A window of opportunity for waste
Northern Spain is taking major steps towards a greener society through the project Ecoparque de La Rioja. This environmental management site is where large quantities of local waste are being recycled and reused, generating products such as biogas and compost and resulting in a sizeable reduction in detrimental impacts on the environment. The doors of the site are also open to visitors in a bid to raise awareness about waste and environmental issues.
"When you see these facilities, you realise how much waste we produce and how complex the treatment process required to avoid contamination is."
Gabriela Seco, resident of nearby Haro
With support from EU funds, local authorities have taken concrete steps towards managing waste. Ecoparque de La Rioja, inaugurated in 2003, is a shining example of successful action, with some 148 000 tonnes of waste being processed there each year, most of which is solid urban waste.
The Ecoparque has two main waste treatment processes – solid urban waste and light packaging. Larger items such as furniture, personal effects and garden waste are also treated at the site. Any organic matter is separated from recyclable matter such as plastic, paper, cardboard, glass and metal. The organic matter goes through two processes. In the biomethanisation process, the organic part is degraded to produce thermal energy and electricity for use at the Ecoparque itself (25%) and also locally. Thereafter degraded organic matter is stabilized by a composting process to be converted into compost for use in agriculture. To gauge some perspective on volumes, 17 000 MWh/year of electricity are produced, enough to supply a town of 20 000 inhabitants.
Education – key to a clean future
A key feature of the site is its emphasis on educating, particularly the younger generation, about the recycling processes and also the ways in which we can reduce waste in our daily lives. The aims are to raise awareness about waste problems, show how the recycling facilities actually work and demonstrate Ecoparque’s role in the strategy: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. By instilling a sense of environmental responsibility in the minds of youth, our planet should remain green in the future.
Ecoparque leads by example
Apart from using its own electricity, the site was also constructed taking into account environmental, logistical and sociological considerations, including optimising the management of waste transport. Low-rise buildings were built to avoid creating an eyesore, closed treatment areas are used to avoid odours and residues being carried away by the wind, a wastewater treatment plant is used for excess water, and biofilters are in place to eliminate bad odours. By embodying the concept of environmental sustainability, Ecoparque de La Rioja is showing locals and those further afield that this approach can and does work.