Many Spanish local town halls have made an effort to improve waste management, however, lots of the waste collected ends up in landfills.
Howe are we doing in Spain?
In the last ten years, the recycling of urban waste has only increased three points, according to Eurostat, which puts Spain far from the objective of the European Union (EU) to recycle in 2020 half of all the garbage generated by households and small companies. But various municipalities in this country are already exploring new ways to successfully manage the waste that they generate. These are some recent examples.
According to the latest data from the community statistical office, regarding 2017, only 33% of all urban waste is recycled in Spain. This means that we are 13 points below the EU average, and in the back waggon, alongside our inseparable pals, Greece and Portugal. Germany, which recycles 66.7% of their garbage, Slovenia (57.8%), Austria (57.7%), Belgium (53.7%), Italy (47.7%), Denmark (46.3 %) and France (42.9%) lead recycling efforts at the community level.
In the same way that progress in sustainable development is not homogeneous in Spain, the level of awareness about waste separation is very uneven. The Basque Country and Catalonia are at the top of the class in this area, although the collection methods vary according to each province. One of the latest initiatives, in this regard, has recently been carried out by the Biscay City Council of Zamudio, which will sanction the neighbours that deposit more waste in the grey container, where the rest of the unclassifiable waste is left. On the other hand, compensation, those who recycle more garbage will enjoy bonuses.
How is it possible to find out? Some will ask. Are there municipal officials who snoop in our garbage to know if we recycle or not? No. no big brother will be watching but almost. There is a citizen card with a chip that exists in several municipalities of the Basque Country which allows us to know if a neighbour or a specific family does or does not do things well when managing their waste. It is a card with a built-in chip that serves to open the containers, one similar to that of Social Security or public transport. When the chip passes through the reader, the container opens, the user who has thrown the trash is registered and afterwards it is easy to know who does it well and who does not: who generates more garbage and who generates less.
What is intended by the Zamudio City Council initiative is simple: those who does not recycle will pay more. And it has its logic, because nobody conceives today to pay a fixed rate of water or electricity regardless of consumption. It is not the same to consume 10 litres than 10,000 and that, according to experts, should also be reflected in the waste rate.
Door-to-door garbage collection system
Also in the Basque Country, Usurbil, a Gipuzkoan municipality located just 10 kilometres from San Sebastian and belonging to the Community of San Marcos, has earned a deserved reputation for doing things well in waste management. In this community, made up of 10 municipalities, almost 80% of household waste ended up directly in the landfill. To turn around the situation, the door-to-door garbage collection system was implemented.
How does it work? First, street containers disappear, with the exception of glass containers. Each neighbour has a hook or a kind of hanger on the street to hang their garbage, which is collected according to a calendar. For example, organic matter is collected three alternate days a week; light packaging, two days a week; paper and cardboard, one day a week; and the rest of the waste, one day a week. Each family must keep the garbage in their house until the day of collection. According to municipal councillors, urban waste recycling has been achieved in excess of 80% thanks to this selective method, also implemented in 196 municipalities in Catalonia, another autonomous community with awareness of recycling.
More good examples of urban waste management
In Catalan territory, 42% of the waste is already collected separately. 295 municipalities, approximately one third of the municipalities of Catalonia, reached a selective collection of more than 50%.
In the Balearic Islands, the Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils, for example, walks in the direction of paying more who throws more garbage. It is what is called payment per generation. The same as stated in the new Integral Waste Plan of the Valencian Community. The environmental authorities of this community include as novelties the systems already mentioned door to door or the use of personal cards with chip. With the mandatory implementation of a total implementation in January 2021, these new collection systems will be carried out in populations with more than 50,000 inhabitants.
Outside Spanish borders, it is mandatory to remember some success stories. Milan (Italy), for example, was the first major European city where door-to-door waste collection was implemented. In this case, two days a week the organic matter is collected from the waste in recyclable bags that are placed in a container in each building, while another two days are dedicated to collect the rest in transparent bags in another container of a different colour. Plastic, paper and glass waste is collected on separate days, once a week.
Also in Italy, in Parma, this system is applied, with the addition that a variable rate is incorporated depending on the garbage that is deposited in the equivalent to our grey container (other waste). This same scheme applies, for example, in Munich (Germany).
Reasons to be alarmed
Back in Spain, some authorized voices, such as that of the Association of Urban Waste Energy Valuation Companies, indicate that most of the landfills in our country are “in a borderline situation and reaching the top of their capacity” without the local councils and local governments take sufficient measures to stop spills and their serious environmental impact.
Of course, it will not be due to lack of legislation. Already in 2015 the State Plan for Waste Management Framework (PEMAR) was approved. Among its priority goals, it announced the need to recycle half of all urban waste and reduce municipal waste to 35% by 2020. The reality, however, is not very accommodating. Spain achieved its best recycling figures in 2008. In that year, 40% was recycled and 52% of all urban waste generated was transferred to landfills. Twelve years later, we have not been able to improve that statistic.