08 Jan 2024

Written by

Esra Tat, Executive Director at Zero Waste Europe

Real-world change in the face of adversity: Europe’s zero waste journey to 2024

Zero Waste Europe - general

As we start this new year, we find ourselves in a world both familiar and unprecedented. The tragedies unfolding across the globe, from ongoing wars to the accelerating environmental breakdown, remind us of the persistent crises that humanity faces. Closer to home, the rise of far-right groups in Europe casts long shadows over the path of unity and solidarity we have long strived to follow. It is a context where social emergencies are weaponised against environmental urgencies.

Yet, it is precisely within this landscape of adversity that the seeds of hope find fertile ground. Hope, far more than a passive longing, is the shared commitment of those who dare to envision a brighter future amid the darkness. And it’s a time to double down on our commitment and to recognise the progress unfolding across our continent.

The ground is shifting beneath us, with communities leading the charge for sustainable living, justice, and grassroots democracy. And as we edge closer to the 2024 European Parliament elections, the time to act is unequivocally now.

The missing link: intertwining social and environmental agendas

At Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), we enter 2024 with a vision that is both clear and more determined than ever. We see social inequalities not just as societal failures but as the direct costs of a non-transition. Our inaction on environmental degradation charges us with eroding our society’s unity and future prospects, with the most vulnerable among us paying for the lack of political will and ambition. Fuel poverty, food insecurity, and compromised public health warn us of the urgent need for a shift in how we treat our planet and each other.

This year, our mission is to fortify this vision – intensifying our efforts to phase out waste, championing the principles of sufficiency, and designing systems that inherently reduce the need for resource consumption. It is a vision where reducing waste and consumption is intertwined with creating jobs and building healthier communities. Our zero waste advocacy is fundamentally about phasing out waste, toxic materials and chemicals, and wasteful practices by design; while ensuring that the transition to a greener economy doesn’t leave anyone behind.

To this end, we must weave together the threads of social and environmental objectives into a cohesive strategy – one that elevates the welfare of both our environment and our people. We invite policymakers, community leaders, activists, and citizens to join us in this pivotal moment. It is time to align our actions with the future we wish to see — one that is sustainable, healthy, and just.

The path forward: inside and outside Europe

Our priorities for the coming year are deeply rooted in our pledge for the upcoming European elections and our manifesto for a new Europe based on the principles of sufficiency, wellbeing, and resilience.

We are set to elevate the debate on the need for resource use reduction and resource justice, as we are dedicated to significantly reducing the consumption of resources and promoting sufficiency policies. This involves transforming the current Waste Framework Directive into a Resource Framework Directive that prioritises material consumption reduction and accelerates decarbonisation.

We will continue championing waste prevention by supporting legislation and on-the-ground initiatives that encourage waste reduction at its source and create green jobs and opportunities.

We will persist in our fight to eliminate harmful chemicals from our lives, ensuring safe material use and public health.

We aim to enhance recycling practices and policies further, promoting policies to drastically reduce waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators, effectively closing the resource loop.

Central to our vision is nurturing resilient local economies and communities, where our Zero Waste Cities work has been a vibrant laboratory of citizen participation and local democracy for more than 15 years. In 2024, we will strengthen our support to our local communities on critical topics such as reuse, biowaste, and textiles.

Beyond Europe, we are committed to global responsibility, working cross-regionally with our GAIA and Break Free From Plastic colleagues to not only prevent the EU from exporting unsustainable practices but also to actively collaborate with partners in learning, sharing, and scaling best practices inside and outside Europe.

Let’s make 2024 the year we turn the tides, from pledges to policies, from ideas to actions! Let 2024 be remembered as the year we chose to unite, not divide. A year where we made strides to preserve resources, enhance community resilience and wellbeing, and uphold environmental and resource justice.