Recovering waste is essential to boosting the circular economy

01.10.2021
The second session of the Funseam and the Repsol Foundation's Circular Economy Conference Series was dedicated to the economic and energy recovery of waste. It is a Circular Economy alternative that, combined with recycling, would reduce the waste that ends up in landfills each year. On Thursday, we were made aware of some data on the current situation of urban waste management in Spain: more than 56% still ends up in landfills and only 9.9% is recovered for energy use. By 2035, that figure should be 25%.

The recovery of waste must be an essential part for the development of the Circular Economy, because it means the recovery cycle can be completed and sustainable energy sources can be generated. This was highlighted by Joan Batalla, general director of Funseam, in the presentation of the second session of the Circular Economy Conference Series, organized by Funseam and the Repsol Foundation.

Today, the president of the Association of Urban Waste Energy Recovery Companies, Rafael Guinea, detailed how urban waste is managed now and how it should be managed in the future. To comply with the commitments proposed by the European Union, it is necessary to look for alternatives and convert waste into energy resources, this "allows to eliminate landfills, promotes renewable energy, fights against climate change, improves energy efficiency, and prevents pollution." However, there is some controversy surrounding the matter, as society sees this recovery as a pollutant and that it could also limit the promotion of recycling. Guinea denies this: "The countries that recycle the most are those with the fewest landfills and those that value waste the most." He highlighted that Spain sends more tons of waste to landfill than any other country in Europe, with the consequent loss of a local, manageable, and cheap energy source. In addition, the landfill waste generates twice as many greenhouse gas emissions than the energy recovery per ton of waste.

In this second session, we also learned about some business projects that work in the line with the energy recovery of waste. Celsa Group manufactures 7 MT of steel, which, according to its president, Francesc Rubiralta, "avoids the extraction of 9.8 MT of iron ore and the consumption of 5.1 MT of coal." Rubiralta ensured those in attendance that the steel they produce is 100% recyclable and that 90% of the waste generated in their production process is recovered. In this sense, he highlighted that they are more than a steel production company, they are the main recycler in Europe, contributing to decarbonization with circular solutions.

Elías Unzueta, red fuel recovery, the manufacture of eco-fuels from hydrogen and recovered CO2, and a carbonation plant for the production of sustainable building material, with a great potential for CO2 sequestration. Unzueta highlighted that "last July, Petronor produced the first batch of biojet (aviation fuel) manufactured from waste." Repsol's commitment to circularity involves an investment of €2.5 B through 16 types of projects, all based on circularity platforms. Multiple actors have come together in these initiatives companies, technology centers, waste managers, etc. who are committed to circularity as a "short-term solution available to decarbonize sectors such as transport or the thermal needs of the industrial sector."

Miguel Mayrata, director of Business Diversification at Redexis, wanted to highlight that renewable gases will contribute to the economys decarbonization objectives and, they will do so, by taking advantage of existing infrastructures: "Each cubic meter of biomethane that is injected is one less cubic meter of fossil gas that has to be imported." Mayrata believes that to implement renewable gas, a system of certificates and guarantees of origin is needed to allow it to be recognized in the market as a sustainable energy source. In his speech, he highlighted "the enormous potential that exists in Spain for renewable gases, and in particular biomethane." A potential that also exists in other countries, such as France or Germany, where this type of project is already a reality.

Before ending the session, Luis Moreno, executive managing director of the Ecolec Foundation, dedicated to the management of electrical and electronic equipment and the waste they generate, spoke. Waste that, according to the Foundation, has grown by 21% over the last 5 years. One of the most prominent areas is mobile phones, where significant amounts of raw materials can be recovered. According to Moreno, for every million devices, 16 tons of copper, 350 kg of silver, 34 kg of gold, and 15 kg of palladium can be recovered, with a total value of 2 million euros.

The editor of the Expansión newspaper, María José Gómez-Serranillos, closed the session by moderating a Q&A, to respond to any questions raised by some of those in attendance.

Upcoming sessions

Technological solutions in the waste sector”, Thursday, October 14, 12 p.m – 1:30 p.m.

"International experiences in waste management”, Thursday, October 28, from 12 p.m – 1:30 p.m.