AN URBAN LEGEND OR A NECESSARY REALITY?
My son arrived from school yesterday quite angry, telling me off even, because we do not recycle at home. It's not like we never have, in fact we did separate our garbage for a while, but in the end our hurried lifestyles and the convenience of just throwing it all into the same bin took over, and we stopped doing it. But “today we start recycling!” said my son, absolutely convinced, so not much else I can do other than feel a bit guilty and do something about it. To begin with, I have to reorganize my kitchen a bit more strategically, and although it means having a number of bins instead of just the one, with a little imagination, discipline and common sense I manage to do it.
If I want to separate things correctly in order to put them into the right container in the street, I need: one bin for cans, plastic bottles and wrappers (yellow), another for glass (green) and another paper and cardboard (blue), as well as the bin for rubbish that cannot be recycled yet, organic or not ('fems' in the local lingo, which then goes in the grey containers). I also dedicate a glass jar to drop used batteries in and a large bottle for used cooking oil (since in Ibiza Town and in Sant Antoni there are a number of containers especially for such liquids). If you live in the countryside, you can also 'recycle' a great deal of your organic waste by installing a composting bin or feeding it to the chickens. And while we're talking about the countryside... what can we do with all those objects, large or small, that are no longer of any use but take up lots of space, gathering dust and dirt, and soiling our surroundings? Metal objects, car tyres or paint pots must not be thrown into regular rubbish containers, because many of their components are highly toxic and should not be incinerated. In order to dispose of them while respecting the environment, there are a number of “green points” (“puntos verdes”) around the island where you can take them. On the other hand, the Deixalles Foundation, amongst other things, deals with used and/or broken furniture and electrical goods, restoring and repairing them in order to put them back into the consumption cycle for a very modest price.
However, given our busy lifestyles, is the “effort” involved in separating our waste even worth it? I am sure that many of the residents in Ibiza have often heard the following: “what's the point, in Ibiza they don't really recycle, they just mix it all up in the end...”. This is not so. My son and his schoolmates have seen with their very eyes the transfer plant that is at the entrance of Ibiza Town, near the old casino, where all the garbage that can be recycled is sent. It's important to bear in mind that, even if we as citizens do not feel a tangible and immediate motivation that encourages us to recycle, councils on the other hand are very interested indeed in separating waste as much as possible, for the simple reason that they have to pay for every tonne of rubbish that gets taken to the Ca na Putxa rubbish dump. From that point of view, it is obvious that the municipal accounting departments want to save money by generating the least possible rubbish. How can this be achieved? The only way is by recycling, but first rubbish needs to be collected selectively, and this can only happen by separating it in our homes.
On the other hand, as well as these reduced costs, councils are also compensated financially according the amount of waste that is collected selectively and taken to the transfer plant for recycling. The workers there record what comes in and then crush the waste that arrives as it comes from our homes in the trucks, which the drivers drop off at the corresponding sector of the plant. From there on, each type of waste begins a different journey: what they call light packaging (various plastic containers, milk and juice cartons, cans and aluminium) is taken to a selection plant in Mallorca, where it is separated according to its components. This takes place twice a week, and so it will be until the new selection and separation plant that should soon be built right in the Ca na Putxa rubbish dump is operational, as required by the laws and guidelines for the management of urban waste in Ibiza and Formentera. As for the glass that comes in from each municipality, it is taken three times a week in the winter to Barcelona, where companies dedicated to the integral management of waste (like Ecovidrio) will give it a new life for a low cost, reducing the need to make new glass (which is a process that is very agressive with nature, since the extraction of silica sand produces erosion). The cardboard and paper are sent to a paper recycling company in Zaragoza. This not only reduces the need to cut trees, it also saves water, since making 1,000 kg of paper from wood requires 480,000 litres of water, while making the same amount of recycled paper only requires 1,800 litres of water. All this also means a lot less pollution of our environment with chemicals and energy savings in various ways. The difference is huge!
A very worrying piece of news is that in only ten years (from 1997 to 2008), the amount of waste taken to the Ca na Putxa dump has apparently doubled. Since Ibiza is a small island, it is not very feasable for the authorities to have to find a new location for a second dump, so it is really essential to slow down this trend by separating waste and recycling it. In fact, this makes me think that we are the ones who need to start by reducing as much as possible the amount of packaging in the things that we buy: aiming to get larger containers instead of small bottles and cans or buying bulk rather than in small trays and plastic wrappers. As he was talking to me yesterday, my son's words reminded me that as citizens we have a responsibility towards the planet at the global level, but also and more importantly at the local level, in the municipality we live in. Keeping it clean and free of waste depends solely on us. At the larger scale, the health of the island and the Earth is in our hands, so let us not find excuses to avoid our responsibilities. Let's get recycling!