What is going on with the recycling system in Spain?
Updated: Jan 26
Ecoembes, known as a Spanish NGO, and which claims to be a responsible organization with environmental pollution through packaging recycling, deceives us. This is the headline that Greenpeace communicates to us in its article.
Let's start by knowing which companies make up Ecoembes: the first thing you should know is that it is made up of a conglomerate of multinational companies that would be among the most polluting for the environment, according to Greenpeace. Among these companies, we can find industry leaders as The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Nestle, and Bimbo; all well established in the Spanish market.
The companies that bring their packaging –plastic, aluminum, paper– onto the market do so with the printing of a green dot. That green dot or logo means that companies pay a percentage to Ecoembes for the collection and recycling of their packaging.
There are European and Spanish regulations that oblige companies that sell their products in packaging to take responsibility for them and in this case, the Spanish companies decided to do so under this formula instead of the return container, as we can see in this article from the newspaper El Español about the report by Ecoembes.
Ecoembes has been in operation for two decades and today it has not managed to put an end to the scourge of plastic in the way that it was expected or that they were selling.
Greenpeace has relied on a field study when publishing the report entitled "Ecoembes lies".
The report not only values the actions carried out by Ecoembes in recycling, but it is observed that it could be blocking other recycling systems such as the return system, which is much more respectful of the environment.
The reason why this system does not suit them is possibly due to an economic issue. The companies that are part of its conglomerate seem that they would not "be willing" to pay what it costs to recycle the packaging that they put up for sale, as required by law.
This return system known by the acronym SDDR consists of paying a few cents more per container so that the store returns that amount to the customer. This method is already common in countries such as Finland, Norway, and Israel.
This system would reduce the expenses of the municipalities since it is self-financed with the packaging fee. It is a system that according to Greenpeace would be 60% cheaper despite criticism and opposition from Ecoembes since 100% of what is recycled is usable. According to the environmental NGO, this system could generate about 14,000 jobs in Spain alone.
Years ago in Spain, when glass containers outnumbered plastic ones, we also had this return system. It was made with glass: for example milk or beer bottles.
According to some indicators, it is possible that in 2021 the consumption of plastic bottles will exceed half a billion, which would undoubtedly be a great danger to our oceans and coasts.
It seems that this business does not suit Ecoembes because although it is considered a non-profit company, in recent years it has multiplied its income by five.
But in the article that Greenpeace highlights, it is observed that of everything that citizens distribute in recycling containers, only 25% is recycled, while the rest goes directly to landfills or is exported to other countries. Malaysia, for example, followed by Hong Kong is the one that receives the most tons of Spanish waste.
But what happens to the plastic or packaging that is not recycled or exported? According to MITECO (Ministry of Ecological Transition), 44% of Spanish plastics end up in landfills or incinerators, when most could be recycled.
Some newspapers have published examples on this topic. One of them would be the case of Utiel Recicla SL in Valencia, Spain. This company is a facility not authorized to store plastic but in which, since 2016, plastic from eight companies has accumulated, six of them approved and awarded by Ecoembes.
On the other hand, there is the rest of the containers that they sell to other companies, they only keep those containers that are most profitable for them, which would be for example plastic bottles or bricks, the rest of what citizens throw into the yellow container by mistake or because we think we are doing it correctly - packaging, toothbrushes, plugs - are not profitable and are not recycled.
But there are not only landfills for the rest of the plastic but also incineration plants. That is why we say that it is not true that Ecoembes is an organization that looks out for the environment. Burning things is no good unless we can contain that smoke as they do in Iceland.
If we look at Europe to see how our neighbors do it, we can see that the countries that recycle the most according to Eurostat in 2016 were Finland, also depending on each newspaper they put Germany as the country that recycles the most or Belgium.
An example of what can be done to direct plastic towards sustainability can be seen in this Austrian company, ALPLA is a large processor and recycler of plastics. As a world leader, the company is committed to developing innovative and sustainable packaging systems. One of its main products is the recyclable plastic bottle known by PET.
Companies like these would be on the right track to end plastic and have a cleaner world.m But not only.
Speaking internationally, there is Forest Nation, which believes that commercial, social, and environmental goals must go hand in hand.
Their tree planting programs prioritize creating sustainable livelihoods, creating a rich future for children; creating leadership roles for women, creating rich local economies. This is how my collaboration with them was born, thanks to the launch of my book From Trash To Runway, which for every book sold, a tree will be planted in Haiti, besides the 500 trees the author has just planted. A way to contribute to the well-being of society and the environment.