Nobody wants to be close to rubbish: it smells bad and is unpleasant. Maybe that’s why, or maybe because it is not a vote-winning matter, the politicians responsible for environmental matters in the province - the Junta de Andalucía, town halls and the provincial government - have no defined strategy to fulfil the targets set by the European Union for reusing, recycling and reducting rubbish by 2020.
By then, at least 50 per cent of paper, glass, plastic and organic waste is supposed to be recycled. In Malaga, as in Spain as a whole, it is about 30 per cent. The province is even further from meeting the targets for reducingthe amount of rubbish which is taken to landfill sites: Brussels says this should only apply to 35 per cent, and in Malaga at present the figure is more than 60 per cent.
This grubby reality came to light recently at a day-long conference on ‘The future of urban waste in Malaga province’ which was organised by the Provincial Consortium for Solid Urban Waste and the provincial government, in collaboration with companies in the sector.
The managers of the three urban waste treatment plants in the province -Los Ruices, which is run by Malaga council; Valsequillo, in Antequera, which is run by the provincial consortium; and Casares, by the Mancomunidad de Municipios of the Western Costa del Sol - admitted that it is going to be “difficult” to comply with the European directive.
They also warned that there is no defined strategy to tackle the situation in the future. If the targets set by the EU are missed there will undoubtedly be fines imposed, which the councils will end up paying, and the dumps will also become filled to capacity. The one at Valsequillo has a useful life of 15 years, Casares has 11 and the one in Malaga eight. In Malaga, too, there is little room to continue expanding the tip after that.
“Lack of political direction”
“The landfill sites are already a problem and it is going to get worse because there is no land available,” said Ángel Castillo, from the provincial consortium. He explained that it is essential for the amount of rubbish which is not recycled to be reduced, and that means there needs to be a firm step in the right direction.
What measures can be taken to take this step forward in the direction set by the EU? The main one, according to the technicians who took part in the conference, is to introduce selective collection of organic waste: the famous ‘fifth container’ which has been in use for the past 20 years in Catalonia, where 10 per cent more rubbish is recycled than in the rest of Spain (40 per cent).
The director of the Residue Agency of Catalonia, Josep María Tost, was invited by the Malaga provincial government to the conference to explain how this system was so successfully introduced in his region. In his opinion, the key was in introducing a charge to use the rubbish dump, so that it is cheaper for the town halls to recycle than to take the rubbish to the tip.
“Our policy is that of the stick and the carrot: the money we receive from the charge for using the dump means we can return funds to the municipalities who do best and that helps them to finance infrastructure projects,” he explained.
Selective collection of organic waste (which is used to make compost) is the key to significantly increasing the percentage of recycling, because it represents about 40 per cent of the total weight of a rubbish bag and is very likely to contaminate the rest.
In Malaga province, as there are no ‘fifth containers’, what is currently done in areas where there are composting plants, is to separate the organic waste from the remainder in the grey containers and use it for compost, but this is a costly and ineffective process and the result is low-quality compost because it is inevitably mixed with other materials.
Another way to progress in recycling is to raise public awareness. “We need constant and educational campaigns every single day, in the street and in businesses. It is no good doing one campaign every four years,” said Josep María Tost.
Children are the best way of getting the message across. “We have seen that when we visit schools, selective collection in that area rises by up to 20 per cent,” explained Ángel Castillo.
Another project is also under way to make it easier for hotels and restaurants, the major rubbish producers on the Costa del Sol, to recycle.