Regular WasteAM readers will know that I recently went to the European Youth Meeting for Sustainable Development 2011 in Tallinn, Estonia. I was selected as a UK delegate to participate in a working group on waste management, helping to shape a declaration which will be submitted to the Rio 20+ international environmental summit taking place in 2012.
Now, I will be honest with you. I could write some self-promotional prose, gushing about how inspiring the conference was and how lucky I was to take part in it. It is sometimes very tempting to write about news that way, as you won’t offend anybody. But in this case I’ll speak my mind.
All the interesting content of the 5-day conference could have been compressed into two days. Too much of the conference was wasted on pomp and ceremony with a lot of time wasting in between sessions. There wasn’t much substance to the 9-hour days; just a lot of waiting around for someone to give a speech.
It was more of a youth conference than a sustainable development conference. They seemed more interested in getting you to sign up to future youth caucuses (a sort-of play politics) than actually exploring the environmental issues suggested by the conference title, in any meaningful depth.
The waste management working group was the single interesting aspect of the conference. I enjoyed sharing ideas and opinions with the other people in the working group. Nobody was expert on the subject (this had its pros and cons) but most were at least waste fanatics, which meant they were enthusiastic about proposing policy ideas that would change our wasteful cultures and squanderous, short-term mindset that wastes resources today and doesn’t consider tomorrow.
I had the expectation that (most) of my European friends would have a more radical standpoint on the waste issue than myself. I found quite the opposite to be true. The outlooks expressed were totally dependent on the nationality of delegate. Those from poorer nations with underdeveloped infrastructure wanted improved recycling facilities. You can keep improving recycling but it doesn’t serve to change the behaviour which causes us to waste a lot in the first place.
Until most people can think beyond recycling, they are unable to think about the bigger picture.
A lot of my proposals didn’t make it into the final declaration (we voted on consensus). Moreover, the policy proposals that make it into the final document are a watered-down version of the things we proposed. This is a missed opportunity – shouldn’t a youth voice be ambitious and distinctive?
There was no consensus to incorporate a policy proposal to prevent rich countries from sending their toxic waste to developing countries. There wasn’t enough in it to make manufacturers accountable for the waste and crap they produce and we buy. We didn’t even discuss industrial waste. We also weren’t bold enough to ban the use of PVC in consumer goods.
I posted our recommendations yesterday and invite your comments! Over the next few weeks I’ll explore our policy proposals in greater depth