An exchange between Maritsa, representing the Project, and Francesca, after listening to the presentation given during the 4th Annual Seminar.
During the Annual Seminar, you presented this very curious title: Santa’s Role in a circular economy. Curious because, while it makes us think about Christmas, it directly goes to that: ‘economic disaster’ or ‘More waste is generated during the holiday season? Can you explain a bit?
«The annual seminar in Brussels this year felt a bit special as after a long time the projects under EEA Norway Grants could finally meet in person. Knowledge sharing is at the core of our project and although we are focusing on waste, the Circular Economy is a cross sector topic.
As the event coincided with a small exploration on the topic of waste generated during Christmas time, it felt appropriate to share some findings and tips for a more Circular Christmas with the other projects.
Studies have shown that we generate 20-30% more waste than usual. For this reason, green groups call it the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster. This is not only true about Christmas though. Similar large holidays from around the world have been shown to result in more waste being generated. A member of the audience also pointed out about birthday celebrations. Celebrations in general are associated with excess and with excess comes more waste.
So, in summary, the presentation was aimed at taking a short period like Christmas to think not only about how we are being wasteful, but more importantly how we can be less wasteful. In doing so, we can slowly adopt new habits and ways of thinking, that we can carry out throughout the year».
How has this situation changed over the last years?
«We still have a long way to go to improve on waste management and think in a circular way. The good thing is that the urgency to handle waste properly and minimise it has been recognised and governments are implementing policies accordingly.
In Europe for example, common targets have been set for the reduction, recycling and management of waste, such as recycling of 65% municipal waste by 2030, recycling of 75% of packaging waste by 2030 and promoting re-use of waste items among others.
By having defined the term Circular Economy, we have a goal to work towards and a philosophy by which to adhere to in the design and production and whole lifecycle of products and processes».
Then a beautiful Christmas tree: should we go for the plastic or the real? Logic/environmental choice or said choice?
«There are arguments for both sides: a plastic tree can last many years whereas a real one can be composted or burned. The bottom line is that for a plastic tree to outweigh the carbon footprint of a real tree it should be reused at least 10 times. Unfortunately, on average plastic trees are only reused about 4 times.
Having said that, it is also true that a real tree is not always feasible, when I was growing up there were only plastic ones available, I learned about real ones much later in life.
Another option can be to have no tree at all, or to get creative and decorate something else, perhaps a houseplant, or make a tree shape with branches.
We explored this topic a little more in an article that can be found on the project website: http://circular-waste.eu/index.php/2022/11/23/santas-role-in-a-circular-economy-part-1-the-christmas-tree-and-ornaments/ ».
You also talked about local shops: how are they, today, working after Covid? And is Amazon or similar online shops going to win? How could we change that?
«We touched on the topic of local shopping from an environmental point of view, as doing so helps cut carbon emissions and air pollution from transportation. The shorter journey from producer to consumer, means less produce gets wasted along the way and less packaging is needed to protect it. It also helps support local artisans and producers and the local economy in general.
As for recovery from Covid, the effects and recovery vary depending on location. For some remote areas for example, local shops became their lifeline, in others, shops had to close, while others have managed to persist through this difficult time, in some cases thanks to financial assistance by their governments.
Online retailers like Amazon had an advantage during Covid and for sure more people took up online shopping. It’s a long discussion as to whether large online retailers or local stores will prevail, but I think going into a local shop offers an irreplaceable, unique experience and I read that in some places shopping locally has increased after Covid. Perhaps as we evolve shopping behaviours, a combination of local and online might be the way to go, with small shops offering options for online orders».
Analysis costs/benefits: do you think we will be forced to arrive to the most expensive but useful solution (eco-green) in the next future?
«Whether we will be forced to go green directly or indirectly is a complex and huge topic. It is a complex problem precisely because our economy is based on perpetual growth. There are a lot of factors that affect that question like economics, policy, social values and consumer behaviour.
Creating a value chain from sourcing the raw material, through to production and purchase by a consumer is a process that costs money and time.
Looking at it in a very simplistic way, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation: as sustainable products are more expensive, even if consumers might have preferred them they might not buy due to their cost, the little demand means less investment and this means the few options out there are more expensive to produce to start with, this cost is passed to the consumer and so the cycle continues».
Circular economies… how much time do we have left to at least start doing something good, stopping the controversies/polemics but really doing something concrete?
«As with all problems, once identified, the sooner we act the better. A study by the World Bank suggests that if we carry on business as usual, worldwide municipal solid waste will increase by around 70% by 2050, from 2.24 billion tons in 2020 to 3.88 billion tons in 2050. By adopting the right measures early on, less waste can be produced than what the grim predictions show and waste can become widely seen as a valuable resource».
Do you see young people involved in this process?
«Definitely, they have to be. Transitioning is a long-term process, it will not happen from one day to the next. If we want change to take hold long term and through the next generations, we need to already involve young people, after all, it is their future.
Nowadays, young people have a lot more access to information than we did and are more aware of environmental issues. As Professor Ierotheos Zacharias from the Blue Greenway project pointed out at the event, young people don’t have predefined ideas and can come up with unique solutions».
Which could be, in your opinion, the best present we could prepare for our planet for 2023 Christmas?
«The best present for the planet is also one we can give ourselves: being more mindful in how we shop.
Trying to leave behind our consumerist behaviours and take a step back to think: Do I really need this? Is it sustainable or produced by sustainable means?
It sounds simple enough, but it’s a small action that circles back in its impact, individually for our wellbeing, especially mental and collectively, for the planet».
Circular-based waste management