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Case study: “We have a right to breathe clean air”

Case study: "We have the right to breathe clean air"

. A new case study recently published investigates the conflicts surrounding the incineration of waste in cement kilns, especially in the case of Spain, where civil society mobilization has been particularly evident in the past few years.

The paper was published by a well-known sustainable development scientific journal and co-authored by Mariel Vilella, managing director of ZWE, who has been following the work of Spanish groups since 2011. The paper was drawn from several gatherings she attended and many direct interviews with representatives of the affected communities.

In addition, the case study provides a background analysis of the evolution of the use of waste as an alternative fuel in international and Spanish national cement plants. At the beginning of 2000, in the context of the European “mad cow disease” food scandal, the practice of waste incineration in cement plants was expanded. The cement plants applied for the incineration of excess meat and bone meal generated by the incineration crisis, and then gradually used other types of industrial and municipal solid waste.

Between 2004 and 2014, the evolution of waste fuel consumption increased, especially between 2008 and 2010. By 2012, 28 of the 35 cement plants operating in Spain at that time adopted the common practice of cement plant waste incineration. The waste includes forestry biomass, industrial biomass residues, such as cellulose or vegetable waste from the food industry, and meat. And bone meal, animal fat or vegetable oil, sewage sludge, old tires, sawdust or treated wood, textile waste, oil residue, mineral oil, plastics, solvents and refuse-derived fuel (RDF).

Although cement companies have repeatedly claimed that incineration of waste is good for the environment, background analysis suggests that other economic factors may have played a more important role. The significant increase in waste fuel usage coincided with Spain's severe economic crisis in 2008-2010, which, among other effects, also led to a sharp decline in Spain's demand for cement. In fact, Spanish cement production was the highest in Europe when it peaked in 2007, but by 2013 production had fallen by 50%, with nine factories closed and a large number of layoffs. In other words, the economic benefits of co-incineration are an important incentive for the industrial sector to increase the use of waste fuels during the economic downturn.

In response, over the years, there have been increasing voices against waste incineration in cement plants, mainly initiated by civil society groups in neighboring cement plants. They expressed concern about the impact of joint incineration on public health and the environment. Spain’s Coordinadora Estal en Contra de la Incineración en Cementeras was created in Madrid in 2009 by representatives of struggles from three places: Bierzo Aire Limpio, Toledo Aire Limpio and Montcada Aire Net. The network’s first annual gathering was celebrated in Ponferrada in 2009, and almost every year since then in Toledo (2010), Lexac (2012), Olazagutia (2013), Morata de Tajunia (2014) and Penedes Province (2015) and Alcalá de Guadaíra (2016). In addition, the first international cement kiln waste incineration rally attended by local struggle representatives from Spain, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Serbia and Italy was held in Barletta, Italy (2014), and the second was held in Moncada and Rexa, Spain. Held (2015) with representatives from Mexico, India, Costa Rica, Argentina, Tanzania, Philippines, Chile, Mauritius, El Salvador, China, Slovenia, and the United States. The third edition has just been held in Mexico from November 22 to 24, 2017.

At the end of 2016, the Spanish network consisted of 15 civil society organizations or a network of coalition organizations for this particular struggle, the so-called platform. Some of these groups or networks cover a wide area of ​​Spain, and some of them have organized regional networks (for example, Catalonia and Andalusia) to develop specific strategies and target their regional institutions. In the wide range of activities carried out by these groups, two main strategies need to be emphasized: First, with the support of professional lawyers and toxic substances experts, special legal procedures are formulated to challenge the environmental authorization of cement plants to incinerate waste. A strategy that has been proven successful many times; secondly, education and awareness-raising activities are carried out with the support of health, toxic and waste management experts to further increase social pressure, support and understanding.

Read the full summary here

To learn more about this case study, please contact mariel(at)zerowasteeurope.eu directly

"Over the years, opposition to waste incineration in cement plants has been growing, mainly driven by civil society groups in the neighboring cement plants, which have expressed concerns about the impact of joint incineration on public health and the environment."

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