Spain’s circular economy says ‘adiós’ to countryside and city waste

A major issue the local sector has to contend with is the management of fertiliser and pesticide containers. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

This article is part of our special report Circular economy in Spanish agri-food sector.

The common goal of Spain’s circular economy is to reuse waste, and this goal is manifesting itself in a number of diverse ways across the country. EURACTIV’s partner Efe Agro reports.

This ambition is also something that is high on the EU’s agenda, and we have seen the introduction of incentives and regulations to help productive sectors become more climate-friendly and contribute to mitigating climate change, one of the priorities earmarked in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

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The challenges of a circular economy can vary widely from one place to another.

While cities are concerned with large amounts of organic waste and concentrated packaging in a concentrated area, in the countryside the focus is much more on the agriculture and livestock sectors, such as the management of slurry, lactic acid waste or residues from containers with pesticides.

The countryside in the Canary Islands, for instance, is looking towards promoting a more sustainable future, which is a fundamental pillar of the project “Agriculture is much more” (“Agricultura es mucho más”).

This nearly decade-old development initiative is designed to facilitate meetings between people working in the same sector and boost the exchange of by-products and transform “waste into agricultural resources”.

“This is a type of agriculture that pollutes less, consumes waste, takes pruning from vegetables and transforms it into compost. This is not agriculture of the 21st but of the 22nd century. It’s agriculture that is perfectly compatible with climate change, with sustainability,” said Rafael Hernández, president of agricultural organisation COAG-Canarias.

Thanks to the improved communication between herdsmen and farmers, they are now facilitating the creation of compost ‘tea’, a liquid extract which is highly nutritious for the soil, based on slurry or lactic acid leftovers from cheese factories, a popular product in the Canary Islands

By using the waste by-produce in this way, it also helps to regulate the water pH in plantations.

This interaction has enabled them to lower production costs and reduce water consumption, Hernández said.

Thanks to these methods, he added, they are able to improve the quality of the soil while using natural resources and consuming less water, especially important given that the lack of water resources is a widespread problem in the Canary Islands.

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Another issue the local sector has to contend with is the management of containers of the fertilisers, bio-stimulating agents and phytosanitary products used in agriculture.

SigfitoAgroenvases, a non-profit local company that gives advice on environmentally-friendly strategies, has a series of collection points which give a second life to containers left behind by farmers or ranchers.

After collection, the organisation then transforms them into irrigation pipes or plastic, among other things.

“Collection systems represent the circular economy in itself because we guarantee that all the delivered containers are recycled,” Sigfito’s spokesman Luis López told Efeagro.

“The circular economy is the future,” López  stressed, thanks to the fact that “it generates wealth and environmental well-being” and allows agriculture to be “sustainable and healthy, and food can be produced safely,”

However, to implement the system properly, the organisation requires more information from farmers, particularly on how they distribute their waste in containers.

Moreover, more collection points for other kinds of waste are also necessary to scale up their programme, since those installed by Sigfito can only be used by its affiliated companies.

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Research and innovation: keys of the circular economy

Similarly, Ecoembes also works in the “eco-friendly” collection sector, but this non-profit Spanish company focuses its core activity on recycling domestic plastic, glass, cardboard, paper, bricks and metal containers, which they say together represents about 8% of the total solid urban waste in Spain.

“The best waste is the one that is not produced. However, if produced, it must be recycled so that it becomes a new raw material: that is the genesis of the circular economy,” said Ecoembes’s spokesman Álvaro Otero, adding that “there are no residues but resources”.

Ecoembes’s ‘CircularLab’ is also looking to expand into using new resources.

In Europe, it is pioneering a circular economy initiative, which aims to better promote research practices and implements innovative methods in packaging and recycling.

Based in the region of LaRioja, its experts conduct research into new packaging formats, improved designs and recycling methods to facilitate production processes.

“Innovation is key to making waste circular” and to generate new economic activities with a positive impact, said ZacaríasTorbado, a coordinator at the CircularLab.

“Either we adopt a sustainable economy approach or we’ll witness a very difficult situation”, he stressed, adding that the European trend should be adopted by every citizen worldwide.

[Edited Daniel Eck / Natasha Foote]



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