Webinar: Ljubljana, first Zero Waste capital in Europe

On March 2nd, we had the honour to hear from Ms. Zala Strojin Božič, Circular Economy Manager for the City of Ljubljana, about Ljubljana’s transition strategy to a circular economy.

Ljubljana’s sustainability story began in 2007 when the Vision 2025 was prepared with 3 strategic development goals one of which being Sustainability. While working towards this goal, already # over 2,400 sustainable projects have been carried out and the city has received numerous awards including the prestigious European Green Capital in 2016.

The main driver behind developing the vision is to provide the best services for the citizens and improve quality of living. Waste management is recognised as just one topic within the broader picture of Circular Economy, and begins with thinking about the lifecycle of a product: whether something is needed or not, the materials it is made of, what kind of product one wants to create, deciding if it is single use or to be reused, where it will be produced, how it will be distributed and whether it can be repaired or reused. After having considered all these aspects, waste management comes into place with collection and recycling.

The Zero Waste Strategy from 2014 has been updated and evolved into the Circular Economy Strategy adopted in January 2022 which now includes 1) Innovation, which examines design and production, and 2) Reuse and sharing, both of which require creativity. The strategy aims to work within planetary boundaries and to include everyone.

At the core of a circular economy is consuming less and in the most optimal way and along with the environmental and economic aspects, the social aspects are also very important. One of the main targets in the strategy is, for solutions to be local, affordable and based on innovation and creativity.

In this way a Circular Ljubljana is an ecosystem for quality living. At the base of this, is the orchestration of processes and communication with the public and the various stakeholders while building on three pillars:

  1. Being a role model, working with decision makers so that the public employees are taught about circular economy, what it is, its principles and creating challenges for them so that they can practically experience and engage with circular solutions.
  2. Assembling value chains – collaboration between departments and to be as multidisciplinary as possible, while trying to manage the City in a different way.
  3. Knowledge experience and exchange – adapting solutions to the local environment.

All three pillars are interconnected through innovations and by creating or enabling new solutions and business models with the aid of digitalisation and communication.

The Strategy for 2021-2027 aims to build from existing initiatives and over 80 different stakeholders have taken part in its design. It is guided by two levels of goals, starting with the strategic goals of reducing the amount of waste in the four priority areas identified: reduction of plastic, textile and food waste and increasing the sharing and reuse of electrical and electronic equipment. These are to be met through operational objectives that state more specific target reduction percentages by 2027.

Among these are decreasing the amount of packaging waste from households and service activities by at least 15% and at least 80% less of bio waste to be disposed in a container for mixed municipal waste compared to 2019. It also aims to collect separately at least 50% of household textile waste and for at least 50% of electronic and electrical equipment purchases to be through circular economy principles such as renovated items or rental. It is also aimed to increase waste separation at sporting events.

In order to reach these goals the municipality itself already follows circular economy principles in its day to day operations, such as for example using hygienic products made from repurposed tetrapaks. Another example is by purchasing or renting renovated electrical equipment and using renovated or upcycled furniture across the municipality premises. Furthermore, employees are invited to take part in circular initiatives and challenges. One of these is an exchange market, where employees of the municipality can bring in unwanted items and exchange them for others.

The citizens of Ljubljana are also encouraged to take part in different initiatives and projects. One initiative that aims to promote responsible consumerism is the Library of Things, where citizens can rent various items for the home, garden, sports and more.

Initiatives also aim to combine circular economy principles with encouraging young people to acquire new skills. In one project, city buses not being used were repurposed by young people with guidance from mentors into mobile youth centres for the more remote areas around the city where workshops are now held.

The Sustainable Incubator run by the youth centres aims to help anyone with a good sustainable idea to develop it further through mentorship on creating a business from planning to implementing the idea.

Other projects examine environmental issues related to alien plant species and tiger mosquitoes. Alien plant species used to be burned or turned into compost but now there are 65 different ways these can be processed into something useful. For the mosquitoes, citizens were asked to bring empty containers lying around in gardens or balconies as these become a breeding site due to trapped water from rainfall. In exchange citizens are given plants that repel the mosquitoes. These are all but a few examples of the many initiatives aimed at engaging citizens into a circular economy mindset.

The Circular Based Waste Management project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation – eeagrants.org.

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