Being a garbage police is not easy in Catalonia

I am the garbage police at home. Everything has to be separated based on what bin it goes into and I can even pick up what others throw in the wrong waste bin. It’s easy to be the garbage police where I live in Gävle with an advanced waste management system in every part of the municipality.

It’s so good that it has been awarded a lot of prices, both nationally and internationally, and the services of our municipal waste management system are asked for in other countries. During the years I’ve brought a lot of foreign visitors: El Salvador, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Mozambique, Canary Islands, Chile, Guatemala, Colombia, Rwanda, Catalonia etc. Most of them politicians. And all of them are impressed.

It’s not by chance we have this form of waste management. It was a clear political prioritization between having our municipal energy company build a waste incinerator, or developing a way for sustainable recycling. It took many years of political discussions before the waste separation was in place.

According to SDG #12 by 2030 we should substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. We are really on the right way in Gävle but it’s not enough. We can do even better. We’re generally good at recycling in Sweden compared to many other EU member states even though we are ruled by the same legislation.

I’m now spending my holiday in Catalonia but it’s impossible to recycle the same way I can do at home since the awereness of environmental issues amongst citizens is low. All kind of packaging is thrown in the same container and it’s normally just a mess where you will find anything from electro domestics to organic waste.

SDG #12 also state we should support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production. The issue about waste is a common challenge for all of us. For rich and poor countries. The more developed the more waste, but we handle it different based on awereness and political will. Thanks to political decision we normally don’t burn rubber wheels any longer in the EU as it is forbidden. Still we continue to live in societies with unsustainable consumption patterns generating much more consumer-products than we need and using much more natural resources than sustainable and necessary. People continue to think about waste as something just to throw away and not something that could be turned into a new product.

So how can we support developing countries when we don’t live up to our own legislation at home? The SDG:s are also about us. We should not forget that. In Europe we have to rethink and use existing legislation to diminish our waste and follow the waste hierarchy. It’s far too easy to break the rules without being sanctioned. We also need to develop the legislation further to collect all kind of materials as such. Why should we not recycle an old plastic chair when we recycle the plastic bottle. And we should support developing countries not only with technology but also with environmental legislation in combination with economic incentives to prevent, reduce, reuse and recycle. We can do that by sheding a light on good local examples. There is no one-size-fits-all. It depends on the size of the municipality, and what kind of industry, agriculture, etc. The Gävle model could suit a lot of municipalities but not all. One kind of good cooperation is that between municipalities but the resources are too limited to make any real change. I would like to see more of that in our cooperation policy.

/Bodil Valero 

Member of the European Parliament for the Swedish Greens (Miljöpartiet de gröna)

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