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Economic Growth And That Of Waste Does Not Have To Go Hand-In-Hand

August 25, 2011

Call for public policies to prevent generation of waste and abuse of dumping sites

Waste is a term that has taken on new significance — a paradigm of the evolution that has taken place in this matter. Today there is more awareness about processing rubbish in the sense that the dumping site should be the last option. Ms Miren Artaraz, director of the Business Studies Faculty in the Basque City of Vitoria, not only shares this thesis, but also holds that, as important as managing the waste, or even more so, is avoiding producing the rubbish in the first place. In her thesis, defended at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), she studied public policy for waste management without taking them to waste dumping sites. The thesis is entitled Public policies for sustainable management of municipal waste. An analysis applied to the municipal authority of the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Ms Artaraz’s hypothesis is based on public policies being an effective instrument for promoting solutions for municipal waste. To this end, she identified the most efficacious and viable ones, taking as a reference those implemented in the most advanced EU countries in this sphere. She also evaluated if they could be applied to Vitoria-Gasteiz. It is precisely in the context of the Comprehensive Plan for the Municipal Waste of the City of Vitoria-Gasteiz (2008-16) that this PhD thesis should be understood as, at a theoretical level at least, some of those policies are included in it. Concretely, the plan argues for prioritizing prevention, followed by reuse, recycling, taking advantage of energy and, as a last resort, opting for the dumping of the fraction that currently cannot be valued.

Produce less, manage better

To carry out the research Ms Artaraz, amongst other things, studied the progress of waste management made in Vitoria-Gasteiz to date, focusing on data such as the waste generated, the fractions collected selectively, the containers available or awareness campaigns. She also evaluated the behavior of members of the public by means of the Survey on the Environment amongst Families published by Eustat (the Basque Statistics Office) in 2008. Moreover, she undertook in-depth interviews with various players involved in the matter.

The researcher concluded that the key to minimizing the problem arising from waste lies in producing less and managing better that which is generated. One of the great obstacles to be faced with this maxim is the current difficulty of separating economic growth from the generation of waste. Nevertheless, Ms Artaraz states that it is possible to make this division, through developing models of responsible production and consumption.

Public policies for management in this matter have to change radically if we wish to establish these models, according to the thesis. As an example of this, dumping, although being the least sustainable treatment method of all, is the most employed in most local municipal authorities in our region (due to its low cost) and, moreover, continues to be subsidized by the authorities. Also, despite all this, in theory and as a priority objective, all management plans are directed at the prevention of the generation of waste, but EU legislation does not establish quantitative targets.

Ms Artaraz explained that waste management has to be tackled from various perspectives, from the economic to the environmental and including the social. With the economic criterion it has to be remembered that both marginal costs (classification, transport, and so on) as well as marginal profits (reduction in reliance on virgin resources, mainly if dumping is not opted for) have to be considered for the method in question. If, moreover, it is environment that is prioritized, it is obviously preferable to use alternative systems to dumping or to incineration without energy recovery.

Vitoria-Gasteiz, insufficient

As regards the Vitoria-Gasteiz analysis, the researcher concluded that, despite the selective separation collection system becoming more widespread, the percentage of rubbish deposited at waste dumping sites is excessive, bearing out that it is necessary to modify the current system of management, and warns that the financial resources earmarked by a local authority to waste management are insufficient, because what is required is greater investment than that for management based on waste dump sites. Ms Artaraz stated that more sustainable public policies require a commitment to awareness and education instruments at all levels (authorities, companies and the public).

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