SIRCLES gets inspired by community compost and door-to-door separate collection in Sort-Catalonia


This article forms part of a series of publications under SIRCLES project to support circular economy opportunities for employment and social inclusion in our partner territories Palestine, Lebanon, Spain, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, and Jordan.

Marina gets to Isil, a small, 74 inhabitants village in Pallars Sobirà County (a mountainous region in the Northwest of Catalonia, Spain), opens the new community compost container and checks its humidity. It is a bit high, it will be necessary to add some structuring material in (carbon-rich materials, such as milled pruning leftovers, dry leafs, sawdust, straw or dry grass). Thus, some splintered wood that has been ground in the waste sorting plant of the country’s capital, Sort will be added. Once Marina has checked the rest of the control parameters, she and her colleague get in their van and drive to the next composter.

Marina Martínez works at the waste sorting plant in Sort and she is in charge of checking the community composter system in Situ. This system started getting implemented more than a decade ago by the local authority, the Pallars Sobirà County Council (PSCC). “More than 50 villages have implemented it”, says Martínez, “We drive a van, three times per week, with all the necessary materials in order to stir the organic waste and, once we get there, we check its state and what has been thrown in it”.


This system of community compost, though, only works in those villages with less population in the region. The higher-populated towns have another system consisting of door-to-door separate collection (DtD) with which they pick the organic waste in every house. “We do an individualised, chip-identified collection in those villages with more economic activity, higher population or closer to the collection centre; the most optimal ones to collect”, explains Marc Sans, technician and manager of the municipal waste collection of PSCC.

Those in charge of collecting the organic matter look after the adequate delivery: “with their experience, they can see whether it is correct or not. They do so by opening the bucket and observing. If the neighbours have done it wrongly, an incidence ticket is delivered”, explains Sans. Reoffenders can be fined up to 90 euros.

Door-to-door schedule fridge magnet distributed by the PSCC. Each day of the week a different type of waste is collected.

Glass is picked up on Mondays, light packaging on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the organic waste on Wedensdays, Fridays and Sundays, paper on Thursdays and mixed waste is collected on Wednesdays

There is a small composting plant in Sort which was inaugurated in 2015 thanks to the European union’s funding from the ENPI CBC MED’s SCOW Project, and the main goal of the DtD system is to deliver the purest possible organic waste to this plant, with very low non-compostable impurities (mainly plastics). After its treatment, the result will be a high-quality compost, apt for ecological agriculture, “and this is thanks to good quality of the organic waste entering the plant from the door-to-door system. Because it is a simple facility, with no impurities’ separation”, admits Sans.

The plant was constructed next to the pre-existent Sort’s waste collection centre. It has 2 silos (one for decomposition and another for maturation) where the composting process has place. They have some guides with holes beneath it from where the air is injected, also they are being irrigated from above with water and the lixiviates given off by those silos, which are recovered and recirculated. “Perfect conditions for decomposition are insured”, tells the supervisor of the service, “between the water and the air pockets left between the structuring material and the organic matter, the waste is decomposed correctly because it facilitates a certain type of bacterial and fungus activity”. This organic material will remain in the first silo from 5 to 8 weeks; after this, they will be moved to the maturation one, identical to the first one but with a different watering regime. It will stay there for another 4 to 8 weeks.

Door-to-door system worker identifying electronically the bucket

Approximately 640 tonnes of organic waste are treated yearly at the composting plant, plus 200 to 300 tonnes of structuring material are used yearly. At the end of the composting process the material is sieved and 50 to 80 tonnes of compost are produced each year. “It is not too much, it is a small plant”, adds Sans.

Community composters: “This is circular economy, everything is managed there and stays there”

At the lesser populated areas of the region, the waste management service works differently. Glass, paper, light packaging and mixed waste are collected in containers on the sidewalk; while the organic waste is not collected, but managed in situ with community or private composters, as PSCC’s official website indicates. These are the smaller and dispersed mountain villages, not optimal enough to have their waste collected with the DtD system.

“In most of the bigger towns (which lay at the valleys) we have the door-to-door system. This organic waste gets to the composting facility in Sort. The other villages have community composters. That way the whole region can manage their organic waste”, confirmed Cristina Ruiz, technician in community composting at the Pallars Sobirà County Council. “We have around 50 small villages with one or two composting zones. The population here is within 10 to 70 people, in some places, even less”, clarifies Ruiz, “in order to fill an entire 800 litres composter with organic waste many days may be needed.”

SIRCLES Project partners during a community composting training in Sort and its surroundings

The main goal of the project is to recycle in community composters all the organic waste generated by the mountain populations and make compost from it, which will be delivered for free to all the population participating in this system. “People understand the value of our job, take the compost and use it; there are many people who wait for it”, indicates Cristina Ruiz, “but there are some who still do not know what this system is: we need to raise more awareness.”

Once the composter is filled up and with the correct humidity, they close it and let it mature. “We control them; we drive to each village once a month and sieve it. Once the compost is ready, we put it in a bag and leave it there”, says Marina Martínez: “everything is left in the same village”. “This is circular economy, everything is managed there and stays there”, answers Cristina Ruiz, “the neighbours can use it for their plants and gardens”.

Beneficial for everybody

And this is one of the biggest benefits of the system, the fact that the same neighbours have access to the compost generated both at Sort’s facility and the community composters around the region.

The people managing the service value the compost as a high quality one with a price of about €30 per tonne, “if we got to sell the 50 tonnes we produce yearly [in Sort’s plant, without considering the other composters], we would have an income of €1,500, with which we would not even get close to covering the operating costs. We do not take any profit, nor is this our goal”, argues Marc Sans, “hence, we chose another path: giving away the compost for free so that those who helped generate it do not have any difficulties to get some”.

But this is not the only positive outcome: those over 600 tonnes of organic waste which are now being treated, used to go to the landfill before. “As landfill entrance costs raise, the selective collection and treatment of organic waste are more optimal each time”, tells Sans.

The Pallars Sobirà County Council receives annually from the Waste Agency of Catalonia a return from the Waste Disposal Tax (admission tax to landfills) of about €80,000 due to the collection and treatment of organic waste in the county, and also for the auto compost; “this income does not cover the total expenses we have, but if we were not to sort this waste, we would not have this return. Furthermore, we should pay around €90,000 of admission costs to landfills”. Marc Sans concludes that “the difference is: either paying €90,000 or receiving €80.000, a €170,000 difference. We add the numbers and realize that this is an optimal and economically viable model, because this model’s success relies on the fact that we have our own facility to treat waste sustainably and we do not have to pay landfilling. Hence the best option for the County Council is the door-to-door separate collection with our own composting plant, complemented with community composting for the smaller villages.”