Satarem, a French company, proposed to the government of the Arkhangelsk region their services in handling the waste to be transported to the Shies site at the border to the Republic of Komi (see more here). However, landfilling and incineration are both harmful to the environment, argues Jörg Adamczewski, a Board Member at Zero Waste France.

The approach to waste in the European Union is guided by the waste hierarchy: This is the cornerstone of the European waste legislation that ranks ways of handling waste from the least desirable (landfilling and incineration) through the acceptable (recycling and reuse) to the optimal way – the waste prevention.

Landfilling – along with incineration – is at the bottom of the waste hierarchy, because of its multiple negative impacts:

  • wasting resources and materials in the waste that could be recycled or reused;
  • methane release from organic waste;
  • generation of a toxic liquid (leachate) from the contact of water with the waste;
  • use of precious land for an unpopular and often smelly activity.

While modern landfill sites try to capture methane and leachate, they are never perfect enough to eliminate the environmental impact.

The waste hierarchy has been transposed to the French environmental law and serves to guide public and regulatory action, even if not always consistently implemented. As an example, the general tax on polluting activities is charged on any waste delivered to a landfill or an incinerator to incentivise more favourable approaches to waste.

Waste prevention, reuse and recycling are what the French government has been increasingly focusing on. The Law on the Energy Transition of 2015 and the Circular Economy Law (currently being debated in the Parliament) aim to advance reuse and recycling, e.g. by making a separate collection of biowaste for composting to become obligatory from 2025 and by bringing back the bottle return systems.

The communal zero waste approach – with Italy as its pioneer, when municipalities work with their citizens to reduce the amount of residual waste produced is gaining more and more traction in France. This year the French Prime Minister started his political agenda after the summer break with a visit to one of these pioneer towns, Roubaix. There he was focusing on the topic of waste reduction and circular economy.

While there are still over 230 landfill sites for communal waste in France, there is a broad agreement between central and local governments, environmental associations and industry on the need to phase out this method of the waste treatment, with a legal objective of a reduction to 50% by 2025. The priority now becomes to not replace it with similarly bad approaches like incineration of waste-derived fuel but to move up the waste hierarchy towards reuse and, in particular, waste prevention.

Jörg Adamczewski first became active in the environmental movement in the early 1980s when as an adolescent he spent his spare time working for a society for the protection of seabirds. He has since volunteered for different environmental NGOs in Germany, the UK and France. From 2007 to 2015 he led the waste group of Friends of the Earth Paris. In 2009/10 he represented Friends of the Earth in the Commission advising the French Environment Ministry on the transposition of the Waste Framework Directive into French law. Since 2015 he serves as a trustee in the Board of Zero Waste France with a particular interest in waste advocacy.

A biochemist who obtained his PhD in the team of the future Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt, Jörg Adamczewski currently earns his living in drug safety.