Spain fights losing battle against trash
Lack of effective recycling policy is main reason behind Spain’s annual 25 million tons of garbage, equivalent to 1.4 kilograms per person per day.17 June 2008
MADRID - In 2001, Spain agreed to begin applying a European directive on the treatment of solid urban waste - a kind of Kyoto Protocol for garbage aimed at promoting recycling and reducing the use of landfills.
Seven years later - and one year away from the deadline for a 50-percent cut in landfill garbage from 1995 levels - Spain is about as close to complying with the directive as it is to fulfilling its obligations to rein in greenhouse gas emissions under the real Kyoto Protocol.
According to a study by Greenpeace, the amount of waste being dumped in landfills in Spain has actually increased by a whopping 46 percent in the decade to 2005, the last year for which reliable data is available.
Spain currently generates 25 million tons of garbage each year, equivalent to 1.4 kilograms per person per day, of which only around 10 percent is recycled despite massive investments in recycling plants and collection systems in recent years, much of it funded with money from Brussels.
"Ninety percent of garbage ends up in landfills or is incinerated. I think that's a failure," says Antxon Olabe, an environmental economist at the Naider consultancy.
Olabe, like other experts and conservationists, believes that an audit needs to be carried out to discover where all the money went and what it was used for, given the lack of visible results.
"For example, the millions of euros spent on bottle recycling plants that then only operate at 20 or 30 percent of their capacity," Olabe says.
Because of Spain's failure to recycle more, it is not only facing the prospect of failing to comply with the EU directive, but also a very real environmental and garbage disposal crisis.
Of 120 landfill sites nationwide, 15 are full to capacity, but are continuing to be used because there is simply no where else for the garbage to go.
Dozens more meanwhile fail to comply with basic environmental safety standards, causing toxic runoff to seep into sewers and rivers and leading to stinking clouds that waft over nearby towns.
The garbage crisis is worst in Valencia, Galicia and the Canary Islands where local authorities are close to running out of landfill space. The only upside in recent years has been the reduction in illegal landfills, although 800,000 tons of garbage is still dumped illegally in the Spanish countryside each year.
[El Pais / Alberto Uriona / Expatica]