Article written for the special issue of Waste Management & Research by Jacobo Moreno Lampaya and Mario Grosso

As D. José Ortega y Gasset said, “clarity is the courtesy of the philosopher.

In the current era, the compartmentalization of knowledge and extreme specialization have led us to a Babel in which the jargon of specialists hinders understanding of technologies by people not immersed in emerging fields. And this leads to the paradoxical result that misinformation on subjects such as waste management, often fuelled by amateur discussions in the social media (posing as expert opinion), is becoming more widespread.

Environmental experts within industry, including waste management professionals, are no exception.

As waste management specialists we have a huge responsibility to inform the rest of the society of the importance of best practices and to explain the solutions we can provide. Therefore, the idea of the sharing of experiences and possible applications has to reach a communicative clarity that can influence citizens, interest the media and energize politicians and legislators to action.

Otherwise, efforts to protect our environment in the face of increasing population and consumption tend to encourage emotional appeals by well-meaning but typically poorly informed citizen-prophets. Too often good-sounding, but impractical and too-costly ideas are adopted by responsible institutions that crowd out practical solutions, saddling society with merely symbolic regulations and actions. Scattered initiatives of cleaning the beaches have to be applauded since they carry a very important educational message and attract the attention of the media, but again the real focus must be on “simply” tackling the problem at the source; i.e., reducing the generation of solid waste.

To this end, there is no doubt that prevention must sit at the top of any waste management hierarchy, but this cannot be used as an excuse to delay or even avoid the construction of a proper waste treatment infrastructure as long as wastes are indeed being generated in our communities. Waste can be and often is in fact both (a) a source of raw materials for industry, and (b) energy that must be integrated within other economic activities. With a proper and advanced waste management system, positive impacts on the environment can be achieved, contributing to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the waste sector is going to play a crucial role in the wider circular economy paradigm, supporting and driving all efforts towards a better design of products for their reusability and recycling, after the original products are deemed no longer usable by the consumer.

For ISWA’s World Congress in Bilbao, ATEGRUS (Asociación Técnica para la Gestión de Residuos y Medio Ambiente) and ISWA have introduced a practice to use more inclusive terms. For example, instead of the traditional landfilling, recycling or waste-to-energy topics, the Congress has been structured around more mainstream and trending issues.

The Congress articulates the conference contents around the following four main topics:

  • • Sustainable cities,
  • • Social Innovation,
  • • Climate Change, and
  • • Marine Litter.

This conference structure was adopted to inherently explain how our activities are closely interconnected with other sectors of the economy and society at-large, and how they can contribute to mitigate some of the major environmental problems we face.

The Congress is also forum for involving producers of consumer goods that are trying to figure out how to recover value in their manufacturing supply chain and to minimize the generation of waste at every step in the life of their products.

Basque people have a long history of dealing with scarcity and management of resources. They are probably one of the oldest cultures in Europe, preserving the only non-Indo-European language in the EU. The Basque Country has been strongly linked to the sea. Indeed, this year is the 500th anniversary of the Ferdinand Magellan expedition (first circumnavigation of the globe), a major milestone of world history. One of the expedition’s few surviving boats was led back to Spain by Juan Sebastian Elcano, who was born near Bilbao.

From the 19th century Bilbao was an iron mining and manufacturing city, well known for shipbuilding. It was then affected by the major economic crises in the 1970’s and 1980’s like many other similar cities, but has since emerged as a centre of intellectual and highly skilled industries, with great impact on the development of information and technology and other advanced services. Bilbao’s ISWA World Congress in 2019 will showcase the 4th industrial revolution driven by networking and the availability of Big Data that is processed into valuable information thanks to the increasing power of machine learning (artificial intelligence).


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