25 May 2023

Written by

By Ismael Casotti, ZERO

Under the Portuguese sun: why Zero Waste Europe’s Network-Wide Gathering was a big deal for Portugal and for Guimarães

NetworkZEROZero Waste Europe - general

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE)’s Network-Wide Gathering was celebrated this year in Guimarães, a quiet and green little town in the north of Portugal, with just over 150.000 inhabitants spread over a diverse territory, from a beautiful historical city centre to the more rural parishes. 

This gathering is ZWE’s yearly event with its network of members from across Europe. The meeting in Portugal was co-hosted by the local institution Laboratório da Paisagem in partnership with us, ZERO – Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável, one of ZWE’s members. Bringing together a group of 60 people from over 30 nationalities did not go unnoticed, at least among those who were engaged in the whole organisation process and logistics (e.g. venues, transportation, accommodation, visit points). They must have thought: “what is an Irish guy talking about with a Belarusian person and a Croatian mate, for instance, while they’re watching the community orchards full of life (including insects, bees, and who knows what else!)?”. Even if locals in Guimarães are familiar with receiving tourists throughout the year, they might not be aware of the reasons behind such a peculiar visit regarding environmental topics.

ZWE’s Network-Wide Gatherings are an opportunity for this community of zero waste visionaries spread across borders to come together, communicate, celebrate  achievements, and engage in wide reflections on the meaning of the activities and projects developed by ZWE – be it through national members, ZWE as an organisation, as well as ZWE’s global mother organisation GAIA (we even welcomed a colleague from the GAIA Latin America team!). But why should such an event be organised in the country of a member organisation, instead of holding it in politically-central Brussels?

The work of an environmental NGO such as ZERO, at the national level, is not always visible, since policy-centric advocacy happens more as back-office work than what is commonly perceived by outsiders. Activities are carried out in the background, with a lot of internal communication exchanges among experts – and while amazing achievements are publicly announced, sometimes less desirable outcomes are made public too. It’s part of the game!  

Technicians from municipalities, local stakeholders, researchers and, more generally, citizens are often not fully acquainted with the results of the work of an NGO like ZERO – this makes it even more necessary to organise events that, at some point, overlap and build bridges with the local agenda, trying to engage the local community and make them participate in some of the activities.

The presence of ZERO and ZWE’s members and team in Guimarães definitely succeeded in creating a variety of learning, sharing, debating, and celebration moments. From the communication of the award of the first zero waste restaurant in Europe, aCozinha, certified by the Mission Zero Academy (MiZA); to the workshop on community composting with officials from Portuguese municipalities, there were moments that clearly demonstrated the impact that bottom-up approaches have in taking us closer to a just zero waste society and planet.

Moreover, while the presence of international partners like ZWE and its members can really elevate the work and achievements of a national NGO like ZERO, activities like this gathering are also a key moment for the hosting municipality to present and showcase their work to these partners. This, in turn, gives further legitimacy to their own work as part of the journey towards becoming a zero waste city, and connects them to a wide network of progressive cities.

So overall, this was a success and a win-win moment for us all, but the real winner should be the environment – and we believe this was the case!

 Photo credits: Filipe Ferreira 2023