Ljubljana study tour: Waste management and Circular practices

On 31st May project partners visited Ljubljana, Slovenia, the first capital in Europe to make the zero waste pledge, in a study tour to learn about circular waste management and projects promoting practices in line with the city’s Circular Strategy.

Ljubljana’s regional centre for waste management

Our first stop was VOKA SNAGA, Slovenia’s largest company handling water supply, waste water drainage and treatment and waste. Under VOKA SNAGA’s management is RCERO, Ljubljana’s regional centre for waste management. RCERO started operating at the end of 2015 and is the largest environmental project in the country, co-financed by the European Cohesion Fund and taking care of one third of the waste in Slovenia.

VOKA SNAGA is owned by Ljubljana municipality and 6 other municipalities nearby. It collects waste from over 400,000 residents and since 2002 collects paper, mixed waste, plastic, cans and glass and since 2006, organic waste. Each of their waste collection site serves approximately 150 citizens. Door to door collection was introduced in 2013 resulting in a reduction in how frequently residual waste is collected.

Around the city centre there are 80 underground collection units which allow for less space to be used and makes waste disposal more eye friendly. Citizens can order collection for bulky and hazardous waste and they can also take 30 different types of other waste to one of the 2 collection centres at no extra charge.

In 2022, 69,8% of municipal waste was collected separately, this is slightly lower than 2019. They attribute this reduction to the Covid-19 pandemic response, as it had an effect in development of waste services and communication with the public was reduced.

Legislation on waste in Slovenia is in line with EU laws and there are currently around 50 acts issued at the national level covering the various aspects of waste management. VOKA SNAGA and RCERO follow the municipality’s ordinance on waste collection which defines the quantities and frequency of waste to be collected every month as well as the size of the bins including other aspect.

The 4 key elements they consider important in managing waste effectively are infrastructure, communication with the public, legislation and support by the mayor. Good cooperation and support from the municipality is highlighted as particularly important and influencing all elements.

In the road towards the zero waste goal they aim to increase recycling rates to 75% and to reduce the amount of residual waste to 60kg per inhabitant per year.

Payment for waste collection by the citizens is based on the PAYT (Pay As You Throw) system. The price is based on the number of people living in a household and depends on the volume of the containers for residual and biological waste and how frequently it is emptied. For the underground collection units, users have a card and pay a minimum fee plus a fee that depends on how many times they use them. Citizens can log onto an online platform and see how much waste they throw and are billed for.

At the facilities of RCERO, mixed household residual waste is treated by mechanical processes to extract useful materials for recycling or to produce solid fuel. 33,899 tons of biodegradable household waste is also treated per year through anaerobic fermentation which gives approximately 14,500 MW of electricity, 15,000MWh of biogas heat energy and 2,736 tons of high-quality compost which is sold for agriculture.

On the path to a circular economy, VOKA SNAGA do not see their work as waste management but more as material management. Constant communication with the public is seen as vital to achieve the goals and they use a variety of channels to keep the public informed.

They are active at public events, where they have introduced waste separation and prevention measures that are user friendly. Through the initiative Ekošola (Eco school), they hold workshops for kindergartens and primary schools, reaching 8,600 educators and teachers and 100,000 children.

Websites and social media are kept up to date and close and active cooperation with the media is maintained – making news is considered important in raising awareness. Campaigns addressed to citizens are aimed at shifting mindsets and attitudes towards waste. A user support centre is available to citizens and if waste is not disposed of properly, citizens will be notified. If this continues, VOKA SNAGA notifies the municipality which may impose a fine.

They also run a Re-Use centre which includes a second-hand store, sewing room and workshop. Since it was established  four years ago, it has increased the number of items sold per day from 50 to 350.

APPLAUSE project – Tiporenesansa

Among the many initiatives Ljubljana has developed in its path towards a Circular Economy is the APPLAUSE project, which aims to tackle invasive alien plant species. This issue is often missed by public authorities to a degree that invasive alien plant and animal species are costing the EU at least 12,5 billion EUR a year, according to the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

While in earlier days alien plant species in Ljubljana were burned or turned into compost, there are now 65 different ways they can be processed into making something useful. One of these ways has been developed by Tiporenesansa, a letterpress studio and workshop.

They have been using the wood from American maple trees, an alien species for Slovenia, to make wood type used in letterpress printing. Wood type was popular for making typefaces for printing posters, due to it being lighter and cheaper than large sizes for metal type. There were several wood-type manufacturers in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, however today, the art and knowledge of making wood type is limited to two workshops and a museum in the United States and seven across Europe.

At Tiporenesansa, alien plant species are being used as a means to tackle an environmental problem while reviving a lost art. Along with collecting and documenting information from anywhere possible to maintain the making and use of wood type possible, courses are also taught. The task of doing so, is enormous and requires a of time, however, human resources are limited and so volunteers are welcome to help at the studio. So far, volunteers have contributed with approximately 3,000 hours of work. To safeguard the knowledge acquired and ensure it can be maintained for generations to come, Tiporenesansa is also applying to have wood type making listed as an intangible craft.

Ljuba and Drago mobile youth centre

Next, the group visited the Ljuba and Drago mobile youth centre. Ljubljana’s youth strategy by the municipality aims to have a youth centre in all areas. For remote areas mobile centres were designed. When the local transport company informed they had buses they wouldn’t use, the municipality took the opportunity to have these converted into mobile youth centres for remote areas where there is no available building space for a centre. Mentors from creative industries, a carpenter, interior designer and steel construction expert were employed to mentor youth to convert the bus into a youth entre which is equipped with a lounge and kitchen area. It also counts on a green roof to prevent too much heat in the summer. Ljuba and Drago is one of these, and it is stationed in a different neighbourhood each day of the week.

The purpose of the youth centres is to give school children and youth, a space to use their free time creatively. Activities are organised by initiative of the centres and also by request from the children and youth such as sports, movie and music making.

Circular economy practices are also encouraged through DIY and reuse activities, exchange of materials, workshops on upcycling and recycling as well as sustainable events. One such event was disco soup, where food that doesn’t look nice but is edible was collected from farmers and people were encouraged to make different foods with it, bands played music and young entrepreneurs gave workshops on healthy eating. Events also aim to be zero waste such as by using ceramic plates.

The youth centres also offer mentoring to 18-29 year olds that wish to develop an idea for a business.

Library of Things

As the name suggests, the Library of Things is a service similar to that of a conventional library with the difference that one can borrow items they need temporarily or for specific use including power tools, special kitchen appliances (such as a food dehydrator or pasta maker), camping gear, tables, benches and more.

Studies in the US show that in an average household, an electric drill is used for 15 minutes a year. The first library of things opened in Berlin in 2010 and since then, more libraries have been opening all around Europe.

The concept of the Library of Things aims to promote reuse and sharing of items that are not used often, in this way reducing the need for resources in production and making the use of expensive machinery more widely available and affordable.

Ljubljana’s Library of Things opened in 2015 and is the first to open in Slovenia. Since 2021 more have been opened around the country. Membership can be obtained in a number of ways: Users can pay an annual fee or per item borrowed, or they can donate items or volunteer in exchange for membership. There is also a swap service, where people can bring items they don’t want and take others that are useful to them. They also have a catalogue online that people can use to check if items are available and reserve them.

Most of the items they have available have been donated with some high demand items having been bought. The Library of Things is open 3 times a week for 3 hours at after work hours for convenience. They also have a toolkit on how to start such a library they can share with anyone who wishes to start one.

More photos from the tour can be found on the project’s Facebook page here.

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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