Zero Waste Europe Network Wide Gathering 2024 Ghent Timelab


25 Apr 2024

Written by

Stephanie Yates, Head of Network & Movement Building

Going Ghent-ly into that good night: how ZWE’s Network-Wide Gathering had our eyes set on the future


After three whirlwind days in Ghent, Zero Waste Europe’s Network-Wide Gathering (NWG) Europe was both a marathon and a sprint — a full-on yet infinitely energising experience that left us all more optimistic and charged to strive for a true zero waste society.

This NWG, over 60 of Zero Waste Europe’s members and staff flocked en masse to Ghent to represent their country and organisation as leading voices on zero waste matters. The air was thick with anticipation and the delicious aromas of sustainable catering! 

Setting the scene – how far we’ve come

The backdrop for our discussions were our 2022 manifesto “New Energy for Europe” and our “Pledge for a zero waste Europe” ahead of the upcoming 2024 European Parliament elections. Both these initiatives have strengthened and firmly cemented Zero Waste Europe as a top player in the environmental arena for years to come. Not so long ago, the idea of a Global Plastic Treaty was seen as utopic; today, it’s a tangible reality, negotiating its fourth round in Ottawa – the same is true for zero waste. This is a testament to how quickly change can come when we dare to imagine and act.

The three days were harmoniously complemented by open spaces— ’blue sky’ thinking zones where any issues important to our members were up for debate. That’s where we hashed out not just the what and the why, but the how of our future strategies. From tackling bio-waste to reimagining our collaboration with journalists and academics, the NWG buzzed with potential. Our open sessions brought out the creativity and commitment of all attendees. At the end of the Gathering, our vision board was a vibrant testament to the diverse ideas and shared goals within our network, packed with insights and pledges for future action.

Zero Waste Europe Network Wide Gathering 2024 Open Spaces Incineration

Learning from each other  – storytelling and study visit  moments

But our NWG is also a synonym for sharing victories, achievements, and lessons learned through storytelling moments from the network. 

The storytelling moment by Janine Röling and Maïté Liekens from the newly rebranded Fair Resource Foundation (formerly Recycling Netwerk Benelux) stands out. They shared their journey towards redefining their identity to align with the fairness of resource distribution, wellbeing protection, and planetary boundaries. Their recent bold move? Establishing a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) for textiles — a sector notorious for its environmental footprint. Their efforts are revolutionising how stakeholders view and handle textile waste, increasing transparency and governance.

Ambily Adithyan, the Regional Zero Waste Cities Officer for Asia Pacific with our global network GAIA, shared insights into zero waste cities across Asia, highlighting campaigns against incineration and the pitfalls of fast fashion driven by companies like SHEIN. Her dedication to preventing European waste from polluting Asia was a poignant reminder of the global impact of our local actions.

Ambily Adithyan, the Regional Zero Waste Cities Officer for Asia Pacific with our global network GAIA, at Zero Waste Europe Network Wide Gathering Ghent 2024

Another highlight moment came from Marta Beltran and Rezero, who discussed the New Period Programme, spurred by a Zero Waste Europe and Break Free From Plastic manifesto on single-use menstrual products. This initiative aims to break taboos and push for menstruation-friendly infrastructure, proving how grassroots movements can influence high-level policy changes. As a result, Catalonia is quickly becoming the global leader in menstrual dignity, offering reusable products.  

Vanja Cicmil from Zero Waste Montenegro recounted The Chedi’s journey toward zero waste accreditation, from branded glass water bottles to ambitious waste separation targets. Despite challenges such as high staff turnover, their story is a beacon for the hospitality industry.

Last but certainly not least amongst our storytelling moments, Za Zemiatas Danita Zarichinova brought us a powerful story from Bulgaria about their legal victory against an incinerator in Sofia. This success story was not only a victory for the environment but also highlighted the strength of legal and community action.

The NWG’s learning expedition in Ghent had us assemble at Let’s Save Food!, an organisation dedicated to distributing food surpluses to those who need it, thus supporting the local community while preventing food waste. Next, we saw first-hand the mammoth task of washing reusables onsite at a facility called Groep Intro, part of Wash-it, which cater to festivals like Gentse Feesten – one of the largest city-wide cultural events of the year – to wash and dry reusable cups and other materials in a safe and budget-friendly way.

Zero Waste Europe Network Wide Gathering Ghent 2024 Let's Save Food!

Zero Waste Europe Network Wide Gathering Ghent 2024 Wash-it ACW

Preparing the future – and making it zero waste

To set our ambitions and goals for the future, we embarked on a visioning exercise with an imaginative twist.  We metaphorically hiked through a large illustrated landscape of mountains and valleys, representing our ambitious goals and the challenging political terrain ahead. Our focus turned sharply towards the political future, represented (just to name one example) by the upcoming European Parliament elections. With possibly shifting political winds approaching, our conversations underscored the need to go beyond reactive actions, and to learn how to navigate new contexts and proactively set the narrative. This visual journey was not only a fun engagement but also a strategic mapping of our aspirations. We aimed to set realistic, motivational goals for the next 2-3 years, emphasising stronger engagement with Northern European cities.

We also held our Annual General Meeting, where, among other things, our members approved our financial accounts for 2023 and our provision budget for next year. We also re-elected our Board member Antigone Dalamaga for another three-year mandate on the ZWE board! 

Zero Waste Europe Network Wide Gathering Ghent 2024 Board vote

Leaving with our hearts and heads full

At the end of these three days, the energy in the room was palpable. We shared stories of success and challenges, learned from each other’s experiences, and recharged our collective determination to push for a zero waste future. The discussions and decisions made over these three days in Ghent have not only strengthened our network but have also paved the way for innovative solutions and bold initiatives across Europe and beyond.

Our time in Ghent reminded us all that, while the road ahead is challenging, it’s also ripe with opportunities. Through creative storytelling, strategic partnerships, and relentless advocacy, we’re not just part of the conversation—we’re leading it.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to build and empower our network, ensuring that zero waste isn’t just an ideal, but a reality for all.