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Madrid to end incineration of waste by 2025

Madrid to end incineration of waste by 2025The city of Madrid has planned to completely phase out incineration by 2025 as part of its new strategy on waste.

The strategy, which was launched earlier this month, is designed to facilitate the achievement of the new EU targets for recycling, part of the Circular Economy Package (CEP), which finally became law on 4 July after months of deliberation and discussion by the European Council, Commission and Parliament.

Targets enshrined in the CEP will now require all EU member states to achieve a 55 per cent recycling by 2025, 60 per cent by 2030 and 65 per cent by 2035. This is a steep goal for Spain, which in 2016 recycled just under 30 per cent of its municipal waste, far below the European average of 45 per cent.

Regional variations in recycling in Spain are vast, with La Rioja in the north of the country already well above 50 per cent in 2013, while Madrid’s overall recycling rate is even lower than the national average, at 19.6 per cent. The capital does not currently have a separate collection system in place for waste, collecting plastic, metal and drinks cartons in a door-to-door co-mingled scheme and accepting paper/cardboard and glass at bring banks. There is also no provision for the collection of organic waste.

In June, repeated waste management failures in a number of regions led the European Commission to take Spain to the European Court of Justice, accusing the Spanish government of failing to establish adequate waste management plans in Madrid, Aragon, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.

Now, Madrid City Council has allocated €1.5 million (£1.3 million) to address these failures through its ambitious new Waste Management and Prevention Strategy 2018-22. The city is planning to introduce the separate collection of more waste fractions, including organic waste, with 10 districts receiving the service by the end of 2018 and the rest of the city in the following year.

By 2020, Madrid is aiming for 50 per cent of waste prepared for reuse or recycling, as well as to reduce total waste generated by 10 per cent compared to 2010. The strategy also contains a 50 per cent reduction target for waste to incineration by 2022, with plans to eliminate incineration completely by 2025 with the closure of the city’s Valdemingómez facility. Whether Madrid can achieve the drastic leap from 19 per cent to 50 per cent recycling by 2020 looks unlikely, but the commitment to eliminate incineration will be a key driver for the city to develop alternative waste management solutions.

According to the Alliance Against the Valdemingómez Incinerator, a coalition of 45 organisations including Greenpeace and Zero Waste Madrid, the plant has processed 300,000 tonnes of waste a year since it was commissioned 23 years ago. During that time it has been the centre of a heated debate about the merits of incineration, with the Alliance presenting a petition of 24,400 signatures to the council in 2017, demanding the plant’s closure due to polluting emissions.

Madrid to end incineration of waste by 2025
The Valdemingomez incinerator has been active since 1997 and processes almost 300,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per year

The Alliance stated: ‘We value the bravery of the city of Madrid when making this decision that will help to improve the quality of life of the people of Madrid and those of the municipalities near the incinerator. Today's announcement [from] the municipal corporation is moving in the right direction towards a zero waste city.

‘We hope that the plan established is sufficiently solid and binding so that it is effectively fulfilled, and the closure of the incinerator becomes a reality in 2025.’

Zero Waste Europe, an organisation working to eliminate waste across the EU, has welcomed the news from Madrid and has urged the city to ‘quickly roll out bio-waste separate collection and ensure effective separation of the five main fractions.’

The great incineration debate

While energy-from-waste (EfW) is preferable to landfill, it still comes below recycling, reuse, minimisation and prevention in the hierarchy of waste management solutions. Proponents say EfW is necessary to deal with the fraction of waste that cannot be recycled, but in Madrid’s case a large proportion of recyclable waste is being sent to incineration. Drastically improving the source separation of waste, especially organic waste, will enable Madrid to move away from a reliance on EfW and towards a more sustainable attitude to waste.

Read more: Landfill vs incineration – what’s best for leftover plastics?

Madrid’s plan to phase out incineration completely could seem at odds with the climate in the UK, which has seen the EfW industry gaining ground rapidly in the past few years, touted as an effective alternative to the dwindling landfill capacity. In London, for instance, waste to incineration has more than doubled in the last decade, according to a report from the London Assembly Environment Committee. If current trends continue, England could be burning more waste than it recycles by April 2019.

Anti-incineration campaigners have been warning for years that an incineration overcapacity could negatively affect recycling rates, with plants potentially burning recyclable waste in order to keep running at full capacity. Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), stated in February that incineration “is not a good direction to go in… You have to have the waste streams to keep [the plants] supplied.

“It encourages the production of residual waste, it encourages people to think that we can throw what could be potentially valuable materials, if we were to think about them innovatively, into a furnace and burn them.”

However, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) has stated that it in fact believes the UK to be heading for a capacity shortfall, a view echoed by waste management companies Biffa and Suez, both of which have called for further investment into EfW to bolster the industry.

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