Tribute to Julián Uriarte (1934 – 2017), the founder of Ategrus

by José María Menéndez

Julián Uriarte Jaureguízar was a pioneer and a visionary in waste management and urban cleaning. Born in Plentzia, a beautiful coastal town of Biscay, he “behaved” as a plentzian, he lived in Plentzia and he died in Plentzia.

A Doctor Industrial Engineer and diploma in Environment and Urban Works and Services, he worked for decades as a Municipal Services Engineer in the city of Bilbao. Julián Uriarte became an international reference in the waste management industry, to which he devoted practically all of his professional life.

In the 60s Spain was very different from the rest of Europe and waste management in the cities was limited to a manual collection of waste and a transfer to landfill sites; a few incipient road cleaning machines had just replaced the sweepers and their brooms.

Julián Uriarte was sent by the Bilbao city council to learn how municipal waste management was organized in different European capitals. He was the founder of the Technical Association for Waste Management, Urban Cleanliness and Environment (Ategrus), created in Paris, at a time when in Spain it was not allowed to create any association. For almost 5 decades he was President and Executive Director at Ategrus.

Remembering the foundation of Ategrus is to remember a particular way of networking in the social media of the 60s. In 1965 Julián Uriarte was sent by the City of Bilbao to a technical conference on waste management in Versailles. To contact other Spanish assistants, he had the idea of writing a short message in Spanish on a blackboard and hang it at the fence of a café terrace. This is how he got to know other Spanish colleagues attending the conference, who shared their concern to learn about waste management, and this gave rise to the immediate creation of Ategrus.

In the first 80 he served in the newly created Basque Government, coordinating the definition of the Basque institutional framework and the efforts and duties between the provincial councils and the regional government. Julián Uriarte was responsible for the first Master Plans for waste management in the metropolitan area of ​​Bilbao and the provinces of Biscay, Gipuzkoa and Álava (designed based on the criteria of the European Union, which Spain joined in 1986), which were the germ of the current waste management system in the Basque Country.

He worked for 35 years in the City Hall of Bilbao, where he was Deputy Director of Works and Services. At the beginning, he was very limited by the lack of resources, but he soon had the integral vision of modern and efficient waste management systems (collection, transport and treatment), which he was disseminating and promoting along his professional life.

In parallel to his work at the Bilbao City Hall, he was responsible for the development and consolidation of Ategrus, bringing together institutional partners (many town and city halls, waste management consortiums and regional governments), private companies and technicians from the waste management industry, in order to exchange criteria and experiences. Ategrus members account for over 75% of the companies in the sector and institutions that govern more than 30 million inhabitants. Ategrus advises different institutions and for decades has been organizing a lot of conferences (annual congresses, Latin American waste management conferences), awards (Brooms, Beaches, Bioenergy) and publications, observatories …

In the early 1970s Julián Uriarte actively took part from Ategrus in the creation of the ISWA (International Solid Waste Association), an organization of which Ategrus became the Spanish national member in 1974. For many years he was a member and chairman of various committees at ISWA and he promoted the expansion of ISWA in Latin America. In 2009 he was nominated honorary ISWA member.

During his long professional life he managed multiple projects for waste treatment facilities throughout Spain. In his facet of disseminator (always learning and always teaching) Julián Uriarte was Lecturer at the Engineering School of Bilbao, author of many articles on waste management and founder of the technical magazine “Residuos”, a learning reference for professionals in the sector, where the importance of communication and citizen collaboration is constantly highlighted.

A real lover of his hometown, Plentzia, where he lived all his life (traveling daily to Bilbao), Julián Uriarte promoted the creation of a “plentzian lobby”, a group composed of influential Engineers either born or living in Plentzia.

In 2012 he received the ANEPMA (National Association of Environment Companies) award in recognition of the excellence of his entire professional career and for his generosity in sharing knowledge.

Julián Uriarte passed away at the age of 83 in the town of Plentzia, coinciding with the celebration of the 2017 ISWA World Congress in Baltimore.

There is no doubt that the spirit and memory of Julián Uriarte and his legacy will be very present at the ISWA 2019 World Congress, which will be held in Bilbao from October 7 to 9, 2017.

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