Catalan Foundation Rezero Works Towards a Zero Waste Europe

In the current climate, where the pandemic has led to a new peak in packaging use, it’s easy to forget about additional global-scale challenges. For this reason, outstanding organizations like Rezero monitor such problems and come up with solutions to combat any issue harming our planet.

Rezero is a non-profit foundation with the mission to “create knowledge and promote innovative ideas, regulations and projects so that both companies, public administrations and citizens can enjoy a model of production and consumption towards Zero Waste, without toxic materials or products that are left without use.”

To get an overview of how they work and what type of projects they produce and implement, we interviewed Marta Beltrán, (Rezero’s International Projects Director), who kindly walked us through their most recent projects and objectives.

Good morning Marta, Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do at Rezero?

Hello, glad to be here. I work in the division of European Projects. Rezero is an independent non-profit organisation formed 15 years ago. We want to shift the current mindset of production and consumption. We promote reusable solutions and aim to eliminate household waste. We work within the economic and social sectors of society, partnering with authorities and organisations to achieve our goals.

We cover three extensive areas: we run campaigns and studies so we can create knowledge and share it; we also help municipalities plan their environmental strategy, and we advocate for legal implementations. Our biggest influence is at a regional level, in Catalonia and Balearic Islands, but we also work for the Spanish Government and the European Union.

What are the measures you’re looking to implement locally at the moment (in Catalonia)?

At the moment, in Catalonia, a new waste management law is being drafted. We are just in the early stages [of proposals]. The Catalan Waste Agency is writing a zero-waste proposal. We will group with our network of social and economic stakeholders to build consensus proposals and go back to the government with the data. Yet, as there will be regional elections in February, the process might be slightly delayed. 

We are very pleased, however, about the results that the Balearic Islands have achieved, even before the European Parliament approved the European single use plastic directive. It has effectively tackled the use of on-the-go packaging, cotton pads, the storing of beverage plastics, and littering.

We have to act at the beginning of the production chain, not at the end when you already have ten years of large quantities of single-use waste in landfills. And even from an economic point of view, we are losing resources, which we need as we depend on them.

You mentioned acting at the top of the supply chain. How can you intervene to prevent overuse and waste of plastics?

For instance, in this year’s COVID-19 context, the single-use face masks used all over the world are terrible for the environment. At Rezero, we produced a report on the use of reusable masks to promote them, especially at workplaces and educational centres. But we also aim to make sure that everybody understands the bases of using reusable face-masks, such as keeping them clean at all times. This is just a small action that can make a big difference on a global scale.

At the beginning of the lockdown, many people used gloves for everything. Fortunately, the health authorities suggested that washing hands often and correctly is a safer alternative. Supermarkets initially asked customers to wear gloves in order to get inside. Part of our plan was to work with supermarkets and other shops, discouraging them from providing gloves at the entrance and telling clients to use and discard them afterwards. Sometimes supermarket chains even implement different “walk-in” measures for customers in different locations, with no consistent policy.

What about Rezero’s international efforts? Is it different how you work at a local level compared to how you work at a continental level? And if it is, how is it different?

We extend some of our local campaigns to European level. We launched a campaign, called Salud De Plàstic, regarding the effects of plastic on our health: We asked 20 Catalan celebrities to take part in this project. We partnered with a Norwegian lab famous for analysing urine samples. They analysed our participants’ samples and found out that over 20 components that come from plastic were present in their urine. These components are endocrine disruptors that have a direct link to a series of health conditions. 

We will launch a similar campaign in Europe at the end of this year, A crucial moment because at European level a new directive concerning food packaging is about to be discussed. We need to make sure they draft the legislation in the right way and it will shape industries for the better.

I just wanted to add: we work a lot with municipalities, it’s a priority for us. While city councils are the authority with fewer competences to regulate waste, they are the ones to manage it and pay for its collection, processing, and cleaning the streets, because most manufacturers don’t adhere to their “extended producer responsibility.”

More and more municipalities are moving towards zero waste. They focus on bio-waste, which is the easiest to treat. They implement effective collection systems such as pay-as-you-throw, door-to-door systems, and waste prevention policies such as promoting bulk selling of products and reusable nappies. All these activities performed at a local level help little by little to mitigate climate change.

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