The top 5 waste management stories in 2015

This year, policies played a very important role in waste management. From food to plastic waste, the new regulations clearly point in one direction: the transition to a circular economy.

ocean plastic shoes
A prototype of adidas's new concept sneakers. Image: adidas

The crucial role of government policies in sustainable waste management grabbed the limelight this year.

More cities and companies recognise that landfills and oceans are not the righful place for waste, and that they should be circulating waste back into the economy as new products - in the form of biogas, fertiliser or a new pair of shoes.

Here are our top 5 picks for 2015:

1. Addressing food waste

This year saw big initiatives from some countries and large companies that address the issue of food waste. In France, a law on food waste will take effect in January 2016 while Paris-based Consumer Goods Forum, a network of 400 global food and drink companies, has pledged to halve the food it throws away by 2025.

In Singapore, the government has stepped up efforts to address the issue and has now piloted a food waste collection system where the waste will be converted into compost. It also invested in a new project aimed at producing biogas for electricity generation by mixing the collected food waste with water sludge which comes from the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant. 

The trend seems to be catching on in cities worldwide. New York City also unveiled plans in August to require restaurants in hotels, sporting venues, food manufacturers and wholesalers to recycle all food waste. 

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Australia, instead of giving a thumbs-up to a zero food waste initiative by local restaurant Brothl, the city government shut the business down. Brothl’s owner Joost Bakker refused to pay the authorities AUD$12,500 for placing its composter in the laneway behind the restaurant. 

2. Ridding the world of plastic waste

Several innovations in solving the massive problem of plastic waste came about this year. Shoemaker adidas launched a new brand of shoes made of ocean plastic thrash, while Dutch engineer aerospace student Boyan Slat started a campaign to clean up the world’s oceans. The Ocean Cleanup is an innovative system which uses floating barriers to collect and recycle plastic waste.

Meanwhile, some cities and regions banned the use of plastic bags such as Kathmandu in Nepal, Montreal in Canada, the state of Uttar Pradesh in India and Malacca in Malaysia. A coalition of waste campaign groups worldwide called on a total ban on plastic bags in July, advocating the phasing out of single-use plastic bags to reduce pollution in oceans and landfills. 

A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme favoured this call, saying that ridding the world of plastic waste must start with reducing its use of plastic in the first place; fixes such as ‘biodegradable’ plastic does not solve the waste problem, the report added. 

3. Boosting the circular economy

The European Commission announced this month the new Circular Economy Package, which sets a common goal for EU member countries to recycle 65 per cent of municipal waste and 75 per cent of all packaging waste. Countries must also reduce waste in landfills by 10 per cent by 2030.

By implementing measures such as waste prevention, innovative and sustainable design as well as re-use of materials, the programme could bring cost savings of 600 billion euros for businesses in the EU and reduce emissions by two to four per cent.

In Australia, the concept of the circular economy is also gaining ground. The Wealth to Waste programme, a collaborative research programme among Australian universities, released a report in June, presenting the opportunities that could help Australia ‘mine’ from existing resources. 

4. Singapore steps up efforts

In Singapore, the government is making use of waste audits to push for sustainable waste management practices. A new mandate took effect this year which requires some businesses to report their waste and recycling activities. About 250 shopping malls and hotels have to provide data on where their thrash such as metals, paper and organic waste go, including the weight of waste discarded and the amount sent for reuse and recycling. 

To further its efforts on using available data to formulate waste reduction policies, the city-state’s National Environment Agency announced in November it will conduct a waste audit for 300 selected households on their food and packaging waste to determine ways to better address the issue. 

5. Canada’s waste dumping in Philippines

After several years of pushing Canada to take back tonnes of smuggled household waste stuck in a port in the Philippines, the latter’s government finally gave in, agreeing to process the waste in its landfills. Environmental campaign groups see this move as a violation of international law - specifically the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. But governments of the Philippines and Canada ignored the law. 

However, Canada, under the leadership of prime minister Justin Trudeau, admitted to the media during the APEC summit in November in Manila that the issue has “exposed a problem that needs fixing” within its own legislation. He added that the country is doing its part to ensure a similar incident does not happen again and Canada would have more power to punish irresponsible companies.

This story is part of our Year in Review 2015 series, which looks at the top stories that shaped the business and sustainability scene in each of our 11 categories.

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