Editor’s Note: This article is an update to a 2004 report published in Waste Age on the adoption of pay-as-you-throw collection in Spain.
Municipal waste charges in Spain are widespread, although their application varies significantly among municipalities. Most commonly, waste charges are implemented as a flat rate, but some of them depend upon indicators such as water consumption, geography or the value of the property being serviced.
Unlike other European countries, where pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes are common, their use in Spain has been very limited. So far, only five municipalities have implemented such schemes for household waste, while some others have applied them only to commercial activities.
In 2003, Torrelles de Llobregat (a town of, at that time, 4,100 inhabitants in the province of Barcelona) became the first Spanish municipality to implement PAYT, in the form of a pay-per-bag scheme. Prior to PAYT, households were charged a fixed annual fee of 62.50 ($70.70 in U.S. dollars circa 2003) for collection. The new system maintained a flat annual fee of 35 ($39.59) and introduced special standardized bags for recyclable plastic and metal packaging materials (but not paper or glass) and trash, which were collected together and delivered to a facility where recyclables were separated. The town council distributed these bags through 17 local retailers.
The cost of a 40-liter bag was 0.6 (68 cents). Organic waste, paper and cardboard, glass, and diapers were collected free of charge. Larger capacity bags of 100 liters at 1.50 ($1.70) also were available for businesses. Large commercial producers of organic waste were charged annually for an organic waste bin depending on their size and collection frequency.
After implementing PAYT, separately collected recyclable materials (including organic waste) increased from 33 percent to 89 percent, and the quality of the collected materials improved. However, after the next round of local elections, the municipal government changed and in late 2003 PAYT was abandoned.
It was not until 2009 that a second Spanish municipality, Esporles, decided to introduce a PAYT scheme. Situated on the island of Majorca, Esporles at that time had about 4,600 inhabitants, 4,000 of which disposed of their waste through a door-to-door system implemented in 2006. The previous fixed annual waste charge of 150 ($223) per household was replaced with a flat 90 ($134) per year and a variable pay-per-bag fee for trash. Household bags (10 liters) were 1 ($1.50), while 100-liter bags were available for businesses at a price of 10 ($15) each. Bags were distributed through a network of collaborating local retailers.
After the first year, the recycling rate in Esporles rose from 46 percent to 73 percent, whereas total waste generation fell by 23 percent (trash was reduced by 61.3 percent). After the third week of implementation, the number of bags inadequately delivered stabilized at 1.5 percent.
Argentona, a municipality with almost 12,000 inhabitants in the Barcelona province, was the next to implement unit pricing, colloquially called Fair Charge (“Taxa Justa”). The municipality had previously introduced a door-to-door system for 8,500 inhabitants that collected organic waste for composting, recyclable packaging, paper and trash. The PAYT system was introduced gradually: a three-month pilot began in October 2009, and the system was fully deployed by February 2010. Again, a pay-per-bag model was used for trash and non-recyclable packaging. Businesses also are charged for organic waste according to a pay-per-can model. Collection of paper and cardboard, glass, diapers (for households) and organic waste (for households) is free of charge.
The new system divided the previous fixed annual fee of 151 ($224) per year per household into two parts: a flat fee of 95 ($141) per year per household, and a variable fee in the form of special standardized bags for trash (17-liter bags at 0.65 or 97 cents each) and non-recyclable packaging (35-liter bags at 0.35 or 52 cents each). Businesses have access to larger bags: 65 liters for trash and 100 liters for non-recyclable packaging, at 2.5 ($3.71) and 1 ($1.50), respectively. The council distributes them through several retailers in the town.
Comparing the results from 2009 to 2010 showed that total waste generation in Argentona fell by 10 percent, and the recycling rate increased slightly from 64.7 percent to 65.7 percent. The quantity of trash fell 13.7 percent, from 596 grams per day per person to 514, while packaging decreased from 76 grams per day per inhabitant to 60 (a 21.7 percent decrease) and organic waste increased from 344 to 355 grams per day per inhabitant (3.2 percent higher). However, these results are for the whole municipality. More significant results were achieved in the area where PAYT pilot program was implemented, but they cannot be separated.
In January 2011, Miravet and Rasquera, two municipalities in Spain’s Tarragona province with around 800 inhabitants each, introduced a PAYT scheme very similar to Argentona’s. The flat annual fee is 40 ($60) for households, and there is a variable fee depending on the consumption of standardized bags for refuse and packaging. A 17-liter trash bag is 0.70 ($1.04) and a 35-liter packaging bag is 0.30 (45 cents). There also are 110-liter packaging bags at 0.95 ($1.41) for businesses.
After two months, recycling rates increased significantly, from 66 percent to 88 percent in Rasquera and from 84 percent to 93 percent in Miravet. The percentage of packaging also increased, from 6.5 percent to 10.5 percent in Rasquera, and from 6.9 percent to 8.8 percent in Miravet. In terms of waste reduction, there is still not enough data to present conclusive results.
Some other municipalities are considering possible future implementation of PAYT.
Meanwhile, a number of other systems focusing only on commercial waste have been implemented in Spain. Barcelona’s is worth a mention.
According to the General Ordinance for Urban Environment of the Barcelona City Council, commercial activities with more than 500 square meters or that generate more than 900 liters per day of unsorted waste and organic waste, or 600 liters per day of paper and cardboard, light packaging or glass are considered “singular generators.” It is mandatory for them to have separate waste collection containers on their premises, which are collected door-to-door. Containers are provided by the Barcelona City Council and follow a container-based PAYT system based on the “official price” (a kind of charge) for commercial waste collection service.
Under this system, the charge is calculated based on the volume of the container and the number of collection services provided. Containers range from 90 liters to 15 cubic meters (with compactor) and are assigned based on a volume estimation by the council that uses a waste generation report filed annually by each business. The official price is further impacted by a series of environmental tax credits. These can be earned by contracting private collection services for one or more portions of the waste stream, belonging to the “Civic Agreement” (a cluster of guilds and associations that run environmentally-friendly programs) or by using some sort of compaction system.
Similarly, in January 2010, Canet de Mar (Barcelona), a municipality with about 14,000 inhabitants, introduced a container-based PAYT system for large producers of trash, packaging and organic waste. Of the 700 businesses in the area, 100 meet that classification. Previously, they had been charged a fixed commercial fee. But under the new PAYT system, the charge was divided into a smaller flat commercial fee and a variable trash and packaging fee based on the volume of the container and the number of collection services provided (or, in the case of organic waste, only the volume of the container). The number of collection services is registered automatically using an RFID tag in each container read by a reader installed on the collection trucks. The volumes offered range from 60 to 1,100 liters for trash, 90 to 1,100 liters for packaging, and 40 to 1,100 liters for organic waste. The prices applied have been approved in a fiscal ordinance. For instance, a 90-liter container costs 2.87 ($4.17) per collection for trash, 0.69 ($1.00) per collection for packaging and 49.90 ($72.46) annually for organic waste. As in Barcelona, businesses can opt out of subscribing to the city service and contract private waste collection services.
According to the collected information, on average, a large waste producer of Canet de Mar throws away 373 liters of packaging, 370 liters of organic waste and 653 liters of trash per week.
Despite the limited number of PAYT implementations in Spain, several factors suggest that this concept will spread and become more common in the future, as it has elsewhere in Europe. One indicator is the rapid spread of municipalities with door-to-door separate waste collection systems, from none in 2000 to more than 100 today (most of them in the region of Catalonia). Another indicator is that some regions already encourage separate collection of commercial waste, also by means of doorstep collection systems. In these cases, variable rate billing could easily be adopted.
Ignasi Puig Ventosa, Ph.D., is a founding partner of ENT Environment and Management, where he has coordinated more than 100 projects in the fields of waste management and environmental economic policies.
Maria Calaf Forn, M.Sc., works as a consultant at ENT Environment and Management, and has specialized in design and implementation of PAYT schemes and in projects on reusable diapers.
David Font Vivanco, M.Sc., is currently working as a consultant at ENT Environment and Management, with particular expertise in waste prevention projects and in waste metabolism.