A win-win solution is out there!

Brussels Green Week 3-5 June 2014: “Waste should not exist!”


The 14th edition of the Brussels Green Week, organized by the European Commission and focusing on the theme of “Circular Economy: Saving Resources, Creating Jobs” (www.ec.europa.eu/greenweek), was a real highlight. During my tenure as Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention on hazardous wastes (2007-12), one of my main aims was to help get waste recognized as a serious global problem rather than being relegated to the bottom of the international environmental agenda. Not an easy task at the time. Nor was it easy to make the case for waste being a potentially valuable resource if properly managed – and thus being turned from a problem into a solution. At the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, the notion of a Green Economy met with skepticism.

Opening session

Opening session

Against this background, it was uplifting to hear European Commissioner Janez Potocnik state, in his opening speech, that “waste should not exist” – because in a circular economy, resources could be renewed forever. Perhaps a somewhat overly optimistic outlook, but one that shows that opinions, in places where it matters, have indeed evolved in the two years since Rio+20.

Putting the week's theme into practice

Putting the week’s theme into practice

The Commissioner portrayed transition to a circular economy as the logical choice for Europe – a resource-poor, densely populated part of the world with an ageing society – in competing on the global market. The notion that this is not only about “doing the right thing”, but also makes good economic sense, was echoed by other speakers. Hearing thought leaders from across Europe and other parts of the world talk about why and how to make a circular economy a reality made me feel optimistic – given that such a concept would have been seen as belonging in dream land not all that long ago! And given my work to bring waste management up on the international agenda, I was actually delighted to hear several speakers note that “a circular economy is not only about waste management”: for once, waste was taking too much of the center stage! Small miracles happen in international sustainability policy, even if they are not the kind that make the headlines.

Waste recycling as a Saturday family outing in my home town in Switzerland (population 12'000)

Waste recycling as a Saturday family outing in my home town in Switzerland (population 12’000)


Author: kummerpeiry

The way forward is often blocked by endless discussions without decisions, or sabotaged by premature actions. Both end in frustration and waste. As a natural negotiator, I give exploratory discussions, concrete decisions and structured action plans their due place. This has been key to my successes throughout my career, both as a leader and when sitting at the negotiating table. I actively listen to others in order to enhance my perspective and understanding of the bigger picture. Innovative, unconventional ideas and methods are part of my toolkit when seeking solutions everyone can live by. In tense situations, a touch of humour can shift the space and work wonders. My passion and current professional focus is to find that win-win solution: industrial development that will protect the environment and create jobs, turning wastes from a problem into a solution. Both, I believe, are entirely possible - if the negotiation is managed right. I am at my best when communicating, building relationships and solving problems. My extensive experience in multi-cultural environments has convinced me that treating people as individuals rather than parts of a system gets the best results. I find that inspiring and motivating others supports them in achieving excellence.

3 thoughts on “Brussels Green Week 3-5 June 2014: “Waste should not exist!”

  1. Dear Ms, Katharina,

    I am Kritika Singh, a MSc. carbon management from the University of Edinburgh. I really like your post on zero waste and having a circular economy. However, in a developing economy, even though we do have focus on waste minimization, our main focus has been first to promote waste segregation because no matter how many discussions we have, as urbanization increases and economy develops, waste generation will increase. So I guess, even though the concept of circular economy sounds like a dream scenario, its scope is limited to developed countries. For others, we need to promote WTE, segregation at source and most importantly training and awareness. Our organization has been actively involved in many awareness programs, and to our surprise half the municipalities in India are not even aware that waste can be used as a resource !


    • Dear Kritika,

      Many thanks for your comment! Yes, I very much take your point – the reality in developing countries and emerging economies is quite far removed from this “dream scenario” . The Brussels Green Week was focused on promoting a circular economy in the European Union, and was therefore tailored to the European situation (and there too, it has yet to become reality!). However, there are people in developing countries who recognize the value of of wastes: informal recyclers and “waste pickers”. They make a living from resource recovery from waste, although the conditions in which they work are not always safe and environmentally sound. It is encouraging that there are projects ongoing to improve these – carried out by governments, companies, research institutions, and NGOs, mostly in a partnership approach. A long way to go still, I agree – but I find it encouraging that there are people who believe in this “dream” enough to organize a conference about it!


  2. * A MSc. Carbon management graduate from University of Edinburgh, currently working with National Solid Waste Association of India.


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