If you live in Madrid you will know the ‘Acierta con la organica’ campaign by now. It has been all over the city in the last two years, on posters, badges… and, most appropriately, on waste bins.
It translates to ‘Madrid: getting organic waste right’ and is the public information campaign accompanying the introduction of organic waste collection.
The stakes are high: if the city succeeds in diverting all their organic waste from landfill, they will avoid CO2 emissions in the region of 2.4 million tonnes each year – the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road.[i]
So are they ‘getting it right’ so far?

Source: Madrid City Council

A rapid shift

By 2020 all of Madrid’s 1.6 million households and 3.2 million inhabitants will be sorting their organic waste ready for collection.
This represents a rapid shift: up until a couple of years ago Madrid City Council was not separately collecting organic waste at all.
After starting in a few pilot districts, they are now rolling out the service in record time. Collection is carried out daily from communal or street bins across the city.
So far implementation has been smooth, thanks in no large part to the gigantic reach of the ‘Acierta con la organica’ campaign, whose staff have visited 100,000 households, 11,000 businesses, and 160 schools.

Some challenges

As in life, however, worthwhile deeds are rarely straightforward.
One challenge concerns what to do with all this biowaste once collected. Suddenly city managers have hundreds of thousands of tonnes of biowaste to process; an almost continuous flow of garbage trucks full of food scraps.
Trying to find end products with value is very important – via the traditional way of doing things this has been hard to achieve,” explains Jose Luis Cifuentes from Madrid City Council, “we send biowaste to anaerobic digestion to produce biogas, but valorising the digestate as a fertiliser in Madrid is a very difficult task”.
In most of Europe, digestate is converted, with varying levels of success, into compost or fertiliser. In Madrid this has an added complication due to several factors.
The first challenge results from the relatively low purity of the biowaste (70 to 80% total organics in weight) – as in most big cities, a large percentage of non-organic waste (plastic bags, glass, etc) ends up in the organic bin.
Secondly, after going through anaerobic digestion to produce biogas, the resulting digestate does not have the required material characteristics to be the feedstock of a high quality compost or fertiliser.
Thirdly – and maybe the most important challenge – Madrid doesn’t have a large local market for fertiliser, with little or no agricultural activity in the surrounding area.

EU collaboration

To help solve some of these challenges Madrid has joined up with the SCALIBUR project – an EU funded initiative where leading waste management companies, technology developers and research organisations have teamed up to demonstrate innovative solutions to transform urban food waste and sewage sludge into high value-added products.
SCALIBUR activities in Madrid kicked off in earnest at a first ‘Madrid Biowaste Club’ meeting in November. Here all the main stakeholders in biowaste management in Madrid met with SCALIBUR experts, led by The Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP), to discuss how to improve collection, transport and valorisation.
Strategies to increase the purity of the biowaste collected, and eventually new and innovative valorisation methods were high on the agenda during the first of what will be a series of meetings in the coming years.
Facing similar problems in your city? An e-learning module, training programmes, national action manuals and a stakeholder platform will be created to share the outcomes of SCALIBUR with interested Municipalities.

[i] 1 tonne of biowaste put into landfill produces 4.2 tonnes equivalent CO2 as it decomposes,  according to United States Environmental Protection Agency (https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/us-greenhouse-gas-inventory-report-1990-2014).