Why Burning Plastic Won’t Solve the Plastic Crisis

This post is written by plastics campaigners at Greenpeace UK and guest authors from UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), and originally published on greenpeace.org.uk

Earlier in July, the long-awaited results of The Big Plastic Count – the UK’s largest ever investigation into household plastic waste – were revealed. The citizen science project sought to discover how much plastic we throw away, where it actually goes once it leaves our homes, and how much of it gets recycled.

Turns out it’s not a lot. Sadly, just 12% of the 100 billion pieces of plastic leaving our homes every year is actually recycled in the UK. What happens to the rest of it? Well, most ends up in an incinerator.

Incineration is bad for the climate

Plastic is almost entirely made from oil and gas. So burning it is essentially burning fossil fuels. In fact, for every tonne of dense plastic burned more than two tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

Now, let’s consider the fact that UK households throw away nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year, and nearly half of that is ending up burned. Incinerating this plastic releases around 750,000 tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere each year. That’s the same as adding 350,000 cars to our roads here in the UK.

To make matters worse, global plastic production is set to triple by 2060. This means that, without a big change, the amount of plastic incinerated will also increase.

Those profiting from incineration often call the energy from burning waste “green”. This greenwash would be laughable if it wasn’t so utterly frustrating. The reality is, electricity from plastic incineration is even dirtier than coal.

We’re in a climate crisis. We urgently need to stop extracting fossil fuels. We need to transition to renewable energy, such as wind and solar. We do not need to worsen climate change by burning plastic under the guise of being “green”.

It’s bad for air quality and our health

Burning plastic waste also releases a range of toxic gases, heavy metals, and particles into the air. These can be bad for our health.

Dioxins are just one of the many harmful emissions from incinerators. They are highly toxic and can cause cancer and damage to the immune system. Dioxins are also known to interfere with hormones. This can trigger problems in our brain, reproductive and nervous systems.

Even state-of-the-art incinerators can give off potentially dangerous amounts of dioxins. Because, while incinerators are fitted with technology to capture such toxins, some get through the filters.

Research has found chicken eggs within 2 kilometres of a modern incinerator were unsuitable for consumption due to contamination. A 2021 study found high levels of dioxins near incinerators.

Far better solutions exist to tackle the plastic crisis. Corporations and governments should not sacrifice the health of local communities with poor plastic waste management.

It’s costing us money

For decades, incinerators have been releasing harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the burning of plastic without compensating society for the climate harm it’s causing.

Last year alone, the incineration of plastic in the UK was responsible for nearly £2 billion of unpaid climate harm. And this staggering figure doesn’t even include the associated health costs.

It’s racist and classist

Incineration is also a prime example of environmental injustice. Incinerators are three times more likely to be built in the UK’s most deprived neighbourhood and more than 40% of existing incinerators are in areas with higher diversity than their local average.

An infamous example of this is the Edmonton ‘EcoPark’ – an incinerator located in one of the most deprived areas in England, where 65% of residents are people of colour. In the words of Enfield Black Lives Matter campaigner, Delia Mattis:

“We need to be calling this what it is; racism. These industries know that when they place an incinerator in an area like Edmonton, one of the most deprived constituencies in the country, people won’t get involved in campaigns against it because they are already tired from fighting against racial oppression and injustice all their lives”.

The recent decision to expand the Edmonton incinerator, despite strong objections from local communities, is in stark contrast to the decision made by Cambridgeshire County Council, where “the incinerator was rejected because it wasn’t in keeping with the listed and historic buildings in the area. In Cambridgeshire buildings are important, in Edmonton, lives are not.”

It competes with recycling and we’re already over-capacity

Incinerators can’t be easily switched off and on, so they need constant feeding to keep running. This means incinerators compete for plastic and other waste with recycling and composting facilities. Incinerators are expensive to build, and as incineration companies want a return on their investment, these facilities tend to be run for decades.

This often means waste companies secure long-term contracts with local councils who promise to pay for capacity whether they use it or not. Councils often then go on to tell local residents that they can’t afford to invest in waste education or recycling because, even if it resulted in less waste being burned, they would still need to pay for the incinerator.

It should therefore come as no surprise that regions with the highest rates of incineration also tend to have the lowest recycling rates. Incinerators in the UK are relying on burning recyclable material to keep going. We already have far too much incineration capacity and we certainly do not want any more.

And no, simply increasing recycling capacity isn’t the answer either. Plastic reduction is the key.

So what can be done?

Incineration is not a viable option for solving the plastic crisis, and is making the climate crisis even worse. So what needs to be done? And what can you do to help?

One obvious action that needs to be taken is the phasing out of incineration, and some parts of the UK are already leading the way.  In June this year, Scotland introduced a ban on new incinerators – meaning no further planning permissions will be granted for new Scottish waste incineration capacity. This follows Wales introducing a ban in 2021. Both countries acknowledge that new incinerators act as a barrier to achieving zero waste, net zero and a circular economy.

The rest of the UK must now follow in their footsteps.

The UK must also focus on reducing single use packaging, and transitioning towards reusable options – alternatives that cost less both financially and environmentally. Reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place, means less plastic being burned, less carbon in the atmosphere and less toxins in our air. Greenpeace is demanding that the government halves single use plastic by 2025.

For the sake of our health and our planet, burning plastic needs to end.

Help UKWIN reach over 125.000 signatures calling for an incineration moratorium

SIGN THE PETITION to the UK Government calling for them to “Fix the UK’s plastic waste crisis: reduce single use plastic by 50% by 2025, ban all waste exports, ban new incinerators being built, and roll out a deposit return scheme.”

“Incinerators in the UK are relying on burning recyclable material to keep going. We already have far too much incineration capacity and we certainly do not want any more.”

UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 9 September, 2021

GAIA Joins International Civil Society to Call for COP 26 Postponement

Manchester, UK–GAIA joins international civil society in calling on the UK Government and the UNFCCC Bureau to postpone COP 26 until they can ensure a genuinely inclusive and safe summit. The historical inequities in terms of access to the COP have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine inequity and travel restrictions. We stand in solidarity with all those who will be excluded and we’ll be working to amplify their voices and demands. 

At the same time, the urgency of action to achieve climate justice is greater than ever. Even in the absence of a COP, parties and non-parties must redouble their efforts to eliminate emissions, strengthen adaptation, and share the financial resources necessary for these actions.  Whether the COP goes forward in November or at a later date, we will do our best to attend with an inclusive delegation to call out burning waste as a false solution to climate change, to advocate for the phase-out of GHG-intensive waste streams like single-use plastic, and to support community-driven zero waste solutions through systems change.

Press contacts:

Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead

claire@no-burn.org |


GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. 

Por Kassandra Makavou.

Traducción de: The EU is clear: Waste-To-Energy incineration has no place in the sustainability agenda


No hay espacio para los incineradores en la agenda por la sustentabilidad

La Unión Europea se está desmarcando poco a poco de la incineración de residuos para obtener energía (WTE, por sus siglas en inglés), y las principales instituciones financieras europeas las están excluyendo de sus apoyos financieros. Luego de haberse fijado objetivos tan ambiciosos como el de lograr la neutralidad de carbono para el 2050 [1] y la reducción de residuos remanentes a la mitad para el 2030 [2], es evidente que se necesitan cambios rápidos y profundos. El proceso de incineración de residuos es un método que utiliza mucho carbono, socavando el esfuerzo por reducir las emisiones de carbono y alcanzar, por tanto, la meta de la neutralidad a tiempo. Además, en lugar de facilitar la transición hacia una economía circular, la obstaculiza. Como las incineradoras utilizan tanto residuos reciclables como no reciclables, se desincentiva el reciclaje y la prevención de residuos, lo que a la larga instaura una generación de residuos cada vez mayor  

Por estas razones, las instituciones financieras europeas optan en la actualidad por apoyar alternativas menos contaminantes de carbono y más elevadas en la jerarquía de residuos, dejando fuera de su agenda de sostenibilidad los incineradores de residuos. Acá presentamos un resumen de las últimas novedades en este frente político.


El plan de recuperación y resiliencia


El plan de recuperación y resiliencia, que entró en vigor en febrero de 2021, se propone mitigar el impacto económico y social causado por la pandemia de coronavirus. Concede 672.500 millones de euros en préstamos y subvenciones que ayudarán a los Estados miembros de la UE a construir economías más resistentes y sustentables, y a lograr una transición ecológica y digital.

Cada Estado miembro tiene que preparar su plan de recuperación y resiliencia siguiendo las directrices propuestas por la Comisión Europea. De acuerdo con estas, ninguna medida “debe suponer un perjuicio significativo para los objetivos medioambientales según el artículo 17 del reglamento sobre la taxonomía”. Según esto, se elaboró una lista de medidas que “no causan daños significativos” (DNSH). 

Entre los factores dañinos están las incineradoras, según los principios de DNSH la construcción de nuevas plantas es un ejemplo de incumplimiento de medidas. Específicamente, el informe menciona que estas amenazan la transición hacia una economía circular ya que probablemente “conducirá a un aumento significativo de generación, incineración o eliminación de residuos, con la excepción de la incineración de residuos peligrosos no reciclables”, incumpliendo el artículo 17(1)d(ii) del Reglamento de Taxonomía (“Daño significativo a los objetivos medioambientales”). Además, dificulta las alternativas de mayor rendimiento medioambiental, como la reutilización y el reciclaje, y socava la meta del reciclaje, pues suele usar como materia prima tanto reciclables como no reciclables en grandes cantidades. 


Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional y Fondo de Cohesión


La finalidad de ambos fondos es reforzar la cohesión económica, social y territorial en la UE reduciendo las disparidades entre las regiones europeas, así como promover el desarrollo sustentable. Disponen de 234.000 millones de euros para su asignación.

Desde diciembre de 2020, las actividades que reciban ayuda financiera deben estar en consonancia con las normas y prioridades climáticas y medioambientales de la UE y no perjudicar significativamente los objetivos medioambientales.

Más concretamente, en el marco del objetivo específico “promover la transición a una economía circular y eficiente en el uso de los recursos”, estos fondos apoyan inversiones relativas a capacidad adicional de reciclaje, recolección separada, y reutilización de residuos. 

Por el contrario, no apoyan las inversiones destinadas a aumentar la capacidad de las instalaciones para el tratamiento de los residuos remanentes, incluyendo los incineradores, con la excepción de las regiones ultra periféricas y de las tecnologías para la recuperación de materiales. Los resultados deseables (indicadores) de este objetivo específico por la UE son aumentar la recolección separada de residuos, el reciclaje de residuos; y la utilización de los residuos como materias primas.


Fondo de Transición Justa

El Fondo de Transición Justa, de 40.000 millones de euros, es uno de los pilares del Mecanismo de Transición Justa, que establece la hoja de ruta hacia la neutralidad climática para el año 2050 de una manera eficaz y justa. Este fondo apunta a promover una transición climática socioeconómica equitativa mediante el apoyo a las regiones y personas más afectadas. 

Según su reglamento, las actividades elegibles para la inversión deben ser sostenibles a largo plazo y estar en consonancia con los objetivos del Pacto Verde Europeo. Deben “contribuir a la transición hacia una economía sostenible, climáticamente neutra y circular, incluyendo las medidas que buscan aumentar la eficiencia de los recursos”. En consecuencia, establece claramente que la incineración de residuos queda excluida del apoyo financiero por “pertenecer a la parte inferior de la jerarquía de la economía circular de los residuos”.


Reglamento de Taxonomía de la UE

El Reglamento de Taxonomía se publicó en 2020 y es un sistema de clasificación que establece las actividades económicas que pueden considerarse ambientalmente sostenibles. Establece seis objetivos medioambientales. Estos son: la mitigación del cambio climático, la adaptación al cambio climático, el uso sostenible y la protección de los recursos hídricos y marinos, la transición hacia una economía circular, la prevención y control de la contaminación, y la protección y restauración de la biodiversidad y los ecosistemas. Una actividad sostenible puede contribuir a uno o varios de estos objetivos, pero no debe causar un “perjuicio significativo” a ningún otro. 

Se entiende como “perjuicio significativo” a los objetivos medioambientales según lo que establece el artículo 17 del Reglamento de la Taxonomía. Se establece específicamente que una actividad que “dé lugar a un aumento significativo de la generación, incineración o eliminación de residuos, excepto la incineración de residuos peligrosos no reciclables” perjudica el objetivo de la transición a una economía circular.


Banco Europeo de Inversiones (BEI)

El Grupo del Banco Europeo de Inversiones (BEI), a fin de cumplir los compromisos climáticos y medioambientales de la UE, creó la Hoja de Ruta del Banco Climático. Esta proporciona las directrices para la financiación de la acción climática y el desarrollo sostenible, al tiempo que respalda el Pacto Verde de la UE.

El BEI sostiene que el marco para la financiación de la acción climática y la sostenibilidad medioambiental se alinea con el principio de “no causar perjuicios significativos” definido en el Reglamento de Taxonomía de la UE. Por ello, excluye de su apoyo financiero la incineración de residuos.

Los cambios mencionados en los mecanismos financieros han sido autorizados y fomentados por la siguiente legislación:

Directiva sobre energías renovables

La Directiva sobre Energías Renovables (REDII) apoya las políticas de producción y promoción de las energías renovables en la UE. Esta Directiva entró en vigor en 2018 tras la decisión conjunta entre instituciones de la UE.

Esta Directiva menciona que a la hora de promover acciones de energía renovable, los Estados miembros deben considerar los principios de jerarquía de residuos y economía circular, teniendo como opciones prioritarias la prevención y el reciclaje de residuos. Más adelante se indica explícitamente que no se debe otorgar ninguna ayuda a la producción de energía renovable procedente de la incineración de residuos, a menos que se cumplan primero las obligaciones de recogida selectiva de acuerdo con la Directiva marco sobre residuos (Directiva 2008/98/CE).  Por consiguiente, al aplicar esta disposición, los Estados miembros deberán determinar si las obligaciones de recogida selectiva establecidas en la Directiva marco sobre residuos se cumplen. 


  • Plan de Acción de Economía Circular 

Como se ha mencionado, la Comisión pretende reducir a la mitad los residuos remanentes en la UE para el año 2030 mediante la adopción del Plan de Acción para la Economía Circular (PAEC) en 2020 y el desarrollo de acciones de economía circular.

El informe de iniciativa del Parlamento Europeo sobre el PAEC destaca que “los Estados miembros deben reforzar la prevención y la preparación para la reutilización, incrementar el reciclado de alta calidad y alejarse de los residuos en vertederos, al tiempo que se reduce a un mínimo la incineración, en consonancia con la jerarquía de residuos”.

Menciona, además, que debe garantizarse el tratamiento óptimo de los residuos no reciclables y se advierte que construir una excesiva capacidad de incineración de residuos puede obstaculizar el desarrollo de la economía circular.


El camino a seguir

La UE ha decidido que la incineración de residuos debe excluirse del apoyo financiero dado que desde ahora se reconoce como contrario a la transición a una economía circular y neutra en carbono. En cambio, se fomentan y se financian las soluciones de gestión de residuos de mejor rendimiento medioambiental que se adhieren al objetivo de cero residuos, como la prevención y la reutilización de residuos y el reciclaje. 

Considerando que la UE ha liderado históricamente el debate y la elaboración de políticas en materia de economía circular, este reciente enfoque debería ser ejemplo para que otras regiones y países no europeos reconsideren y rediseñen su camino hacia el desarrollo sustentable. 



[1] European Commission, “The European Green Deal,” 2019. Disponible en línea: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/european-green-deal-communication_en.pdf.

[2] European Commission, “A new Circular Economy Action Plan,” 2020. Disponible en línea: https://eurlex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:9903b325-6388-11ea-b735-01aa75ed71a1.0017.02/DOC_1&format=PDF.


Imagine if we could solve plastic pollution with one miracle technology. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Here are 5 things plastic polluters don’t want you to know about chemical “recycling.”

Produced in collaboration with Changing Markets Foundation and Zero Waste Europe. Animation by Miritte Ben Yitzchak.

Environmental groups: further delay is unacceptable

Photo credits: Réseau Tunisie Verte

Tunis, Rome and Brussels, 3 May 2021 – Forty-four Tunisian, Italian, European and international environmental groups have demanded today that Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius cease delay and order the immediate return of Italian municipal waste illegally shipped to Tunisia last year. According to the groups, EU and international environmental law make it plain that Italy should have taken its waste back at least three months ago.

In 2020, Italian company Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali illegally exported 282 containers of mixed municipal waste to Tunisia under deceptive claims that the waste was processed and would be recycled. In fact, it was mixed municipal waste, with little chance for recycling. 

The exports quickly became the subject of a national scandal in Tunisia when it was revealed that certain officials had approved the shipments. The shipments cost the former Minister of the Environment his position and resulted in his prosecution and detention. Despite the furore, however, Italian national authorities have still failed to repatriate the wastes, three months after the 8 January deadline as is required under the Basel Convention.  

Under the Basel Convention, the Bamako Convention and the Izmir Protocol of the Barcelona Convention, the export from Italy to Tunisia was illegal trafficking and a criminal act.  Further Italy is required to repatriate the waste within 30 days of the discovery of illegal traffic. 

On 3 March the organizations Réseau Tunisie Verte, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Basel Action Network and Zero Waste Europe published a short report examining the legality of these shipments and called for their repatriation. Following a complete lack of action on the port of Rome, on April 1, Tunisian groups protested outside the Italian embassy demanding that Italy takes its waste back. On 29 March, Italian MEPs Piernicola Pedicini and Rosa D’Amato (Verts/ALE) also raised European parliamentary questions asking the European Commission how they will ensure that the Italian government fulfills its Basel Convention obligations and guarantee this does not happen again. 

While a court in Rome is currently considering the fate of the financial guarantee that the Italian exporter had provided for the shipments, with the court adjourning until 15 June, there is no evidence that the Italian national government has acted to remove the wastes as required. 

“Court squabbles between the Italian exporter, the insurance company and government authorities are entirely irrelevant to the obligation to repatriate,” said Sirine Rached of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “The Italian national authorities must assume the immediate costs now, and remain at liberty to recover costs from the guilty parties later.”

“The postponed repatriation increases the risk of harm that Tunisians bear from these illegal shipments, as the toxic mix of Italian garbage continues to putrefy in the port of Sousse,” said Hamdi Châabane of Réseau Tunisie Verte (Green Tunisia Network). 

“We don’t understand why the Italian government sits on their hands in this case. And we cannot understand how the European Commission allows Italy to sit on their hands. The law is clear, the shipments were unlawful and Italy must bear initial responsibility,”  said Semia Gharbi of Réseau Tunisie Verte. 

Press contacts:

Berta Corredor, Zero Waste Europe

berta@zerowasteeurope.eu  | +32 478093622

Carissa Marnce, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives

carissa@no-burn.org | +27 76 934 6156 

Jim Puckett, Director, Basel Action Network

jpuckett@ban.org | +1 (206) 354-0391

Semia Gharbi, Réseau Tunisie Verte

semia.tgharbi@gmail.com | +216 98 997 350


Zero Waste Proven Strategy for COVID-19 Economic Recovery: Mitigating Climate Change, Creating Good Jobs, and Revitalizing Local Economies

March 31, 2021- Environmental Justice groups around the world are joining a Global Day of Action to demand that our leaders go beyond recovery, to a future where zero waste practices drive clean air and water, more and better jobs, and a healthy environment for our families and communities, as our planet returns to a life-sustaining pathway where nothing and no one is wasted.

Over 150 groups across the globe have organized actions [50 events in 18 countries], signed petitions, or taken to social media to unite around a common blueprint for leaders to build a better future beyond COVID-19:

  1. Go zero waste, don’t incinerate. Regional and municipal COVID recovery plans and budgets should prioritize Zero Waste City systems, and phase out of false solutions like incineration.
  2. Include waste pickers and workers. Governments must include waste pickers and waste workers in these systems and provide them with a dignified living, as well as a seat at the decision-making table. 
  3. Break free from plastic. The pandemic must not be used as an excuse to fuel the plastic production crisis, and governments should enact policies that drastically reduce its production and consumption.
  4. Divest from incinerators, invest in local solutions. As part of a green recovery, International Financial Institutions must divest from waste-to-energy and instead finance local and regional zero waste systems.
  5. Put communities first. Governments and financial institutions must be fully transparent and inclusive with regards to how taxpayer money is being spent, not least by ensuring that meaningful consultations are held with civil society and affected communities early on in the process. 

Transitioning to zero waste systems has significant environmental, social, and economic benefits for any city.

Cecilia Allen, Global Projects Advisor at GAIA and contributor to the #BeyondRecovery publication series states, “At a time when governments are looking for ways to recover their economies, they need to realize the potential to create local, sustainable jobs by transitioning into zero waste systems. This will not only be good for the economy, but could also be the beginning of the end to the trap of eternal waste disposal, a headache for governments and a tragedy for the environment.”

GAIA members across the globe are uplifting these demands to their local and regional decisionmakers. In Asia Pacific, More than 50 environmental and human rights groups have urged the Asian Development Bank  (ADB) to stop funding waste-to-energy incinerators as the world faces climate, health, and economic crises. 

Ahmed Afrah Ismail, Co-founder of Zero Waste Maldives criticized ADB for investing USD 73 million for WtE in their country, saying that the project will sink their country into more debt and derail its net zero aspirations: “The ADB-funded WtE plant undermines our country’s single-use plastic phaseout plan, waste-to-wealth policies, and circular economy ambitions,” he added. “The government must look into zero waste, which is already proven to be viable financially, socially, and environmentally. Maldives can no longer burn more finances.”

In Africa members are taking action to both combat plastic pollution and build zero waste alternatives. For example, in Dar es Salaam, GAIA member Nipe Fagio will be debuting a Materials Recovery Facility for vulnerable populations, such as waste pickers and female community members, to own and lead waste management and earn an income from it.  

Ana Le Rocha, Executive Director of Nipe Fagio, states: “On this day, we demand that decentralized zero waste models become the rule for solid waste management in Tanzania and that communities are given an opportunity to embrace effective waste management by being presented with solutions that fit their needs. We take action for a healthy balance for people and the planet.”

European groups are pushing their governments to drop incineration and instead invest in a circular economy. Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) states,  “Incineration has no place in the circular economy towards which we should be working. Most of what is incinerated in the United Kingdom could and should be recycled or composted, and the rest should be designed out. The release of CO2 from incinerators makes climate change worse and comes with a cost to society that is not paid by those incinerating waste. ” –

In Latin America, waste picker groups are demanding inclusion into municipalities’ formal recycling systems and worker protections. Silvio Ruíz from the Asociación Nacional de Recicladores Colombia states: “Inclusion is the recognition of our work, which is one of the most important and honourable jobs in the world. It extracts from society’s waste everything that can be recycled and used so that it can benefit society again and minimise the impacts on nature.” 

 In the U.S., groups are pushing back on a provision of a federal bill that supports waste incineration. Denise Patel, GAIA US & Canada Program Director, states:  ”Rather than propping up a dying industry, transitioning to zero waste systems and building true clean, renewable energy systems is clearly a win-win solution for the climate and the economy.” 

For more information about the campaign, list of actions, and the #BeyondRecovery Publication series, visit zerowasteworld.org/beyondrecovery

Press contacts:

Claire Arkin | Communications Coordinator

claire@no-burn.org | +1 (856) 895-1505

GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. 

Renewable energy is defined as energy produced by natural resources — such as sunlight, wind, and geothermal heat — that are naturally replenished within a certain time span. Municipal solid waste is derived from finite natural resources and burning these materials for energy significantly hinders resource conservation, while burdening communities with pollution and climate impacts.

A new study reaffirms that waste incineration is neither a renewable nor clean source of energy through a thorough comparison with other energy sources. Waste incinerators, the dirtiest source of energy on the grid today, must not be part of national or state climate plans.


Demand for the EU and Italy to Ensure Wastes are Returned Immediately

Réseau Tunisie Verte – Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) – Basel Action Network (BAN) – Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) – European Environmental Bureau (EEB) – Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) – Greenpeace MENA – Rethink Plastic alliance (RPa) 

Brussels, March 3, 2021.  International, European, Italian and Tunisian environmental groups have joined in demanding the immediate return of 282 containers full of mixed municipal waste that were illegally exported from Italy’s Campania region to the Port of Sousse in Tunisia between May and July 2020. According to the environmental organizations, the exports violated European Union law, Tunisian law as well as international waste trade treaties — the Basel Convention, the Bamako Convention and the Izmir Protocol of the Barcelona Convention. A short report shows how weaknesses in EU regulations may have contributed to this waste being exported for disposal under the cover of recycling. Under the terms of international and EU laws, Italy should have returned the shipments many months ago.

Bales of Italian waste exported to Tunisia by Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali photographed during a visit by Tunisian legislators and journalists to the port of Sousse in December 2020 (Credits: Hamdi Chebaane).

Indeed, the Italian Administrative Region of Campania has already demanded that the exporting company Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali (SRA) return the waste at their own cost. SRA reportedly appealed this request to an administrative court in Naples and the court ruled it has no jurisdiction to counter the regional demand. Regardless, the responsibility to enforce the international rules lies ultimately with the Italian national government. 

“We fail to understand why Italy has not moved decisively to resolve this case and have these unwanted wastes returned,” said Ms. Semia Gharbi of Réseau Tunisie Verte, in Tunis. “We cannot wait indefinitely. We, therefore, call upon the European Commission to get involved and take the necessary actions to ensure that Italy fulfills its clear legal obligations. Tunisia is not Europe’s dumping ground!”

Tunisia is a Party to the Bamako Convention and the Izmir Protocol of the Barcelona Convention. Both of these agreements make it illegal for Tunisia to import wastes collected from households. At the same time, Italy’s obligations under the Basel Convention and the European Waste Shipment Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006) require them to not approve of any exports to countries that have banned the import of such wastes. Therefore, the shipments are considered as illegal traffic under the Basel Convention and the EU Waste Shipment Regulation that implements that treaty in the European Union. 

Illegal traffic under these rules is a criminal act. Shipments that are illegal due to the fault of the exporter, as is the case in this instance, must be taken back by the exporting state within 30 days from the time the exporting state was made aware of the illegal shipment, or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally sound manner under the direction of the exporting country.

“Italy was made aware of the illegal shipment by the Tunisian government on 9 December 2020,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network (BAN). “They are therefore nearly two months overdue in acting as required by law.  This is unacceptable.  We call upon the European Commission to take the necessary action to ensure compliance.”

“Italy ought to take responsibility for preventing and managing its own municipal waste, rather than exporting its problems to Tunisia”, said Sirine Rached of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). “Every additional day of delayed repatriation adds to this injustice”.

“This type of trade is immoral and environmentally destructive; it is not acceptable to import waste from Italy to Tunisia for landfilling. Landfilling of waste can generate toxic leaching and contribute to the degradation of human health and the environment,” added Mohammed Tazrout, campaigner for Greenpeace Middle-East and North Africa. 

“This is another striking example of a weakness in European legislation and enforcement causing ethical and environmental harm to others,” said Pierre Condamine, waste policy officer at Zero Waste Europe. “The first clear and immediate step is for Italy to repatriate the shipment. The following step should be to fix and properly enforce EU legislation to avoid doing any more harm.” 

NOTE: To read the short report, please visit this link.


Press contacts:

Jim Puckett, Executive Director

Basel Action Network

email: jpuckett@ban.org

phone: +1 (206) 652-5555

Semia Gharbi
Réseau Tunisie Verte
email: semia.tgharbi@gmail.com
phone: +216 98 997 350

Ana Oliveira
Zero Waste Europe
email: ana@zerowasteeurope.eu
phone: +32 (0) 485 986 111

Interview with Anastasiia Martynenko by Rossella Recupero

Hi Anastasiia, can you give us a brief introduction to Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine‘s focus?

Our Alliance was registered at the beginning of 2019 by three NGOs: Zero Waste Kharkiv, Zero Waste Society (Kyiv) and Zero Waste Lviv. We have united to represent Ukraine in the Zero Waste Europe Movement (ZWE) in order to receive access to the best zero waste practices, share our experience and contribute to the creation of a zero waste future.

All three organizations work on zero waste, but they focus on different fields:

  • Zero Waste Kharkiv is working mostly on EcoHubs, education and zero waste cities program (in Liubotyn city). In 2020, they have launched Zero Waste Academy in Ukraine.
  • Zero Waste Lviv works closely with the Lviv municipality. Thanks to their work and support of ZWE, Lviv became the first city outside of the EU that committed to become a zero waste city. Zero Waste Lviv also works to promote composting and reusable options in the hospitality sector.
  • Zero Waste Society (Kyiv) is the NGO where I work. We are working with businesses to push them towards reusable solutions, as well as on education, climate change and anti-incineration. Last year we concentrated our work on the brand-audit and our work on the #WeChooseReuse campaign with our colleagues from the Alliance.

How long have you been in the field and what got you into (zero) waste?

I have been actively working in the field of zero waste for more than 3 years. In general, my environmental activism actively started after the revolution in Ukraine in 2014 and the beginning of a war with Russia. It all started when I created a box for collecting batteries in my apartment block, but quickly it turned out in a campaign to collect paper in my district (we were selling paper and with the money, we were buying medicaments for the injured soldiers). After that, I was ready to move into the city, being sure that I could do more. With that intention, I have met the “right” people and with them, I have created a wonderful team!

What is your current role in the organization?

Currently, I’m the head of the organizations Zero Waste Society and Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine for almost two years, but soon we will have our biennial general meeting, where there will be a new election for a the head of the organization and we will be working on the rules to accept new members into the Alliance (we often receive applications).

Tell us more about one ongoing campaign/activity you’re working on?

Our Alliance has a few ongoing campaigns: Zero Waste Cities, WeChooseReuse, anti-incineration work. Also, we support global campaigns and promote them at the local level – such as #Еnvironmenstrualweek, Plastic Bag-Free Day or Plastic Free July.

If I need to choose one, it would be “WeChooseReuse”. All three organizations have planned different activities, mostly concentrated on communications. We will “talk” about reuse business cases, and how can municipalities and individuals support this shift.

If there was one thing that you would like your organization to be known for, what would it be?

For creating a strong and big zero waste community in Ukraine! Happily, our Alliance consists of three co-founders that are experts in their own fields, so we may be known for at least three things.

Everything is possible when you believe and act!

How would you describe the growth of the Zero Waste movement in your country? What is your perspective for the future?

The movement has been actively growing for the last 2 years. As it was probably in many countries – people see separate collection as a solution first and then, with time, they come to zero waste as a real solution (well, some don’t)
We still have to communicate a lot about the difference between “zero waste” that is promised by corporations (sort out, or even incinerate your waste to save the planet) and “true zero waste” (which is the 5R concept with Refuse, Reduce and Reuse options before Recycling and no incineration included).

My vision is that the movement will only continue to grow. Firstly, because more and more people want to reduce their own environmental footprint or even create change by pushing companies and policy-makers. And secondly, because it’s nearly impossible to ignore the problems connected with our production and consumption.

How is the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting your work?

As for the internal impacts – we haven’t seen each other for quite a long time. I believe that regular offline meetings are strengthening the organization, so we hope to renew this practice soon.

As for our projects and campaigns – we have to communicate more about the safety of reusables over single-use, which is a challenge itself. Of course, there is also more waste, especially PPE (masks, gloves, etc.). But this is also a great opportunity for activists like us to communicate the urgency and create changes. And each of us has the power to do it, at least with our own wallet.