Waste collection in Catalonia

Written by: Tim Byrne | Published:

Since 1997 private company L'Arca del Maresme has supplied environmental services for the Comarca del Maresme region of Catalonia on the northern coast of Barcelona. Tim Byrne, specialist in waste collection in Mediterranean countries, looks at how the business provides waste collection, street and beach cleaning, as well as the operation of household waste recycling centres and waste transfer station contracts for the Comarca del Maresme municipalities.

In July 2014, L'Arca del Maresme won the waste collection and street cleansing contract for the municipality of Argentona in the Comarca del Maresme region of Catalonia. The contract is initially for four years, with the option of an extension for an additional two years. It involves the collection of non-recyclable waste, organic waste and dry recyclables from a population of 12,000 people as well as providing street cleaning services using both manual labour and mechanical sweeping equipment. As part of the new contract, the company also empties all the litter bins in the streets of the municipality, using a fleet of small Piaggio collection vehicles.

Waste collection service

The waste collection service in Argentona differs from that in other cities and towns in Spain. L'Arca del Maresme carries out a door-to-door waste collection service for 75% of the municipality's population. This involves the collection of non-recyclable waste in plastic sacks, and the collection of dry recyclables such as paper, cardboard, plastic (PET, HDPE, Tetra Pak and LDPE) and steel and aluminium tins and cans (commingled) in categorised containers. Organic compostable waste is also collected. Residents place this in a storage container of 10 and 25 litres capacity that has a closing lid to prevent foul odours being produced in the warm Mediterranean climate. There are light coloured green igloos placed along the streets in Argentona for the deposit of commingled coloured glass bottles and jars.

The door-to-door collection system in Argentona was one of the first to be introduced by a municipality in Catalonia. It has been in operation since the previous waste collection contract was awarded to L'Arca del Maresme in 2004. Initially, non-recyclable waste and the organic waste fractions were collected from resident's door-to-door and in 2009, this was expanded to include the collection of four dry recyclable streams, for example, paper, cardboard, plastics and steel and aluminium tins and cans. Through the expansion of the selective collection of waste streams from door-to-door properties, L'Arca del Maresme has achieved a high participation rate in the collection of dry recyclables while maintaining consistently high quality standards of the collected dry recyclate.

The remaining 25% of the waste is collected from residents in containers placed at communal collection points along the streets. The non-recyclable waste fraction is placed in a dark green coloured 1000 litre container while recyclable paper, cardboard, plastics and steel and aluminium cans (commingled) are placed into blue and yellow coloured 3-5 cubic metre containers. The blue container is for paper and cardboard while the yellow is for plastics and steel and aluminium tins and cans. A light green coloured igloo is placed in the communal point for the collection and storage of commingled glass.

Two spokespeople, one from Argentona municipality and the other from L'Arca del Maresme, explain that: "It is more practical, efficient and financially viable to introduce door-to-door selective collection systems in municipalities where there are populations from 5,000-15,000 people. This, combined with effective communications with the residents, helps to achieve higher recycling rates, thus reducing the quantities of non-recyclable waste which still requires treatment. There are currently 900 cities and towns in Catalonia with 113 of them being provided with a door-to-door selective waste collection service, and it's growing more and more. Argentona is one of the top 10-15 municipalities in Catalonia achieving consistently high tonnages of high quality dry recyclables. This compares with other Spanish cities and towns where 65-85% of waste is collected using communal collection points and only achieving a 35-40% recycling rate."

The municipality of Canet de Mar in Catalonia, which has a population of 15.000 people, is also using a door-to-door selective collection system to increase recycling rates, while Vic municipality, which has a population of 40.000 people, is now implementing a door-to-door collection system. This is to increase both the tonnage of recyclables collected and their quality which will reduce the disposal costs for the non-recyclable waste fraction sent for disposal.

Operation of the waste collection service

To help reduce traffic congestion, L'Arca del Maresme collect 75% of waste at night, arising from the door-to-door collection service. Residents are required to place their plastic sacks containing non-recyclable waste and their dry recyclables and organic waste containers out for collection between 8-10pm. Two rear loading waste collection vehicles, each manned with a driver and two operatives, start collecting the waste at 10pm. A smaller collection vehicle is used for collecting waste from the narrow streets in the centre of the town inaccessible by a larger collection vehicle, while the larger vehicle collects waste from the periphery of the town. Both collection vehicles finish their collection rounds by 03.00 hours.

The remaining 25% of waste and recyclables are collected in Argentona from the 1000 litre and blue and yellow 3-5 cubic metre containers at communal collection points in the daytime. The light green igloos containing glass are emptied across the whole of the municipality in the daytime using a roll-on-off vehicle with an open top container and truck-mounted crane. This vehicle is single manned i.e. only operated with a driver.

By the end of 2015, Argentona municipality want L'Arca del Maresme to implement door-to-door selective collection to the remaining 25% of properties within the municipality to help increase its recycling rate. Currently, the 75% of residents served by a door-to-door selective collection system in the municipality achieve a 70% recycling rate.

With the remaining 25% of residents in Argentona switching from using communal collection points to the door-to-door selective collection system will help the municipalities' recycling rate increase to 80%. This compared with the overall recycling rate from the other Catalonian municipalities who still use communal collection points for the collection of non - recyclable, and dry recyclables is 39% so it shows that Argentona municipality is at the forefront of recycling in Catalonia through implementing a door-to-door selective collection system.

Residents in Argentona are charged for their waste collection service according to the number of occupants living in each household. The municipality provides the occupants a sufficient supply of plastic sacks for the storage of their non-recyclable waste. This encourages the residents to recycle more because if the residents use up all of the plastic sacks provided by the municipality, the residents will have to purchase additional plastic sacks from a local convenience store for the storage of their waste.

There are specific days when residents can place certain waste streams out for collection. Non-recyclable waste is collected once a week, the organic fraction is collected three times a week, with this extending to four times a week between the months of June-September because of odours produced from the putrescible food waste fraction. Paper and cardboard are collected once a week and plastics, steel and aluminium tins and cans are collected twice weekly.

For commercial businesses such as shops, bars and restaurants, non-recyclable waste is collected in plastic sacks, while the recyclable waste streams are collected in containers. The food waste fraction can be collected in containers of 25, 40, 60, 120 and 240 litre containers dependent on the volumes of food waste produced by a business. L'Arca del Maresme collects the food waste from commercial producers five days a week while non-recyclable waste is collected once a week and paper, cardboard, plastic and steel and aluminium tins and cans are collected twice a week. Glass is deposited by the commercial producers in the light green coloured igloos positioned in the streets of the municipality.

Waste treatment

The non-recyclable waste is delivered both in the night and day to the Mataro incinerator plant which disposes of all waste produced in the Comarca del Maresme region. The plant was constructed in 1994 and has a capacity of processing 219.410 tonnes of waste a year. It has two Martin Reverse Acting Stoker grates which combust the waste at temperatures of over a 1000o and produces 8,5MWh of electricity from the incineration process which is exported to the local electricity network.

Due to the high costs in terms of gate fees for disposing of non-recyclable waste at the incineration plant, Argentona municipality, in conjunction with L'Arca del Maresme, have conducted information campaigns to educate the public to recycle more. This reduces the costs of sending waste for incineration and increases profitability for the municipality in the sale of the dry recyclables.

Organic waste is delivered to a composting plant for converting into compost full of nutrients which can be used in farming. The paper, cardboard, plastics, steel and aluminium tins and cans and glass are delivered to reprocessors for the production of new products reducing the reliance on using virgin aggregates.

Purchase of N-Series hybrid LI-ON Power waste collection vehicles

To enhance the waste collection service, L'Arca del Maresme has purchased two hybrid LI-ON Power N2-series intermittent loading waste collection vehicles from Geesinknorba Spain. These two new units will accompany an existing Geesinknorba KT2 24H25 24 cubic metre capacity waste collection vehicle fitted with a roof mounted crane operated by L'Arca del Maresme mounted to a Renault Premium 340 DXI 6x2 rear steer 26 tonne chassis. This unit is used to collect dry recyclables e.g. paper, cardboard, plastics and steel and aluminium tins and cans from the blue and yellow coloured 3-5 cubic metre containers used to service 25% of the municipality's population.

The collection fleet includes a N2 8L22 of 9 cubic metres capacity mounted onto a Renault D16 Euro 6 16 tonne 4x2 chassis while the second unit is a N2 18H25 of 18 cubic metres capacity mounted onto a Renault Premium D26 Euro 6 26 tonne 6x2 rear steer chassis. Both Renault chassis feature the Allison 3000 Series automatic transmission to reduce driver fatigue in the start and stop operations experienced in waste collection operations.

The municipality of Argentona had previously studied the use of Geesinknorba waste collection equipment from their experience of the KT2 24H25 unit and Renault chassis already working on their fleet and had therefore stipulated that this was the equipment they wanted used in the municipality. According to the municipality, the reasons for this were due to Geesinknorba's equipment contributing to high efficiency operationally while also reducing maintenance and whole life costs.

The use of hybrid technology was further strengthened by the municipality and L'Arca del Maresme's longer term environmental strategy being based on reducing carbon dioxide and noise emissions and also improving the general air quality of the local environment. This is underpinned by the municipality working in conjunction with the Diputació de Barcelona in reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 to meet the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Both of the two Geesinknorba N2 series units are fitted with the L200 Combi-Lifter which consists of a comb bar for emptying DIN 30740 type containers of 80-1100 litres capacity. Trunnion arms have also been fitted to both units to enable the emptying of DIN 30700 type containers of 660 and 1100 litre capacities too. This gives the crew the versatility of using either the comb or trunnion arms. The N2-series has an intermittent packing mechanism using the patented Geesinknorba slide block system. The compaction mechanism achieves a high compaction ratio of 6:1 yielding a high payload.

One of the technical and operational advantages of the hybrid LI-ON Power units fitted on the two new Geesinknorba N2 vehicles supplied to Argentona municipality are that the units are electrically operated and provide a noise free waste collection service when collecting waste in the middle of the night.

Other benefits include the use of a special industrial type lithium ion battery that has been specially designed and manufactured for Geesinknorba. The LI-ON Power unit weighs 500kgs which includes the weight of the battery, electric motor and electric pump so it does not have any effect on the Geesinknorba N2's payload that the waste collection unit can legally carry. The Renault truck chassis recharges the LI-ON Power battery when the vehicle is moving from one collection point to another.

The chassis starts to recharge the batteries once it reaches a speed of 8kph. The LI-ON Power unit also achieves a fuel saving of 30% when in operation. The LI-ON Power batteries only need charging from an electrical connection at the workshop once a week to make sure that the lithium ion batteries are stabilised. The Lithium ion batteries will not fall below the 60-70% level. If the batteries did fall to around 25% because of a technical or diagnostic issue the LI-ON Power unit would automatically disconnect and the hydraulics for operating the packing mechanism and bin lifting equipment will be provided through the chassis power take off using the Geesinknorba SmartPack system. This reduces the chassis fuel consumption by 15% when used. The benefit to using the SmartPack system in conjunction with the LI-ON power hybrid system is that it will make sure that, if the conventional chassis PTO is used, it will maintain a high level of operational productivity for the waste collection service.

Miguel Angel Morales, commercial director for Geesinknorba Spain, says: "Geesinknorba has more than 12 years experience with hybrid systems for waste collection vehicles. This has contributed to environmental benefits such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions, improving air quality and overall, improving the environment in general.

"Geesinknorba Spain has sold 60 hybrid waste collection vehicles to Spanish cities and towns. The first unit was delivered in 1996 which demonstrates Geesinknorba´s continual commitment to continually investing in developing its hybrid systems to provide sustainable waste collection systems for Spain, Europe and the wider world underpinned by the company's 20 years experience in this field."

Geesinknorba Spain will support the two LI-ON Power N2 Series waste collection vehicles at its Rubi service centre in Barcelona.

In conclusion, the Argentona municipality, in conjunction with L'Arca del Maresme and Geesinknorba Spain, are providing an efficient waste management system for the residents of Argentona mirrored by the other waste collection, street and beach cleaning, household waste recycling centres and waste transfer station contracts.


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