President, International Solid Waste Association

ISWA Blog: Spanish Waste Management and the Molecule of the Future

Spain is a highly developed country but still lags behind the EU targets especially it lags behind in source separated collection and composting.  

I recently spent two days in the beautiful city of Sevilla, Spain, at the conference organised by ISWA National Member Ategrus and the City; Spain is a highly developed country but still lags behind the EU targets – especially it lags behind in source separated collection and composting.

How Spain will meet the 2030 Circular Economy targets was the subject of my presentation, and I estimate that waste management investments will lead to almost a doubling of fees that citizens pay by 2030.

This is hard to swallow in a country with 25% unemployment struggling to exit the recession since 2008, but the Circular Economy targets inevitably lead to these investments and to this conclusion. And I ask myself again, can all Europeans afford to reach these targets?

Whilst in Seville I visited the Abengoa Group, a civil construction and engineering company that has developed waste and energy sectors in the last decade. It turns over $7.3 billion a year and operates plants all over the world. Its campus, a self-contained village in itself offering education, health and dining services to their employees and designed by Richard Rodgers, was nominated as the most sustainable building in the world.

What particularly impressed me is the mix of innovation in the technologies they apply- their R & D budget of around $430 million a year to. It is a phenomenal percentage of their turnover for our industry.

So while they compete in the traditional technologies (solar and other energy, AD, Incineration, composting, recycling and landfills) they are also working to extract value from sugar, the “molecule of the future” as they call it- and here they are working on polymers (plastics), energy, fuels, lubricants and other chemicals, all extracted from the organic fraction of MSW and agricultural waste.

This prospective ties the waste industry ever more closely into the chemicals and energy sectors and, when generally available on an industrial scale, will be a game-changer for our sector.
David Newman is President of the International Solid Waste Association

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