Nearly three years after the project was launched in Tenerife and coordinated by the Government of the Canary Islands, it is now reaching its end what called for a Final Conference in Brussels in order to present the key findings, results and achievements but also personal stories and experiences. And what a Final Conference it was …
The wonderful, cosy and welcoming Balsamine theatre in Schaerbeek turned out to be the top choice for the Conference venue and for welcoming the 155 registered participants. Titled “Waste Management in Tourism. Does It Even Matter?”, the Conference indeed attracted a large number of participants interested in this field of applied waste management. With an incredible team that was put on disposal by the theatre, the Conference received all the necessary attention and support it needed for all the transitions between different sessions of the day and all the events happening parallel to the Conference itself.
The Conference host, Erneszt Kovacs of ACR+ – the project partner responsible for the organization of the Final Conference welcomed the 110 participants to the theatre which was turned into his improvised living room for a day. After a very short explanation why this Conference was taking place, he invited Michelle Perello of Consulta Europa, the mastermind behind the project to explain the audience its background and objectives that led to the creation of the URBAN-WASTE project 4 years ago. On behalf of the host city – Brussels Capital Region in this case, the Conference was officially opened by Fadila Laanan, the region’s minister for waste management and scientific research. Two more outstanding women completed the lineup of the keynote speakers – Silvia Bertran of the Government of the Canary Islands as the project coordinator and Francoise Bonnet of ACR+ as the Conference organizer, both highlighting and stressing out the importance of cities and regions cooperating on various emerging topics such as waste management in tourism and joining in European networks and associations such as ACR+.
The rest of the morning was reserved for the results, outcomes and observations made and achieved during the project by the more technical project partners. Prior to these, Marie Yeroyanni came to the Conference on behalf of the European Commission in order to present how URBAN-WASTE fits into their existing strategies and objectives and how such a project contributed to their goals. She also presented potentials for a follow up through other European programmes and project calls. Gudrun Obersteiner laid the basis for the rest of the session by reflecting on urban metabolism principles and the impact various tourism processes have on the URBAN-WASTE’s 11 pilot cities and regions. Together with her team at BOKU University and the Institute for Waste Management, they also reviewed the environmental impact the developed measures had in these pilots. Erik Louw of the Technical University in Delft looked at another aspect of tourism – the impact tourists make themselves and the way the perceive waste management when on holidays. His presentation and findings were enriched by the intervention of Susan Buckingham, the project’s gender auditor who broke down these results into gendered realities in both tourism processes but also waste management practices in the pilots. Javier Lopez Murcia closed the session by presenting how the pilot cities and regions organized themselves, mapped the local stakeholders and brought them together in Communities of Practices which served as platforms for community-based decision making and the development of various measures and strategies.
The afternoon had a completely different format, as the presentations were replaced by thematic debates around 4 topics which had been picked up by the most of the pilots to be dealt with. Each debate had its own facilitator, mainly external to the project but very much linked to and knowledgeable about the topics of the debates. This is how 4 experts in their fields – Milosz Momot, a Deputy Head of Unit at Tourism, Emerging and Creative Industries at European Commission’s DG GROW, Sotiris Raptis, Senior Policy Advisor for Environment and Safety at the European Sea Ports Organisation, Jean-Benoit Bel, a Senior Project Manager at ACR+ and Olle Jonang, NECSTouR’s Executive Committee member ended up moderating the four debates on IT solutions in waste management, Waste at seas, Food waste and Hospitality sector, respectively. The thematic debates served as an opportunity for the pilots to present what they did, the way they did it and the impact the measures had in their communities. The debates were enriched by even more interventions from external guests including Martyn Griffiths of the Cruise Lines International Association and Christian de Barrin of HOTREC, the European Association of HORECA establishments. The pilots also brought their own local stakeholders such as WTB Hotels from Florence, the Copenhagen – Malmo Port, Hotel Tigaiga and Hotel 3K Lisbon.
Another feature of the Final Conference that attracted as much attention as the Conference itself was happening outside the Amphitheatre of Balsamine. Thanks to Kmille and DaddyCookiz, two talented artists from Liege, Belgium, the participants could spend their coffee breaks and the lunch break around upcycling workshops and making music on the most random everyday items, such as keys, vegetables or our own bodies. Many participants left the Conference with a brand-new wallet, notebook or other travel accessories made of secondary material.
Based on the feedback from participants, their emails which are arriving in dozens or the messages and impressions which echoed in the theatre hallway the URBAN-WASTE Final Conference can be easily considered as more than successful, as it managed to keep a large number of participants until the very end of the day and especially as it was proven to be different from any other Conference in Brussels the local audience is used to attend.