• Programme

Waste in progress: Municipal waste prevention policies for decarbonisation


The 6th edition of the wasteinprogress congress, the leading event in the matters of municipal waste management, was held from 16-18 April 2024 in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. The Innovative Sustainable Economy Interreg Euro-MED Mission attended the first day of sessions, which were focused on reuse and preparation for reuse frameworks. The event combined the perspectives and roles of three main actors involved: administration, the private sector, and citizens. It showcased that it is possible to change the way we live if we act together.  

The session was organised into four main blocks: i) legal framework contexts; ii) networking and pitch sessions at the Innovation Lab; iii) good practices and inspiration; and iiii) a panel discussion with the private sector and an open debate. This will be an annual event to further explore contributions from the Innovative Sustainable Economy Community, particularly with innovative solutions suggested from key thematic projects such as ProcuraMED, eWAsTER, REPper, VERDEinMED, among others. Discover the prevailing topics and reflections below. 

The congress began with a welcome from journalist and moderator Montserrat Besses. Then Juan José Pernas, professor of administrative law at Universidade da Coruña, warmed up the session by contextualising the legal framework on waste prevention and preparation for reuse policies. He explained that we experienced a paradigm shift in circular economics. In its origins (1975-2020), most legislation was focused on waste management but since 2020 it has shifted towards the whole value chain of the products with waste management becoming the last step to consider. He also highlighted the importance of eco-design, product, and consumption patterns.  

This paradigm shift is leading the acceleration of waste prevention and the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR scheme) as an environmental policy approach, in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle, integrating documentation related to the environmental characteristics of products and the whole product value chain. At a Spanish level, this has already been done for single-use plastics (6 January 2023), but there is more to come, mainly for textiles, furniture, and agriculture plastics (slated for 9 April 2025), fisheries (31 December 2024), among others. In addition, Pernas detailed the economic instruments and incentives that influence waste prevention: 

  • Citizen tax reduction 
  • Company fiscal bonifications for food waste reduction 
  • Public administration tax incrementation in the case of waste incineration and/or landfill dependence (e.g. for CO2 emission costs) 
  • Incentives for circular business models through public procurement as a key element to reuse and preparation for reuse 
  • Eco-design incentives through EPR scheme 

Pernas was followed by Isaac Peraire i Soler, director of the Waste Agency of Catalonia, who said that “waste” is already an obsolete concept and presented the upcoming new Waste Prevention and Management and Resource Efficiency Law of Catalonia organised into six main axes: i) Resource Efficiency, ii) Circular Economy, iii) Reutilisation, iv) Extended Producer Responsibility, v) Waste Prevention, vi) Waste Management. Peraire also explained responsibility distribution among the three main actors involved: 

  • ADMINISTRATION: Municipalities being the main bodies responsible for the prevention and management of municipal/urban waste and with a requirement to facilitate a framework and suitable instruments for correct implementation. 
  • PRIVATE SECTOR: Offering and integrating new competitive, innovative, and circular business models given its role as a fundamental and experienced actor in the move towards more sustainable realities. 
  • CITIZENS: Being proactive and showing interest in waste reduction, incorporating in their daily lifestyle Km0 and ecological options. Their implication is key to the proper functioning of the system and newly implemented actions. 

Within this context, Peraire marked the 1st anniversary of ARECA, the association of Reutilisation Centres and Services of Catalonia, which brings together a wide range of different actors. He was followed by Françoise Bonnet, secretary general at ACR+, an international network of cities and regions, who set out the objectives to reduce resource consumption in European cities.  

Bonnet kicked off her presentation highlighting that ACR+ will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024 by launching a photo contest to promote circular economy. Over time, ACR+ has revised its vision. Everything started with packaging in 1994 when municipal waste was full of plastics. Bonnet emphasised that now we have to move towards a more integrated vision as “we consume in cities, but we produce in regions.”  

There are three conditions to consider in order to go from vision to reality: using circular economy as an instrument for a sustainable use of resources;  implementing sufficiency principles (it is no longer sufficient to say: I will pay to pollute); and putting cities & regions at the heart of sustainability action. ACR+ has sent a letter to incoming EU Commissioners to inform them about the need to be more involved in the local decision-making. Bonnet highlighted the need for EU standards despite the complexity to achieve that, but also the importance of local context to tailor them. She mentioned that 70% of EU legislation will be implemented at sub-national level. Therefore, there is the need to break the silos and work together in a holistic approach.  

With a triple planetary crisis (climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss there is an urgent need to reduce resource consumption. An interesting question to Bonnet posted by the audience was related to the Deposit-Refund Systems (DRS) and why these systems only work in very specific places. Bonnet recognised that it was not an easy answer and that she thinks that it is related to economic investments from the producer perspective, particularly in those places where EPR is not obliged yet and producers are not required to deploy these systems (such as collection points and economic refunds) to recover a percentage of their product after being used.  

During the networking and pitch sessions at the Innovation Lab, eight organisations showcased their advanced solutions: ACCIONA; PREZERO IBÉRICA; SOLIDANÇA; ANTHESIS LAVOLA; CLUSTER DE RESIDUS; URBASER; NOVAMONT; and VOLVO TRUCKS. 

After this, talks on inspiring and good practices from different EU cities were showcased starting with Emma Börjesson, project manager at the City of Malmö, who explained the reuse criteria for public procurement in the city. Emma started by underlining that Malmö was undergoing a transformation process and, for this reason, it needed to improve on organisation. Yet, the actions being taken will nonetheless place Malmö as one of the world’s top cities for sustainable city development. She pointed to the support of the CEO Interreg North Sea project in the process of learning more about repair and refuse strategies, as well as public procurement of pre-used material, including street signage and public building furniture.  

Staying with Sweden, Anna Bergström, Retuna project advisor, followed with another inspiring story from Eskilstuna city. Retuna is the world’s first recycling mall and the inspiring part of it all is that “people feel good about themselves when recycling and shopping back in there.” Anna clarified that the initial investment for the recycling centre from the municipality of Eskilstuna was 8 million euros in 2012 and that its goal was to reduce waste, increase knowledge about more sustainable lifestyles, and create new job opportunities. Now, the municipality manages the whole system and despite it not yielding much economic profit from the municipality’s perspective, there are barely any associated costs. 

Moving back to Spain, Carmen Lainez, director of the Waste Area of the Community of the Comarca of Pamplona, introduced the remarkable work done in Pamplona through the Traperos de Emaús. Since 1972, this association of people has worked hard to achieve a fairer and more caring world, facilitating social inclusion and green job positions through the work of collecting, recycling and reusing objects that they put up for sale again in their flea markets. They work with furniture, electric appliances, textiles, and other products.  

Finally, two Austrian cases were presented. First, Dr. Ingrid Winter, head of unit for Waste and Resource Management of the Regional Government of Sytria, gave an overview of their reuse centres and strategies. Winter indicated the importance of the reuse services map of the region, the further development of the Regional Centre for Waste Prevention and Circular Economy (Re.ZAK, for short) as part of the Sulmtal-Koralm Resource Park community, which intends to support practical implementation from 2024 onwards.  

After that, Markus Piringer, project manager of circular economy & coordinator repair network Vienna, followed by explaining a specific case of a repair voucher scheme. With this scheme, a consumer requests a redeemable voucher from participating authorities to repair an appliance, then they go to a repair shop asking for a service and finally, the repair shop, which has a funding agreement with the authorities, repairs the electrical appliance for the consumer and requests money back from the authorities through the voucher. At a national level, through Next Generation EU funding, Austria launched a nation-wide repair bonus scheme under the initiative REPARATUR BONUS.

The event finalised with an afternoon panel discussion with representatives of the private sector and an open debate with the audience and moderated by Pilar Chiva Rodríguez, circular economy area director of the Waste Agency of Catalonia (ARC). She introduced the ARC’s 2018 study on potential reuse sites in Catalonia, the competitivity action plan for reuse centres in Catalonia, and the database of reuse centres in Catalonia. She encouraged local public authorities to apply for projects under the upcoming waste prevention call open during May-June 2024. Invited speakers pitching reuse-based business models were: 

  • Pol Fàfrega, sustainability lead of Wallapop, who highlighted the fact that reusing means higher sustainability and lower prices and should be the first shopping option. 
  • Àngel Bou, CEO & Founder of Simplr, who discussed facilitating the implementation of green public procurement, not only based on final service/product prices, but a more holistic perspective of sustainability. 
  • Sònia Flotats Álvarez, CEO & Founder of SOGOOD, who emphasised the power of awareness raising and communication campaigns to share sustainable patterns to citizens. 
  • Rosaura Serentill Renom, ARECA’s CEO, who advocated aligning coordination efforts to work towards waste prevention. 
  • Albert Alberich Llaveria, director of Moda Re-, who explained that it is possible to design and produce a 100% recycled anorak (BASF & Inditex, for example).  
  • Raúl González Miguel, CEO & Founder of Ecodicta: who call for the accumulation of experiences, not clothes. 

Final reflections were based on a question regarding how local public authorities can implement the reuse-based business models presented during the event. The suggested actions were diverse, ranging from awareness campaigns, fiscal incentives, and collaboration with start-ups, to name but a few.