Challenges and prospects in industrial and hazardous waste management

Retos y perspectivas en la gestión de residuos industriales y peligrosos

Although years have passed since the European Union first advocated a circular environment, the impact of the economic crisis in Spain has prevented this conceptual framework from materializing into anything concrete, such as green jobs and new environment-related industries. This fact is especially apparent in the industrial and hazardous waste management sector.

2014 was yet another negative year for our sector. The latest figures available to our association are from 2013 and they show that the volume of business fell by 2.4% in that year and has plummeted by over 40% since 2008. Although treatment capacity in Spain for this type of waste is approximately five million tonnes, the fact is that approximately 40% less hazardous waste was treated in 2013 than in 2008. This extremely negative scenario has resulted in a decrease in green jobs of almost 50% since 2008, a far cry from the idyllic job creation figures emanating from Brussels.

It is true that when European institutions speak of the possibility of creating 400,000 green jobs in Europe by the year 2020, they always link this figure to strict compliance with environmental legislation. And it is precisely on this point that Spain continues to fail to achieve sufficient investment in the necessary resources for inspection and control.
The aforementioned deficiencies give rise to increased malpractice and the creation of a black economy that competes unfairly with our sector. Examples of such malpractice include looting at green collection points, the dilution of toxic substances in water, the treatment of industrial wastewater in urban wastewater treatment plants, the mixing of construction waste, treatment of waste at unauthorized facilities, uncontrolled application of waste on agricultural land and illegal waste disposal.
The key areas for the sector were reflected last year in the State Waste Prevention Programme 2014-2020, which sets the ambitious target of reducing the weight of waste generated by 10% between 2010 and 2020. The four action lines set out in the Programme highlight the key elements of prevention: reducing the quantity of waste, reuse and prolonging service life, reduction in the harmful substances content of materials and products, and reduction in the impact on human health and the environment. This programme serves as a starting point for the new National Integrated Waste Plan, which we hope will be embarked on this year and our association will collaborate actively in the drawing up of this plan.

Luis Palomino, Secretary General of the Spanish Association of Hazardous Waste Managers (ASEGRE)

Article published in: FuturENVIRO March 2015