The waste gap in Spain: The difficulties of the new law for municipalities

Conama has published a report entitled “Waste management. The opinion of the technical specialists”, which synthesises the perception of municipalities on the objectives of the Bill on Waste and Contaminated Land for the Circular Economy, which is currently going through the Senate.

This pioneering study analyses the results of a survey carried out by Conama’s technical committee entitled “Experiences on selective waste collection”, in which 220 Spanish municipalities participated. The document, which for the first time reflects the opinion of technicians, takes a look at the different stages of municipal waste management and highlights the gap between the objectives set out in the regulations and the needs of localities.

In the area of planning, the report reveals that only 19% of the municipalities surveyed have a prevention plan, just 25% have a comprehensive management plan and only 5% a municipal circular economy plan. The report also highlights the support amongst municipalities for the introduction of a specific municipal waste tax to cover the real cost of operations, with 93% of respondents in favour. On a practical level, 48% say they have a waste management fee but that it does not cover all costs.

Organic waste: the most difficult to treat for 60% of municipalities

In terms of collection and treatment, 60% of the municipalities surveyed consider organic waste or bio-waste to be the most difficult to treat. The new law stipulates that separate collection of this waste must be implemented by June 2022 in localities with more than 5,000 inhabitants and by December 2023 in the remainder of municipalities. However, 45% of the participating localities are of the opinion that this will not be achieved before June 2022 and 34% feel that it will not happen before the end of 2023.

The legislation will also require the implementation of new separate collection and treatment of textile waste, used cooking oils, hazardous household waste and bulky waste (furniture, household goods, mattresses, …) by 2025. According to the study, only 30%-40% of municipalities see this target as achievable, depending on the waste type.

In the area of prevention, the study highlights the reduction of the weight of waste as another of the objectives of the new law. 60% of municipalities believe that this will not be achieved by 2020 and 31% feel that it will not be achieved by 2030. In contrast, just 16% of municipalities believe that this objective will be met and this figure only rises to 33% in respect of achieving the objective by 2030.

80% of municipalities need more resources

To meet these objectives, most of the municipalities surveyed (80%) consider that more human resources are required to plan, implement and manage; 79% called for more material resources such as containers, vehicles, etc.; 66% believed more resources were needed for training and skills building and 52% called for improvement of their waste collection points.

The conclusions of the report also include proposals such as the creation of new systems of extended producer responsibility, i.e., a mechanism financed by waste producers themselves that would assume responsibility for the collection and treatment of waste; increased funding through subsidies and closer collaboration between public authorities.