The study tour started with an event organised by Zero Waste Europe and the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) in Vitoria-Gasteiz on 28 November. It consisted of an international conference focused on the reduction of costs in waste management for municipalities through the optimisation of separate collection, the reduction of residual waste and the transformation of these fraction into market products. Javier Garaizar, Vice-rector of the Campus of Álava of UPV/EHU opened the conference, followed by Ainhoa Etxeandia, Director of Environment of Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council. Their interventions were followed by Joan Marc Simon, Ferran Rosa, Enzo Favoino, Marco Mattiello, Kevin Curran, Nekane Artola and Ainhoa Arrozpide.
48 participants attended the conference, among which we found civil servants, representatives from companies and environmental consultancies, policy-makers, professors and students of the university, etc. The presentations can be found here.
The afternoon was used to get to know the situation regarding waste management in Vitoria-Gasteiz, thanks to the Zero Waste group Gasteiz Zero Zabor.
The 29 and 30 November were devoted to the tour of good practices of waste management and circular economy. The tour allowed visiting municipalities and counties that have experienced a significant improvement in their separate collection systems. Among these experiences, the tour visited small villages like Leintz Gatzaga or Elburgo that collect and treat bio-waste in the same municipality. The participants also visited the counties of Debagoiena and Sasieta to better know about their waste collection systems (door-to-door, roadside containers with chip or mixed systems) that have made the municipalities in these counties reach 70% and 80% separate collection or more.
On top of the good practices of waste management, the tour visited good practices on circular economy. In this sense, several companies were visited in sectors like gastronomy, fashion or remanufacturing.
At the Restaurant Azurmendi of Eneko Atxa, with a three-Michelin-stars Basque chef, the participants learned about the philosophy of the project and visited the facilities. After this visit, an excellent meal was provided and the participants could learn about the way they manage the bio-waste at the restaurants. Gurpide Elkartea, an association working for the municipality of Larrabetzuko, manages the bio-waste of Azurmendi and of the neighbours of the municipality. In Larrabetzuko they follow the ‘Austrian system’ of composting that involves local farmers in the treatment of bio-waste in decentralised composting sites. This reduces the cost for the municipality, while allow the local farmer to obtain an extra income and have access to good quality compost.
Not far from there, in Zamundio, Cristina Cendoya and Mikel Feijoo of Skunkfunk presented the philosophy of the company and the design of the collection Capsule Zero Waste. After that, the tour went to a facility of the social economy company Koopera where they sort 18,000 tn a year of clothes.
In a totally different sector, the tour also visited Rebattery, a company located in Bergara that remanufactures and recovers batteries. Rebattery manages to give a new life to 60-75% of the batteries they receive and place them again in the market.
The three-day study tour was not only interesting, but the living proof of the current initiatives of circular economy in the Basque Country and the potential for these activities to keep growing. The tour managed to successfully illustrate best practices through all the economic cycle.
Representatives from 16 municipalities, among which are large cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, Valencia, Coruña and Palma de Mallorca, visited the Treviso region which has the highest recycling rates in Europe, and Milan, the largest city in the world where kerbside source separation of organic waste has been implemented.
The purpose of this visit, organised by Zero Waste Europe, Zero Waste Madrid, Friends of the Earth and the Catalan Foundation for Waste Reduction was to learn about the best performing waste management models. Currently Spain sends more than 60% of waste to landfills and incinerators, including 90% of biowaste generated, a clear sign of the need for a paradigm shift in waste management.
The participation of these municipalities in this study tour demonstrates the interest of local government to improve waste management.
In addition to the 6 large cities involved in this experience there was also a large representation of municipalities in the east of Madrid, an area severely affected by waste disposal infrastructure, such as landfills and incinerators as well as the heavily polluting cement kiln of Valdemingómez Morata de Tajuña, which is currently permitted to burn mixed waste.
The trip included 8 representatives from Eastern Madrid (San Fernando de Henares, Velilla de San Antonio, Alcala de Henares, Torres de la Alameda, Loeches, Mejorada del Campo, Coslada and Rivas Vaciamadrid), including politicians, technicians and activists.
Zero Waste Europe gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union LIFE program of DG Environment which co-financed this tour.