valorización de residuos

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What happens when a product reaches the end of its useful life? Waste recovery can grant a new life to this waste by recycling, recovering, reusing, or transforming it into energy. Discover how this innovative waste management model works and how it serves as a key element for the economy of the future.

In the past few years, the circular economy has become the main alternative for achieving a long-term and environmentally-friendly development model. Waste recovery, one of the major pillars of this strategy, makes it possible to extend the life cycle of products and transform waste into energy or raw materials, thus eliminating it from landfills.

What is waste recovery?

Waste recovery optimizes waste treatment allowing it to be converted for a specific purpose, either to generate energy or obtain new raw materials.

The European directive 2008/98/CE, of November 19, defines "recovery" as any operation in which the main goal is that the waste serve "a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used used to fulfill a particular function."

In Spain, contaminated waste and soil management is also regulated by Law 7/2022, of April 8, which highlights the importance of recovery within the circular economy in minimizing negative effects on human health and the environment. Recovery makes it possible to increase the efficiency of the production system and move closer to a zero waste model. 

In 2021, the Spanish economy produced around 138 million metric tons of waste, 31% more than the previous year, according to the report "Main Figures in the Waste Recycling Sector 2022" from IFMA España. Only 15% of that total waste was recycled, whereas the rest ended up in landfills. However, if a proper waste management strategy had been taken into account, the majority of that waste could have been recovered. 

What waste can be recovered?

In general, we can define recoverable waste as non-hazardous refuse that can be recycled or recovered, entirely or partially, and transformed into new materials.

laboratorio analizando residuos valorizables

Materials that fall within this category include paper and cardboard, glass, lightweight plastic, wood, metal, domestic and commercial electronic components such as computers, and organic waste or biowaste, among other types.

Within Repsol's circular economy strategies, we can find several examples of waste recovery, such as its various composting projects focused on the recovery of organic waste from the company's operations in remote areas, such as food and cooking waste. These waste management projects provide nutrients to the soil to serve as fertilizers for crops. Since 2019, Repsol's Block 57 plant in Peru and its Campo de Margarita plant in Colombia have transformed more than 70 metric tons of compost to be used both for fertilization on its own land and for local communities.

What about waste that cannot be recovered?

Even though a sustainable waste management plan must always consider recovery as a priority strategy for its treatment, sometimes it may not be feasible to recycle or recover discarded materials considered non-recoverable waste, which will end up in a landfill.

Current regulations on these types of waste also require companies to supervise disposal operations by adopting the necessary measures to protect human health and the environment.

laboratorio analizando residuos valorizables

However, once a product's life cycle is over, this waste can still be used to generate energy for domestic and industrial use through the application of various thermochemical or biochemical processes. They convert the waste into clean and environmentally-friendly energy sources such as electricity, biogas, and biomethane.

Repsol's Bilbao plant boasts several pioneering projects in municipal waste management that employ a pyrolysis process to generate biogas and a municipal waste recovery process. This way, up to 100,000 metric tons of trash is diverted from landfills.

Another noteworthy example of energy recovery is the Ecoplanta in Tarragona, a joint construction along with Enerkem and Agbar. This facility will be the first on the Iberian Peninsula to recover non-recyclable municipal solid waste by transforming it into methanol to be used to make renewable plastics or biofuels. 

Recently, Repsol has taken one step further in its circular economy strategy by joining Acteco, a specialist in waste recovery in Spain. This will allow us to continue developing and launching new sustainable materials to the market through our Repsol Reciclex range. 

Main benefits of waste recovery for society

The application of these waste recovery strategies in the circular economy yields endless environmental, economic, and social advantages.