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HOW COULD THE WASTE RECYCLING SYSTEM CURRENTLY IN OPERATION IN BARCELONA BE IMPROVED?

The inhabitants of Barcelona are producing larger and larger amounts of waste materials, but their selective reclamation and recycling rate is still very low. The new "Programa MetropolitÓ de Gestiˇ dels Residus Municipals" (Metropolitan Programme for Handling Municipal Waste Materials) is aimed at reclaiming 60 per cent of the city's waste materials by the year 2006, whereas the present reclamation rate is less that 10 per cent. This is therefore an important challenge in terms of public management which includes an outstanding problem that still needs working on : the reclaiming and processing of organic matter. Joaquim Ochoa, the official presently in charge of special action guidelines at the "Direcciˇ de Serveis de Neteja Urbana" (Office of Urban Cleaning Services) within Barcelona City Council; journalist Antonio Cerrillo; and Joan Salabert, member of the "Centre d'Ecologia i Projectes Alternatius" (Alternative Projects and Ecology Centre) in the Municipal Waste Disposal division, propose to analyze that particular problem the solution of which requires the participation of the whole community : citizens, city councils and companies.


The selective collection of waste materials in Barcelona
by Joaquim Ochoa, head of the special actions division
in the office of urban cleaning services at the city council of barcelona.

The production of "MWM" (Municipal Waste Materials) seems to show a tendency towards stabilization over the last years, whereas it had experienced a 50 per cent increase in weight and a 85 per cent increase in volume during the decade of the nineteen eighties. In 1999, urban refuse collection reached 1,17 kilograms per day and inhabitant, i.e. a quantity that amounts to 429 kilograms per year. Nevertheless, we have to take into account the presence of non-resident populations, staying either regularly or sporadically in Barcelona, that generate part of those waste materials.

Considering the present lack of appropriate state legislation on waste reclamation, the City Council of Barcelona, making use of its legislative prerogatives, voluntarily developed a system popularly known as "selective collection", deciding about the different types and amount of waste materials that ought to be reclaimed depending either on demand or on their potential for being processed into marketable products. The City Council and the citizens of Barcelona put into practice the systematic collection of glass containers in 1982, that of paper and cardboard in 1986, that of metal and plastic packing (Tetra Briks, etc...) in 1990 and, some time later, the selective collection of so-called "green waste", i.e. vegetal residues from food markets that can be used to make compost.

Therefore, we can say that both the City Council and the population of Barcelona have pioneered this kind of "on site" selective waste collection system.

Now, recently passed new laws have altered the situation. In effect, the European Union has promulgated specific standards and measures the enforcement of which is compulsory for all member states. As a result, the Spanish Parliament has passed the "Ley de Envases y Residuos de Envases" (Packaging and Packaging Waste Disposal Law) and, subsequently, a set of related practical regulations. On the other hand, the Catalan "Generalitat" autonomous goverment has proceeded to adapt and update their own "Programa de Gestiˇ de Residus Municipals" (Municipal Refuse Handling Programme) by including a specific clause on packaging.

Those laws not only establish a clearly defined system of selective collection for packaging waste, but they also consider the handling of organic waste and the measures that should be taken to minimize the amount of waste materials generated at the manufacturing sites.

The rubbish selective collection system which has now been adopted throughout Catalonia is the same as the one that has already been running in Barcelona for some time : a system based on the existence of specific rubbish dumps to be used by the citizens on a voluntary basis - also known as "Punts Brossa Neta" (Clean Rubbish Spots) -, each of which is comprised of three igloo-shaped rubbish containers in three different colours : green for glass, blue for paper and cardboard, and yellow for lightweight packaging.

Thanks to the collaboration of the citizens, there has been a steady increase in the amount of waste materials collected through this system.

The amount of selectively collected glass waste was of 13.908 tons in 1999, which shows a 10,5 per cent increase in weight over the previous year. 1.640 specific glass waste containers have been placed in the streets of Barcelona.

It is the selective collection of paper and cardboard, which started in 1986, that has experienced the most spectacular increase (even though it was not as sharp in 1999 as it was in 1998). 24.317 tons were collected last year, which amounts to a 49 per cent increase. (...) The number of available paper and carboard waste containers is now of 1.603.

The lightweight packaging collection system pioneered by the City Council and the inhabitants of Barcelona in 1990 has reached 5.392 tons in 1999, which amounts to a 27,4 per cent increase in comparison with the previous year. There are 1.588 lightweight packaging waste containers in the streets of the city.

Where the collection of bulky objects and pieces of furniture - either collected "door-to-door" or deposited at specific places called "Punts verds" (Green Spots) - is concerned, it reached 19.395 tons in 1999. The rubbish deposited at these "Green Spots" (i.e. rubbish dumps where the citizens can leave unwanted things and waste materials, including special ones) amounted to 8.344 tons in 1999, which shows a 19,2 per cent increase over the previous year. At present, there are four large "Green Spots" in operation in our city, respectively situated at Collserola, Vila OlÝmpica, Montju´c and Vall d'Hebron.

The amount of organic "green waste" intended for composting and collected from Barcelona's different municipal markets has experienced a 97 per cent increase and reached 2.700 tons, including the waste from the areas where a mobile pneumatic collection system is in operation. (...)


Recycling, an outstanding problem
by Antonio Cerrillo, journalist

Is the total amount of municipal waste materials recycled in Barcelona really sufficient ? Could we recycle larger amounts of rubbish ? How could that be achieved ? These are not easy questions, but I shall try to give a personal answer on that issue. Let's proceed stage by stage.

My opening remark is that, in effect, the percentage of municipal waste reclaimed through selective collection and recycling is very low in Barcelona : approximately 5 per cent or, if we handle figures in a more generous way, up to 8 per cent, including the vegetal waste resulting from tree pruning operations. But this is not a situation exclusive to the city of Barcelona. Practically the whole Metropolitan Area shows very low percentages in terms of reclamation and recycling of waste materials.

There are many explanations for that situation, and the first one is that the citizens are not even given the opportunity to co-operate in the reclaiming process of the most important fraction of the amount of refuse generated by their city : organic matter (in this case, organic compounds from kitchen rubbish), given that there are no specific containers for depositing this kind of waste in the streets.

There is no sound justification for the fact that the people of Barcelona are prevented from co-operating in the selective collection of organic waste when, on the other hand, they can play an active part in the reclamation process of other waste materials such as glass, paper and cardboard, or lightweight packaging.

So, which are the whys and wherefores of this situation ? In Barcelona, like in other cities throughout Spain, the local authorities have often been prompted to develop environmental policies on the basis of initiatives from the corporate world. Enterprises from the private sector (mainly the paper and glass industries) have in fact pioneered and fostered waste recycling processes, either because they were basically interested in obtaining waste materials that could be treated and reused as raw materials in their industrial processes, or simply because they wanted to take anticipatory action before the introduction of official guidelines about packaging materials and packaging waste disposal.

The result is that, where waste materials are concerned, no municipal environmental policy has ever been really designed and planned on account of the priorities of the municipality. This explains why, in Barcelona, there is a whole network of special rubbish dumps for the selective collection of glass, paper and cardboard, and lightweight packaging (tins, Tetra-Bricks and plastic containers) while no arrangements have been made for the disposal of organic matter. The separation of inorganic materials (glass, paper and cardboard, plastic) has been steadily and effectively fostered in Catalonia by the city councils and the "Generalitat" autonomous government over the last years. This is a good thing, of course. But that does not prevent me from considering that the recycling of kitchen waste is still an outstanding problem that needs working on. We should not forget that this kind of waste could serve to make composts that would be very useful to fertilize farming land, restore soils and quarries, or simply regenerate areas that have been badly affected by the loss of fertile soil and a process of gradual desertification.

From 1999 onwards, the "Ley de Residuos" (Waste Disposal Law) passed by the Parliament obliges large municipalities to set up an organic waste selective collection system. Catalan town councils have had six years to ensure that the new waste disposal regulations are properly obeyed. Nevertheless, very little - not to say practically nothing - has been achieved in the implementation of those rules. (...)

The result is that little progress has been made to date in the field of organic waste recycling. The situation is not much better where inorganic waste materials (more specially used packaging) are concerned, which is in large part due to the lack of public campaigns aimed at making people more environmentally conscious as well as to insufficient finance to extend municipal collecting services given that the funds transferred to the city councils (from either EcoenvÚs or Ecovidrio) together with the "ecotax" payable on lightweight containers and packaging do not cover the costs which the installation of special containers and transport services entail. (...)


A service in a process of transformation
by Joan Salabert, member of the municipal waste disposal division
at the "alternative projects and ecology centre"

(...) In ecological terms, the generation of waste products can be equated with a constant output of materials which are expelled by urban systems. Within the framework of this environmentally minded approach, the handling and processing - i.e. the "management" - of waste materials along with the pollution of the atmosphere, soils and waters associated with those products, constitute (who would have guessed so ?) one of the most important elements in the global management system of the city itself.

The city of Barcelona is producing larger and larger amounts of rubbish. In 1999, it generated 769.659 tons of municipal waste materials, which amounts to approximately 1,4 kilos per day and inhabitant. Approximately 9.58 per cent of urban waste materials were reclaimed through a process of selective collection. The sheer quantity of those waste materials entails an important problem in terms of urban management; however, the biggest stumbling block the city is faced with is that the large municipal dumping ground located in Garaf has practically reached saturation point while the refuse incineration plant at Sant AdriÓ del Bes˛s is currently working at a such a rate that its capacity is being stretched to its limit.

On the other hand, recent experience has showed us that we cannot merely rely on the use of dumping grounds or refuse incinerators if what we want to find is a real solution to the current "waste crisis" as a whole, in all its social, economic and environmental dimensions.

The current dumpimg grounds and, above all, the incineration plants for municipal waste materials - which also require a special refuse dumping place - now appear as facilities that, from a technical as well as conceptual point of view, can only be of service for a transitional period. The challenge we are now facing lies in ensuring that this transitional period is as short as possible, and our principal objective is to neutralize the so-called "refuse crisis" by combating the very root causes of it, first by reducing the amount and toxicity of waste materials, then by reclaiming and recycling them so that they might be reintroduced into the productive circuit and used as resources.

As a way to face up to this challenge, the city councils in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area have attempted to carry out a "Programa MetropolitÓ de Gestiˇ dels Residus Municipals" (i.e. Metropolitan Programme for Handling Municipal Waste Materials). This metropolitan programme, which is currently being revised, establishes that, by the end of the year 2006, 60 per cent of the total amount of municipal waste materials should be reclaimed through a selective collection system and subsequently recycled. Therefore, the city of Barcelona ought to increase its refuse reclamation rate from the current figure of 9,58 per cent up to 60 per cent. This large-scale plan includes three differents courses of action, which all require the active involvement of both the city council and the citizenry in a special collaborative effort.

  • The selective collection and subsequent reclamation of organic matter from urban refuse has to be developped. This is the most important and innovative step forwards where waste handling is concerned.
  • Efforts should be made to maximalize the reclamation of paper and cardboard, glass and other light packaging waste materials (plastic, metal, Tetra-Bricks, etc...).
  • Measures should be taken to make the return of special waste materials to the shops possible and, at the same time, develop the current waste disposal services. These measures would serve to ensure that waste products of a problematic nature are properly handled and treated.

(...) In accordance with the PMGRM, ("Metropolitan Programme for Handling Waste Materials"), the municipalities of Molins de Rei and Castellbisbal have already extended their own selective waste collection services to organic matter in the whole of their respective municipal districts. Many other town councils have started to implement a similar system in some sections of their areas.

Everywhere, public response has been positive and, for many citizens, separating and helping to reclaim that environmentally distinctive fraction of household refuse has become everyday practice. When organic matter is separated from other waste products quickly enough, many of the problems caused by mixed household refuse are neutralized. The separate collection of organic compounds from domestic waste is therefore our first and most important objective. (...)