San Francisco waste pickers in the early 1900s.
(photo: courtesy Recology)
San Francisco , USA | 17
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Over time, the city and Recology have developed
a symbiotic relationship. San Francisco conducts
oversight, policy development, outreach, and research
on technology and best practices, while Recology
creates, tests, and runs infrastructure to collect and
process trash, recyclables, and compostables. Even
though the company has an exclusive right to collect
under the 1932 Ordinance, and there is no contract,
San Francisco maintains influence over Recology’s
activities primarily through a rate-setting process
that occurs every five years. The city also meets with
Recology weekly to discuss any outstanding issues
and next steps for programs.
One outcome of this collaboration is San Francisco’s
current recycling system, the Fantastic 3. Started
in 1999, the Fantastic 3 program uses black,
blue, and green carts for trash, recycling, and
composting, respectively. Fully rolled out in 2003,
businesses and residences segregate waste at the
source, and double-chambered back-loading trucks
pick up the trash and recycling bins. Smaller sideloading
trucks pick up compostables. The Fantastic 3
program was one of the first in the United States to
scale up collection and composting of biodegradable
Garbage and recycling collection rates
are structured to incentivize recycling and
composting for both Recology and its customers.
All customers pay a minimum collection service fee to
Recology, plus additional fees based on the volume of
garbage they create. For residents, Recology provides
recycling and composting services at no additional
cost. For businesses, these services are discounted
up to 75 percent of trash services to encourage
businesses to cut down on the more expensive
garbage fee. With this strategy, Recology profits in
two ways: first it retains the revenue it receives from
recycling and composting services, as well as final
sale of recyclables and compost; second, it receives
up to a US $2 million bonus based on exceeding
company-wide diversion goals and reducing citywide
disposal. To help meet goals and increase the
value of diverted materials, the company has invested
heavily in recycling infrastructure, including mixedrecyclables
materials recovery facilities (MRF) and
several regional composting sites. Notably, it has also
developed a market for compost that goes to local
farms and gardeners, thereby improving its own return
and closing the loop.
Also noteworthy is that San Francisco has a thriving
informal recycling sector, thanks to the statewide
bottle bill that places a 5 or 10 cent value on glass
and plastic bottles and over 20 recycling centers in the
city where residents or collectors can redeem them.
The city has a small population of people who make a
living collecting cardboard, metal, and e-waste which
have higher value markets because of environmentally
preferable purchasing rules for state agencies, state
laws requiring post-consumer recycled content, and
access to robust domestic and international markets.
Composting poster for an apartment building.
18 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Shifting to a Culture of Zero Waste
The city of San Francisco has been extremely
successful in altering the minds, habits, and
culture of its citizens to accept the goal of zero
waste. In the US, this is no easy feat, especially given
negative perceptions related to food scraps and wet
waste in general. In March 2012, the city marked its
millionth ton of organic waste turned into compost.
Milestones and metrics like these have been essential
to creating the story of zero waste.
The city’s Zero Waste division is comprised of 11
employees, assigned to different waste segments. The
program has one manager, four experts in commercial
waste, three in residential waste, and three focused
on the city government (see chart below). In addition,
there are several people focused on toxics reduction
in a different program, as well as a separate Outreach
division. These 11 positions are responsible for all
strategies, programs, policies, and incentives to reach
zero waste.
For the commercial sector, one position is focused
on construction and demolition waste, working
with builders and contractors to deconstruct and
recycle building materials at Recology’s MRF in San
Francisco. Two positions work to help companies fully
adopt the Fantastic 3 program and ensure they are in
compliance with San Francisco’s mandatory recycling
and composting law. Out of 18,000 to 20,000
commercial accounts, approximately 80 percent
of companies were separating their organics by
2012; SFE’s focus is now the remaining 20 percent.
The last commercial role is focused on policy initiatives
such as Extended Producer Responsibility, statewide
legislation, or ballot measures.
In the residential sector, all buildings with fewer than
six units separate their organics for collection, as do
most of the large-scale multi-family dwellings (7,200
The blending pad at Jepson Prairie Organics, a modern
compost facility used by San Francisco. (photo: Larry Strong,
courtesy of Recology)
Another benefit of the longstanding
relationship with Recology is that the city and
company both value local hiring and wellpaying,
union jobs. The agreement between
Recology and the Port of San Francisco for
leasing land at Pier 96 includes a first-source
hiring provision. This requires Recology to
fill entry-level jobs first with San Francisco’s
Workforce Development System, so that
these jobs go to economically disadvantaged
people from the city. The jobs are well
paying, with a starting rate of US $20/
hour compared to the city minimum wage
of US $10.24/hour. The city also requires
that Recology provide health benefits for
workers. For its part, Recology prides itself
on employee well-being and ownership;
employees bought out the company in 1986
and started an employee stock options plan.
Out of 2,500 employees, approximately
80% own shares in the company. Recology
drivers and recycling sorters are represented
by the Teamsters union.
San Francisco , USA | 19
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of 9,000). The city is now focusing on the remaining
1,800 buildings of six or more units that may not be
composting, estimated to be 20 percent of buildings
in San Francisco. This includes public housing, singleroom
occupancy residences, and rent-subsidized
One goal is for city government, which produces 15
percent of the city’s waste stream, to lead by example.
For this reason, three people are primarily focused on
government waste reduction and management. To help
reduce waste, an online virtual warehouse facilitates
exchange of surplus supplies among city agencies. It
also aids the city in green purchasing.
In addition to the small Zero Waste team, there are
separate outreach programs within SFE, employing
20 environmental advocates. Most of these positions
come from Environment Now, an annual green job
training program run by SFE. Participants in the
Environment Now program come from all over San
Francisco, particularly underserved communities of
color. These city employees conduct outreach activities
on behalf of all the programs at SFE, including Energy
Efficiency, Renewables, Toxics Reduction, Clean Air,
and Urban Forestry and Gardening. Because they
hail from these areas themselves, the advocates are
able to reach traditionally hard-to-reach audiences
and improve community participation in environmental
initiatives. For the Zero Waste Program, outreach
occurs after program rollout, to help create recycling
and composting habits once the infrastructure is in
Part of the success of SFE can be credited to
consistent funding—not from the city, but directly
from the rates paid for garbage collection. The overall
budget for the Zero Waste Program is approximately
US $7 million annually. These funds come out of
an account Recology pays into regularly from its
collection revenues.
Future Goals and Zero Waste
San Francisco landfilled 15 percent less in 2010 than
it did in 2009. More astounding, its disposal in 2010
was approximately half what it was in 2000. In 2010,
San Franciscans each generated 1.7 kg of waste, 77
percent of which was recycled. The city estimates
that of the remaining 23 percent another 75 percent
is recyclable, which would bring the recycling rate
up to 90 percent. The city is close to ensuring full
Figure 2. San Francisco’s Department of Environment Zero Waste Division
Source: San Francisco Department of the Environment.
20 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
adoption of the Fantastic 3 program; it has taken two
decades for a behavioral and cultural shift to occur
across the city. While SFE goes after adoption by
the last 20 percent of larger multi-family dwellings
and businesses, it is also setting its sights on a new
plant to sort the garbage itself. A low temperature,
mechanical/biological separation plant, possibly with
anaerobic digestion, would allow sorters to pull apart
bags of garbage and recover smaller parts of the
waste stream. Ideally, this would be in place before
the zero waste deadline of 2020.
Through a unique synthesis of regulation, a long-term
partnership, and engaged outreach, San Francisco is
creating a model zero waste program.
Press release. City and County of San Francisco.
August 30, 2010. http://www5.sfgov.org/sf_
Solid Waste Management in the World’s Cities
Water and Sanitation in the World’s Cities. United
Nations Human Settlements Programme. 2010.
Recology Websites.
a. www.sfcollectionrates.com/overview.php.
b. www.sfcollectionrates.com/residential_rates.php.
c. www.recology.com/profile/history.htm.
d. www.recologymedia.com/press_room/index.php.
San Francisco Commission on the Environment
Annual Report. 2011. http://sfpl.org/pdf/libraries/
EPA 2012. http://zwbraintrustdatabeta.wordpress.
Interview with Robert Haley, Zero Waste Manager at
San Francisco Department of the Environment. May
3, 2012.
M. Lomele. Letter to Department of Labor, February
8, 2011. http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/1210-AB32-
Ojea, Pauli. “The Zero Waste Economy in SF:
Building a Greener More Equitable Future.” SF
Department of the Environment. 2012.
Recology truck with advertising. (photo: Recology)
San Francisco , USA | 21
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Phelan, Sarah. “Trash Talk” San Francisco Bay
Guardian. March 30, 2010. http://www.sfbg.
No on A Website. http://keepSFgreen.com/?gclid=CIn
Phelan, Sarah. “Tale of Two Landfills.” June 15, 2010.
Eberlein, Sven. “Where No City Has Gone Before: San
Francisco Will Be World’s First Zero-Waste Town by
2020.” Alternet. April 18, 2012. http://www.alternet.
Environment Now website: http://www.sfenvironment.
Tam, Laura. “Toward Zero Waste.” San Francisco
Planning and Urban Research Association. February
2010. http://www.spur.org/publications/library/article/
Kielty, Alexa. “San Francisco’s Food Composting
Program.” SF Department of the Environment. 2006.
BART Ad for Compost. http://www.flickr.com/photos/
Ferry, David. “The Urban Quest for Zero Waste.” Wall
Street Journal. September 12, 2011. http://www.
Julie Bryant, Kevin Drew, Robert Haley, and Jack Macy.
“The Story of Zero Waste.” Resource Recycling. August
2011. http://www.recologymedia.com/press_room/
Californians Against Waste. http://www.cawrecycles.
22 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Alaminos is at the forefront of implementing the Philippines’
decentralized waste management law. Through an NGO
partnership, village leadership has established comprehensive
zero waste strategies, including backyard and village-level
composting, source separation programs, and small-scale
sorting facilities. As a result, open burning and dumping have
virtually ended, and informal sector recyclers are recovering
more materials, under better conditions, and selling them
for better prices than before. All this was made possible by
a bottom-up planning process that brought together local
officials and stakeholders to generate zero waste plans at the
village level.
Alami nos, Philippi nes
Zero Waste, from Dream to Reality
By Anne Larracas
Eco-shed, composting garden, and collection vehicle of Barangay Sta. Maria, Alaminos. (photo: Anne Larracas)
Alami nos
Pangasinan province
Population: 84,000
Area: 166.23 km2
Population: 84,000
Population density: 505/km2
Average annual rainfall: 2,751 mm
Altitude: 0-20 meters above sea level
Average temperature range: 22ºC to 32ºC
Waste generation: 0.3 kg/capita/day
Alaminos , Philippines | 23
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Alaminos is home to the most popular tourist
destination in the province and the first national
park in the country, Hundred Islands National Park.
Widely known for its beautiful beaches and abundant
wildlife, the park attracts more than 160,000 visitors
a year and generates hundreds of jobs and millions of
Philippine pesos in revenue for the city.
As with other local government units (LGU) in the
country, Alaminos City is divided into barangays or
villages, of which there are 39. Each barangay is
headed by a publicly-elected council led by a Punong
Barangay or village chief. Among many things,
barangay leaders participate in local planning and
governance for the city and the barangay, and are
in charge of passing and enforcing laws, especially
those pertaining to waste management.
Traditionally, the majority of the waste produced
in Alaminos has consisted of biodegradable or
compostable materials but, as is typical for a fastdeveloping
city, non-biodegradable packaging and
products have become a part of everyday life. In recent
years, the proliferation and disposal of non-recyclable
products have increasingly become more problematic,
especially in Alaminos’ coastal areas where they
threaten marine life and spoil the natural beauty of the
city. Tourists to the Hundred Islands also contribute by
bringing in and disposing of plastic packaging.
Waste management in the Philippines is covered by
a 2000 law popularly known as Republic Act 9003.
Before its passage, waste was managed almost
wholly by municipal governments that typically would
haul mixed waste to a central dumpsite. Under the
new law, the public and all levels of government share
responsibility for managing waste, with the biggest
tasks—ensuring segregation, composting, proper
collection and storage, and building infrastructure—
resting with barangay officials.
Specifically, RA 9003 stipulates that all LGUs
should have and implement a comprehensive
solid waste management plan for the “safe and
sanitary management of solid waste generated in
areas under its geographic and political coverage.”
It also mandates the construction of a
materials recovery facility in each barangay,
segregation at source, barangay and
municipal composting, and 100% barangayled
segregated collection. It outlaws mixed
waste collection and open burning as
well as uncontrolled and semi-controlled
Situation on the Ground
However, by 2009 waste management programs
at the barangay level in Alaminos, as in most of
the country, were non-existent. Attempting to make
the barangays conform to RA 9003, the city first
encouraged and later mandated that the barangays
take more responsibility for waste management.
Neither approach was effective. Alaminos was still
maintaining a central dumpsite; waste was collected
daily by the city, but in only 14 of the 39 barangays. The
remaining villages had to deal with their own waste,
which led to widespread open burning and dumping.
Households did not practice waste separation, and
mixed waste collection was still commonly practiced.
The city had built a materials recovery facility in 2004,
but for years it was under-utilized due to lack of a
Burning of agriculture waste was a common sight in Alaminos
during harvest season. (photo: Anne Larracas)
24 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
comprehensive waste management plan.
A survey done by the city classified the waste into
three streams: biodegradable, non-biodegradable,
and residual. Biodegradable waste, roughly twothirds
of the total, consisted of kitchen and garden
waste, animal waste, and human waste. A small
non-biodegradable stream was comprised of metal,
glass, rubber, dry papers/cartons, cloth, dry leather/
feathers, and recyclable plastic. The remaining third
was residual waste including sanitary napkins, plastic
bags, ceramics, composite packaging such as Tetra
Paks, and candy wrappers. The total volume of
waste generated in the city (25 tons per day) mostly
came from residences, as shown in Figure 1, and
was projected to increase 1% each year. In order to
implement RA 9003, clearly the citizens of Alaminos
City would need to be active participants.
Figure 1. Sources of Waste Generated in Alaminos
(tons per day)
Note: Actual 2004 figures.
Source: Alaminos 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan Draft
To address the growing volume of waste, the city
planned to take out a bank loan to invest in a waste
conversion facility that would transform solid waste
into hollow building blocks and compost. The facility
was projected to cost .26 million (US $605,000). The
technology was untested however, and many believed
that it was unwise for the city to invest a substantial
amount in an unproven technology, particularly one
that promoted centralized collection.
The Birth of a Zero Waste City
In August 2009, the Global Alliance for Incinerator
Alternatives (GAIA) proposed a partnership with the
city government. The Zero Waste Alaminos project
was born the following month. GAIA provided one
staff member for the project team, as well as training
in zero waste in the form of skillshares, meetings,
technical information, assistance in strategic planning,
and support to barangay leaders as they drafted their
own waste management plans. GAIA also provided
financial support (for printing educational materials,
buying shredders for organics and plastics, awarding
mini-grants for barangays to build eco-sheds or
purchase vehicles, etc.). The city provided two full-time
employees for the project team, transportation for the
team and trainers, logistical support for all activities
and trainings, technical assistance, and support in
strategic planning for the barangays. A fourth team
member was recruited from Mother Earth Foundation
(a GAIA member) to serve as a consultant for all the
barangay technical consultations.
After two years, ten barangays had achieved
and five were close to achieving full compliance
with RA 9003, and many of the other barangays
were well on their way.
Intervention and Strategies
To begin, a comprehensive survey was administered
to assess and record the existing waste management
practices throughout Alaminos. Team members
travelled to all 39 barangays where they interviewed
Punong Barangay (village chiefs) and documented
what they saw.
Workshops were held to begin conversations
among leaders at the barangay level about waste
segregation and collection, composting, the RA 9003
law, the components of the Zero Waste Alaminos
project, planning, etc. Each barangay sent three
Alaminos , Philippines | 25
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representatives; city officials, including all department
heads, were also in attendance, as was the project
After the workshops, the barangays held technical
consultations and assemblies back in their villages.
These meetings, held over a 14-month period,
were the key to the Alaminos project’s success.
Technical consultations required the attendance
of the entire barangay council. At the end of the
consultation, a complete waste management plan—
including a calendar of activities, investment plans for
infrastructure or equipment, a budget with funding
sources, and task assignments—was generated
and signed by the entire council and all residents in
attendance. This plan was then used as the blueprint
for the barangay’s waste management program and
was presented in assemblies to residents for approval
and comments before it was implemented. While
the project team was typically very active in leading
the technical consultations, once the barangays had
formulated their own waste management programs,
the participating leaders took ownership of the
project in their barangays and led the assemblies
Additional stakeholders from various city departments,
city workers in waste management and collection, and
representatives from junk shops, the tourism industry,
the boat owners’ and operators’ association, hospital
and medical health facilities, academia, business, and
various religious sectors were consulted in separate
sessions to expand participation in implementing RA
9003. As a result, resorts and inns established
composting facilities and improved waste
segregation, tourists were educated and
reminded about the strict no-littering and
waste separation policies, hospitals and clinics
started to implement waste segregation, and
schools and universities improved their waste
segregation and composting practices.
At the end of the Zero Waste Alaminos project, a
second comprehensive survey was administered
to evaluate the implementation of the management
programs developed through the course of the project.
Each of the 39 barangays were visited by project team
members who interviewed residents and recorded
all changes related to waste management that had
occurred since the initial survey was conducted.
The survey targeted 10 percent of the population in
Alaminos and revealed both positive and negative
results. A high percentage of residents were practicing
waste separation (88% of those surveyed) and
composting (53%), and many said they knew about
their village’s waste management program (56%)
and the national law (63%). On the other hand, some
residents (58%) said that the information they received
from barangay officials about waste management
was not enough, and there were those who were
not participating in the program because they felt it
was too cumbersome. Still, the majority expressed
appreciation for the new waste management program
in most of the barangays and were willing to support
and participate in the city’s program.
A team member interviews a Punong Barangay about the
current waste management system in his village. (photo: Rei
26 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Lessons Learned
The Alaminos project encountered multiple
challenges and roadblocks. Initially, political tensions
threatened to prevent the project from getting off
the ground. An existing rivalry between city and
many barangay officials made some of the barangay
leaders apprehensive and even hostile to the idea of
cooperating with the city. A grassroots approach
allowed many milestones to be achieved in
a few months, in contrast to the top-down
strategy employed by the city government
previously. While the city’s government-organized
workshops on waste management were attended by
only a handful of barangay leaders, the project’s first
zero waste workshop had more than 100 barangay
official participants, and 21 out of 39 barangay leaders
attended a second workshop months later.
The project team worked with all the barangay leaders
regardless of their political affiliations. Consequently,
the project’s momentum and the stakeholders’
enthusiasm were easily sustained, and activities after
the elections were immediately resumed with few
problems. GAIA’s most important role in Alaminos over
the two years may well have been as liaison between
city and barangay officials who had not seen eye to
eye about waste management for years. The presence
of a neutral force facilitated objective discussion and
resolution of important issues.
A brochure supplied by GAIA during and after the
barangay meetings was very helpful in reinforcing
key messages from the technical consultations and
assemblies. Barangay leaders were able to give
brochures (poster size) out to people when they
visited. The residents were asked to sign a log book
saying that they had received the brochure. Later,
when officials saw open burning and other signs of
prohibited activities, the residents were no longer able
to use the old excuse that they did not know the law.
Open dumping and burning decreased significantly. In
2009, almost every field had a pile burning; by 2011
there were almost none. It also helped tremendously
that there are no hazardous industries in the city,
and that Alaminos already had some great initiatives
in place, such as the vermicompost program and a
program to promote organic agriculture.
Most importantly, the city government fully committed
to the zero waste vision, providing employees to
serve full-time as members of the project, who
were highly respected by barangay leaders.
The project grew by leaps and bounds in the span
of two years. While in 2009 almost no barangays
had begun implementation of RA 9003, in 2011,
25 had local ordinances on waste management that
specifically banned open burning and dumping and
mandated household segregation and composting.
Backyard composting has long been common in rural
areas throughout the Philippines; many locals have
practiced open burning for decades and believed
that burning waste—especially agricultural waste—is
beneficial to the soil, helps plants bloom, and drives
away pests. Before the project, it was not unusual to
Barangay officials and residents in all 39 barangays of
Alaminos were included in discussions about proper waste
management. (photo: Anne Larracas)
Alaminos , Philippines | 27
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find non-biodegradable waste mixed in with compost.
Fifteen barangays are now consistently implementing
pure composting. Vermicomposting has also increased,
and the city has provided barangays, as well as
selected schools that started their own vermicompost
programs, with worms and organic fertilizer.
Seventeen barangays have started comprehensive
collection systems—including collection
schedules, collection vehicle(s), collectors, a
working MRF (materials recovery facility), and
in some cases, fees collected from residents—
that were agreed upon by their village councils and
residents. Fifteen of these are also segregating at
Thirty-two barangays have built eco-sheds which
provide temporary storage for residual, hazardous, and
small amounts of recyclable waste. These materials
are then collected by the city and brought to the city
materials recovery facility for processing (residual
waste) or long-term storage (hazardous waste).
In many barangays, there is ample space for backyard
composting, so the waste collected and brought to
the materials recovery facilities is mostly residual.
Since the waste is typically collected twice a month,
residents are reminded to clean and store dry residual
waste so that it will not smell or attract pests.
Recently, the city announced a “No-segregation, nocollection”
policy. Residents will receive a warning if
their waste is not separated. After a couple of warnings,
it will not be collected. The city has already seen a
noticeable reduction in the volume of overall waste, as
well as a reduction in organics and recyclable matter
in the waste collected, although the changes have not
yet been measured.
The city has considered—but not yet passed—a
ban on plastic bags. However, it has put in place a
residual waste management program to address
plastics collected from the barangays. Plastics are
shredded, mixed with concrete in a 40/60 ratio,
and turned into pavers that are used to improve
An eco-shed is checked to make sure it is being used properly by the barangay. (photo: Anne Larracas)
28 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
sidewalks in the city center. The entire sidewalk in
front of City Hall and the Alaminos Cathedral has been
renovated using these bricks. Several public schools
in the city have also received the pavers to improve
their walkways. The bricks cost about half as much as
traditional pavers, and the city plans to commercialize
their production.
In 2010, the city council passed into law the first
zero waste city ordinance in the country, a local
version of RA 9003 that includes a stronger provision
against incineration and specifies how Alaminos will
implement collection and conduct public education,
among other things. This historic legislation upholds
segregation at source, sets a target for waste diversion,
and reinforces the national ban on incineration by
declaring it a prohibited act.
The Informal Sector
Before the Zero Waste Alaminos project, approximately
35 waste pickers were working in Alaminos City. While
the intention was to integrate these individuals into the
project from the beginning, they unfortunately left the
city during preliminary project negotiations. However,
in early 2012, the central Alaminos City dumpsite was
supporting as many as 50 or 60 waste pickers.
The number is larger because of improved conditions
and access to new sources of materials. For instance,
before the project, all residual plastic waste was
brought to the dump, and waste pickers were forced
to rummage through organics in order to collect
any salvageable materials. As a result of the
city’s “No-segregation, no-collection” policy,
there are fewer organics mixed in and waste
pickers can more safely recover recyclables
and plastics. Furthermore, waste pickers are able to
collect clean, separated plastics from public service
buildings (e.g., churches, schools) and sell them back
to the city for a set price of .2.50/kilo (US $.06). In
pre-project days, the price of materials was sometimes
up to the whim of the buyers. Today not only collection
is easier, selling is as well.
In fact, the city allots an average of .25,000 (around
US $600) per month to buy the bulk of the plastic
wastes for its sidewalk paver program from the waste
pickers. Even when there are fewer recyclables to
collect, the waste pickers still earn reliable income
(.700 – .1500 or US $16.50 – $35.50 per week)
this way.
Recyclable waste continues to be directly sold by
residents to itinerant junk buyers who come to the
villages on a daily basis. The project has actually
benefitted the itinerant buyers as well as the waste
pickers. Since waste separation is now mandatory
in many barangays, recovery of useful materials
has increased, so the buyers can buy from more
Last but not least, barangays have gained a
greater appreciation for the service provided
by the itinerant buyers—especially after learning
that the barangay leaders were responsible for
collecting all discards from the households. Because
the work of the itinerant buyers reduced the volume to
be collected, the barangays did not need to hire many
new employees or any larger vehicles to accommodate
Pavers made from concrete and recovered plastic are used
to improve walkways in the city. (photo: Anne Larracas)
Alaminos , Philippines | 29
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all of the discards from the households. In addition,
many barangays were able to implement a bi-monthly
rather than a more frequent collection schedule,
thereby saving labor costs. In some barangays, the
itinerant buyers became the official waste collectors
for the village. In others, the fees normally charged
itinerant buyers were eliminated in exchange for their
collecting recyclables from all the houses.
The Road Ahead
Although implementation of waste management
programs has increased in the barangays, much more
needs to be done. Two years is surely not long enough
to reverse decades of old habits. Ten barangays passed
every facet of the final evaluation with flying colors,
while nine of those that did not pass were at least
halfway to achieving their waste management goals.
The remaining villages have much to do, but with the
proper foundation now in place, many are expected
to progress with their program implementation in the
coming months.
Alaminos 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan.
Facts And Figures Cy 2010, City of Alaminos,
Pangasinan, Philippines.
Field visits and interviews by the author.
Republic Act 9003, Chapter II, Section 12.
30 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
The regional waste management consortium
in Spain’s Gipuzkoa Province, faced with a nearly full
landfill in 2002, proposed building two new incinerators.
Citizens strongly opposed the incinerators and prevented
one from being built. Although the second is now under
construction, Hernani and two other small cities in the
region have established an ambitious program of doorto-
door collection of source-separated waste, including
organics, that has been enthusiastically embraced by
residents. The amount of waste going to the landfill has
been reduced by 80 percent. With new political leadership
opposed to incineration, door-to-door collection is poised
to expand throughout the region.
Hernani, Sp ain
Door-to-Door Collection as a
Strategy to Reduce Waste Disposal
By Cecilia Allen
Protest calling for a moratorium on the construction of the incinerator and in support of a zero waste plan. (photo: Gipuzkoa
Zero Zabor)
Province of Gipuzkoa
Population: 19,300
Area: 40 km2
Population density: 485/km2
Average annual rainfall: 1,400 mm
Altitude: 44 meters above sea level
Average temperature range: 9ºC to 20ºC
Waste generation: 0.86 kg/capita/day
Waste diversion rate: 79%*
Waste to landfill reduction rate since the beginning
of the program: 80%**
Public spending per capita in solid waste
management: US $115 per year
* Estimated as resources recovered out of the total
** Compares waste landfilled in April 2010—the last month of
the former system—and amount landfilled in April 2011.
Hernani , Spain | 31
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Practices vs. Technology
Hernani is a city of over 19,000 residents in the
Basque Country of Spain. Together with nine
other municipalities, it is part of the San Marko
mancomunidad (a free association of municipalities),
created to manage solid waste jointly. At the provincial
level, all the mancomunidades plus the provincial
government comprise a consortium that promotes
and manages the Gipuzkoa Integrated Waste
Management Plan. Hernani’s former municipal waste
management system strongly relied on waste disposal
complemented by a limited recycling system. While
citizens could voluntarily dispose of recyclables in the
four large containers placed on the streets, most of
the city’s waste went to the landfill.
In 2002, when the San Marko landfill was nearly full,
the provincial government presented a controversial
plan: the addition of another container for the voluntary
recycling of organic materials and the construction of
two new incinerators. Citizen opposition to incineration
was immediate. Since then, the region has been
immersed in a tenacious dispute between those who
want to build the incinerators and those who promote
waste prevention policies and better source separation
strategies. After years of struggle and mobilization,
the people stopped one incinerator from being built,
but the government moved forward on the other one.
Joining the citizens’ opposition, some municipalities
decided not only to reject the plan to build new
incinerators but also to implement an alternative to
burying or burning. Usurbil was the first municipality to
do so. This town of 6,000 people established a doorto-
door collection system of source-separated waste
streams, including organic materials. In just six weeks,
the amount of collected waste destined for landfills
dropped by 80 percent. The resource recovery rate
registered in the first year was 82 percent. In
2008, before door-to-door collection started, Usurbil
was taking 175 tons per month to the landfill. One
year later, the amount had dropped to 25 tons.
Implementing Changes
In May 2010, after two months of dialogue with the
citizens to explain and solicit input on the new system,
Hernani followed the model of Usurbil. The municipality
distributed two small bins per household, placed hooks
Note: The door-to-door collection started in May 2010.
Source: Based on data published by the government of Hernani: http://www.hernani.net/es/servicios/puerta-a-puerta.
Table 1. Municipal Solid Waste Landfilled in Hernani
32 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
to hang the bins and bags at the front of houses and
buildings, removed the large containers from the
streets, established waste segregation as mandatory,
and launched door-to-door collection. Citizens began
to place separated organics, light packaging, paper
and cardboard, and residuals in front of their houses.
Each stream has a designated pick-up day: organics
on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; light packaging
on Mondays and Thursdays; paper and cardboard on
Tuesdays; and residuals on Saturdays. Light packaging
is placed in bags, and the government sells reusable
bags for this purpose. Paper and cardboard are tied
in bundles or placed in boxes or bags. Organics are
placed in the bins provided by the government, and
the residuals are disposed of in bags. The collection is
done by a public company called Garbitania, created
by the governments of Hernani, Usurbil, and Oiartzun.
Collection is done at night, with a complementary shift
during the morning. Each bin and each hook have a
code that identifies the household that uses them.
This allows the government to monitor separation in
each household. If the collector identifies a stream
that does not correspond to that collection day, s/he
puts a sticker with a red cross on the bin and does
not collect that waste. The information is given to the
administration office, and the household receives a
notice explaining why the waste was not collected.
For glass, the system of large containers on the
streets was maintained, and door-to-door collection
is done only in the old part of the city. A non-profit
association created by producers, packers, bottlers,
and recyclers handles this stream. The association is
funded by contributions the packaging companies pay
for each product they put on the market.
If someone misses the door-to-door collection, there
are four emergency centers to drop off waste. There is
also a drop-off site that takes bulky waste, electric and
electronic devices, and other waste not covered by the
door-to-door collection free of charge. For businesses,
the collection schedule is the same as for households,
with an extra day of collection for residuals. In rural
areas, home composting is mandatory, and other
streams are either collected door-to-door or taken to
drop-off centers.
Under the new system, Hernani promotes home
composting throughout the municipality. People
can sign up for a composting class, request a home
composting manual, and receive a compost bin for
free. There is a phone line to get composting advice,
and there are compost specialists who can visit
households in need of assistance. People who sign
up to compost at home receive a 40 percent
discount on the municipal waste management
fee. The fee for businesses varies according to
the collection frequency and the amount of waste
produced, using Pay As You Throw criteria.
The San Marko mancomunidad operates a materials
recovery facility where light packaging is sorted for
sale. Paper and cardboard are sold to a recycling
company nearby. Organic materials must be taken 50
km away to a compost plant, operated by the provincial
consortium. Source separation is reflected in the
material that Hernani takes to the compost
Bins for organics used in Hernani and Usurbil.
(photo: Gipuzkoa Zero Zabor)
Hernani , Spain | 33
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plant, which consists of—on average—only 1.5
percent impurities (non-organics and other
In the first full month of the door-to-door collection,
the residuals dropped by 80 percent, and the
total waste managed decreased by 27 percent.2
In 2010, the municipality landfilled 53.8 percent less
waste than in 2009 (5,219 tons in 2009 and 2,412
tons in 2010), and door-to-door collection had only
begun in May.
“Our state-of-the-art technology is
the neighbors.”
Communication and community participation have
been key to the success of the program. The conviction
that the use of incinerators was the worst option and
that door-to-door collection was feasible and the best
solution for Hernani supported the change. In the two
months prior to the implementation of the new
collection system, the government organized
meetings to explain and revise the new
system. As the mayor declared, “Our state-of-the-art
technology is the neighbors. If the neighbors separate
well, there is no need to build an incinerator.”3
The governments that have implemented door-to-door
collection programs have promoted the creation of
citizens´ committees to monitor their implementation.
Moreover, local Zero Zabor (zero waste) groups
have emerged in these cities, building on earlier antiincinerator
movements. The different local groups
are working together in Gipuzkoa Zero Zabor. In a
few years, these volunteer activists have advanced
the conversation from opposing incinerators to
promoting an authentic zero waste strategy that
focuses on preventing waste—through changes in
design, production, and consumption—and recovering
all materials discarded in a safe and sustainable
Hernani joined other municipalities and groups
opposing the incinerators and promoting the
extension of door-to-door collection to the entire
Gipuzkoa province. Despite the success of the doorto-
door collection systems implemented so far, the
construction of the incinerator in Zubieta is underway.
Many municipalities in the region are reluctant to
opt for zero waste strategies, and this threatens to
undermine the progress being made in cities that
use these strategies. However, after the municipal
elections in July 2011, the political scenario changed.
Table 2. Evolution of Waste Streams in Hernani (kg per person per year)
Source: Mancomunidad de San Marko.
34 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
The groups supportive of a five-year moratorium on
the construction of the incinerator began to administer
most of the municipalities as well as the provincial
government. Given this context, it is likely that doorto-
door collection systems will continue to spread.
Waste Production in Hernani
In 2010, Hernani produced an average of 500 tons
of municipal solid waste per month, and had a per
capita generation of 0.86 kg per day, compared to
1.1 kg the year before. The recent economic crisis
in Spain has resulted in a general reduction in waste
production in the country. The implementation of
the new door-to-door collection system and the
communication campaign about waste may have
raised people’s awareness about waste, leading to
changes in buying behavior. Finally, the former system
of large bins probably made it easier for people to
put non-residential waste in the bins (for instance,
construction and demolition waste), and the current
system of individual bins makes it more difficult to do
The following tables show the evolution of the
composition of residential waste in Hernani before and
after adoption of the door-to-door collection system.
Table 3 provides the specific amounts for each waste
Table 3. Rates by Stream (kg per person per year)
2007 2008 2009 2010
Home compost 4.5 5.4 5.7 17.1
Organics 0 0 0 47.6
Paper/cardboard 41.3 45.5 44.1 44.1
Light packaging 12.2 14.4 15.8 22.8
Glass 26.8 25.9 27.2 30.4
Others 43.6 40.5 40.6 27.6
Residuals 276 277 269.9 106.7
Total 404.4 408.7 403.3 296.3
Prior year change 1% -1.4% -26.5%
Source: Mancomunidad de San Marko.
The table below shows that Usurbil, Hernani, and
Oiartzun have reduced the residual waste per capita in
a very short time, while in other municipalities the figure
remains constant. The fourth municipality to adopt
door-to-door separated waste collection, Antzuola,
has reported that 90 percent of the discards collected
are separated for recovery, and residuals represent
only 10 percent of the total collected there.4
Table 4. Decrease in Per Capita Residuals in Hernani, Compared to Other Municipalities
Source: Mancomunidad de San Marko.
San Marko
Hernani , Spain | 35
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Table 5. Estimated Cost Comparison of Door-to-Door System with the Previous System in Hernani
Door-to-door system (€)
Traditional system
(4 containers) (€)
Collection 1,356,000 486,000
San Marko
Contribution to the
mancomunidad 210,000 210,000
Residuals landfill 152,000 696,000
Lapatx organics plant 156,000 0
Maintenance of underground
0 40,000
Total expenses 1,875,000 1,432,778
Light packaging 198,000 0
Paper/cardboard 90,000 0
Total income 288,000 0
Net cost 1,587,000 1,432,778
1. Annual calculation, estimated from 2011.
2. The comparison is done with the previous system of 4 large containers. Hernani did not make any comparison with the system promoted by the
provincial government (i.e., 5 containers) but the data from Usurbil show that that system is more expensive than door-to-door collection and yields
much lower recovery rates.
3. Income for light packaging and paper/cardboard is estimated, based on the average collection figures of 2010.
4. The municipalities must transport the organic stream to the Lapatx compost plant, resulting in increased costs. The average cost for Hernani is
€130 – €135 per ton of organic waste taken to the compost plant (including transport to the plant).
Source: Oficina del Puerta a Puerta, Ayuntamiento de Hernani.
Table 6. Cost Comparison of the Door-to-Door and Container Collection in Usurbil
Containers & Door-to-door
(as of March) 2009
Expenses (€) 493,444 565,961 670,015
Income (€) 135,447 202,669 452,269
Net cost (€) 357,997 363,292 217,746
Self-finance rate 27.4% 35.8% 67.5%
Source: Informe de Gastos e ingresos de la recogida de residuos 2006 – 2010, Ayuntamiento de Usurbil.
The government of Hernani compared the costs of
the door-to-door collection system with the previous
one that used four large containers, as shown above.
Usurbil has collected enough data to compare the
actual expenses of both collection systems for a full
year. The results show that the door-to-door
collection system is actually less expensive
than the container system, mostly due to the
income generated from the sale of recyclable
Skeptics of source separation maintain that the
costs increase prohibitively when moving from
one-stream collection to a differentiated collection
system. Although collection expenses do tend to
increase in most cases, that is not the whole story: the
differentiated collection increases resource recovery,
which offsets disposal costs and creates a source of
income through the sale of recyclables (and organics,
in other cities). As shown above, in Usurbil the new
system was less expensive than the previous one.
In the case of Hernani, the slightly higher costs for
36 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
the door-to-door collection were due at least in part
to the need to transport the organics to a distant
plant. It is also important to note that the door-todoor
collection and recycling system has the
additional benefit of creating more jobs than
waste management strategies that are based
on mass burying or burning; the extra money
required to support the system provides a significant
boost to the local economy. In total, 16 jobs were
created in Hernani by door-to-door collection.
So far Usurbil, Oiartzun, Hernani, and Antzuola have
begun implementing door-to-door collection of
source separated waste, all with great results. Both
governments and community groups are showing
the positive changes produced by these strategies in
terms of sustainable materials management, pollution
prevention, and the local economy. Moreover, what
they are showing is that a community-based waste
management system can bring impressive results in a
short period, if only governments dare to lead the way
and count on their citizens.
Government of Hernani www.Hernani.net.
Door-to-door information office www.hernaniatezate.
Mancomunidad de San Marko www.sanmarko.net.
Hernani Zero Zabor www.zerozabor.ning.com.
Basque Institute of Statistics www.eustat.euskadi.
Gipuzkoa sin incineradora www.blogak.com/
Usurbil recicla más: Gipuzkoa respira mejor,
Mancomunidad de San Marko, 2009.
Informe de Gastos e ingresos de la recogida de
residuos 2006-2010. Ayuntamiento de Usurbil.
Data provided by Olatz Urrutibeaskoa, Environmental
specialist, government of Hernani.
Special thanks to Pello Zubiria and Gipuzkoa Zero
Zabor for the information and the photos provided.
Hernani , Spain | 37
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1 http://www.hernani.net/es/servicios/puerta-apuerta/
2 Estimate based on waste production and
collection data provided by Mancomunidad of San
3 Marian Beitialarrangoitia: “Tenemos una base
sólida para poner en martxa el puerta a puerta.”
5 December 2009. Published in http://www.
4 http://www.noticiasdegipuzkoa.
90-de-la-basura and http://goiena.net/albisteak/
38 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
The Chilean community of La Pintana has found that
recycling their largest segment of waste—fruits, vegetables,
and yard clippings—can save them money, produce valuable
compost, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program
cost very little to initiate and has grown steadily for seven
years, through an ongoing education campaign about source
separation for residents who reap benefits in the form of new
trees and public parks. Though participation rates are still
modest, La Pintana’s vegetable waste1 recovery program is
already making a substantial contribution to the community’s
financial and environmental sustainability.
La Pintana, Chil e
Prioritizing the Recovery
of Vegetable Waste
By Cecilia Allen
La Pintana
Metropolitan Region of Santiago
Population estimate for 2011: 210,000
Area: 30.31 km2
Population density: 6,928/km2
Average annual rainfall: 367 mm
Altitude: 635 meters above sea level
Average temperature range: 6ºC to 21ºC
Waste generation: >0.77 kg/capita/day
Public spending on vegetable
waste management: US $3/capita/year*
* This figure is only an estimate, based on
program expenses per person covered.
Exchange rate: US $1 = CL $497.
Education activity showing outcomes of vegetable waste recovery. (photo: DIGA)
La Pintana , Chile | 39
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All over the world, municipalities have to manage
increasing amounts of waste with scarce resources.
Often, a large portion of the municipal budget for solid
waste management is spent on waste collection and
disposal, leaving little money for specialized programs.
The situation in La Pintana—one of the communes2
that constitute the heavily-populated Metropolitan
Region of Chile—is no exception. Despite belonging
to the national capital region, this is one of the poorest
communities in the country, and 80 percent of the
environmental agency’s budget is allocated to the
collection and disposal of solid waste. Nonetheless,
while other governments might see this as an obstacle
to the incorporation of waste prevention and resource
recovery strategies, La Pintana focused on making
better use of the available resources and started a
promising program that is already yielding significant
The head of Dirección de Gestión Ambiental
(Environmental Management Agency) of La Pintana
explained the municipality’s decision to take a new
approach to waste management with the adage,
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over,
expecting to achieve different results.” Recognizing, as
well, the importance of continuing that which is working
well, the La Pintana commune identified all the actors
involved in waste management (e.g., businesses,
formal and informal recyclers, citizens, government
Note: The figure counts all municipal solid waste produced, including the
materials recovered by the informal recyclers.
bodies) and their different levels of responsibility in
waste generation. The municipality understands that
discarded materials are resources, and as a result,
waste is viewed as an opportunity, not as a problem to
get rid of. The municipality also understands that the
solutions need to be local. The further waste travels
from the point of generation, the bigger a problem
it becomes and the more likely its management will
be unsustainable. Thus, the priority is to manage
resources as close as possible to where they
are generated.
Guided by this vision, an analysis of the local situation
was carried out. First, a waste audit was conducted,
which showed that the solid waste generated
in La Pintana is 0.77 kg/person/day. Second, a
characterization of waste by source was carried out
(see Figure 1). Finally, a program based on waste
streams (instead of source) was developed, guided by
the principle that it does not matter if a given waste
stream is produced by households or businesses; the
treatment depends merely on its characteristics.
Separation and Collection
With this data in hand and the system designed, in
December of 2005 the municipality launched its new
program. Unlike many materials recovery strategies
adopted in Latin America, this one did not focus on
recycling dry materials, but on recovering vegetable
waste. This decision was fundamental, since
vegetable waste is the largest waste stream, the
one that makes recovery of recyclables more
Worm beds in La Pintana. (photo: DIGA)
Figure 1: Municipal Solid Waste Characterization in
La Pintana (by percentage)
40 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
difficult, and the one that creates greenhouse
gas emissions and leachates in landfills. The
program was built upon existing infrastructure and
local financial resources. It has been steadily growing
since its launch, and while it still has only modest
participation rates, there is an ongoing effort to
increase participation whenever the budget allows for
more public education campaigns.
The government provides 35-liter bins to residents for
vegetable waste. People are asked only to separate out
fruits and vegetables for collection and composting, not
meat or dairy products, although some end up being
mixed in anyway. The consumption of meat in this
poor commune is very low, however, so there is little
animal product waste. Whatever meat and dairy waste
is produced goes to the landfill. The government is
looking into treating these materials through hermetia
illucens (black soldier fly) in the future.
The municipality conducts a communication campaign
with residents in door-to-door visits. The outreach
workers—mostly college graduates in environmental
fields—are hired specially for these campaigns. During
the visits and in the ongoing workshops held by the
government, source separation is emphasized.
The municipality provides people both direct and
indirect incentives to separate their waste. Citizens
receive free compost, and their neighborhoods are
improved with the construction of public parks, planting
of new trees, maintenance of sports clubs, etc., that
improve their quality of life and their relationship with
the environment.
The system for collecting separated waste was
organized by simply rescheduling existing routes.
Consequently, neither the costs nor the number of
trucks increased. Waste is still picked up six days
a week: three days for vegetable waste and three
for the rest. One third of the city is serviced by the
municipality, and the rest by a private company; both
collect two waste streams: vegetable and other. The
separated collection system is done only in those
households and businesses that have been reached
by the communication program.
So far, almost 80 percent of the households have
been visited, although it is estimated that overall only
28 percent of the households are separating their
vegetable waste. According to the municipality, the
low participation rate is the consequence of some bad
experiences with the collection service (e.g., trucks
that did not meet the schedule) and a lack of space
to keep two bins in multi-story buildings. Expanding
the collection program and treating more vegetable
materials is an ongoing effort. Whenever it has the
funds available, the municipality undertakes new
communication campaigns to increase participation
rates. On average, the amount of municipal solid
waste collected daily and transported to the organics
treatment plant and the landfill is 214 tons. This
figure includes both vegetable and other waste
coming from households, businesses, street markets,
and maintenance of public areas, but does not
count recyclables being channeled through other
mechanisms (see below).
Leaflet to promote source separation. (poster: DIGA)
La Pintana , Chile | 41
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Payment for the collection system varies according to
source. For households, the service is paid by taxes.
Businesses pay a fee based on the amount of waste
produced. Street markets must hire a collection service
on their own, and the waste must be separated as
The Informal Sector
The government is focused on recovering vegetable
waste, and does not run programs to recycle dry
materials. Nonetheless, a portion (there is no exact
estimate) of these materials is recovered through
two channels. One is through “green points” built by
the municipality, where non-profits place containers
for people to drop off glass, plastics, and Tetra Pak
containers. The non-profits manage the green points
and keep the income from the sale of the materials.
The other channel is through informal recyclers. The
leaflets that the government hands out to citizens to
encourage source separation also ask them to separate
paper and metals and give them to informal recyclers.
The informal recyclers collect these materials directly
from households and then sell them for recycling.
Although the municipality does confer a degree of
recognition upon the informal recyclers, it has also
blocked their efforts to organize, and they still work in
precarious conditions. The government’s perspective
is that the municipality is willing to encourage people
to hand recyclables to the recyclers but that it is
ultimately a private business, so the informal recyclers
need to develop and maintain their business on their
own. The National Recyclers Movement of Chile
(MNRCH) has put effort into getting them organized,
but without success. According to MNRCH, the
government was not supportive of these efforts,
fearing that people from other communes would join
the new organizations. Early in 2011, there appeared
to be some interest from the commune in working
towards the organization of informal recyclers after
they participated in an expo organized by informal
recyclers in Brazil, but this interest seems to have
waned after the person in charge left her position.
The full inclusion of the informal sector in the formal
waste management system—with payment for their
service and the rights and protections of any formal
worker—remains a challenge.
Recovery and Treatment
Once collected, the source separated vegetable waste
is transported to a 7,500 m2 treatment plant located
within the commune. The site includes a 5,000 m2
compost site that handles 18 tons of vegetable waste
per day. It also includes a vermiculture area of 2,000
m2, with 136 worm beds 15 meters long, that treats
between 18 and 20 tons of vegetable waste per day.
Total input in this plant, including vegetable waste
from households and street markets as well as yard
trimmings, is 36 – 38 tons per day. The waste arrives
very well separated, with only 0.04 percent of impurities
(mostly plastic bags that some people still use in
the containers). Four people work at the site, each
Compost plant in La Pintana. (photo: DIGA)
Furniture made out of scrap wood in La Pintana.
(photo: DIGA)
42 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
earning a monthly salary of about US $600, which is
above minimum wage and comparable to other similar
jobs. The 2011 annual budget for maintenance and
operations was US $31,000.
Initial investments in the program were low; the
original treatment plant consisted of a small
compost pile and some worms. As the program
has grown over time, more piles have been added
to the plant and the worms have been reproducing
naturally, so most of the costs have been operational
The municipality also has a mulching plant, a nursery,
and an “urban silviculture” program that includes a
wood shop. In the shop, furniture, signs, flower pots,
and crafts are made out of scrap wood, and citizens
can learn woodworking skills. The exact amount of
materials recovered through the silviculture program
is unknown, but an estimated eight tons of garden
waste are recovered daily by pruning and mulching.
Total recovery of source-separated vegetable
waste is at least 44 tons per day, including
residential waste, yard trimmings from
maintenance of green areas, and vegetable
waste from street markets. That is 20.5 percent
of all the waste collected in La Pintana. From
residential waste alone, the government calculates
that 23 percent of the vegetable waste produced
is being recovered. The remaining 77 percent of
vegetable waste that is not being source-separated
by residents is currently landfilled, along with other
waste streams. In 2010, the commune sent 61,257
tons of municipal solid waste to the landfill, about 170
tons per day (157 tons of residential and commercial
waste, 11 tons of street market waste, and 2 tons of
waste from the maintenance of green areas).
In addition, about 1,000 liters of used kitchen oil
are recovered daily, which are turned into biodiesel
fuel for municipal collection trucks and grinders that
make woodchips to use as mulch.3 Construction
and demolition waste is managed privately by the
producers. Thus, the municipal investment is confined
to recovering vegetable waste and disposing of
Cost Savings Through Local
The entire municipality has a budget of approximately
US $25 million annually. The breakdown of the
environmental agency budget is shown below.
Table 1. Budget of Environmental Programs and
Waste Management
Programs US $
Compost and vermiculture plant operation costs 31,036
Environmental education 69,000
Other* 611,513
Sub-total environmental programs 711,549
MSW collection** 1,632,683
MSW disposal 1,284,139
Sub-total collection and disposal 2,916,822
Total environmental agency 3,628,371
* Includes various environmental programs, such as nursery and urban
silviculture, clean commune program, protective equipment, animal care,
and others.
** Includes service of sweeping and cleaning in street markets.
Note: Environmental programs figures reflect the 2011 budget. The
collection and disposal costs are estimated based on the expenses during
the first three months of 2011.
Source: Dirección de Gestión Ambiental, La Pintana.
The new system is actually less expensive than
the previous one in which all the waste was
landfilled, mainly due to a reduction in transport
and disposal costs. For every trip that is made to
the compost plant instead of the transfer station, 22
km of travel are avoided. Also, the use of biodiesel
instead of fossil fuel saves the municipality US $100
per day. In terms of treatment costs, materials recovery
in the vermiculture and compost municipal plant is
far less expensive than sending waste to a private
landfill. As a result of the compost and vermiculture
La Pintana , Chile | 43
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plant operations, daily savings in disposal costs are
estimated to be US $754.
Table 2. Cost Comparison of Waste Treatments
US $ per ton
Vermiculture 1
Composting 3
Landfill 19
Source: Dirección de Gestión Ambiental, La Pintana, 2011.
As mentioned above, the capital costs for the new
program were low and covered by local financial
resources. Most of the expenses incurred since
the program started have been operation costs.
The program has been expanding since it started,
and current plans aim to increase the compost and
vermiculture program and add new techniques such
as the cultivation of larvae of hermetia illucens (black
soldier fly). This insect is being considered as a method
to process vegetable waste (it has been found to be
a very fast decomposer of organic waste, particularly
interesting for the treatment of meat and guano) as
well as a source of fuel, given that the larvae are very
rich in fat.
Despite being a very poor community, La Pintana
shows that a good analysis of the local situation,
the setting of clear goals, and an efficient use of
resources allow municipalities to do more than
just waste materials in landfills. By focusing on the
largest and most problematic waste stream—organic
materials—the community has made a large impact
with a small budget. While the program still has
ample room to grow, it has clearly established ways
to reduce environmental and economic damage while
recovering useful materials, which are then used to
improve the local environment and promote residents’
La Pintana: un modelo de desarrollo sustentable.
Gestión y ordenamiento ambiental local (GOAL).
Presentación de Manuel Valencia Guzmán, Director
de Gestión Ambiental, 2010.
Gestión Integral de Residuos: Mitos y realidades.
Gestión y Ordenamiento Ambiental Local (GOAL).
Presentación de Manuel Valencia Guzmán, Director
de Gestión Ambiental Buenos Aires 08 de junio
Interview with Manuel Valencia Guzmán, June 2011.
Díaz Mariela, García, Natalia: Innovación en la
gestión local de los residuos sólidos domiciliarios en
experiencias de la Argentina y Chile.
Dirección de Gestión Ambiental, La Pintana http://
Movimiento Nacional de Recicladores de Chile
(National Recyclers Movement of Chile).
1 The local government makes the distinction
between vegetable waste (including food waste
and yard waste) and organic waste (that would
include any carbon-containing material, including
paper and even plastics). To respect the approach
of the local government, the term “vegetable
waste” is used here instead of organic materials.
2 In Chile, a commune is the smallest administrative
division of a territory, equivalent to a municipality
in other countries.
3 Mulch is a cover of organic matter like woodchips,
grass clippings, or straw that is placed on the soil.
Among other things, mulch improves soil fertility,
helps control weeds, maintains moisture, and
reduces erosion.
44 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Mumbai’s rapid growth, high density, and sheer size present
significant challenges for its waste management system. The
enormous quantity of waste generated in the city makes largescale,
technologically driven “solutions” tempting. However, the
opposite approach—a highly decentralized, people-powered
model of waste management—has proven successful. Dry waste
is separated out for recycling while organic waste, Mumbai’s
largest and heaviest waste stream, is treated close to its source
through composting pits and biogas. This approach has reduced
the need for costly transportation and landfill space while
providing green jobs for waste pickers.
Mumbai, India
Waste Picker-Run Biogas Plants
as a Decentralized Solution
By Virali Gokaldas
Maharashtra State
Area: 603 km2
Population: 12,479,608
Population density: 20,696/km2
Average annual rainfall: 2,167 mm
Altitude: 14 meters above sea level
Average temperature range: 17ºC to 33ºC
Waste generation: 0.53 kg/capita/day
Parisar Bhaginis in their uniforms. (photo: Michael Atkin)
Mumbai , India | 45
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Mumbai, the financial center and industrial hub of
India, is a megacity divided into 24 wards, each with
its own budget and responsibility for solid waste
management. The city government, known as the
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM),
utilizes both a communal collection system where
residents bring waste to collection points (78%) and
a house-to-house collection system where apartment
building managers collect the garbage for pickup
on designated routes (22%). The waste goes either
to transfer stations or directly to one of three local
landfills. For 2013, the city estimates a total cost of
2,019 crores1 (US $375 million) for solid waste
expenditures, a 40 percent increase from 2012.
The budget reflects large anticipated increases in
transportation, compacting, and dumpsite expenses.
There are currently three local dumpsites for Mumbai’s
waste. The oldest, Deonar, has been in operation for
over 80 years—much longer than the typical 30-year
lifespan—and is scheduled for closure. All the city
dumps have traditionally been a source of income for
waste pickers who scour the piles for reusable and
recyclable items. However, this is quickly changing, as
the landfills are either being covered daily with soil or
closed off to waste pickers by private operators.
While the Indian Municipal Solid Waste Rules of
2000 require source separation of waste and prohibit
landfilling of biodegradable waste, there is no formal
recycling or composting program. However,
there is a thriving informal recycling economy.
A large percentage of dry recyclables—meaning paper,
plastic, metals, and glass—are recycled by households
or alternately, by waste pickers. This recycling sector is
considered to be ‘informal’ because it is not regulated
by government agencies, and there are no rules for
pricing recyclable materials or protections for the
health and safety of the waste pickers. Nevertheless,
their work reduces waste transportation costs,
provides raw materials to recycling facilities, and helps
to protect the environment.
A Decentralized Approach
to Zero Waste
In specific wards of Mumbai, there is a growing
movement to formalize the waste-picking sector
and address the growing issue of municipal waste
by integrating zero waste principles into waste
Parisar Bhaginis operating a biogas plant. (photo: SMS)
Figure 1. Solid Waste Costs for Greater Mumbai
Source: MCGM 2012
46 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
management. One non-governmental organization,
Stree Mukti Sanghatana (SMS), has been training and
organizing women waste pickers since 1975. Because
poor, low-caste women comprise 85 percent of the
waste picker population, SMS started the Parisar Vikas
(PV) program in 1998 to train this group as “parisar
bhaginis,” or “neighborhood sisters,” teaching them the
principles of zero waste, how to sort and handle waste
from multi-family dwellings, composting and biogas
plant management, gardening, and how to organize
as worker cooperatives and negotiate contracts. The
organization also helps with contracting and marketing
for individual workers and cooperatives.
SMS Operations
Through SMS programs, including PV, a total of 600
women work in almost 150 locations in Mumbai,
ranging from institutional campuses to housing
apartments. Although each site is unique, at most
locations these waste pickers pull out, aggregate,
and sell dry recyclables. In addition, depending on
the nature of the waste stream and the contract,
the bhaginis offer other services, such as dry waste
collection (including Tetra Pak collection), composting,
buildings and grounds cleaning, collection of dry
waste in hospitals, and operation of small-scale biogas
Table 1. Summary of SMS Operations
Sites Workers
Dry Waste
Composting 27 57 1,714 418
Cleaning 26 42 318
Dry Waste Collection 70 282 14,212
Hospitals 19 35 1,670
Biogas Plants 8 13 7,055 39
Total 150 429 8,769 16,657
Source: SMS 2012
Depending on the site’s size and operation, women
waste pickers can play several roles in the waste
management process, shown in Figure 2 below.
They collect waste directly from households or
community waste bins, and separate it. They bundle
the dry, recyclable waste for sale to industry recyclers.
Residuals and organics are either picked up by the city
for disposal at dumpsites, or by SMS to be processed in
composting and biogas facilities that produce manure
and biogas for industry and domestic end uses.
Bhaginis earn income from the sale of
recyclables and at many sites also receive a
service fee for collecting, sorting, or managing
composting pits/biogas plants. Most earn 100
– 150 (US $2 – $3) per day from collection fees and
sale of recyclables, though this can vary considerably
depending on volume collected and sale prices. Some
apartments pay the waste pickers directly; others pay
the co-op. In many locations, bhaginis earn a regular,
additional income from running a biogas plant or
composting pit. There is a team structure with one
supervisor for every four or five bhaginis on site;
additionally, each ward has a supervisor. There are also
specialized positions such as composting supervisors
who work citywide overseeing compost operations.
Supervisors are paid 5,000 – 6,000 (US $90 – $110)
Dry waste collection, Tetra Paks. (photo: SMS)
Mumbai , India | 47
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per month; senior employees can make up to 8,000 –
9,000 (US $145 – $165) per month.
SMS serves as the umbrella organization that runs
the PV program and other services for waste pickers.
It has also developed a sister organization that
markets, negotiates, and signs contracts on behalf of
individual members. In addition, there are ten waste
picker cooperatives that manage sites. Initially, SMS
signed contracts on their behalf, but the signing
and management of contracts is transitioning to the
cooperatives themselves.
The cooperatives enter into recycling contracts with
institutions, apartment complexes, businesses, and
the municipality. They have seen the greatest success
with private institutions and campuses, such as the
Tata Institute for Social Sciences. At the institute, a
Figure 2. Parisar Vikas Waste Management Process
and Community
Bin Centers
Collection and Segregation of Waste
by Waste Pickers
Dry Waste (High Value)
Sale of Recyclables
SMS + Waste
Sale of Biogas
and Manure
Industry and
Disposal at
Industry recyclers
Wet Waste (Low Value)
Source: Adapted from MIT Colab 2010.
48 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
cooperative operates a snack bar, sorting operation,
and biogas facility. The snack bar generates 25 – 30
kg of clean, source-separated, organic waste per
day. Supplemented with outside sources, this feeds
the 100 kg/day capacity biogas plant. Gas from the
plant meets a quarter of the canteen’s cooking gas
needs. The operation has been so successful that the
institute added another 500 kg/day plant at its larger
canteen, and is constructing a third plant to service
their new 1,000-student hostel.
SMS has been seeking out new opportunities where
apartments are being constructed or areas are being
re-developed. Creating a recycling program at
new or re-designed developments has proven
easier than where residents or businesses
already have an established waste routine. For
example, Vasundhara, an SMS cooperative, applied
to provide recycling services for a special export
business zone. The area hosts approximately 100,000
workers and 300 industries on 40+ hectares. The
cooperative won the contract and now employs 18
bhaginis to collect the zone’s 1 – 1.5 tons per day of
dry recyclables; it will also be bringing a biogas plant
online in June 2012.
Compared to private contracts, SMS has had less
success with municipal agreements. It contracts
directly with the city to collect dry recyclables at several
locations, using city trucks. However, these contracts
tend to be less lucrative since the municipality provides
the collection trucks only in the late morning, at which
point most locations have already been picked over by
Collection of dry recyclables. (photo: SMS) the municipal staff.
Collection of dry waste with city vehicle. (photo: SMS)
Mumbai , India | 49
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Current contracts between the collector (SMS or
the cooperative) and their customers are short, basic
letters of agreement that allow bhaginis to come
on-site to take dry recyclables away or to manage
an operation for a set fee. The letters are typically
signed and renewed on an annual basis and detail
the number of bhaginis to be on site and the fee to
be paid. Additional provisions include the necessity of
safety and protection equipment, the need for identity
cards to allow ease of access, and a requirement for
worked hours to be documented.
Flexibility Leads to Stability
SMS’s strategy with the Parisar Vikas program
has been to localize the sorting and processing
of waste as much as possible, whether on a
large campus or at an apartment building. This
decentralization requires greater tailoring, at the
building or colony level, and makes it challenging to
standardize and scale up solutions. However, it affords
SMS several benefits. First, being adaptable to the
customer has increased demand for services and
allowed PV to thrive. Second, smaller-scale enterprises
can respond quickly to changes in the recycling
landscape due to turnovers in political leadership.
For example, new commissioners can favor different
players and award waste contracts accordingly.
Having a variety of contracts and models allows PV
to continue even when one site may close. Third, the
waste-picking sector itself has high turnaround; as
women increase their income or their children begin
earning money, they leave this work and move onto
other activities. Keeping operations simple and having
multiple sites lets PV manage turnover more easily.
Finally, the model has allowed PV to experiment at
different locations, leading to models like wet waste
processing and biogas production. Having a model
that is modular and opportunistic, that can provide
services to complement its customer’s needs, that has
a diversified base of operations, and that has simple
components has allowed Parisar Vikas to bid for a
variety of contracts, weather political changes and high
employee turnaround, and roll out new technology like
small-scale biogas plants.
The waste-picking sector is vulnerable to the threat
of privatization of waste collection. In 2012, the city
awarded a 25-year contract worth 3,500 crores
(US $650 million) to a private firm to manage and
close the city’s landfills. The contract rules and state
law governing waste management require that the
company, at a minimum, integrate waste pickers into
its operations, but this has not happened.
Capacity Installation
Cost (US $)
Operating Cost/
Year (US $)
Daily Water
(recycled) Daily Workers Daily
Daily Fertilizer
500kg 22,000 2,000
1 kL
(500 L)
1 supervisor
.75 – 1
0.04 – 0.05 50
1 ton 30,000 3,000
1.5 kL
(1 kL )
1 supervisor
1.5 – 2 0.08 – 0.10
2 tons 44,000 5,000
3 kL
(2 kL )
1 supervisor
3 – 4 0.16 – 0.20 150
5 tons 100,000 8,000
6 kL
(5 kL)
1 supervisor
8 – 10 0.40 – 0.50 300
Table 2. Capacity Comparison of Different Nisargruna Biogas Plants
*In Liquified Petroleum Gas cooking cylinder equivalents; one cylinder lasts 45 – 60 days in an average household kitchen.
Source: Nisargruna brochure.
50 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Biogas: Creating a Local Food-to-
Energy Cycle
A key innovation in PV’s model is the adoption
of a locally viable technology for biogas creation,
called the Nisargruna Biogas Plant. The plant was
developed to convert on-site organic waste at
an individual institution or apartment building
into useful methane and high-quality manure
(fertilizer) to then be sold back to households
or local businesses. It was designed to digest
almost any biodegradable waste including kitchen
waste, paper, animal dung, bio-sludge, poultry manure,
agro-waste, and biomass. The plant design is highly
scalable and can be made to handle 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
10 or 25 metric tons of segregated biodegradable
waste. A plant processing one ton of waste requires
10 KWh of electricity per day. Generally, the plant
returns 10 percent of processed waste as nitrogenrich
The Nisargruna Biogas Technology
The Nisargruna Biogas technology has three stages
of operation. First, waste must be properly separated
before entering the biogas plant as some materials
may damage the equipment. Even with good source
separation, waste pickers conduct a sort on-site to
pick out contaminants and inappropriate organic
material. Hence waste pickers are a critical part of
the operation’s smooth functioning. Second, because
microorganisms cannot easily digest solid waste,
the waste is placed in a mixer with an equal amount
of hot water to break down fibers and create a
homogeneous slurry. This slurry enters into the aerobic
tank to be converted to butyric, fumaric, acetic, and
other organic acids. Finally, the acidic slurry transfers
to the anaerobic tank, to be converted into methane.
The final products are nitrogen-rich manure, to
be used on gardens, and methane gas, which
can be used for heating or electricity. The water
used in the process is heated through solar power
and recycled for new batches. Out of every 100 liters
of water used, 75 liters are recycled from the slurry.
Plant operation is relatively simple as the technology
was designed to be used by non-skilled workers. The
most important human activity is proper segregation
of material—the primary expertise of parisar bhaginis.
Operators occasionally measure pH to ensure it
is in the right range for digestion. The plant has an
inspection hatch so bhaginis can scoop out any
problematic material. Because of their size, the plants
are more suitable for community garbage streams
than for individual households. They are geared for city
corporations, big hotels, government establishments,
housing colonies, residential schools and colleges,
hospitals, agricultural markets, and factories.
SMS and its cooperatives operate eight biogas plants
throughout the city. Each plant belongs to the
institution or society where it is located, and
bhaginis are contracted annually to operate
them. In all instances, customers utilize the gas for
cooking, as the current plants are too small for costeffective
electricity generation.
Unlike composting operations, a biogas plant does not
create unpleasant decomposing odors, nor does it take
up a large amount of space. Only 50 m2 are required
for a plant that processes 100 kg per day. The
resulting biogas is 85 percent methane, more efficient
than the 50 percent methane typical of most biogas
plants, which SMS attributes to Nisargruna’s two-step
aerobic/anaerobic process. The small footprint, lack of
odors, and direct use of biogas for heating mean that
organic waste, the largest part of the waste stream,
can be processed and used very close to where it
is produced. This dramatically reduces the need for
waste pick up, transport, and disposal, as well as the
pollution associated with these activities. It also avoids
the pollution that results from landfilling wet waste:
Mumbai , India | 51
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methane emissions, toxic leachate, and odors.
The PV model generates value in three ways: waste
collection, sale of recyclables, and generation of
biogas or compost. In addition, the municipality
saves considerable money in avoided transport
and disposal costs. The income from recyclables
varies significantly with market conditions, locality,
etc. Waste collection and biogas are bundled
together and compensated through service fees.
These annual contracts range from 100,000 –
200,000 (US $1,800 – $3,700) depending on
the number of bhaginis on site and the extent of
The avoided municipality costs are not reimbursed
to PV at all. Yet these avoided costs may have the
greatest economic impact. The city pays private
contractors about 600 (US $11) per ton to transport
the waste and another 500 (US $9) for disposal. So
each one ton/day plant saves the city in excess of US
$6,000 per year.2
For a biogas plant handling five metric tons per day of
Figure 3. Nisargruna Process
Source: MIT Colab
for Sale
52 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
wet waste, the environmental benefits are significant.
On an annual basis, the plant saves greenhouse
gas emissions equivalent to 4,197 tons of CO2 from
recycling wet waste. The same plant creates, annually,
biogas equivalent to 55,000 kg of liquefied petroleum
gas and 10,000 kg of organic compost. This is in
addition to the reduced impact of transportation on
Mumbai’s crowded streets.
SMS has successfully demonstrated the viability
of decentralized waste management in one of the
world’s largest and most crowded cities. Although
this approach takes more time to roll out than a onesize-
fits-all city-wide strategy, its greater flexibility and
customization is important to its success. Waste picker
cooperatives are instrumental in managing source
separation, and the small-scale biogas and compost
pits have generated higher-paying employment for
women waste pickers while significantly reducing the
waste burden on the municipality.
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai Website.
2012. http://www.mcgm.gov.in/irj/portal/anonymous
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai Budget
Estimates 2012-2013. http://www.mcgm.gov.
Interview with Jyoti Mhapsekhar, President of Stree
Mukti Sanghatana. May 5, 2012.
Email communication from Jyoti Mhapsekhar,
President of Stree Mukti Sanghatana. May 9, 2012.
Kale, Sharad P. “BARC – Nisargruna Biogas Plant.”
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. 2011.
“Nisargruna, Nature’s Loan.” Bhabha Atomic
Research Centre.
SMS website: http://www.streemuktisanghatana.org.
Anna Kunti Pratiwi, Hendra Agus, Shamsul Bahar
Shajian, Ridzuan Ismail, Kevin Yee Seh Kian.
“Sustainable Management of Organic Wet Waste in
Developing Cities.” Colab@MIT Project. 2010.
Farrow, Lauren. “Mumbai’s Ragpickers Clean up
City’s Act.” Audio program. June 19, 2010: http://
Bhada, Perinaz and Nickolas J. Themelis. “Potential
for the First WTE Facility in Mumbai (Bombay) India.”
16th Annual North American Waste-to-Energy
Conference. May 19-21 2008.
Wolfe, Jeanne M. and Darshini Mahadevia, ed. Solid
Waste Management in Indian Cities, Status and
Emerging Practices. Concept Publishing, New Delhi.
Darshini Mahadevia, Bela Pharate, and Amit Mistry.
“New Practices of Waste Management – Case of
Mumbai.” School of Planning, CEPT University. 2005.
“Budget steps on gas, Kolkata fastens subsidy belt.”
Times of India. March 17, 2012.
1 One crore equals ten million.
2 Assuming 300 operating days per year.
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54 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
The Flemish region of Belgium, Flanders, has become
the vanguard of waste management in Europe. It boasts the
highest waste diversion rate in Europe—almost three-fourths
of the residential waste produced in the region is reused,
recycled, or composted, and it has managed to stabilize waste
generation. Thanks to far-reaching regional policies that are
highly coordinated with local programs, waste management
has remained decentralized, efficient, and highly effective.
Flanders, Belgium
Europe’s Best Recycling
and Prevention Program
By Cecilia Allen
Buy clever, buy less waste. (photo: OVAM)
Population: 6.2 million
Area: 13,522 km²
Population density: 456/km²
Average annual rainfall: 850 mm
Average temperature range: 3ºC to 18ºC
Altitude: 5 to 288 meters above sea level
Waste diversion rate: 73%
Waste generation: 1.5 kg/capita/day
Spending on waste management per capita:
US $116.33 per year
Flande rs, Belgium | 55
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In Belgium, environmental issues are the responsibility
of the regions, which establish policies independently
from each other. The Flanders Public Waste Agency
(OVAM) develops and monitors legislation and policies
regarding waste management and soil remediation
for the region. The 308 Flemish municipalities, in
turn, handle municipal solid waste; almost all of them
have grouped themselves into associations to provide
these services collectively. There are currently 27
inter-municipal waste management associations in
Regional Waste Diversion and
Prevention Strategies
Regional waste management policies in Flanders go
back to 1981, when the first Waste Decree, regulating
the development of regional waste plans, was approved.
Since then, every four or five years, new plans
have been developed that outline waste policies and
targets for municipalities to implement with OVAM´s
support. These waste plans set goals for the region,
and include targets (for overall residential waste generation,
separate collection, and residual waste after
source separation and home composting) to be met
by both the municipalities and the overall region. Over
time, goals were met and then exceeded, allowing
more ambitious goals to be set in subsequent waste
plans. With these successes, the emphasis of
waste management policies transitioned from
disposal to source separation and recycling,
and finally to waste prevention.
OVAM’s initial measures included promoting source
separation, subsidizing the construction of recycling
and composting facilities, and discouraging waste.
As the program matured, the region developed a
well-coordinated system of municipal, regional, and
national policies that support decentralized waste
management with a focus on prevention.
Collection and Treatment
Collection. Most cities belong to inter-municipal
partnerships and run these services cooperatively,
some employ a combination of inter-municipal
associations and private or public companies, and
a few operate independently, with no association.
The means of collection varies from association to
association, but generally includes a combination
of door-to-door collection, drop-off centers, street
containers, and retailer product take-backs. All but
three municipalities in the region had collection of
source separated materials by 2009.
Door-to-door collection systems usually take paper and
cardboard, organic materials (including yard trimmings
1997 – 2001 Waste Plan 2003 – 2007 Waste Plan 2008 – 2015 Waste Plan
Target year
kg of residuals per
Target year
kg of residuals per
Target year
kg of residuals
per person
1998 225 2003 180 2015 150
2001 220 2005 165
2006 200 2007 150
2010 150
Figure 1. Per Capita Targets to Reduce Residual Waste in Flanders
• The figures correspond to average Flemish levels. Different targets are set for different municipalities.
• The targets include residential waste, bulky waste, and waste from government activities; commercial waste is excluded.
Source: ARCADIS and Eunomia, 2008 and EiONET, 2009.
56 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
and food scraps, but not cooked food), plastic bottles
and cups, metal packaging and Tetra Paks, residuals,
and bulky waste. There are also 337 “recycling parks,”
or drop-off centers, in the region that handle about 50
percent of the residential waste. People must deliver
the discarded materials separated and place them in
the proper containers. Some products can be taken
back to retailers.
In 2008, the municipalities spent €91.60 (US
$116.33)3 per capita on residential waste management.
Collection and treatment systems are financed
through a fixed annual tax and the Pay As You Throw
(PAYT) tax.
Treatment of Organic Materials. The first plan
for vegetable, fruit, and garden (VFG) waste was
developed in the period 1991 – 1995 and led to the
creation of the Flemish compost organization, VLACO.
A non-profit organization constituted cooperatively
by OVAM, the inter-municipal waste associations,
private compost producers, and some independent
municipalities, VLACO encourages organic waste
prevention, promotes composting at all levels, certifies
compost, and operates as a reference and assistance
entity on organic waste materials.
Organic materials are treated through composting and
anaerobic digestion. At the beginning of the 1990s,
there was one centralized compost plant that received
mixed residential waste, but the compost quality was so
bad that source separation was made a requirement in
the regional plans for organic materials. In the second
plan for organic materials, passed in 1995, the intermunicipal
associations required separate collection of
green waste (produced in public parks and areas as a
result of pruning) or VFG waste, and advocated home
composting. Subsequent organic materials plans
have focused on promoting further home composting
and cycle gardening, and encouraging businesses to
By 2010, there were 35 compost plants in Flanders
(8 for VFG waste and 27 for green waste) and
29 anaerobic digestion plants that processed
organic residential waste together with manure and
agricultural waste. In total, 1,804,000 tons of these
organic materials were processed in 2010. About 1
million tons were anaerobically digested and 804,000
tons were composted (for composting: 269,000
tons of VFG, 525,000 tons of green waste, and
the rest discards from food processing industries).4
Approximately 4,900 tons of organic materials
were composted or treated through anaerobic
digestion every day in Flanders.
According to VLACO, 327,044 tons of compost were
sold in 2010 (106,952 from food and yard waste and
220,092 from green waste) for different uses including
gardening and landscaping (35%), horticulture and
agriculture (7%), and others.
VLACO estimated the energy savings and reduction
in CO2 emissions resulting from compost production,
compared to a scenario in which the organics were
treated through incineration with energy recovery.5
It found that in 2007, 480,000 fewer tons of
CO2 were emitted due to separate collection
and composting of 833,000 tons of organic
materials.6 It also estimated that by composting
organic materials, 80,000 to 110,000 m³ of water
were saved that year.
Impact of Recycling and Composting
The past few decades have seen an increase in
recycling and composting and a reduction in the
amount of waste sent to landfills, while incineration
capacity has remained stable since the beginning of
the 1990s.
The optimization of separate collection, in conjunction
with policies designed to reduce landfilling of waste,
have enabled Flanders to significantly increase
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recovery of recyclable and compostable materials
while decoupling waste production from economic
growth, a significant and unusual achievement.
However, policies and practices have not yet enabled
a reduction in total waste generation.
Strategies for Municipal
Targets and regulations. The Flemish government
mandates source separated collection throughout
the region. In order to encourage improvements in
separation, it also sets targets for per capita residential
waste production, home composting, and maximum
residuals, which must be met by all municipalities.
Landfill and incinerator restrictions. As a way
to discourage burying and burning, the government
implemented landfill and incinerator restrictions in
1998 and 2000. As a result, landfilling of unsorted
waste, separated waste suitable for recovery,
combustible waste, and all pharmaceuticals was
banned. Incineration of separated recyclables and
unsorted waste was also prohibited.
Figure 2. Evolution of Residential Waste Treatments (by percentage)
Figure 3. Evolution of Residential Waste Treatments (by weight)
*MBT = Mechanical and Biological Treatment
Notes: Composting also includes anaerobic digestion.
Source: Christof Delatter, VVSG quoted in Green Alliance, 2009.
*MBT = Mechanical and Biological Treatment
Note: Composting includes anaerobic digestion.
Source: MIRA, 2010, page 114.
58 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Incinerator and landfill taxes. In addition to
incinerator and landfill restrictions, OVAM uses financial
mechanisms to discourage burying and burning. There
is an environmental tax for residual waste treatment
that ranges from €7 (US $9) per ton for incineration
to €75 (US $95) per ton for landfilling. In 2009, the
revenues from these levies totaled €28 million (US
$36 million). About 40 percent of this amount was
used to finance the subsidies in the environmental
agreements with the municipalities (see below).
Adding the taxes to the treatment tariffs charged per
treatment, landfilling costs €135 (US $171) per ton,
while the cost of incineration comes to between €77
(US $98) and €137 (US $174) per ton.
Agreements. OVAM signs agreements with
municipalities to carry out waste prevention
activities. These agreements include obligations for
municipalities to hold waste prevention campaigns,
provide technical or financial assistance to citizens
to reduce waste, sponsor specific campaigns for
target groups like schools, etc. These agreements
often include subsidies to finance public education
campaigns as well as things like home compost
programs, promoting reusable nappies, and school
water fountains.
Subsidies. OVAM also provides investment subsidies
to municipalities and inter-municipal associations
for waste prevention, separation, and treatment. In
2009, €5.5 million (US $7 million) were provided
as subsidies to build drop-off centers and compost
plants, implement Pay As You Throw systems (see
below), and other activities.
Environmentally preferable procurement.
OVAM helps municipalities through a web application
that contains tips and a questionnaire for choosing
more sustainable options in office supplies, cleaning
products, electric and electronic equipment, varnish,
and paints. The application can be used by citizens
as well.
Designing Out Waste
Tools to prevent waste. One of OVAM’s central
strategies to prevent waste goes to the root of
the waste problem: the very design of products. To
address this, the agency has created a set of tools
to promote clean production and sustainable design.
These include:
• “ECOLIZER” – a tool for designers to estimate
the environmental impact of products. It
includes a set of environmental impact indicators
relating to materials, processing, transport,
energy, and waste treatment, allowing designers
to identify opportunities to reduce those
impacts by changing the design. For instance,
one can calculate the environmental burden
of a coffee machine by finding scores for different
indicators—the materials, the manufacturing
process, the related transport, and the
treatment after the product is discarded—and
then evaluating possible changes in the design
of the coffee machine to reduce its environmental
burden score.
• Eco-efficiency assessment – a program to
evaluate the efficiency of small and medium
companies. It identifies points of intervention
for reducing waste, improving energy and water
efficiency, increasing recycling, and so on.
The Ecolizer tool. (photo: OVAM)
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The test is free of charge. OVAM consultants
follow up to implement the changes. As of
2009, 1,000 companies had been assessed.
• MAMBO – a software program that allows companies
to calculate the direct and indirect costs
associated with waste, including those resulting
from waste treatment and inefficiency.
• Inspirational online database – a collection
of case studies of businesses that have implemented
clean production and eco-design
Subsidies and incentives. The regional government
provides subsidies to second-hand shops. In
2008, OVAM provided €936,000 (US $1.19 million)
in subsidies for reuse and recycling centers. In 2009,
Flanders had over 110 second-hand shops employing
a total of 3,861 employees and serving over 3.6 million
paying customers. The government also organizes
“Ecodesign awards” for students and professionals
as a way to encourage innovations in waste prevention.
The prizes range between €400 and €4,000 (US
$508 to US $5,080).
Extended Producer Responsibility. Flemish
waste legislation7 makes it mandatory for producers,
importers, and retailers of certain items to take back
waste products and meet collection and recovery
targets. These obligations apply to batteries and
accumulators, vehicles, printed matter, tires, electrical
and electronic equipment, lubricating and industrial
oils, lighting equipment, animal and vegetable fats
and oils, and medicines. People can return broken
or obsolete products to retailers free of charge.
Producers are then responsible for management
and treatment of the products according to specific
requirements that include recovery targets. In most
cases, non-profit organizations handle the product
take-backs. For instance, in the case of batteries
and accumulators, the industry created BEBAT, an
organization comprised of over 800 members, to
handle this stream. An extra charge collected from the
sale of every battery (€0.12/US $0.15) and flashlight
(€0.20/US $0.25) funds the system. Used batteries
can be dropped free of charge in containers placed
in stores, schools, and public buildings. Metals from
inside the collected batteries are then recycled.
Deconstruction, not demolition. By law, new
construction projects that generate over 1,000 m3
of debris must present a “deconstruction” plan and
waste inventory and are responsible for recycling this
waste. According to OVAM, 90 percent of construction
and demolition waste—11 million tons—was recycled
in 2010. While this stream is not part of residential
waste, the logic of Extended Producer Responsibility
is applied.8
Waste Prevention Strategies
Directed at Households and
Pay As You Throw (PAYT). The hallmark of this
significant waste prevention strategy is the application
of graduated taxes to different types of waste. Most
expensive is the collection of residual waste, followed
by the collection of organic materials, with the lowest
taxes applied to plastic bottles, metal packaging, and
drink cartons. Collection of paper and cardboard, glass
bottles, and textiles is free. Tax on bulky waste varies
depending on the quantity.
Elements of PAYT vary among inter-municipality
associations. Some use bags (charged at €0.75/US
$0.95 – €2.50/US $3.18 per 60 liter bag), others use
bins with electronic chips that charge according to the
volume or weight of the waste. For larger containers,
there is taxation per volume (€2.50/US $3.18 – €3.76/
US $4.78), per weight (€0.15/US $0.19 – €0.20/US
$0.25 per kg) and per pick up (€0.25/US $0.32 –
€1/US $1.27).
60 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Home composting. The promotion of composting
is another central strategy to reduce the volume
of waste collected from households. In Flanders,
successful approaches have included annual charges
for the collection of organic materials (€40/US $51
for a 120 liter bin), educating citizens about home
composting through communication campaigns,
promoting “cycle gardening” to reuse yard waste,
encouraging composting at schools, and composting
demonstrations at community compost plants. A
“compost masters” program has also been established,
through which citizens are trained in composting and
then encouraged to work as volunteers training other
citizens and assisting them to compost properly. By
2008, 4,000 citizens had been trained, and there
were 2,500 active master composters. These efforts
have yielded significant results: it is estimated that
about 100,000 tons of organic materials were
kept out of the collection and management
system in 2008, thanks to home composting. In
densely populated areas, the government encourages
community compost plants, where citizens can take
their organic materials. These facilities usually use
compost bins, and so do not take up much space.
The success of this program continues to grow. By
2010, approximately 34 percent of the Flemish
population—almost two million people—was
composting at home.
Green event assessment and guide. Online tools
are available for organizers to calculate the ecological
footprint of their events and to prevent waste during
events. The agency also maintains an online list of
places that lend reusable tableware for events and
Additional waste prevention campaigns for citizens
include promoting the use of tap water instead
of bottled, encouraging bulk purchasing, and
discouraging the use of packaging and disposable
bags. Others include “Please No Publicity” stickers
distributed to citizens to reduce junk mail, online tests
to find opportunities to prevent waste, and publications
to help citizens interpret product labels.
Federal Waste Prevention:
Regulating Products That Enter the
Although waste management is a local and regional
responsibility, the Belgian federal government sets
the standards for products that enter the market and
eventually become waste. It has enacted a number
of such laws, guided by the Polluter Pays Principle
and the desire to promote sustainable production and
consumption patterns. These policies include:
• an Eco-tax Act, approved in 1993, for items
like beverage containers, some packaging,
and disposable cameras and batteries;
• a sustainable material management strategy;
• a federal act on product standards, passed
in 1998, that discourages producers from
manufacturing items that increase waste
problems or pose health or pollution risks;
• the adoption of standard labels for products
meeting certain environmental and social
criteria; and
• the publication of a green procurement guide
in 2003.
In addition, several cooperation agreements have been
signed with the regional governments containing key
waste reduction measures.
Special rules for packaging. Throughout Belgium,
packaging is the producer’s responsibility.
Packagers, importers, and those who sell packaging
and packaged products bear responsibility for packaging
waste. All parties responsible for packaging
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must take back these items and meet recovery targets.
This program covers the entire nation and is
monitored by an inter-regional packaging commission.
Nearly all the companies that produce household
packaging are grouped in a single organization
known as FOST Plus. Each participating company
pays a fee based on the type and amount of packaging
they are responsible for introducing into the
market. The organization funds the public collection,
sorting, and recycling of these materials.
According to FOST Plus, the recycling rate for
household packaging in Belgium has increased from
28.1 percent in 1995 to 91.5 percent in 2010, when
a total of 690,828 tons of material were recycled.
Figure 4. Evolution of Residuals in Residential Waste.
Source: OVAM.
Note: Residuals go to landfill or incineration.
Sources: OVAM, 2004 and OVAM 2010b.
Figure 5. Evolution of Waste Generated by Residences.
The figure above shows that residual waste has been steadily decreasing in Flanders, beginning in the mid-
1990s when the region started adopting waste prevention targets and developing a materials recovery circuit.
The graphic below shows the evolution of residential waste generation, recovery, and residuals over the past
two decades:
Flanders accounts for 60 percent of the total
household packaging recycled in the country (415,763
tons in 2010). FOST Plus estimates that compared
to incineration, recycling prevented the emission
of 860,000 tons of CO2.9 A 2006 study estimated
that the total cost per inhabitant for the packaging
management system in Belgium, accounting for
income from recycling sales, was €5.78 (US $7.34)
per year.
Prevention Plus Diversion Means
Less Residuals
As a result of the waste prevention and diversion
strategies put in place over the last 20 years, Flanders
62 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
has some of the lowest residuals per capita and best
waste prevention results in Europe. Per capita
waste generation has held steady since 2000,
showing a rare example of economic growth
without increased waste generation.
Figures 4 and 5 show how residential waste in
Flanders has been impacted by its waste reduction
and prevention strategies. By 2007, 42 municipalities
showed levels of residual waste below 100kg/person/
year. Two municipalities generated less than 70 kg
per capita: Herenthout (pop. 8,350) produced 59 kg/
person/year, and Balen (pop. 20,000) produced 66
kg/person/year.10 The regional target of 150 kg
of residuals per capita was achieved by 2009.
The transition from an end-of-pipe approach—focused
on waste disposal—to a front-end approach—focused
on production and consumption patterns—has
put Flemish policies at the leading edge of waste
management in Europe. This change of vision has been
successfully complemented with materials recovery
programs that allow discards to be reintroduced in the
market or in nature. Phasing out waste incineration
would help complete the path to sustainability; but it
continues because the existing incineration capacity
locally and in Europe makes incineration more costcompetitive
in the short term than the interventions
required to further increase diversion.
By dividing responsibility appropriately between
municipal, regional and national governments, Flanders
has successfully implemented a comprehensive
strategy for waste prevention, recycling and
composting. The results speak for themselves: stable
waste generation and the highest diversion rate in
Anne Vandeputte, Waste management and
waste prevention in Flanders: Tools and results.
Presentation at the Summer Course, San Sebastián,
Spain, July 2011.
ARCADIS Belgium N.V. and Eunomia, Optimising
markets for recycling – final report. Chapter 7: Case
study: Flanders, November 2008.
Barth, J. et al., Compost production and use in the
EU. Annex 1. ORBIT Association and European
Compost Network, February 2008.
Communication & Information Resource Centre
Administrator, General and horizontal policy
strategies and instruments, 2004.
Design Wales, The Public Waste Agency of
Flanders, Sharing Experience Europe, 2011.
Ecowerf, Jaarverslag 2009.
European Environmental Agency, Diverting waste
from landfill – Effectiveness of waste-management
policies in the European Union. Report No 7/2009.
European Environment Information and Observation
Network, National legislative framework, European
Topic Centre on Sustainable Production and
Consumption, 2009.
Fost Plus Annual report 2010.
Friends of the Earth, Gone to waste: the valuable
resources that European countries bury and burn,
October 2009.
Friends of the Earth and REalliance, Taking out
the rubbish: Maximising recycling and minimizing
residual waste, April 2009.
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Green Alliance, Landfill bans and restrictions in the
EU and US, DEFRA, 2009.
Hoekstra, Barbara, Activiteitenverslag 2010.
Jan Verheyen, The Flemish waste policy: From
landfilling to ecodesign. Presentation in Shanghai,
May 2010.
Jan Verheyen (editor), OVAM 2009 activities report.
Landfill is the last option. Flanders: Targets for
household waste achieved. Article in EU-Recycling
04/2011. http://eu-recycling.com/pdf/Flanders_
Lavrysen, Luc, Producer Responsibility and
Integrated Product Policy in Belgium. Universiteit
Gent Delphine Misonne, CEDRE, Facultés
universitaires Saint-Louis. January 2004.
Lore Mariën, Prevention and management of
household waste in Flanders. Presentation, OVAM,
April 2009.
Marleen Van Steertegem (ed. in chief.), MIRA
Indicator Report 2010, Flanders Environment
Report, Flemish Environment Agency.
OVAM – Flemish Public Waste Agency www.ovam.be.
OVAM, Implementation plan for environmentally
responsible household waste management.
Brochure. 2008.
OVAM, Jaarverslag 2004. 2005.
OVAM and VLACO, Sustainable and sound
management of bio-waste in Flanders, 2010.
VLACO, Ecological and economical benefits of
compost. Abstract. 2009.
Ward Devliegher, Composting and quality
assurance. Experience and considerations from
VLACO vzw. Presentation in Perugia. VLACO, May
1 Data from 2009; 73% of the municipal solid
waste produced is reused, recycled, composted
or treated through anaerobic digestion.
2 Amount spent by municipality in household waste
management in 2008. Source: OVAM, 2011.
3 Based on an exchange rate of €1 = $1.27 on 17
May 2012.
4 Personal communication with OVAM staff,
August 2011.
5 Recovering only electricity, not heat.
6 The study estimates a CO2 saving of 624 kg
CO2 per ton of green waste composted, and 517
kg CO2 per vegetable, fruit and garden waste
composted. In that year, 465,000 tons of green
waste and 350,000 tons of vegetable, fruit and
garden waste were composted. Source: VLACO.
7 VLAREA http://navigator.emis.vito.be/milnavconsult/
8 Bouw- en sloopafval: de helft van ons afval,
9 Fost Plus annual report 2010. Available online at
10 Source: OVAM.
64 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
The island of Taiwan faced a waste crisis in the 1980s
because of lack of space to expand its landfill capacity. When the
government turned to large-scale incineration, the community’s
fierce opposition n ot only stopped the construction of dozens
of burners, but also drove the government to adopt goals and
programs for waste prevention and recycling. These programs
and policies were so effective that the volume of waste
decreased significantly even while both population and gross
domestic product increased. However, the government, by
maintaining both pro-incinerator and waste prevention policies,
has capped the potential of waste prevention strategies
because large investments in incineration drain resources that
could otherwise be used to improve and expand them.
Community Action Leads
Government Toward Zero Waste
By Cecilia Allen
A garbage collector in Taipei separates bones from recyclable kitchen waste. (photo: Allianz SE)
Population: 23 million
Area: 36,192 km2
Population density: 642/km2
Average annual rainfall: 2,500 mm
Average temperature range: 5ºC to 35ºC
Altitude: 0 – 3,952 meters above sea level
Waste diversion rate: 48.82%
Waste generation: 0.942 kg/capita/day
Spending on waste management per capita:
US $25.40 per year
Taiwan | 65
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In the 1980s, the combination of high population
density, rapid industrial growth, landfills reaching full
capacity, and lack of space for new dumping grounds
led the Taiwan Environmental Protection Agency
(TEPA) to adopt incineration as the priority for waste
treatment, followed by landfilling. This shift was
reaffirmed in 1990 with a plan to build 21 large-scale
waste-to-energy incinerators, and again in 1996 when
investors were solicited to build another 15 municipal
solid waste incinerators to meet the national goal of at
least one incinerator per county.
Dozens of anti-incineration meetings were held and
communities organized widely against these plans.
This grassroots movement was consolidated in 2002
with the creation of the Taiwan Anti-Incinerators
Alliance (TAIA). As a result, by 2002, only 19 of the 36
planned incinerators had been built. The total capacity
of those 19 incinerators was 21,000 tons per day,
while nationwide municipal solid waste production
was less than 20,000 tons per day.1 Despite strong
community resistance, TEPA was still holding to its plan
to expand incineration capacity immensely. In fact, a
third of TEPA´s budget for 2003—NT $3.7 billion (US
$127 million)2—was allocated to waste incineration,
while only NT $100 million (US $3.4 million) was
intended for composting. A total of 122 community
organizations signed a letter to the government
warning of overcapacity of existing incinerators, as
well as the environmental and health problems of
incinerator emissions, and urged the government
to put resources instead into safer and sustainable
alternatives like waste prevention, recycling, and
Waste Prevention Targets
As a result of community pressure, in 2003,
TEPA adopted a zero waste policy. Initially, the
definition of zero waste included incineration, but
after criticism from community organizations, the
wording adopted in December 2003 defined zero
waste as “effectively recycling and utilizing resources
through green production, green consumption, source
reduction, recovery, reuse, and recycling.”3 In addition,
the policy established waste diversion targets of 25
percent by 2007, 40 percent by 2011, and 75 percent
by 2020.4 Unlike most diversion figures, these
referenced a static baseline of 8.33 million tons of
waste generated in 2001. Incineration was still part of
the overall waste treatment plan for the nation, albeit
with a lower priority than the measures included in the
zero waste definition.
Minimizing Packaging and
TEPA´s approach to waste prevention put a
strong emphasis on Extended Producer Responsibility
(EPR)—making producers responsible
for changes in design and production to
reduce the waste generated by their products
and packaging. Producers also manage their own
items after they are discarded, taking back materials
for reuse or disposal. This approach combines mandatory
reduction goals, voluntary agreements, and incentives
for businesses and industries.
Figure 1. Municipal Solid Waste Characterization
in Taiwan
Source: Li-Teh Lu, et al, 2006
66 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Restricting the weight of boxes. In 2006, the
government adopted restrictions relating to packaging
for computer software CDs and gift boxes for pastry,
cosmetics, alcoholic beverages and food. In 2009,
TEPA signed a packaging reduction agreement with
five major portable computer manufacturers that
eliminated about 3,700 tons of computer packaging
waste in just one year.
Banning disposable tableware at schools and
government agencies. In 2006, TEPA requested
government agencies and schools to stop using
disposable tableware, and in 2007 the requirement
was extended to paper cups.
Reducing plastic bags and plastic packaging.
In 2007, TEPA required supermarkets to prepare plans
to reduce plastic packaging. The businesses had to
meet waste reduction targets of 15 percent and 25
percent in the first and second years, and 35 percent
in 2011. Stores began to use thinner packaging
and to sell goods unpackaged (30 percent of the
products were sold unpackaged by the second year
of implementation). According to TEPA, the average
reduction rate in the first year was 21 percent, and by
2009 had reached 33 percent. According to TEPA, the
amount of plastic from non-renewable resources used
for packaging was reduced by 1,400 tons between
July 2007 and December 2009. Operators who fail to
reach the specified targets, or do not submit reduction
plans or reduction results to the EPA, are .ned NT
$30,000 – 150,000 (US $1,000 – 5,000).5
Encouraging a reduction in disposable chopsticks.
In 2008, the government asked stores and
cafeterias to provide reusable chopsticks and not automatically
give out disposable chopsticks with takeout
food. This policy is estimated to cut the use of
44 million pairs of chopsticks and reduce 350 tons of
waste per year.6
Reducing disposable cups. In 2011, fast food,
beverage, and convenience store chains were required
by TEPA to provide discounts or extra portions to
customers who brought their own cups. Stores that
do not implement this measure are required to give
customers NT $1 (US $0.03) for every two cups they
return as an incentive to get shops to recycle their
own cups.7
Maximizing Recycling
Resource Recycling Management Fund.
Taiwanese legislation requires manufacturers and
importers of mandatory recycling items like packaging
and containers, tires, some electric and electronic
goods, automobiles, batteries, and fluorescent lamps
to report them, label them, and pay a fee to the
Resource Recycling Management Fund, based on the
material, volume, weight, and level of recycling. The
fund is used to cover collection and recycling costs
and provide subsidies to companies and governments
to develop reuse and recycling systems. Recycling
facilities are audited to confirm the actual amount
of materials recycled and assure that operations
meet the regulations. This recycling system is
called the four-in-one system, highlighting the
Volunteers taking apart audiotapes sell the separated
materials (plastics, metals) to recyclers, and the income is
donated. (photo: Taiwan Watch Institute)
Taiwan | 67
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Pay as You Throw Systems
in Taipei and Xinbei
In two Taiwanese cities, Pay As You Throw
(PAYT) systems have proved to be remarkably
effective in rapidly boosting source separation
of waste.
In 2000, the city of Taipei changed its waste
collection payment system from one based
on the amount of water used per household
to PAYT: residents were required to purchase
certified bags—available in shops throughout
the city—to dispose of their residual waste.
This served as an incentive for people to both
reduce waste and separate at source. It is
estimated that by 2003, the introduction of
this system had reduced waste production by
28.3% compared to 1999 and had increased
the recycling rate from 2.3% to 23%.
Xinbei, the largest city in Taiwan, started gradually
introducing a PAYT system in 2008. By
January 2011, the entire city of 3.9 million
people was covered by PAYT. The results here
were even more impressive than in Taipei:
by 2011, residual waste had dropped 47.3%
compared to 2008 (2,497 tons per day in
2008 and 1,316 tons per day in 2011).
Sources: Li-Teh Lu, et al, 2006, and Taiwan Watch Institute
cooperation of residents, local governments,
recycling businesses, and the Recycling Fund
Management Board.8
Mandatory beverage container take-back.
Most businesses which sell beverages are required to
install receptacles to drop off empty containers; these
include hypermarkets, supermarkets, convenience
stores, cosmetics shops, gas stations, fast food
restaurants, and shops with beverage vending
machines.9 There are a total of about 14,000 such
drop-off sites. Violators are subject to a fine ranging
from a minimum of NT $60,000 (about US $2,000) to
a maximum of NT $300,000 (US $10,200).10
Mandatory e-waste take-back.11 As part of the
four-in-one system, Taiwan announced mandatory
recycling of e-waste in 1997 and coordinated
residents, recycling businesses, local governments,
and the Recycling Fund Management Board to monitor
the recycling process.12 In 2010, the government
passed legislation that requires retailers selling
electronics and electric products to take back
and recycle these products.13 According to the
policy, the retailers may not charge consumers for this
service or refuse to recycle. Consumers are asked to
fill out forms to ensure vendors uphold transparency
of recycling and treatment processes. Vendors that do
not comply with the regulation are subject to fines of
NT $60,000 – $300,000 (US $2,000 – $10,000).
Separation at Source
In 2005, Taiwan adopted a two-phase program
under the Waste Disposal Act, which required
people to separate waste into recyclables, food
Waste collection trucks with barrels for food waste collection
(left) and large bags for recyclables (right). (photo: Taiwan
Watch Institute)
68 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
waste, and residual waste.14 In the first phase,
the program was implemented in seven cities and
ten counties. The second phase, extending source
separation to the whole nation, started in 2006. By
that time, Taipei was also operating a Pay As You
Throw system that was later implemented in Xinbei
as well (see box).
Taiwan’s Waste Disposal Act requires the public to
take their recyclable waste directly to the collection
trucks. The trucks—collecting recyclables, food waste,
and residual waste—are managed by collection crews
hired by the government. They travel together, so
people can take out all the materials at the same
The waste-collection crews are required to sort the
resources after they are collected.15 Every municipality
has sites where materials are sorted and sold for
recycling; sometimes they are sold mixed to recyclers
who separate it themselves.
Food Waste Recovery
Recovery of source-separated food waste is covered
by the Food Waste Recovery and Reuse Plan. By
2009, 319 townships had food waste recycling
systems. The total volume of food waste collected
per day rose from 80 tons in 2001 to 1,977 tons in
2009. Approximately 75 percent of the recovered
food waste is sold to pig farms for about NT $400
(US $13.70) per ton. Most of the rest of the food
waste is composted. To encourage food scrap
recovery, the national government provides subsidies
to local governments for education, promotion, and
composting facilities.
Breaking the Correlation Between
GDP and Waste Generation
Economic growth and waste reduction often seem
contradictory goals: more wealth almost always
creates more waste. Taiwan is providing evidence
that aggressive waste prevention programs can break
this correlation. Waste generation in Taiwan
dropped from 8.7 to 7.95 million tons between
2000 and 2010, despite a 47 percent increase
in GDP in the same period.16 17 At the same time,
the population also grew, so in 2010 per capita waste
generation was 12.7 percent lower than in 2000.
A combination of several factors contributed to this
achievement. The landfill crisis in the 1980s and
1990s resulted in higher awareness and motivation
on the part of individuals and community groups
to work towards waste prevention and recycling.
Furthermore, a widening gap between rich and poor
concentrated much of the wealth gain in a small
subsection of the population. Those who saw stable,
or even declining, incomes would not be expected to
generate increased waste. However, this alone does
not explain the reduction in waste generation during
that period. While more research is needed to analyze
these and other factors, such a remarkable drop in
waste generation must be attributed in large part to
successful waste prevention policies.
As shown in Table 2, the waste diversion rate in 2010
was 48.7 percent. That figure applies to materials that
were recycled or recovered through compost, animal
feed, etc., instead of being landfilled or incinerated. The
residuals (i.e., waste going to landfills or incinerators)
Composting activities by the trash collection team of a
township (Shigang) in central Taiwan. (photo: Taiwan Watch
Taiwan | 69
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dropped from 1.14 kg per capita per day in 1997 to
0.48 kg per capita per day in 2010.18
Waste Incineration vs. Waste
While the government publicizes its waste prevention
and recycling policies, incineration still plays a major role
in Taiwan’s waste management system, as reflected in
Table 2 above. Thanks to the community’s passionate
resistance to waste incineration, Taiwan has not fully
implemented its original plan to build many new
burners, and the amount of waste incinerated in the
country has remained fairly constant since 2002. Still,
the costs of incineration are so high, and require such
a large percentage of the budget, that the potential of
waste prevention and materials recovery efforts are
drastically curtailed.
Currently there are 24 incinerators operating in
Taiwan, and they receive 60 percent of the nation’s
municipal solid waste and 40 percent of its industrial
waste. Nonetheless, since 2004 the incinerators have
been facing a shortage of materials to burn as well
as problems due to community complaints about the
emissions. The three incinerators in Taipei had
to cut their operations by half, at least partly
because there were not enough materials to
burn.19 Furthermore, the government promotion of
ash “recycling” in construction and pavement work
Figure 2. Solid Waste Production and Treatment in Taiwan (2000 – 2010)
Source: Based on data published by TEPA, http://www.epa.gov.tw/en/statistics/c4010.pdf.
Table 2. MSW Production and Treatment in Taiwan
2010 Tons per year %
Garden and bulky waste recycled 80,217 1%
Food recycled 769,164 9.6%
Garbage recycled 3,035,617 38.1%
Subtotal Recycled 3,884,998 48.7%
Landfilled/buried 181,771 2.28%
Incinerated 3,888,641 48.8%
Other 2,191 0.02%
Subtotal Disposed 4,072,603 51.1%
Total Waste Generated 7,957,601 100%
Source: Based on data published by TEPA, http://www.epa.gov.tw/en/
Table 1. Trend in Waste Generation, Population, and
GDP in Taiwan
(US $
(kg per
2000 22,100,000 293* 8,700,000 394
2010 23,100,000 430 7,950,000 344
Comparison + 4.52% + 46.7% – 8.6% -12.7%
*Data from 2001.
Sources: http://sowf.moi.gov.tw/stat/month/m1-09.xls, and
70 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
represents a serious environmental liability in Taiwan,
given that many toxics remain in those ashes. Since
many companies are not willing to use the ash in their
own pavement, and there is not enough storage space,
the ash is often spread in places like farms, posing a
huge environmental threat.
An analysis of the waste being burned in municipal
waste incinerators in Taichung, Taipei, and Tainan
showed that 48.6 percent of it is organic (i.e.,
kitchen waste and organic yard waste), while nonorganic
recyclable resources account for 9.3 percent.
Thus, 57.9 percent of what is being burned is
recyclable or compostable. This number is probably
much higher. For instance, 30 percent of what the
government considers garbage—unrecyclable paper
products such as bath tissue, and other soiled paper—
is compostable.20
Huge investments required for the construction and
operation of incinerators drain funds for years that
could otherwise be used to boost resource recovery.
Typically, a contractor pays for the construction of the
incinerator, and the government is then committed to
making payments to the contractor for 20 years, as
shown in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Subsidies Given by TEPA to Local Governments (2011)
Program NT $ (thousands) USD $
Zero Waste
Zero waste projects 309,925 10,610,000
Collection, separation, and
reuse/recycling of waste
from building decoration and
24,015 822,000
Food waste recycling 158,600 5,429,000
Bulky waste recycling 48,990 1,677,000
Total for Zero Waste 541,530 18,538,000
Waste Incineration
Incineration ash “recycling” 353,000 12,084,000
Amortization of incinerator
construction costs
1,002,214 34,310,000
Total for Incineration 1,355,214 46,394,000
Source: TEPA.
Taiwan | 71
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Table 4: TEPA Budget for General Waste Management (2011)
Source Program
NT $
Subsidies provided for local governments to
implement projects or policies of general waste
Education and promotion 30,000 1,027,000
Vehicles for waste collection 328,500 11,246,000
Design the facilities for manure treatment 1,000 34,000
Collection, separation, and reuse/recycling of waste
from building decoration and overhauling
24,015 822,000
Zero waste projects 309,925 10,610,000
Food waste recycling 158,600 5,429,000
Bulk waste recycling 48,990 1,677,000
Incineration ash “recycling” 353,000 12,084,000
Amortization of incinerator construction 1,002,214 34,310,000
Disposal of waste created by emergencies
(typhoons, etc.)
96,000 3,286,000
Sub-total Subsidies 235,2244 80,525,000
Developing and implementing national
government policies
General policy making on zero waste, source
prevention, and recycling programs
17,300 592,000
Implementation of policies on waste separation and
recycling and EPR
6,742 230,800
Implementation of policies on disposable waste
reduction, mercury product (e.g., battery) restriction,
package reduction, and green package design
14,800 506,000
Policy making on waste disposal 5,500 188,000
Monitoring of incineration ash “recycling” 3,000 102,700
Sub-total National Policies 47,342 1,618,700
EPR (resource recycling fund operated by TEPA) Subsidies for recycling, collection and disposal
companies; subsidies and incentives for recycling
systems and reuse; expenses for disposal services
paid by the enforcement authority on behalf of
others; auditing and certification, other expenses.
1,392,726 47,679,000
Total 3,792,312 129,822,700
Note: Figures in US $ are rounded to facilitate reading.
Source: TEPA.
Waste prevention and recycling policies in Taiwan
seem to be yielding good results, and there is
immense potential for further advances. Recovery
of organic waste can certainly improve, as the
investments and programs related to this are very
limited, and food and garden waste represent the
largest municipal solid waste stream. Likewise, there
is great potential to learn from the Pay As You Throw
system, which has succeeded in reducing waste and
increasing separation at source in Taipei and Xinbei.
The people of Taiwan have expressed deep opposition
to the practice of burning waste and a willingness to
engage in waste prevention and recycling practices.
Unfortunately, the very large investments in waste
incineration and “recycling” of incinerator ash take
away money needed to further increase prevention
and recovery.
72 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
Taiwan Watch Institute.
Taiwan EPA.
Environmental Policy Monthly newsletter
Li-Teh Lu, et al: “MSW management for waste
minimization in Taiwan: The last two decades” (Waste
management 26:661-667, 2006).
MSW characterization
Data on waste generation, recycling, disposal,
incineration 2000-2011.
Zero Waste and Resource Recycling Promotion.
The current Status for kitchen waste recycling and
Household refuse in decline
Article, Taiwan EPA.
Encouraging Private Composting of Food Waste
The operation of municipal solid waste incinerator
plants 2001-2010
(Includes info on energy produced and sold, and tons
of ashes created).
Feature Column: Regulations and Policies for
Resource Recovery.
New Regulation Puts Vendors in Charge of
Special Deals for Customers Who Bring Their Own
Y.Y. Lai: status and policy of msw reduction and
recycling in Taiwan Taiwan Environmental Protection
Agency. Country report presented at the International
Conference on Solid Waste 2011: Moving Towards
Sustainable Resource Management, ISWA.
Kojima, Michikazu: Extended Producer Responsibility
and the Informal Sector. Institute of Developing
Economies, November 2010.
Taiwan | 73
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1 Taiwan Watch Institute.
2 Exchange rate: US$ 1 = NT $ 29.21.
3 TEPA: Review and Outlook of Trash Treatment
Program, December 2003.
4 Source minimization and resource recycling,
TEPA. www.epa.gov.tw.
5 TEPA, Environmental Policy Monthly Newsletter.
September 2010.
6 TEPA, Environmental Policy Monthly Newsletter.
January 2010.
7 Special Deals for Customers Who Bring Their
Own Cups, TEPA, 2011.
8 Lu et al 2006, Kokima, 2010.
9 Until 2002, there was a refund when taking
bottles back to retailers. This system was
discontinued by TEPA after finding an imbalance
in the recycling fund. Misguided reporting by the
industry of the number of bottles placed on the
market did not correspond to the number being
returned and led to reported recycling levels that
surpassed 100%. Since TEPA was paying the
refunds and recycling for the bottles actually
recycled and the industry was paying for the
amount of bottles they declared to put in the
market, the fund went out of balance.
10 TEPA, Environmental Policy Monthly Newsletter.
February, 2011.
11 TEPA, Environmental Policy Monthly Newsletter.
March, 2011.
12 http://recycle.epa.gov.tw/Recycle/index2.aspx
(in Mandarin).
13 Scope, Facilities, Specifications and Other
Criteria for Electric and Electronic Product
Vendors Required to Install Recycling Facilities.
14 Called resources, kitchen waste and garbage in
15 Li-Teh Lu, et al, 2006.
16 http://sowf.moi.gov.tw/stat/month/m1-09.xls.
17 http://eng.stat.gov.tw/public/data/dgbas03/
18 Y.Y. Lai, 2011.
19 Taiwan Watch Institute.
20 TEPA, Environmental Policy Monthly Newsletter.
May 2010.
74 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
The story of waste management in Buenos Aires describes
how cartoneros, or grassroots recyclers,1 by their persistent
commitment to recycling, have won not only recognition but legal
and financial support from the city government. As recently as 2001,
waste picking was illegal. Since then, cartonero cooperatives have
organized themselves, educated residents on the environmental
benefits of recycling, and lobbied the city government for a cleaner
approach to waste management with allied environmental and
social organizations. The result: an about-face in the city’s approach
to waste, including separation at source and giving waste pickers
exclusive access to the city’s recyclables. While enforcement has
been inconsistent, a big portion of waste pickers today enjoy a safer
work environment and improved access to resalable materials,
while Buenos Aires’ forward-thinking legislation is held up as a
model that other cities are copying.
Buenos Air es City ,
Arg entina
Including Grassroots Recyclers
By Cecilia Allen
Workers from El Ceibo Cooperative collecting recyclables and promoting source separation. (photo: Cooperativa El Ceibo)
Buenos air es
Capital of Argentina
Population: 2,890,000
Area: 202 km2
Population density: 14,307/km2
Average annual rainfall: 1,146 mm
Altitude: 25 meters above sea level
Average temperature range: 11ºC to 25 °C
Waste generation: 1.2kg/capita/day
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A Context of Economic, Social, and
Environmental Crises
Buenos Aires is Argentina’s chief port and its financial,
industrial, commercial, and cultural center. Located
on the eastern edge of Argentina’s most productive
agricultural region, and linked with Uruguay, Paraguay,
and Brazil by a great inland river system, the city is
the distribution hub and trade outlet for a vast area.
Traditionally, the city relied on landfilling to deal with
its waste, with cartoneros operating without public
recognition or legal sanction.
In 2001, Argentina’s serious socioeconomic crisis led
to a dramatic increase in unemployment, and many
people in the city resorted to collecting and selling
recyclable materials from the streets in order to survive.
In fact, it is estimated that 100,000 cartoneros were
working in the metropolitan region of Buenos Aires in
The Implementation of a Legal
In 2002, legislation known as Law 992 created the
Urban Recyclers Program and annulled the decree
that had banned waste picking in the city. Law
992 formalized the role of cartoneros: “The
Executive Power incorporates informal recyclers into
the separated waste collection in the current waste
management system.” The law further recognized
the “positive environmental, social, and economic
impacts of recovery and recycling” and the “benefits
of separating at source or before disposal, facilitating
the work of informal recyclers and contributing
to the cleanliness of the city and protecting the
Meanwhile, a waste management crisis was brewing
that would compound the social crisis. In 2004, the
announcement of new landfills in Buenos Aires
province triggered massive public opposition;
so large, in fact, that the government could not
find a municipality that would agree to host a
new disposal site. Furthermore, because of severe
pollution and health problems in the surrounding
areas, citizens rose up demanding the closure of two
of the three existing disposal sites.
The people’s opposition to such extensive landfilling,
active campaigning by several environmental
organizations, and the exponential increase in the
number of waste pickers prompted a shift in the city’s
approach to waste management. The shift manifested
itself in new legislation intended to expand recycling
and make better use of resources. The Zero Waste
law passed in 2005 built upon Law 992 and took
further steps to include grassroots recyclers.
Law 1854’s objectives include:
• Minimize waste by implementing source
• Educate people and large waste producers
about the need to separate waste and recyclables
at source;
• Reduce the city’s municipal solid waste
(MSW) taken to landfills by 30% in 2010,
Sorting materials in cooperative El Alamo Green Center.
(photo: ciudad de Buenos Aires)
76 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
50% in 2012, and 75% in 2017 (compared
to the tons landfilled in 2004), with the goal
of achieving zero waste to landfill disposal in
Buenos Aires city by 2020;
• Build recovery and recycling systems; and
• Increase the amount of post consumption
materials that return to industry.4
Furthermore, the law banned municipal solid waste
incineration—with and without energy recovery, within
and outside the city—until a 75 percent reduction in
waste going to landfill was achieved.
The law paid special attention to recycling and to
those who were covering this task, the cartoneros’
cooperatives. However, in practice the law was barely
implemented. Reasons for this include: lack of political
will to implement a system requiring significant
participation from the residents and a sustained
education campaign, government reluctance to adopt
diverse strategies rather than a single one limited
to landfilling, the projection that a system based on
large street containers collected by private companies
would be costly, pressure from the landfill company
to adopt incinerator technology as the “magic” and
“simple” solution, lobbying from collection companies
and unions hoping to capitalize on possible changes
in the system, narrow environmental and social
perspective by the government, and lack of a critical
mass of residents pushing for zero waste.
In fact, 2009 and 2010 were the worst years in terms
of MSW disposal. In 2010, Buenos Aires city sent over
2,110,000 tons of waste to the landfill, instead of the
1,048,359 target established in the law. Consequently,
between 2005 and 2011, Laws 992 and 1854 were
reinforced by resolutions to:
• Direct some large waste producers (four and
five star hotels, public buildings, and private
buildings over 19 stories) to separate recyclables
at source;5
• Require those same producers to also separate
the organic waste stream;6
• Begin a pilot project in three neighborhoods
requiring food businesses, including hotels,
restaurants, and party houses, to separate
their organic waste at source;7 and
• Levy an “eco-tax” on those producing over
1,000 liters of non-recyclable waste per day.8
Waste Management System in
Buenos Aires
The waste management system in Buenos Aires
is mixed: a public system operated by private and
public companies. The collection contracts awarded
in 2004 divided the city into six areas, five of which
are managed by the private companies Cliba, Aesa,
Urbasur, Nittida, and Integra; the sixth area is covered
by a public body of the government—Urban Cleansing
Entity. The companies collect waste and transport
it to three transfer stations located within the city.
From there it is taken to the landfill “Norte III” by a
public waste disposal company called Coordinación
Ecológica Área Metropolitana Sociedad del Estado
Green Center managed by the cooperatives Recicladores
Urbanos del Oeste, CERBAF, and Las Madreselvas. (photo:
Maeva Morin)
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According to the legislation, each collection company
is supposed to take part in the recycling system
in Buenos Aires by designing and constructing a
resource recovery facility, or “Green Center,” in the
area they service as well as provide the equipment,
machines, and other elements necessary for it to
operate.9 These centers should be built on sites owned
by the government, and the activities of sorting, baling,
and storing of materials for sale should be managed
by the cooperative of waste pickers assigned to each
Green Center.10
In 2010, when Buenos Aires landfilled 2 million tons of
municipal solid waste, the government estimated that
50,678 tons were recycled. Cartoneros estimate they
recycle over 190,000 tons of MSW per year, a number
considerably higher than government estimates.11
Table 1. Type and Amount of Materials Collected and
Amount of MSW Recycled in Buenos Aires City in
MSW (household) 903,083 tons
MSW (street sweeping) 136,999 tons
MSW (commercial, green, and bulky waste) 379,501 tons
Construction and demolition 648,115 tons
Total CEAMSE (landfill) 2,067,699 tons
Recycled in CEAMSE12 40,093 tons
MSW recycled – government estimate13 50,678 tons
MSW recycled – waste pickers estimate14 190,000 tons
Source: Ministerio de Ambiente y Espacio Publico de la Ciudad de Buenos
Aires, Informe Anual de Gestión Integral de Residuos Solidos Urbanos,
Ley N°1.854, 2010.
The Cooperatives
The informal recyclers´ registry managed by the Recycling
Department of the government listed 7,479
people as of August 2011. However, the government
estimates the number of cartoneros in Buenos
Aires to be 5,500, 2,500 of whom are organized and
3,000 of whom work on their own. Others provide
similar estimates of about 6,000 waste pickers, half
of whom are organized in cooperatives.15 Some of
the 12 cooperatives are larger than others, some are
older, and they provide different services and run different
The El Ceibo cooperative was formed in 1997 by a
group of 10 women who had been working together
on housing and women’s rights issues since 1989. As
explained by the cooperative’s president, they wanted
to find a way to “do a nicer job without going through
the trash.”
“We started to ask everyone to understand who owned
the waste,” she said. “In the end, we learned that the
waste was the property of its producer. That is when
the socio-environmental program `El Ceibo recovers
Palermo´ was born. The program is simple: it trains
families on source separation of waste—paper, glass,
plastics—that is, the materials that have value and can
return to the production cycle.”
El Ceibo changed the perception and the process
of recovering recyclables. As a result, the
informal collectors were known no longer as
“cartoneros,” but as “environmental promoters,”
working under more formal conditions—regular
schedules, uniforms—and ringing the doorbells
of the Palermo neighborhood residents to
recover materials.
Today, the El Ceibo Cooperative manages the Green
Center of Retiro and operates as a successful
business with collection agreements with large waste
producers such as local companies, supermarkets,
and the government. It has 67 members who earn
“Through the work of our cooperative alone,
200 tons of waste are prevented from being
landfilled every day.”
78 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
a monthly salary of A $2,200 (US $511) or more.16
The cooperative operates with its own resources, as
it does not receive support from the government. El
Ceibo receives a small amount (4 tons per day) from
the public waste management system, through trucks
operated by MTE, which collects materials from big
producers and transports them to the Green Centers,
following an agreement with the government. It also
receives three tons per day from collection company
Cliba and 0.6 tons from Aesa with different frequency.
Finally, it conducts its own collection, using a truck
and a van, of five tons per day of recyclables including
paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, Tetra Pak and plastic
film. 17
Formed in 2005, the Movement of Excluded Workers
(MTE) is the group with the most members (2,500). The
city government provides the cooperative with buses
and trucks to transport workers and the recyclable
materials, plus a monthly incentive of A $900 (US
$209) for each member, which is on top of what is
earned through the sale of products. Workers also
receive health insurance, risk insurance, and uniforms.
Finally, the cooperative has a child care center as
part of their fight against child labor, financed both
by the MTE and the city and national governments.
MTE recovers approximately 6,000 tons per month
Cooperative Recuperadores Urbanos del Oeste
officially became a cooperative in 2008, but its core
group of cartoneros has been working since 2002. It
has been running the Green Center in Bajo Flores for
two years (shared with cooperatives Las Madreselvas
and CERBAF) and has 500 members (490 on the
streets and 10 more working at the Green Center).
The members working on the streets receive the
government incentive of A $900 (US $209) and
a percentage from the sale of materials; the ones
working at the plant receive between A $2,000
and A $2,500 pesos (US $465 – 581) per month
depending on the amount of materials that enter the
plant. Materials come from the recyclers collecting on
the streets and from the MTE.
Cooperative Del Oeste has been working since 2002
and has 30 workers. It has been co-managing the Green
Center in Villa Soldati with cooperative Reciclando
Sueños since January 2007. The cooperative receives
around three tons of materials per day, 20 percent of
which is residual waste. They collect materials that the
neighbors separate, and most of what they recover
comes from MTE. Members of the cooperative receive
an incentive of A $800 per month (US $186), at least
until December 2011. Currently the cooperative is
struggling to purchase its own trucks so they do not
have to rely on the government.
Working since 2003, Cooperative El Álamo has six
trucks and 49 workers who manage four to six tons of
waste per day, 90 percent of which is recycled. About
30 percent of what is collected comes from households,
and 70 percent is from large producers. It runs the
Green Center “Polo de Microemprendimientos” (Microentreprises
park), co-managed with the cooperative
Ecoguardianes 21, and a Green Center in the
neighborhood of Villa Pueyrredon, where they collect
door-to-door. For the last three years, the cooperative
has had an agreement with the social welfare agency
of the city government, through which it receives
food. In addition, it trains citizens in recycling at the
Agronomy School of Buenos Aires University.
Still Precarious Conditions for
The situation of grassroots recyclers changed
dramatically over the past decade. Almost half of the
cartoneros are now organized under cooperatives, and
have not only gained recognition from the residents
but from the government itself. Among their major
victories are the management by grassroots recyclers’
cooperatives of all the Green Centers built under the
waste management legislation, the official recognition
Buenos Aires City, Argentina | 79
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and inclusion of cartoneros in the waste management
legislation, the creation of an agency within the
government dedicated to cartoneros, the extension
of alliances with local and international organizations
and companies, and a dramatic increase in the budget
allocated to cartoneros (according to a local source,
in 2007 the city government allocated US
$300,000 to grassroots recyclers; by 2008 it
reached US $30 million).18
However, there remain many structural obstacles to
the effective inclusion of grassroots recyclers in the
public waste management system.
The multiplicity of actors in municipal solid waste
collection (i.e., independent cartoneros, cooperatives,
private companies) creates tension and competition
for territory. The government’s policy of treating the
cooperatives inconsistently furthers feelings of distrust
among the 12 cooperatives. As a result, they do not
coordinate demands on the government or develop
joint projects.
According to law 1854, the city was supposed to
build five Green Centers in an initial phase and more
in a second phase. Currently only five have been
constructed. The Annual Report on Solid Waste
Management, Law 1854 of 2009, noted that it was
difficult to find available land for building this kind of
structure. Lack of space in a megalopolis such as
Buenos Aires is understandable. However, another
problem is that neighbors fear pollution and do not
want waste treatment centers to be built near their
Some Green Centers are not well equipped and
some do not operate at capacity. A representative of
cooperative Del Oeste claims that her center has not
had gas or a sorting line since it opened in December
2007. Del Oeste receives three tons per day but could
treat twice as much and thus could hire more people.
Another obstacle is that the government is not
creating any market incentive to favor recycling
industries or products. According to a member of
cooperative Recuperadores Urbanos del Oeste, “The
market of cardboard and plastic varies, and that is a
problem when we want to sell. The government should
set a price, or ideally we should sell directly to the
In general, waste pickers are frustrated with
the lack of consistent support from the city.
Cooperatives that do receive benefits or pay from the
city find it necessary to fight to maintain them; those
who receive less from the city than other cooperatives
want to be treated equally. Said one Del Oeste member,
“We do not have our own truck despite our having
several signed agreements that the government
would give us one.” Despite all the legislation that has
passed, the city is failing to enforce the laws.
Moving Towards an Efficient
Recycling System
In 2010, the city government launched a new process
for including cartoneros in the waste collection
system: offering two separate contracts, one for dry
materials and another for wet. The novelty was that
the contract for dry waste was exclusive to recyclers’
MTE member transporting recyclables. (photo: MTE) cooperatives. Therefore—for the first time—they
80 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
would have access to the dry waste without having
to compete with private companies. The rest of the
materials—organics and non-recyclable residential
waste—would be placed in large containers on the
streets for collection by private companies.
The cooperatives had to present a plan that included:
• Door-to-door pick-up and transport of materials
to Green Centers,
• Sorting and sale of materials,
• Training for members of the cooperatives,
• Inclusion of independent waste pickers,
• Education about recycling, and
• Eradication of child labor.
In exchange, the government committed to providing
trucks, child care facilities, public transportation passes
for recyclers, monthly incentives, health and accident
insurance, uniforms, and safety equipment.
Looking Forward
Earlier efforts by the government to hide waste in
landfills and ignore cartoneros have given way to
open debates about the need to change the approach
for waste management. In addition, the city’s Zero
Waste law and resolutions have been at the vanguard
of waste management approaches in the region and
represent a model for other cities in the region.
On the other hand, the implementation of those laws
has been incomplete and inconsistent. For instance,
in order to effectively minimize waste in Buenos
Aires, it will be necessary to treat organics separately.
A look at how much is spent on the recycling
cooperatives, compared with private companies
that handle the city’s un-recycled waste, shows
that massive landfilling is still the priority. The
budget in the dry materials contracts is A $120 million
(almost US $28 million) per year, while the contracts
with private companies for wet materials totals A
$1,400 million (US $325 million) per year. Meanwhile,
the shadow of waste incineration continues to loom
large, as various city and national bodies lobby for
construction of waste-to-energy plants, a move that
would seriously jeopardize recycling in the city as well
as the livelihoods of grassroots recyclers.
By implementing its own legislation and investing in
an earnest campaign to promote source separation of
discards—including organics—Buenos Aires has the
ability to position itself as a true leader in zero waste.
Such an advance, if done properly, would capitalize on
the expertise of the cartoneros, expand their already
important contributions to the city, and showcase them
as allies in waste management, so that recyclables
recovery is never again associated with poverty in the
city. The wealth of this local experience is an asset the
city cannot afford to waste.
Based on the case study, La incorporación de los
recuperadores de residuos sólidos urbanos: un paso
necesario hacia el reciclaje El caso de la Ciudad
Autónoma de Buenos Aires, by Maeva Morin.
Buenos Aires City, Argentina | 81
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1 Grassroots recycler and wastepicker are terms
used for people who recover recyclable materials
from the waste stream. Some work at landfills
and dumpsites; others recover directly from the
source (houses, businesses, etc.) They sell the
recovered materials to the reprocessing industry
for recycling. A variety of other terms are used in
different countries: catador (Brazil), pepenador
(Mexico), reciclador (Colombia), ragpicker (India),
etc. In Argentina, they are generally referred to
as cartoneros, and so that term is used here.
2 Estimate by Francisco Suárez, in MESA, Pablo
Edgardo, Los recuperadores urbanos en la
gran Ciudad metropolitana de Buenos Aires,
Buenos Aires, Prometeo libros, 2010 (p.45).
3 Ibid.
4 http://www.buenosaires.gov.ar/areas/med_
ambiente/basura_cero/ (13 October 2011).
5 R esolutions 50 and 808 of 2007 by Ministry of
Environment and Public Space.
6 R esolution 777 of 2011 by Ministry of
Environment and Public Space.
7 R esolution 234 of 2011 by Ministry of
Environment and Public Space.
8 Law 3393 of 2010.
9 http://www.buenosaires.gov.ar/areas/med_
ambiente/basura_cero/ (13 October 2011).
10 Licitación Pública Nacional e Internacional
N° 6/03 URL : http://www.greenpeace.org/
11 The higher figure does not even include what is
recycled through the Green Centers.
12 Several resource recovery facilities operate on
the landfill site, managed by waste picker groups
that reclaim recyclables from mixed waste that
enters the landfill.
13 Includes what enters the Green Centers
managed by informal recyclers.
14 Estimate by MTE.
15 http://periodismohumano.com/economia/
16 Exchange rate: US $1 = A $4.3.
17 According to Ministerio de Ambiente y Espacio
Público de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Informe
Anual de Gestión Integral de Residuos sólidos
urbanos, Ley N° 1.854, 2010.
18 http://www.informeavina2008.org/espanol/
19 Interview with Alejandro Gianni, 7 June, 2011.
82 | On The Road to Zero Waste : Successes and Lessons from around the World
.: Philippine peso. As of May 2012, approximately US $1 = .43.
: Indian rupee. As of May 2012, approximately US $1= 53
Biogas: a technique (more formally known as anaerobic digestion)
in which organic waste is kept in an airtight vessel until it
biodegrades, producing a gas and a semiliquid digestate. “Biogas”
also refers to the resulting gas, usually approximately 50%
methane and 50% carbon dioxide.
Compostable: organic waste material that will readily biodegrade
under ambient temperatures. Generally includes food waste, grass
clippings, leaves, etc.
Controlled dumpsite: A dumpsite where access is restricted, both in
terms of what waste can be deposited as well as who can enter
the dumpsite (e.g., waste pickers).
Disposal/final disposal: the final step which ends the potential
usefulness of waste by landfilling, dumping, or incineration.
Diversion rate: the proportion of waste that is not sent for disposal,
i.e., is re-used, recycled, composted, or otherwise used. Some
jurisdictions include estimates of waste prevention in waste
diversion statistics.
Dumpsite: a site for final disposal of waste, generally without the
controls or engineering improvements that characterize a landfill.
E-waste: discarded electronics or electronic components; these often
contain small quantities of valuable metals which are difficult to
separate from the low-value plastic.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): a policy whereby the
manufacturer of goods or packaging are responsible for recovering
their products after use by the final consumer, to ensure their
recycling or safe disposal. EPR incentivizes manufacturers to
design products for recycling.
Greenhouse gas (GHG): gases which trap heat in the atmosphere,
causing the greenhouse effect and exacerbating climate change.
The principal greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2) and
methane (CH4).
Grassroots recycler: a waste picker who belongs to an organization
– be it a union, association, or cooperative – but is not a formal
Informal recycler: a waste picker in the informal sector.
Informal sector: the portion of the economy in which workers do not
have contracts or formal employment.
Landfill: a site for final disposal of waste by burying. An engineered
landfill will have some or all of the following: waste compaction,
daily cover, final cover, liners and leachate collection. Nevertheless,
“landfill” is often used euphemistically to refer to many unimproved
Mixed waste: municipal waste which has not been sorted, or only poorly
so. It contains organic matter (e.g. food waste), recyclables (e.g.,
paper, metals), non-recyclables (e.g., diapers), and often household
hazardous waste (e.g., cleaning fluids, batteries).
Materials Recovery Facility (MRF): a plant in which a mixed waste
stream or a mixed recyclables stream is sorted by mechanical or
manual means into a variety of different recyclables and a residual
Municipal solid waste (MSW): definitions vary by country, but
MSW generally includes all solid waste from households, offices
and commercial establishments. It generally does not include
construction and demolition debris, sewage sludge, or industrial
Open dump: a dumpsite where the waste is open to the air, i.e., it is not
covered or capped.
Organic: In the context of waste management, organic material refers
to putrescible materials. The largest component is generally food
waste; in some countries, yard waste (leaves, grass cuttings, etc) is
also a significant component. Paper, particularly food-contaminated
paper, is often included but wood, particularly treated wood, which
tends not to decompose readily, is generally excluded. Plastics,
although carbon-based, are not considered “organic material” for
waste management purposes as they do not biodegrade.
Pay As You Throw (PAYT): a system that charges individuals and
businesses according to the amount of waste that they generate.
Polluter Pays Principle: a system in which polluters (individuals or
firms) are charged according to the amount of pollution or waste
they generate. This creates an incentive to minimize pollution.
Recyclables: material which can be recycled; generally implies there
exists a market for such material.
Refuse derived fuel (RDF): the result of drying and processing waste
into pellets or fluff, which are then burned (often in cement kilns).
Residuals: the waste left after the removal of compostables and
recyclables; waste destined for disposal.
Source separation/segregation: the practice of sorting waste at the
time and place of disposal into two or more categories. This avoids
the need to sort waste later and reduces cross-contamination
between different waste streams.
Take-back: a program under which manufacturers take back their
products or packaging after use, e.g. soft drink companies which
collect glass bottles for re-use.
Tons per day (tpd): one ton is 1,000 kilograms.
Waste minimization/waste prevention: the practice of avoiding
waste generation in the first place. Examples include lightweighting
packaging, plastic bag bans, and donations of edible but not
saleable produce.
Waste picker: a worker, generally in the informal sector, who recovers
recyclable material from waste and sells it for recycling. Waste
pickers collect material from individual homes, offices and
businesses, from the street and waste containers, and from
Waste stream: a distinct flow of waste from generation through
transport, to disposal. Multiple waste streams may flow together
(e.g., recyclables and mixed waste in the same truck) but as long
as they are kept separate, they are distinct waste streams.
Zero waste: the goal and plan to continually minimize waste disposal
(including incineration) towards zero. Includes a number of
strategies, including waste prevention, source separation, toxics
reduction, composting, recycling, etc. For a more complete
definition, visit www.zwia.org.

June 2012
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