”The waste management sector has been evolving in the last ten years, constantly improving collection rates, adapting to new legal requirements and responding effectively to the demands of society,” highlights the president of Repacar, Manuel Fernández, who predicts that in order to meet the requirements set by the European Union in environmental matters it will be necessary to “improve or nuance certain legal aspects, such as the excessive bureaucracy that falls on the activity of our companies, some concepts of the Royal Decree of, the revision of the European Transfer Regulation, etc.”
Faced with the increase in standards and their requirements, Fernández claims the role of associations such as Repacar, which offers “a unique voice when it comes to defending the interests” of associated companies “and responding to their common problems”. As for public administrations, the president of the Spanish Association of Paper and Cardboard Recyclers believes that they should “update processes and strengthen capacities based on the competencies of each of them in waste management”.
More than evolving, it has changed completely and has been transforming into a process that has not yet finished, because the vision about the use and recycling of resources has turned 180 degrees.
We have to remember the economic crisis that started at the end of the first decade of the XXI century and that had consequences until five or six years later; the terrible Covid pandemic that paralyzed the world; the current war in Ukraine and its impact on the cost of raw materials or energy… It has not been an easy decade for companies that, in addition to surviving, have had to update their management models, invest in innovation and improve the quality of the service they give to their customers.
However, and despite everything said above, I believe that the waste management sector has been evolving in the last ten years, constantly improving collection rates, adapting to new legal requirements and responding effectively to society’s demands, because citizens are now more environmentally conscious and are more committed to recycling and the responsible use of resources.
We work to gain in efficiency, recover more and with higher quality the material, adapting to new habits and making investments to modernize the facilities.
Manuel Fernández is the president of the Spanish Association of Paper and Cardboard Recyclers.
Just over ten years ago, the Waste Law of 2011 was approved as a necessity to improve the model after the requirements set out in the Sixth Community Action Program on the Environment of the European Union and Directive 2008/98/EC. This was an important turning point that laid the foundations for applying circular economy criteria.
However, the big turn in the sector came in 2015 with the European Union’s Circular Economy Package and its two Action Plans of 2015 and 2020, in addition to the Legislative Packages of 2018 and 2022. But where the foundations for the future were really laid was in the 2018 Package, where the recycling targets for 2025, 2030 and 2035 were defined.
As a result of European regulations, it is the 2022 Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils for the Circular Economy that sets the national objectives for the coming years, although there are other legal frameworks that affect us very directly, such as the 2022 Royal Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste, or the two draft Regulations of the European Commission on packaging and on waste transfers.
As for the second part of the question regarding the technological field, the balance of the last decade is very positive. The automation of numerous processes in the treatment plants to optimize the selection processes with more efficient systems and machinery, the improvement of vehicle fleets and the optimization of their routes, the control of environmental impacts, the new business management systems to face the new demands of customers and the bureaucratic burden and, in short, a new vision of customer service, determine the work of the Repacking companies.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that technology is a variable that has defined the sector and that will define it even more with digital transformation, industry 4.0 and the use of enabling technologies, such as artificial intelligence or the Internet of Things (IoT).
I believe that we are an association that has been able to read the realities of society well and anticipate regulatory developments, helping our companies to quickly adapt to the requirements and market developments, which are other than the new needs of their customers, on the one hand, and the situations of each moment of the national and international market of recovered paper and cardboard, on the other. These two variables determine the flow of the business and are really complex, because they do not always combine as it would be desirable.
In addition, it is evident that Repacar has evolved according to not only its associates, but also the whole of Spanish society and its environmental awareness. Every year more is recycled in general terms because both citizens, through the blue containers, and companies are more responsible with the environment and the efficient use of resources.
Over the last ten years, Repacar has carried out an intense activity of permanent contact with legislators and the elaboration of allegations during the processes of preparation of the directives, laws and other standards that have then been approved, doing so both at the international level — through our international representation in BIR, EuRIC and ERPA — and at the national level by the hand of the other agents of the paper and cardboard value chain and the sectoral associations.
With regard to promoting innovation and the digitalization of the sector, in 2020 we launched the Valora application to help us better understand our input flows, adapt our processes and thus improve the quality of the selected fractions. Today it has a wide implementation among the associates.
On the other hand, we have made enormous progress in providing services to our partner companies, among other aspects, expanding the training offer and working to achieve zero accidents in the context of occupational risk prevention.
In addition, and faced with the new legal requirements, Repacar is part of Circular Cardboard, the new SCRAP for industrial cardboard packaging waste promoted by the entire value chain also formed by Afco, Aspack and Aspapel. Its objective is to allow packers and packaging manufacturers to respond to the new legal requirements, allowing industries to continue working with their usual waste managers, as they have been doing successfully for years.
Finally, we firmly believe that our annual congress is the first benchmark for the meeting and discussion of the paper and cardboard recovery and recycling sector. I take this opportunity to remind you that the 14th congress will be held on November 28, 2023 at the Linares Palace-Casa de América in Madrid.
As part of the package of measures on the circular economy, both the EU Directive 2018/851 and the subsequent Law 7/2022 on Waste and Contaminated Soils establish very ambitious recycling targets for waste, so we are going to have to make a lot of efforts. I am not only speaking for Repackaging, but I propose it as a common responsibility, of the whole country and, by extension, of the European Union, the region of the world with the most demanding and advanced environmental commitment.
As for paper and cardboard, the regulations require 75% recycling by 2025 and 80% in 2030. These are percentages above the established general average, but it is also true that our sector is one of the oldest and that, in addition, paper and cardboard do not present the difficulties that other types of materials have in their collection, treatment and recycling processes. Therefore, 4.4 million tons of paper and cardboard were collected and managed in 2021, 0.4% more than the previous year.
We want to be positive and, of course, we work to meet these objectives, although for this we have to, according to our opinion, improve or clarify certain legal aspects, such as the excessive bureaucracy that falls on the activity of our companies, some concepts of the Royal Decree on Packaging, the revision of the European Transport Regulation, etc.
Regarding the role of business collectives, I would like to highlight that Repacar works with a wide ecosystem of organizations to represent and defend the interests of the recovery and recycling of paper and cardboard with objective and technical criteria. In addition to having a presence in the most relevant business organizations, such as CEOE and Cepyme, we are part of the Recovery Forum, Paper Forum, Recipap, Packnet and UNE.
Well, we believe that the business fabric is indeed ready, because Spain has already had a robust and very professional ecosystem dedicated to the circular economy for years. In our case, the daily life of the almost 120 companies associated with Repacar is a demonstration of how complicated it is to manage in the paper and cardboard recovery and recycling sector, but also of how important it is to have a unique voice when it comes to defending your interests and responding to common problems.
As for public administrations, it must be recognized that they have important challenges and challenges ahead of them when adapting to all the requirements of the new regulations and achieving the set objectives, for which they will have to update processes and strengthen capacities based on the competencies of each of them in waste management.