Larger towns across Malaga province are preparing to add a fifth type of refuse container to the four colours already in the streets: a brown bin for organic (mainly food) waste.
They have two main reasons for the change. The first is that they are obliged to by law, according to Spain's Ley de Residuos that has just come into force.
Although the European Union (EU) has set its deadline at 1 January 2024, the Spanish law says that separate collection of bio-waste must start before 1 July this year in towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants. The 1 January 2024 limit will then apply to the rest of the country's towns and villages, to comply with the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) passed in 2018.
And their second reason for getting the brown bins out now is that there are European funds made available by the Junta de Andalucía to finance the purchase of new containers and collection vehicles, the construction of treatment plants and the launch of awareness campaigns to inform the general public of the changes.
So what has to go in the new brown bins? Biodegradable and organic waste. This refers basically to food scraps, such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables or coffee grounds and tea leaves. Organic waste also includes used paper towels or serviettes that are stained with grease or oil (clean ones would go in the blue, paper, bin). Anything else that cannot be recycled in the existing yellow, blue and greens bins must go in the grey bin as usual.
Yellow Metallic containers (tins, drinks cans, foil trays, aerosols), milk cartons and plastic containers (bottles that contained water, cleaning products or shower gels, frozen food bags, margarine tubs and yoghurt pots, white polystyrene trays, plastic wrappers and plastic bags).
Blue All containers made from cardboard, such as boxes that contained biscuits, cereals or frozen foods, shoe boxes, cardboard egg trays and all types of paper (newspapers, books, magazines and paper bags). Dirty serviettes and paper towels will have to go in the new brown bins.
Green Any glass bottles, cosmetics and perfume bottles and jam and other preserves jars must go in the green bin. Bottle tops should go in the yellow bin if they're plastic or metallic and corks go in the brown bin. Light bulbs, crockery, mirrors and ceramics must go to the recycling centre (punto verde).
Brown Fruit and vegetable peel scraps of meat and fish, eggshells, seafood shells, nutshells other food waste, coffee grounds, tea leaves, wine corks (without added plastic or other materials), matches and sawdust, dirty kitchen paper and serviettes and small amounts of garden waste.
Grey Anything that cannot be separated and recycled in the other coloured bins must go in the grey bin. This includes sanitary towels, cotton buds or wet wipes, kitchen utensils, toys and any glass, plastic or metal items that are not containers or packaging.
Barring exceptions such as Vélez-Málaga and Ronda, which already have brown bins on their streets, the majority of the 28 municipalities in Malaga province with registered populations of over 5,000, could well find it hard to meet the deadline.
They are confident, however, that the new ruling limits itself to laying down the obligation to establish separate collection of bio-waste, but does not specify whether it refers to starting to implement the new system gradually or whether it has to be available in every district of a town or city.
In fact, the law does not stipulate a number of containers per inhabitant; and so councils are assuming it means the system can be brought in gradually.
In Malaga city the council plans to launch an informative campaign as an initial step before putting the first brown bins on the streets, alongside the yellow ones (for plastic packaging and cans), green (for glass), blue (for paper and cardboard) and grey (for everything else that cannot be recycled).
Limasam, the city's refuse collection company, aims to start using brown bins in Teatinos and Parque Litoral, two neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of young residents who, in general, are more aware of the need to recycle. The system would then be rolled out across the rest of the city during 2023.
What the new law for the whole of Spain does make clear is that the percentage of municipal waste collected separately in 2035 must be a minimum of 50% of the weight of the total waste produced. This obligation would only be waived in the case of separation being technically unviable or involving disproportionate financial costs.
To accelerate the implementation of the bio-waste system, the regional minister of Agriculture and Sustainable Development has set up two lines of financial aid with a budget of nearly 61 million euros from the Next Generation EU recovery funds.
The first, 37.1 million, is aimed at local authorities that provide the waste collection service in populations of over 5,000 to set up or improve the separate collection of bio-waste.
In the province of Malaga seven individual councils have applied for these grants (Malaga city, Benalmádena, Torremolinos, Rincón de la Victoria, Nerja, Ronda and Torrox) as has the provincial consortium that deals with refuse collection in Cártama, Archidona, Mollina, Alameda and Villanueva del Trabuco. In total, subsidies of more than 4.5 million euros have been applied for.
The second line of aid available, worth a total of 23.8 million euros, is intended to finance projects to build, adapt and improve specific facilities for the treatment of bio-waste.
In the case of the city, the council hopes to use funds to contribute 1.6 million euros to its four-million-euro project to set up a plant at the recycling centre in Los Ruices, where the bio-waste would be turned into compost and sold for use in gardening and agriculture.
This would avoid sending the organic waste to the landfill site that only has a few years of life left, if the current rate of disposal continues.
Similarly, the consortium has applied for four million euros to set up a new line to separate waste at Valsequillo, the recycling plant in Antequera.
A total of 28 municipalities in Malaga province have more than 5,000 inhabitants and therefore must bring in the brown bin before 1 July. They are: Alameda, Algarrobo, Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Álora, Antequera, Archidona, Benahavís, Benalmádena, Campillos, Cártama, Casares, Coín, Estepona, Fuengirola, Malaga, Manilva, Marbella, Mijas, Mollina, Nerja, Pizarra, Rincón de la Victoria, Ronda, Torremolinos, Torrox, Vélez and Villanueva del Trabuco