10 Jul 2024

Written by

Nanna Cornelsen

#MeetTheTeam – Jack McQuibban

Meet the TeamZero Waste Europe - general

It’s time to discover and learn more about the people behind Zero Waste Europe’s work and magic! In addition to the ZWE Changemakers series, where you can learn more about our member organisations, we invite you to get a closer look at our staff, what they do, and what inspires them to work for a zero waste future.

This time, we sat down with Jack McQuibban, our Head of Local Zero Waste Implementation, who has been at Zero Waste Europe since July 2019.

How did you come to join Zero Waste Europe?

I was working for an environmental organisation in the UK coordinating our advocacy campaign at the UN, where I first met #BreakFreeFromPlastic (BFFP) and Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) colleagues working on plastic prevention targets at the UN Environment Assembly.

After this, I watched and supported ZWE from afar for several months, before successfully applying for my previous role of Zero Waste Cities & Communities Programme Coordinator. This meant moving from London to Brussels, which fitted perfectly in with the Brexit timing, as it meant still being able to move to the EU with equal rights… sadly something which is no longer possible! 

What motivated you to work for better implementation of zero waste strategies at the local level?

The creation of waste is one of the clearest symptoms of our broken system. The lack of value that we place on natural resources within societies, where quick, cheap things are the priority, is visualised so clearly by the bags of waste left on our streets, the tonnes of plastic in our ocean and the plumes of emissions coming from incinerators.

I’m a positive person and want to focus on the solutions to today’s problems though – which I believe should be led and channelled through the power of local communities to lead change themselves. Given all this, the chance to work for ZWE and its members on the zero waste work locally was one which seemed perfectly aligned with my own values.

What would you say is the most interesting part of your job?

Two things I very much enjoy and appreciate. First is the technical support I get to provide cities on improving their waste management, which means geeky discussions on waste management and data analysis, which I both love probably too much. Second would be the fact I get to work closely with and learn from so many inspiring individuals within the ZWE network who work tirelessly in their communities to push forward change.

These efforts often do not get the attention or recognition they deserve, yet they are so important and the fact that I can play a tiny role in helping amplify and expand these kinds of projects is something I’m extremely grateful for. Our State of Zero Waste Municipalities Report is the greatest document we have to showcase this local work all in one place.

What would you say is your greatest professional achievement while working at ZWE?

I’m proud to be able to say I was part of the core team that designed the world’s first Zero Waste Cities Certification, which is now our main vehicle for elevating our local zero waste work to the next level.

Click on the image to see the full map.

In general, with this kind of work, my successes are supporting the successes of our members. Therefore I am proud of the fact we have been able to expand the resources we’re able to provide ZWE members in joint projects/campaigns, with more local groups and individuals now supporting just under 500 European municipalities to implement zero waste solutions. Today, our work covers 16 million people in Europe.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in your work?

The current paradox and challenge is that in order to tackle the magnitude of the crises we face, we really need to be ambitiously looking at our resource use and reducing this, through greater measures on what and how we produce materials. Yet too often at the local level, we are still in a battle to convince individuals of the benefits of recycling over incineration – and within the EU today we are still not meeting the minimum requirements set for recycling municipal waste.

So the key challenge for us right now is how we do support and empower more cities to look holistically at our material use, whilst also getting more knowledge and resources available locally to improve the basics of proper waste management.

What is an aspect of your work that you find fun?

The people I work with make the job fun, for sure. Most probably too many memes and GIFs are shared… Then on a personal level, I love the opportunity to get into the depths of how zero waste solutions are being implemented. Having a couple of hours to explore reports or data-filled KPIs in order to pull out some key recommendations on how things can be improved is my idea of a fun afternoon at work… which makes me sound like the least wild person, I acknowledge. 

In your view, what actions are needed to get all cities and municipalities across Europe to adopt zero waste strategies?

  • Stronger legislation from the EU that increases the required level of ambition and performance on waste prevention (through reuse targets, residual waste generation per capita cap).
  • More accessible funding, both from the EU and also private investors, for cities to build and implement the right solutions. With a supportive monitoring framework established that clearly lays out how cities can monitor the performance of their zero waste policies
  • A moratorium on increasing Europe’s waste incineration capacity. Currently, it is too much and yet certain industries are still proposing to build more. We should say no more capacity, so local authorities and national governments are incentivised to begin their transitions towards systems that reuse and recycle much more. 

Looking ahead, which developments or priorities will you be focusing on in your work?

The current political landscape is shifting in favour towards groups that refuse to acknowledge the complexity and urgency of the environmental challenges we face. People believe we are going back to 20th century-style big power-play politics, yet with climate change and the growing threat posed by AI, this world still requires global cooperation like never before.

Whilst we can not directly influence the global picture, we can build successful examples at the local level of what communities can collectively do to reduce their waste, and build a thriving local economy that’s centred on a relationship in harmony with nature. These successes may feel small in each community. Yet it is our job to connect these local puzzle pieces and turn them into a continent-wide picture of change. 

Practically speaking, in the short term our priorities are:

  • To get local bio-waste systems performing effectively across the majority of the EU;
  • To showcase how municipalities can start taking immediate action on waste prevention, with a strong framework in support of collecting data and showcasing impact;
  • To provide municipalities with clear guidance on how to manage the legislative gap between being required to separately collect textiles from 1 January 2025 until textile EPR systems will be mandated across the EU from 2027.

Want to learn more about Jack and his work? You can reach out to him at [email protected]