Meet the new Zero Waste Europe Board – interview with Mindy O’Brien, President of Zero Waste Europe
During our Network-Wide Gathering in Guimarães (Portugal) in April 2023, we welcomed 3 new additions to the ZWE Board; while also saying a heartfelt goodbye to Rossano Ercolini and Huub Scheele, founding Board Members of ZWE who were instrumental in guiding us as President and Secretary of Zero Waste Europe, respectively.
The newest composition of the ZWE Board has been in place since November 2023, and includes:
- Mindy O’Brien as the President of Zero Waste Europe.
- Jaka Krancj (from Ekologi brez meja) as Treasurer.
- Janine Rolling (from Recycling Netwerk Benelux) as Secretary.
- Antigone Dalamaga (from ECOREC).
- Juliette Franquet (from Zero Waste France).
- Maja Krastina (from Zero Waste Latvija).
- Nathalie Cadot (in a personal capacity).
To kick off the new year, we sat down with Mindy O’Brien to learn a bit more about her background and the ambitions of the new ZWE Board for the coming years.
Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up joining the environmental and zero waste movement?
I was inspired to get involved in environmental protection when I started to work as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill for a Congressman from Ohio and, later, as the Legislative Director for a Congresswoman from Arkansas. I saw what could be done for the environment through policy and how to build coalitions to push legislation through. I also experienced frustration at the pace of change and decided to return to law school to understand more fully how the law works, especially in the waste and water arena.
When we moved to Ireland with our little boy in 1997, I came to a country with no separate waste collection and only collected recyclables once a month in the church car park for 2 hours. If you missed the collection, you must hold your recyclables for another month. I joined VOICE in 1997 as a volunteer, later as a board member and then as the Chief Executive. Throughout my work there, we have pushed for an effective and ambitious waste policy that moves up the waste hierarchy and engages with individuals and communities to reduce their waste and alter how they consume. I have now been here for over 25 years and, through our work, Ireland has now progressed to a three-bin system; we reduced our plastic bags consumption dramatically through our plastic bag levy; we have passed a Circular Economy bill; we are looking forward to our DRS coming on line in February 2024; and we have made consumption and waste prevention a commonplace issue for Irish citizens.
You were involved in Zero Waste Europe for quite some time through our Irish member organisation, VOICE. What motivated you to join the ZWE Board in 2022?
I was planning to retire in 2023 and wanted to stay involved in the zero waste movement as I knew there was still so much to be done. I hope that my experience in environmental law, public awareness, engagement and activation as well as my background in running a small environmental organisation will help ZWE.
In November 2023, you became the President of Zero Waste Europe. How do you see the achievements of years past, and how do you hope to contribute to further impact in your new role?
I have big shoes to fill and I am inspired by the work done by our previous (and first!) ZWE President Rossano Ercolini, both in Italy and around the world. His leadership, passion, and inspiration over the years as President have helped the zero waste movement build and succeed in reducing waste and spreading the message that zero waste works and is the best way forward for our communities to live sustainably in a world with limited resources.
I look forward to working with the ZWE team and members to push the message of sustainability, resilience, and well-being, which is found in our Manifesto, as the foundation of zero waste’s work. We must move beyond waste management and recycling towards sustainable consumption and production, as outlined in Goal 12 in the Sustainable Development Goals. We must also work more closely with climate change activists to develop a common message on how to reduce harmful emissions. Moreover, we must reduce our consumption of things and our reliance on polluting industries, such as cement and petrochemical companies.
What are the ZWE Board’s aspirations and hopes for ZWE in the coming years?
We are working on our next 5-year strategic framework to determine where we are going and our plans to get there. The process led by the team will engage our members, the Board and our wider ecosystem. It will provide a roadmap to keep pushing our zero waste agenda, very much embedded into our vision for a Europe based on sufficiency, wellbeing and resilience. Through our new strategic framework, we want to push governments, communities, and the private sector to rethink our systems, in a different way that preserves and protects our natural resources and environment; creates a more just social fabric; and ensures an inclusive decision-making process.
Any final words of wisdom to share with our community to keep pushing forward towards a zero waste future?
At ZWE, we are led by our member organisations and we cannot achieve anything without their involvement, ideas, actions, and experience. We learn from each other and our network is stronger with such alliances, knowledge transfers and collaborations. I hope that member groups will continue to work together and find common projects to build on what has already been achieved. I am proud to be a part of Zero Waste Europe.