Setting sights on zero waste
If you had to guess which European capital is top of the recycling leaderboard, it’s doubtful “Ljubljana” would spring to your lips. Slovenia’s biggest city scored gold in green credentials when it became the first in Europe to commit to going zero-waste — and it’s well on its way to achieving that aim. In 2004, all of Ljubljana’s waste ended in landfill. Today, 68% of its waste is recycled. By 2025, at least three-quarters of its rubbish will be recycled.
The initiative began with the separate collection of paper, glass and packaging in roadside bins. Then the city collected household biodegradable waste. As a result, there is now 80% less waste going into landfill. To encourage residents to reduce, reuse and recycle, the city adopted a policy of “waste management made easy”. To this end, it invested in an upgrade of its waste infrastructure, including a waste management centre — the most modern waste treatment facility in Europe.
The centre processes the biodegradable and residual waste of one-third of the country’s population. It also processes 150,000 tonnes of mixed waste, and 20,000 tonnes of biowaste each year, creating 30,000 tonnes of raw, recyclable material, 60,000 tonnes of fuel and 7,000 tonnes of compost. The electrical energy and heat energy from the biogas produced in the process is reused directly in the facility. At the end of the process, just 5% of residual waste ends in landfill.
As well, more than 50 underground collection units have been established across the city. More are planned. Underground collection units mean easier rubbish disposal for young people, the elderly and disabled; tidier streets with less vandalism; less noise from rubbish collection; and fewer unpleasant smells.
Recycling also features prominently and has proved especially popular, with one centre receiving more than 1,000 visits a day. Items that are in good shape are resold at the centres at low prices; there are also workshops that teach residents how to mend broken things. The facilities also feature upcycled furniture in its offices to demonstrate to citizens the creative value of reuse.
Business is also in on the act, with zero-waste and package-free stores popping up across the city. Authorities are also working with restaurants in a bid to reduce food waste. Director of the Ljubljana Regional Waste Management Service, Janko Kramzar, says: “Sustainable development and sustainable orientation is not an obstacle to industry and retail — quite the contrary.” It is important, says Kramzar, that citizens and visitors alike also participate in ensuring a sustainable lifestyle. “I am talking about thoughtful consumption, the purchase of fair and non-commodity products.” Kramzar walks the talk and plays his part, and was living sustainably before it was fashionable: “I'm still very excited when I fix something myself. But it is also true that I find it very difficult to discard anything.”