Have you heard the one about the most expensive recycling plant in Europe that didn’t work because a mountain of rubbish fell on it and damaged it?

That was the case of a €75m recycling plant built in Athens a couple of years ago. Hopefully all is now well, and the people of Athens are helping to do their bit for the environment. They need to, as Greece is at the bottom of the European pile for managing rubbish efficiently. Sadly, Spain – and the UK too – are no smarties either when it comes to handling rubbish. Top of the ‘green’ tree are Belgium and Austria – Europe’s best recyclers and composters!

World Environment Day

World Environment Day is a United Nations initiative that was started in 1972 and this year it is being hosted by New Zealand. It was last held in Spain in 2004 by Barcelona when the theme was about the world’s oceans and seas and how to keep them alive and healthy.

The aim of World Environment Day is to raise awareness across the globe, so that individuals and politicians alike can think about the environment and the effects of waste and pollution. This year’s slogan is: ‘Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy’. Basically it’s all about how we can lessen the impact of greenhouse gases that come from waste – the Day is all about encouraging change on either a small personal scale or at a higher, more global and political level. The United Nations invites us to organise or take part in any activity aimed at helping to cut carbon emissions. This could be anything from a bike ride to a community clean-up or a tree planting session. For more information you can visit the UN’s website and see what it going on around the world in celebration of the Day: www.unep.org

If you are not planning on organising a large community event, there are still steps that you can take to help the environment. Into the bargain they can help save you money:

Did you know?

  • On average a plastic bag is used for 5 minutes but takes over 100 years to decompose
  • The European Union alone throws away 1.3 billion tonnes of waste every year – amounting to 3.5 tonnes of solid waste for every man, woman and child
  • By 2020 those in the know think we’ll be generating 45% more waste than in 1995
  • 67% of waste goes to a landfill site
  • How to join in and make a difference

There are a number of local initiatives around and if you look at your town’s website these are usually listed (don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish as pages are often translated into English). For instance – if you live around the Mazarrón area you might have seen some of the orange containers that the Town Hall has recently provided for recycling domestic oil. Mazarrón was one of the first municipalities to introduce this initiative. If you think that for each litre of used vegetable oil you can get another of ‘bio diesel’, you may start to appreciate what a good initiative this is.

A little bit about ‘bio diesel’ and cars …

Ahead of his time

The first known use of vegetable oil to run a diesel engine was demonstrated by the Otto Company at the 1900 World’s Fair – the engine ran on pure peanut oil. Rudolf Diesel must have been consulting his crystal ball when he made the following comment:

“The fact that fat oils from vegetable sources can be used may seem insignificant today, but such oils may perhaps become in course of time of the same importance as some natural mineral oils and the tar products are now.”

Mr Diesel investigated using vegetable oil to fuel the engines that he designed – and he would be pleased to know that this may be a fast approaching reality for us. Most diesel car engines are already suitable for the use of ‘SVO’, also commonly called ‘Pure Plant Oil’, with some modification. Basically the engine is started on diesel, switched over to vegetable oil as soon as it’s warmed up and switched back to diesel shortly before being switched off, so that no vegetable oil remains in the engine or fuel lines when it is started from cold again.

Make use of Ecoparques

If you’ve got a load of rubbish hanging around that’s worth recycling, look out for signs for the Ecoparques (recycling centres) that are dotted around the region. Ecoparques are very orderly and have clearly marked recycling areas. Aside from the usual paper, glass and household container recycling bins that you find on streets and in towns, you can also take the following to an Ecoparque: clothes; cooking oil; car oil; small electrical items such as televisions and computers; paint cans; car batteries and toys.

Larger recycling containers can take: domestic electrical items such as old washing machines; wood; metal and plastic items; residue from small building work (not for businesses) and mattresses.

Mazarrón Town Hall is on the ball again here with its green initiatives. If you happen to live in the outlying villages of this town you may be able to save yourself a car journey as Mazarrón has recently introduced a ‘mobile Ecoparque’. It can recycle pretty much the same stuff as the larger parks.

We all have a part to play in helping the environment and World Environment Day is a reminder that our small steps can make a difference. So, next time you are ready to tip that cooking oil away, pause for thought – why not recycle it instead? In the year 2108 somebody somewhere may be commenting on your intelligent action, as they climb into their cooking oil powered Mercedes Benz 1.8 ‘TVi’ – that’s short for ‘Turbo Vegetable injection’!

Joanne Tansey