Biowaste in the framework of the circular economy

For some time now it has been repeated to the point of almost being a mantra that the key to the future of waste management in Spain is biowaste. However, time and time again such observations have not had visible effects. The real situation is made up of a number of different facets and it is impossible to address the challenge without considering them as a whole, but also individually.

The best data available, which does not always coincide with the official figures, shows that around 37.5% of municipal waste is biowaste. In simple terms, three principal sources of this waste can be identified: domestic waste, waste generated by large waste generators, and pruning and garden waste.

When planning for the future, it is vital to make a correct diagnosis of the present. An error in the diagnosis will inevitably lead to a fiasco in terms of analysing prospects. To date, the most audacious studies indicate that biowaste from large waste generators accounts for 25% of total municipal biowaste. I say the most audacious because in reality there are few studies of sufficient weight to enable comparison. Nonetheless, the latest serious and reliable study, undertaken by the Catalan Waste Agency, puts this figure at almost 45%. A further 5% is biowaste from pruning and gardens and the remaining 50% is domestic waste. These statistics are vital because they must, of necessity, be the cornerstone of any strategy and they do not coincide with the figures currently being put forward.

This strategy requires a large number of boundary conditions which, though they might seem to be of secondary importance, are in fact vital if successful results are to be achieved. Firstly, in order to achieve recycling rates of 65% —envisaged in the new circular economy package for 2030— it would seem impossible not to implement segregated collection of biowaste on a general basis and the great doubt that arises is how to pay for this. First of all, there should be differentiated treatment so that citizens who generate little waste and separate it properly pay less than those who generate a lot of waste and fail to separate it. This can only be achieved with a comprehensive, transparent refuse bill of the “pay as you throw” type. Luckily or unfortunately, lagging behind those at the “top of the class” amongst EU Member States in the area of recycling and recovery has the advantage of enabling imitation of what they have “invented”. And it has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, that the only valid instrument to have a profound effect on prevention and recycling results is the “pay as you throw” approach to refuse charges. It is absolutely impossible to take giant steps towards achieving the 2030 targets with the current system of refuse levies in Spain.

Another general doubt is what to do with biostabilised waste, which due to an introspective definition in Spanish waste legislation, remains outside any possible circuits of use. Since, as far as the Spanish government is concerned, biostabilised waste in not compost of any type, be it good or bad, there is no provision for its use. It cannot be used for anything and this is absurd. Throughout the European Union, the product of a composting process based on mixed waste is called compost, except in Spain. This is not to say that the regulations governing the use of top quality compost and biostabilised waste are the same. But operators confirm that a great deal of the biostabilised waste produced at their facilities complies with the standards and characteristics of type B compost. It is inexplicable that a country in which a large part of the land is eroded or desertified does not have a plan that permits the use of this compost as an organic fertiliser, when, although it may not be of premium quality, it is of sufficient quality for such use.

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Carlos Martínez Orgado. Honorary President of the Foundation for the Circular Economy

Article published in: FuturENVIRO December 2015