July 29, 2021

«It takes two planets to throw away the waste we generate»

«It takes two planets to throw away the waste we generate»

It is not the lion. Neither the black widow nor the white shark. The most dangerous species on the planet is homo sapiens. It is only 300,000 years old, which is not much compared to the age of the planet: 4.543 million years. But at this time, as the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari tells in his book "Sapiens", a provocative essay in which he tells how humans have conquered the planet, man has finished with numerous animal species, from the Australian megafauna to the Neanderthal homos, and if he does not react and change habits he will end up with himself under a mountain of plastics or beaten by the meteorological phenomena caused by the heap of polluting gases he generates. The gigantic fire that burns since Thursday in northern California has already claimed the lives of 31 people.

In just 100 years, a trifle compared to the history of mankind, man has abused too much of Earth's resources. And if it does not change habits, the OECD warns that with the current rhythm the temperature will increase 3 degrees this century. Global warming, about which no one doubts, brings more intense storms, fulminates animal species, endangers the production of food as basic as wheat and spreads diseases such as dengue or Chagas disease, among other things.

The good news, as it was exposed in the Discussion and Discussion Panel on «Circular Economy», organized by the newspaper LA RAZÓN, is that there is room for maneuver to reduce the increase in temperature and there is a broad consensus on the need to act to curb global warming. See the Action Plan for the Circular Economy that the European Union launched in 2015 and that has just declared war on the ten most common single-use plastics, which are half of the waste on the beaches. Or the Paris Agreement, of the same year, that this December governments will review at the Polish Summit and proposes that the increase in average temperature on Earth should remain at 1.5º instead of 3º.

From different areas of knowledge, the director of RSC, Sustainable Development and Innovation Southern Zone Suez Spain, Gustavo Calero; Jordi Oliver Solà, CEO of Inedit; Jordi Pietx, manager of Catalonia, Comunidad Valenciana and Baleares de Ecoembes and Professor of Business Ethics and Business Situations Analysis of the IESE Business School, Joan Fontrodona, agreed that the priority is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and One of the courses of action is the circular economy. "We need to finish with the system of producing, consuming and throwing and moving towards a circular economy, that is to reduce, reuse, repair and recycle, a new concept that forces us to rethink," says Calero, from Suez Spain. He and Oliver, CEO of Inèdit, are two of the 300 leaders chosen to spread the benefits of this new economic model for the environment and society in the First European Summit on Circular Economy and Innovation that was held a year ago in Spain with the presence of Barack Obama and four Nobel prizes.

The golden age of Western economies has been based on a linear consumption model. Companies produced, users consumed, companies produced new products and users stopped using old ones and bought new ones. But the brilliant technological development of the last decades has shortened these cycles. Every day 3.5 million tons of garbage are generated worldwide. Calero warns that if we do not change this model "we will need two and a half planets to place the waste that we produce".

As a Circle Economy report shows, which Ecoembes takes into account, there is a lot of room for change because only 9.1% of the global economy is circular; this means that only this percentage is reused and that the rest is incinerated, ends up in landfills or in any other place. Precisely, Ecoembes, the non-profit organization that in Spain facilitates the collection and separation of packaging waste for recycling and promotes the ecodesign of packaging, coined the term "trash" to talk about human waste abandoned in nature, a word that the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) has introduced this year in its dictionary. Pietx talked about the campaigns of Ecoembes and Seo / Birdlife to collect garbage from nature and the seabed. Warning that 90% of seabirds have ingested plastic and that, if this continues, the number will reach 99% in 2050.

Reusing what is consumed and reducing consumption are two of the pillars of circularity. To illustrate, Calero exposed some of the projects developed by his company, which manages the water cycle. Suez captures the water of a river, aquifer or the sea; it makes it drinkable; puts it on the consumer's tap; manages its sanitation; it purifies it, and finally it pours it into the river or the sea, or reuses it, in this case, it would close the circle. In this cycle, it uses a lot of energy and generates a lot of waste. Suez has taken up the Paris agenda against climate change and has proposed reducing the emission of greenhouse gases by 90% between 2017 and 2021. A formula is transforming traditional treatment plants into biofactories. In the treatment plants we work with a linear model, when they receive the waste water, they clean it, the waste is thrown into a landfill and the clean water is thrown into the sea. In the biofactories, however, we work with a circular model. The dirty water arrives at the treatment plant, where instead of buying energy they generate it. How? The bacteria they use to purify water generate biogas that they use to burn and generate energy and heat. The waste they generate, instead of being thrown into a landfill, is transformed into composting or construction material. And the water, instead of pouring it into the sea, is used to irrigate golf courses in Andalusia or clean streets.

"We reuse 99% of the waste that reaches the biofactory," says Calero. "But there is a 1% that we are not able to value, are the toothpicks, compresses, condoms and wipes," he laments. Of course, all this waste should never reach a plant to purify water because they should not be thrown in the toilet.

"There is a challenge to work with in order to move towards a circular economy model: education. Either we educate society or we have a lame leg, "says Professor Fontrodona. A Chinese proverb says that "if your plan is a year old, plant rice; if your plan is ten years old, plant trees, and your plan is a hundred years old, educate your community ».

"When it comes to social changes there are always three levers of change," explains Professor Fontrodona. "One is education and it is long term", begins to enumerate. Spain recycles 29.7% of its urban waste – it has until 2025 to recycle 65% if it wants to comply with the Action Plan of the European Parliament to move towards a circular economy model, where recycling and prevention are pieces key-. However, the rate of recycling of domestic packaging, which goes to the yellow container, is around 80%. Although they only represent 8% of the domestic waste in our country, they have had the most powerful advertising campaigns behind them.

Encourage and legislate

"The second lever is incentives, depending on what incentive you provoke one or the other action. For example, you provoke an action when you encourage recycling or consumption of tap water, "the professor continues. The CEO of Inèdit, a consultancy firm that accompanies companies in the transition process towards a circular economy model, points out that there are incentives to be put in the right place for things to happen. For example, he says that the Amsterdam-Schipol Airport went from buying light bulbs to Phillips to commissioning the lighting and maintenance service. The life of the light bulbs has increased by 75%.

"The third lever is regulations", concludes the professor. The law is a determining factor for change. See the single-use plastic reduction directive of the European Commission, which among other things provides that member states prohibit the introduction of cutlery, plates, drink stirrers and plastic balloon sticks into the market.

It seems like a drawer that we have to move towards a circular economy model, whether because of survival, business strategy, because the shortage of raw materials pushes, or because it doubles the useful life of the products and halves the use of virgin materials generates new business opportunities and new jobs. But if so good is "Why do we have to push him so hard?" Professor Fontcuberta asks, acting as devil's advocate. Because there are interests of all kinds. The shareholders want to continue to obtain benefits and we must show them that the circular economy brings benefits. Fontrodona talks about moving towards the concept of growing more with less. From this transition that is linked to innovation, new companies will be born and others will disappear, just like video stores. The four agree that changes are already palpable, although they doubt that the speed is correct. To keep going, they remind Eduardo Galeano: "Many small people in small places doing small things can change the world." To show some grandparents from Barcelona who make products with wool left over from textile factories in Olot.


"We have time to move towards a more sustainable circular model, but there is not much time left. We have to educate, innovate, reinvest and bet ». Gustavo Calero

Southern Zone Suez Spain

"We are facing a complex and multi-agent change, we need to incorporate the financial sector. They have to believe in new businesses, where instead of selling a product, it is leasing ".

Jordi Oliver

CEO of Inèdit

"There are three levers of change: the road to a circular model is adequate, speed, I do not know. These three levers are education, incentives and regulations. "

Joan Fontrodona

Professor of Business Ethics of IESE

«I will allow myself to suggest a small change to THE REASON, to hold meetings with jars and glass glasses instead of plastic. Small changes are powerful »

Jordi Pietx

Manager of Ecoembes


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