Spanish Cabinet sends Waste and Contaminated Land Bill to Parliament to drive circular, low-carbon economy

For the first time in the history of Spanish legislation, the Bill sets out limitations on single-use plastics. It establishes restrictions on the use of such plastics for certain products, a tax to prevent the generation of waste single-use plastics and consumer information obligations. The draft legislation sets more ambitious targets for the preparation for reuse and recycling of municipal waste and establishes a timetable for the implementation of separate collection for streams such as biowaste and textile waste, amongst others. It also envisages a tax on landfilling and incineration with a view to reducing these treatments as much as possible and to promote prevention, reuse and recycling. The Bill, now being debated by the parliamentary groups, will replace the previous 2011 Act and will transpose the latest European Union Directives on these issues into Spanish legislation. 

The Spanish Cabinet, on the proposal of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO), has sent the Waste and Contaminated Land Act to Parliament. The text, which will now be debated by the parliamentary groups, reforms the current 2011 Act in order to comply with the new guidelines and waste targets set out in the EU Directives associated with the Circular Economy Package, and in the Directive on single-use plastics.

“This Act is the cornerstone of all legislation associated with the Circular Economy Package and represents one of the most important structural reforms contained in Component 12 of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan that Spain has submitted to the European Commission”, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera.

In line with the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy (España Circular 2030), the proposed legislation seeks to protect the environment and human health, facilitate efficient use of resources by reducing the overall impact of their use, and promote a circular, low-carbon economy in Spain, with a view to achieving an emissions-neutral country by 2050.

RESTRICTIONS ON SINGLE-USE PLASTICS

To achieve this objective, the Bill transposes the targets set out in the 2018 Waste Directive and the Directive on single-use plastics. For the first time in Spanish legislation, it places limits on these products, restricts the placement on the market of some of them and imposes a tax on non-reusable plastic packaging in order to facilitate waste prevention.

There will be further restrictions on single-use plastic products such as beverage cups, including lids and caps, and containers of food intended for immediate consumption. The production of these products must be reduced by 50% prior to 2026 and by 70% prior to 2030, with 2022 as the baseline year. 

In order to meet these targets, all actors involved in placing products on the market will promote the use of reusable alternatives or other non-plastic materials. From 1 January 2023, free distribution of such products will be prohibited, and a price must be charged for each plastic product delivered to the consumer. Moreover, this surcharge must feature as a separate item on sales receipts.

The Bill also introduces measures to reduce the use of other non-compostable plastic articles not covered by EU legislation (single-serve articles, plastic rings and plastic sticks) and replace them with products made of other materials.

The new legislation will also prohibit the placement on the market of a number of other plastic products such as straws, cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, any product made of oxo-degradable plastic, and plastic microbeads of less than 5 mm.

The Bill also sets out design requirements (e.g., caps and lids with plastic seals must remain attached to the container, PET bottles must have a 25% recycled plastic content by 2025 and all beverage bottles, including PET bottles, must have a recycled plastic content of 30% by 2030). In addition, the Bill sets out separate collection targets for plastic bottles for 2025 and 2029. 77% and 90% (calculated by weight) of plastic bottles placed on the market must be separately collected by 2025 and 2029 respectively. It also sets targets for products such as wipes or feminine hygiene products, the development of extended producer responsibility schemes for these products, and the implementation of awareness-raising measures to inform consumers of the negative environmental impact of such waste and how it should be correctly managed.

WASTE PREVENTION 

The legislation gives a leading role to waste prevention by including concrete, quantifiable targets. A 13% reduction in the weight of waste produced must be achieved by 2025 with respect to 2010 waste production figures and this target will subsequently be increased to 15%. These targets come in addition to the current target of a 10% reduction by 2020.

The Bill also provides for actions against food waste, with the aim of achieving a reduction in food waste per capita of 50% in households, retail outlets and the hospitality sector (hotels, restaurants and cafeterias), whilst reducing food losses in production and supply chains by 20%, in accordance with the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In the area of prevention, the new legislation will prohibit the destruction of unsold surpluses of non-perishable products, such as textiles, toys and electrical appliances, amongst others, unless these products must be destroyed in order to comply with other regulations. Such products should be destined for reuse where possible. The deliberate release of balloons will also be banned when the Act comes into force.

SEPARATE COLLECTION AND RECYCLING

Of particular significance is the establishment of a timetable for the implementation of separate waste collection for the recovery of new streams, in addition to the separate collection systems currently in place for paper, metals, plastic and glass.

Separate collection will be extended to household biowaste, from 2022 for municipalities with populations of over 5,000, and from 2024 for all other municipalities. Textile waste, used cooking oils, hazardous household waste and bulky waste must be separately collected from 2025 onwards. Construction and demolition waste must be sorted by material, preferably at source, from 2022 and selective collection of C&D waste will be imposed from 2024.

The Bill also sets more ambitious targets for preparation for reuse and recycling of municipal waste. Recycling rates must be increased by 5% every five years in order to achieve a rate of 65% by 2035. These recycling targets incorporate specific preparation for reuse targets, for which a 2035 target of 15% has been set. 

PREFERENCE FOR NON-BOTTLED WATER

In order to reduce the consumption of packaging, establishments in the hotel and catering sector must always offer consumers, customers or users of their services the possibility of consuming unbottled water free of charge, as an option to complement any bottled water alternatives they might offer.

Moreover, public administrations must adopt the necessary measures to reduce the consumption of bottled water on their premises and in other public spaces, by promoting sources of drinking water in conditions that guarantee hygiene and food safety, and by supplying water in reusable containers. Nonetheless, the sale of water in single-use containers will be permitted in health centres.

ECONOMIC INSTRUMENTS AND INCENTIVES

The Bill reinforces the waste hierarchy, which establishes the order of priority for waste management options: prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling, other types of recovery (including energy recovery) and, as a last option, disposal. It does so by imposing a tax on the incineration, co-incineration and landfilling of waste, and obliging local authorities to develop a specific, differentiated public fee or property fee associated with the waste management services they provide. A two-year deadline has been set for the introduction of this fee, which must not take the form of a tax and must cover the costs associated with the provision of the service. 

The new legislation also urges authorities to introduce other measures to provide incentives, such as pay-as-you-throw systems and the use of public procurement to promote the implementation of reusable, repairable and easy-to-recycle materials.

Compliance with the waste management hierarchy is of key importance in transforming the current system. Indeed, the MSW recycling rate has been gradually increasing and stood at around 35% in 2018 (most recently available figures) but it is still well below the EU 2020 target of 50%. This means that we are failing to avail of a large part of our resources in a context in which raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.

EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY (EPR)

The Bill reforms the regulatory framework for extended producer responsibility to bring it into line with EU legislation. It explicitly sets out the obligations that can be imposed by Royal Decree on product producers, including the deposit return system, and defines the waste management costs to be financed by producers as well as the control mechanisms for individual and collective EPR schemes. 

This new legislation will require a review of all regulations governing EPR schemes by 2023 and envisages the enforcement of EPR schemes for textiles, furniture and fixtures, and non-packaging agricultural plastics within three years of the Act coming into effect. It also envisages the regulation of EPR schemes for products such as wipes, balloons or fishing gear by 2025.

CONTAMINATED LAND

The Bill also regulates contaminated soils and maintains the previous legal framework in terms of potentially polluting activities, notification and declaration procedures, contaminated site inventories and the determination of the parties responsible for the decontamination and recovery of soils. A new aspect of the legislation is the creation of the National Inventory of Voluntary Decontamination of Contaminated Sites, which will compile data from regional registers.

“The pandemic has shown that the circular economy, i.e., the capacity to design, innovate, reuse and repair, recover and recycle, to put resources back into the economic cycle and into the value chain, is an insurance policy and a safeguard against global crises like the current one and, foreseeably, others that will come sooner or later”, pointed out Teresa Ribera. The Deputy Prime Minister added that “the Waste and Contaminated Land Act seeks to do away with the unviable linear production and consumption model that we have been locked into for too long”.