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News Managing waste between struggles and headways: the case of Spain

Managing waste between struggles and headways: the case of Spain

In one of our last articles, we explored waste management in Greece, one of the nine countries involved in the project. Today we want to examine the concrete state of the art of waste management in Spain, another of the countries involved in the SYMSITES project.

How could SYMSITES help waste management technologies in this country? Which are the most urgent problems this country is facing today relating to waste management? Which are the challenges that SYMSITES will concretely tackle?

The root of the problem: current state of waste management in Spain

Consumption is constantly present in our lives and plays a fundamental role in the current economic system. This system is leading to a high consumption of raw materials, and, with each passing year, the day of the Earth’s overcapacity is reached sooner, that is, the date on which humanity’s demand for resources for exceeds what the Earth can regenerate during that year, entering into an ecological deficit

In view of this situation, it is vital that waste becomes part of a circular system and is converted into raw materials, as well as is essential to guarantee the existence of a good management system that allows for a correct industrial-urban symbiosis (I-US).

Spain is in seventh position among the EU countries with the highest waste recovery rates. According to data collected by the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE), in 2020, 64% of the country’s total solid waste was treated in recovery operations: 55% in recycling, 5% in landfill operations and 4% in energy recovery. The remaining 36% was landfilled.  However, if we talk about municipal solid waste (MSW), the percentage of recycled waste in 2020 decreases to only 39%, with 48% of waste ending up in landfill without prior selective separation.

The most widespread waste management system in Spain at the municipal level is street containerization for household separation. This means that the different waste fractions are separated at home and deposited in containers located in the street in an orderly and separated manner for subsequent collection and treatment. However, this system does not yet meet the EU target of only 10% of municipal waste ending up in landfill by 2035, with a recycling target of 65%.

With regard to urban wastewater treatment, in Spain only 85% of the populations with more than 2000 equivalent inhabitants are treated, which leads to serious non-compliance with the European directive.  

It is in this context that projects such as SYMSITES favour the development of new technologies that make it possible to combine wastewater treatment with solid waste, both from urban and industrial sources, thus facilitating municipal management systems and guaranteeing compliance with European objectives.

A gaze into good practices on waste management

However, there are silver linings, too!

In recent years, other municipal waste collection systems have been introduced in Spain: pneumatic systems, commercial collection, clean points, and door-to-door collection. All of them are a twist on containerized collection, as they are differentiated ways of collecting waste in underground containers, centralized at points with access code or small containers in the shops themselves.

Whit the exception of the pneumatic system, all other systems have the advantage of being able to control how the waste is disposed of, thus increasing the success of differentiated sorting. This control is carried out by adding unique codes per household, digital codes for entry at collection points or QR codes or similar for small commercial or household containers in door-to-door collection.

An example of a highly efficient model of waste management in Spain could be the service that FOVASA provides in the small town of Pedreguer. The system of waste collection points implemented in this town is a pioneering proposal that consists of the provision of closed and guarded facilities where residents deposit the waste of the different fractions. In addition to this, door-to-door collection has been introduced, thanks to which the organic fraction now accounts for more than 40% of the waste collected separately, whit an exponential increase month by month.

Undoubtedly, a new way of collecting municipal waste is possible; a way that is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Projects such as SYMSITES will contribute to improving waste and water management in the country, as it willbe a great opportunity to generate collaboration between citizens, companies, and public entities. In the case of the Spanish EcoSite, SYMSITES will show and raise awareness among the population on how a correct separation of the organic fraction can contribute to a correct management and recovery of waste, allowing the conversion of a municipality into a generator of products instead of a generator of waste.