According to the latest report by the Balearic Islands Government’s Department of the Environment, only 25% of plastic packaging is recycled. A frightening fact. Bearing in mind that there has been a waste and recycling management system for over 20 years one might conclude that is has not had a massive impact or at least that it is not the most effective one. Certainly, it is not enough to deal with the plastic challenge we face. Luckily, the tide seems to be turning.
Any single-use plastic bottles or other plastic packaging that ends in the bins in the street (small bins, not the containers) is not recycled. The same is true for the bins on the beaches and other places. It goes without saying that one should always avoid buying plastic bottles but if you find yourself with one in your hands make sure it ends in a yellow container and throw it there. Unfortunately not enough plastic ends in the yellow containers. The challenge is to find to find solutions to increase the volume of plastic that ends in the right place and prevent plastic getting lost in the system which often ends at sea. Data from the ABAQUA 2019 -Balearic Islands Water and Environmental Quality Agency report shows that half of the floating waste collected by cleaning boats on the coast around the Balearics is plastic.
In Majorca there are broadly two waste management systems depending on the municipality in which you live: street containers differentiated by colour and the “door to door” system (leaving the rubbish bag of the type you knock on the door that day for collection). Door to door system have proven to be more effective and they are being implemented gradually in more municipalities.
It is clear that the issue of waste has not yet been addressed convincingly. But the current context and legal framework is pushing us in the right direction. European, national and regional waste regulations commit us to clear targets. Waste generation must be reduced by 9% in 2021 and 19% by 2030; and by 2021 we should achieve 50% of waste recycling and reused.
One of the most obvious measures to help us move forward is a system of Deposit and Return - the machines that reimburse you for your packaging when you return it in good condition - a system that does not currently exist in Spain but which Marilles has been working on for a long time, together with other organisations such as Rezero, Plastic Free Ibiza, Zero Waste Menorca etc, to make possible. In Majorca, the vast majority form part of the Plataforma Per Una Mar Sense Plàstic.
The Waste Law of the Balearic Islands, one of the most advanced at European level, contemplates the implementation of a Deposit and Return System but there has been a lot of pressure from large companies to stop its implementation in the Balearic Islands and the rest of Spain. The implementation of a Deposit and Return system would encourage recycling and prevent plastic from ending up in the sea in many cases.
The citizens of the Balearic Islands must ask loud and clear for progress on this front. There seems to be light on the horizon: The Balearic Islands government has included in its 2021 budget a line to implement the deposit and return system in Formentera as a pilot test. This is great news which should pave the way for the implementation of this system on all the islands.
Preventing plastic from ending up in the sea is a collective responsibility as this will prevent impacts on marine fauna and on our health via microplastics entering into our food chain. There’s a mountain to climb but we are hopeful. Citizens, government and the private sector are increasingly aware and taking action to fix the plastic problem. It is expected that the economic recovery packages to respond to the multiple crisis we face today will include a fair share of transformative projects to ensure our waste management systems perform at the right level.