Interview with Susana Fonseca by Rossella Recupero
Hi Susana, can you give us a brief introduction to ZERO’s focus?
ZERO – Association for the Sustainability of the Earth System is a Portuguese environmental NGO created at the end of 2015. Our ambition is to intervene in the Portuguese society through proactive participation in the defense of sustainability values, as we understand that only through the balance between environment, society and economy will be possible to build a more cohesive world, socially and economically, in full respect of the planet’s natural limits.
Our action is based on seeking to influence public policy as well as business decisions in areas such as plastics production and consumption, circular economy, climate change, water, oceans, and biodiversity. Alongside this political intervention, we have developed projects that demonstrate the benefits and possibilities of the policies and changes we stand for.
We are part of several international networks: Climate Action Network, Zero Waste Europe, European Environmental Bureau, Transports, and Environment.
How long have you been in the field and what got you into (zero) waste?
Quite a long time already. I have been with the Portuguese environmental movement for more than two decades, most of the time as a volunteer, and more recently as a professional. I have worked on waste from the beginning. Later, I have embraced chemicals and sustainability, but zero waste for me is just the most logical way to act. Why waste resources if you can save them if it is not truly necessary? I am a fan of the concept of sufficiency and therefore zero waste makes perfect sense.
What is your current role in the organisation?
I am a board member at ZERO while I am presently working in the organisation on projects related to circular economy and chemicals.
ZERO has the vision of contributing to a society based on sustainability principles, in full respect for the limits of our planet. A society where the notion of “zero” is motivating action, namely with regard to the use of zero fossil fuels, zero pollution, zero waste, zero destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity and zero social and economic inequality. A society where sustainability is understood as a way to guarantee social, environmental and economic equity and justice. A world where all, individually and in interaction with others, assume their responsibility in this vision.
Tell us more about one ongoing campaign/activity you’re working on?
One of our most important campaigns at the moment is on getting reuse targets into the transposition of the European Directives – Packaging and Waste. It is an ongoing process since Portugal has not finalised the transposition yet (it is foreseen to have the process complete by December 2020), but it is one of our main focuses in the area of circular economy. We are also closely following the implementation of a DRS system in Portugal for plastic, glass, and metal for beverage packaging, that is due to start in January 2022, but things are running a little late (all the regulatory process), so we have to do what we can to stimulate them ;-). On both campaigns we are working with other Portuguese ENGO -Sciaena and ANP|WWF.
If there was one thing that you would like your organisation to be known for, what would it be?
My personal dream is that reduction and reuse will be at full speed in several areas in the next five years. For ZERO, besides waste prevention, we are definitely investing a lot of energies and resources in having municipalities going for Zero Waste Strategies and we would like to be associated with that! Being the instigators of ZWS at the municipal level in Portugal! It is good to know that we are not alone in this objective and we are now more confident that we will get there because of the incredible support ZWE is giving us to push this agenda at the national level!
How would you describe the growth of the Zero Waste movement in your country? What is your perspective for the future?
From our perspective, it is an unstoppable movement. More and more people are joining and it makes so much sense in so many ways: at a personal level, institutional level, company level, for the environment, etc. We are very hopeful that it will become an undeniable reality, even to those who are still into a more linear approach.
How is the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting your work?
In Portugal, the pandemic has delayed some political measures that are relevant for our work, namely the prohibition of using disposable plastic cutlery, plates, cups in the food sector (it was supposed to start the 3rd of September and it has been postponed to March next year). Also, the DRS regulation and the waste directives transposition ended up delayed, probably also due to COVID-19 and the restrictions around it. It was also foreseen in the 2020 budget to introduce a levy on taking away packaging, that so far no one mentioned or applied. Last, but not least, we have seen pressures for the government not to increase the landfill levy because of the increased waste production resulting from the pandemic. Anyway, the Environmental Ministry is trying to stay strong and keep the objectives in general.
You can find more about ZERO and their work here.