3.1. Legal Framework for Circular Economy and Inorganic Residues Management
The bioeconomy concept is related to the sustainable utilization of renewable resources for the production of food and feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy [26
]. In this context, in 2012 the European bioeconomy had a turnover of almost 2 trillion €, creating more than 22 million positions. In the same year the European Union (EU) reaffirmed this trajectory by presenting the communication “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe” [27
In this context, Spain implemented its own strategy on bioeconomy in January 2016. The implication of different economic sectors with the bioeconomy concept is estimated in 6.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs approximately 9% of the working population, within over 900,000 farms and more than 30,000 companies [28
]. The relevance of food production in the Spanish economy is evident: the farming sector produced Gross Value Added (GVA) of 21,707 billion € of National GDP and employing 740,000 people [29
]. GVA in the food industry sector was 28,500 billion € in 2012, with a total of 28,762 companies and employing 480,000 people [30
Innovation, public, and private investment in bioeconomy are supported by European, national, and regional measures. At EU level, the applied frame policy is the Horizon 2020 as well as CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) for innovation in agro-food systems. Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, considers three pillars, the so-called “Societal Challenges Pillar” among them, which encourages the promotion of research and innovation critical mass to get the adopted policy goals. In this Pillar, Societal Challenge 2 is related to “Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy.” This policy was linked to the CAP by the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability, which is a tool to promote innovation through several measures and supported by the second pillar of the CAP. In the same context, the Spanish National Plan for Research, Innovation and Development was established, in a parallel way to the Horizon 2020, having a similar structure. One of the main parts of this Plan is the so-called “challenges of Society.” The second one is related to bioeconomy under the name “Food quality, safety and security; sustainable and productive agriculture; natural resource sustainability; marine and maritime, and inland water research.” In this way, research entities and private companies can ask for financial support to carry out actions in this area. Additionally, the National Plan has included measure to promote innovation in territories and with different bioeconomy-related fields. Furthermore, all Autonomous Regions have adopted their own Research and Innovation Strategy for a Smart Specialization (RIS3) [31
Additionally, taking into account that inorganic waste can have potential for the construction of a circular economy framework in intensive greenhouse horticulture, it is of imperative need to establish the legal bases and context of this type of forwarded economy.
On December 2015, the European Commission adopted an implementation package about the circular economy of direct application in enterprises and consumers, related with the fight against climatic change, and the protection and conservation of the environment. In the same context, the Commission held a conference in June 2015, by which a public consultation was established. In this process, advantages and benefits of a shift towards a circular economy for the EU were analyzed. The basic principles for this was “closing the loop” of the life-cycles of products through a higher reutilization and recycling, and generating economic and environmental benefits by maximizing the value and use of raw materials, products, and wastes, promoting energy saving and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.
Furthermore, and directly related to the legal framework of this study, the EU considers five priority-areas for the expansion and promotion of a circular economy. In fact, these sectors, due to their special features and conditions (type of products, value chain specificity, environmental impact, dependence of certain materials in their production or extraction process, etc.), are more complex to satisfy the “circular” requisite. These are the following: plastics, food wastes, critical raw, wastes from building, and biomass bio-products, plastics being the most directly related to this paper. In January 2018 the European Commission published the “Strategy for plastics in a circular economy” which promotes the protection of the environment from pollution derived from plastics. In this line, the EU also intends to encourage expansion and innovation within this sector, thereby generating new investment opportunities and employment associated with the shift towards the circularity of this sector.
In Spanish context, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAPAMA) started, in March 2017, several measures towards the strategy to follow within circular economy. It is a long-time frame which identifies five priority sectors: building industry, agro-food sector, industry, consumer goods, and tourism, with measures to be accomplished up to 2030. Some of the objectives, which may be related to this work, are (i) protecting the environment and guaranteeing public health by reducing the use of natural non-renewable resources by reusing wastes and sub-products in the production-cycle as secondary raw materials; (ii) promoting the life-cycle analysis study of products and implementing measures of eco-design, by reducing the use of hazardous substances in their fabrication, to prolong the wedge life; (iii) encouraging the effective application of the principle of waste hierarchy: waste generation prevention, reutilization, and recycling; (iv) promoting the innovation and global efficiency of production processes, by the adoption of measures such as the implementation of the environmental management systems; (v) encouraging innovative ways of sustainable consumption and sustainable services; (vi) making possible the transition from a linear economy to a circular economy, by facilitating transparency of processes and public awareness; (vii) fostering the use of common indicators, transparent, and accessible that allow understanding of the scale of implementation of circular economy.
Thus, circular economy is the general framework of this work since the final objective is the re-use and circularity of inorganic waste generated in intensive greenhouse horticulture in Almería. However, there are several legal sectors related directly or indirectly to inorganic waste management, and which are explained below. In this sense, Figure 2
presents a detailed exposition of the legal framework of waste management in rural areas.
Legal framework for the management of inorganic waste in the primary sector can be classified in different areas:
Waste law context: the directive 2018/851 of the European Parliament on waste, which is currently under transposition. The Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament on waste was transposed to the Spanish legal system by means of the Spanish Law 22/2011 on waste and contaminated soils, resulting in the National Framework Scheme for waste management (Spanish acronym PEMAR) 2016-2022) and posterior transposed to the regional Andalusian law system by the Order December 30, 2016 and other (see Figure 2
Land filling: in many areas where recycling or incineration is not readily available, growers are faced with hauling the plastic to a landfill. The general European law frame is the Directive 2018/850 on the landfill of waste which was transposed to the Spanish systems through the Spanish Royal Decree 1481/2001 which regulates waste disposal through land filling and the Spanish Royal Decree 1304/2009.
Packaging: in the European context, the current law of application is the Directive EU 2018/852 on packaging and packaging waste, which is under transposition. In Spain the legal frame is basically the Spanish Royal Decree 252/2006 (which reviews the recycling and recovery objectives established in Spanish Law 11/1997).
Agriculture: The Council Directive 91/414/EEC established the placing of plant protection products on the market. This law frame was developed by the Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament. The Spanish legal system assimilated these regulations by the Spanish Royal Decree 1311/2012.
In any case, society as a whole must be familiar with the aims and principles of circular economy and the sustainable management of residues. As a consequence, all stakeholders related to greenhouse horticultural production must be involved in the implementation of circular strategies towards “zero waste,” circular economy being a tool to implement it [32
]. This goal cannot be implemented unless this concept is well-perceived and promoted by society and all agents involved in horticulture greenhouse value chain.
3.3. Data and Statistics on Amount, Volume, and Type of Produced Waste
As mentioned before, the information relating to the production of inorganic waste in rural areas is atomized or almost non-existent. In general, with regard to the composition of this waste, the plastic used as protection material represents approximately 6% of the total waste produced in intensive horticulture and the remaining 94% correspond to organic residues.
The estimation for 35,000 ha dedicated to horticultural production in greenhouses shows that more than 90,738 tons of waste and a volume of 187,050 m3
are produced every year. The maintenance of the cover structure and the plastic for disinfection are the productive functions with a higher importance in respect to the weight (43% and 23%, respectively). Regarding volume, the maintenance of the cover structure and transplanting are the most important contributing functions for inorganic waste (27% and 22%, respectively) of waste produced (Table 1
In addition, Table 2
shows the materials used to carry out the above mentioned tasks, and the main residues produced correspond to the metals of the greenhouses structures (41%) and the low density polyethylene (LDPE) used in covers (38%).
It is important to highlight that 5% of the weight produced correspond to polypropylene (raffia and supporting elements) which pose big difficulties in the management of organic waste.
Furthermore, the main types of inorganic waste produced in horticultural intensive production in Almería can be exposed by steps in the value chain. They are the following:
Materials used in the construction, maintenance and reform of greenhouses.
These materials are mainly concrete and concrete prefabs, wires, plastic elements, agricultural fabrics, and elements of irrigation systems. The materials used in construction are managed by the builder. The replacement of cover and closing elements (plastic, wires, meshes) is carried out by professional staff. Plastic waste is collected separately from wires, cardboard, or mesh which are managed, not without difficulty by producers.
Materials for physical and chemical protection.
Basically, they result from the elements used for the protection of the crop such as pads, tunnels, protections, double ceilings, and double closings together with the plastic used for solarization. This waste is produced when crops are replaced by others, especially in the summer period. Plastics are loaded onto vehicles for their shipment to the nearest management center or gathered in non-productive areas until they are transported to landfills.
Materials used in crop establishment.
In this section transplant materials contained by plants produced in nurseries include:
Trays, which are usually returnable.
Covers, being usually disposable.
Elements used to support plants (raffia, clips, and hooks).
Packaging containing fertilizers (plastic or raffia sacks, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and packaging that range from 25 gr to 1000 L).
Plant protection products (paper sacks, plastic bags in cardboard boxes, plastic bottles that range from 0.25 to 25 L) and auxiliary insects (cardboard boxes, cards, biofactory envelopes, cardboard, and plastic packaging that range from 0.25 to 1 L).
In this context, seedlings and trays are managed by nurseries. Additionally, plant protection products, fertilizers and organisms for biological control and pollination are bought in input supplier companies. The packaging of plant protection products must be managed in SIGFITO, which is, as mentioned before, a system used in the Spain to collect packaging of plant protection products. To carry out this, containers are installed in different entities of the agricultural sector. Farmers can freely access these collection points and leave their empty packaging on a regular basis.
Materials used in harvesting.
In this section, packaging of diverse standard sizes, pellet, straps, protection bags, and paper sheets are comprised. Farmers use the material provided by horticultural handling centers, fundamentally field boxes, which are provided under a use-return system.
After the use of self-working machinery, oils, fats, filters, and batteries are produced when performing maintenance tasks. This waste is managed in the garages where they are repaired. Once their lifespan has finished, this waste is sent to an authorized management center (farmers can benefit from schemes for the renovation of machinery).