What happens after our waste is collected?

José María Menéndez

For many citizens, the problem of waste ends as soon as their waste is collected from their homes. What the public does not know is that in Spain above 50% of the waste is dumped in a landfill, a figure very far away from the most advanced EU countries.

There are many comparative charts that show for each country the % of waste that is recycled, energy recovered or landfilled. The format of the attached chart by Professor Nickolas John Themelis, from the Columbia University, New York, allows us to contemplate the alternatives of waste management through a simile with a curtain that closes a window to prevent light from entering. According to this chart, in order that we do not get any light in, the first thing would be to reduce the width of the window (i.e. reduce the waste generation), the next thing would be to close the recycling curtain (increase the green section in the chart) and finally we would close the curtain by means of energy recovery (increase the red section in the chart). The final goal, the important thing, is to reduce the brown section in the chart.

These waste management alternatives must be combined taking into account local conditions and seeking the best service to citizens and the environment. However, the dogmatism and the short-sightedness of some political leaders has led us on many occasions to opt for utopian or unadequate solutions, against technical and economic criteria, or for doing nothing at all; the usual outcome is that the curtain does not close and the light pours in through the window. That is, the brown section is the biggest and the waste reaches the landfill at unacceptable rates.

ISWA is an international association, based in Vienna, whose declared mission is to promote and develop professional and sustainable waste management worldwide. One of the 10 working groups of the ISWA is dedicated to Communication and Social Affairs on waste management. This working group aims to raise awareness the public to be able to “close the curtain” and prevent, or at least dramatically reduce, the % of the waste that is dumped in landfills.

Citizen awareness and many other issues will be discussed in the ISWA 2019 World Congress, to be held in Bilbao, organized by ATEGRUS (national member of ISWA in Spain) at Euskalduna Palace, between October 7 and 9, 2019. One of the reasons why the 2019 Congress will be organized in Bilbao is for the combination of infrastructures that have placed Biscay as a world reference regarding waste management.

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