By Patrick Schirmer Sastre
“Today, there was no swimming and instead of collecting seashells, I collected garbage,” commented Geoff, an expatriate resident, according to the Majorca Daily Bulletin as the season closed in 2017.
“All along the water line, plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic straws and enough cigarette butts to kill an army,” he added, listing off all the trash he found.
Although the islands depend heavily on tourism, local ire over the trash situation continues to smoulder, flaring up in January 2018 in response to an amateur video of a litter-strewn street in Palma, the capital of the main island Mallorca.
The Balearic government has also responded to the video, with a bill to fight the plastic waste that targets suppliers as well as consumers – after all, someone sells these items to the visitors.
“The penalties will in future range from 300 euros (367 dollars) for small offences to 1.75 million euros (2.14 million dollars) for serious violations of the law,” says Sebastia Sanso, director general for environmental education and waste management on the islands.
Around 700,000 tonnes of waste pile up annually on Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Menorca, with Mallorca accounting for some 500,000 tonnes. The bill aims to reduce the 2010 amount by 10 per cent by 2020, then by as much as 20 per cent by 2030.
“Instead of focusing on the disposal of waste, we want to prevent the waste from even occurring,” says Sanso. “This is less about bans than stores offering recyclable alternatives.”
The provisions envisage that disposable plastic bags also disappear from shops by 2019. The following year sees the eradication of plastic plates, disposable razors, cotton swabs, lollipop sticks and wet wipes. Coffee capsules must either be degradable or be taken back and recycled by producers.
Tourists will feel the changes in legislation, because it is in the holiday season that most of the waste accumulates on the Balearics.
From 2019, hotels and restaurants will no longer be able to sell or provide disposable bottles. Meanwhile, the legislation says that, among other solutions, free tap water must be offered to tourists.
“This practice is commonplace in other European countries like France, so why not with us too?” asks Sanso.
The islands hosted 2.4 million foreign visitors in July 2017, according to the National Institute of Statistics, more than twice the local population during the off-season months.
Margalida Ramis, spokeswoman for the environmental protection association Gob, is cautiously optimistic about dealing with the refuse problem.
“Of course it is important that the guidelines are rigorously implemented. However, putting emphasis on the prevention of waste production is one of our key demands,” she says, calling also for a deposit system on containers.
Sanso doesn’t rule this out, but says it is not one of the first steps the regional government wants to take.
Due to be officially adopted in the coming months, the government initiative also fits into the plans of the European Union, which wants all plastic packaging to be recycled by 2030.
According to the EU Commission, around 25 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced each year in the 28 member states. Only about 30 per cent are recycled so far.
Meanwhile, on tourism-dependent Mallorca and the other islands, locals want a swift rethink not just about how to contain the waste but also reverse the effects of years of neglect.
“If we do not start now (and perhaps now is already too late), there will be no more beautiful beaches, a clean sea to swim in and beautiful mountains to trek through,” adds the expatriate Geoff. – DPA
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