Metallurgy Research Centre

  • 15 de febrero de 2021

Lucía Unamunzaga: “Developing new industrial waste valorisation routes will be key for the metal industry in order to comply with the upcoming 2030 Basque Residue Management Plan”

The Basque Government will soon present the draft document of the Waste Prevention and Management Plan 2030 for the Basque Country. AZTERLAN researcher Lucía Unamunzaga, coordinator of the Sustainability and Environment research line of the Metallurgy Research Centre, makes some considerations regarding the ambitious goals already disclosed by the Basque Government Minister Mrs. Arantxa Tapia and how they will affect the management of metal industries.

Recently, the Basque Government has publicly announced the main targets summarised in the draft of the Waste Prevention and Management Plan 2030 for the Basque Country, which will settle the strategy to be followed in this field during the next decade. Among others, Basque Government has anticipated that for 2030 these following goals must be achieved: an overall reduction of 30% in the generation of waste; increasing the selective collection of urban residues up to 85%; reusing 85% of non-hazardous residues, those being transformed into secondary materials, and to reduce landfill dumping below 15%. 

Without any doubt, as expressed by the Sustainability and Environment research line coordinator of AZTERLAN, “these are quite ambitious goals, specially, considering that in the last 10 years the total volume of generated residues has only decreased by nearly 5%”.

Even though these target numbers are not exclusively aimed to the industry “we can foresee that the industrial companies, which generate a great variety of residues and at high volume levels, will be significantly affected. Among the main waste streams generated by the Basque industry we can find some specific materials such as foundry sand and fines, slags, metallic powder and sludge, refractory materials…, that are actually deposited into landfill in most of the cases”.

Therefore, the metal-mechanical industry will have to keep working on strategies to minimise the generation of waste and focus on the search of technological solutions that will allow to increase the reuse and their valorisation into “secondary materials”.

Lucía Unamunzaga. sustainability and environment

Lucía Unamunzaga, coordinator of Sustainability and Environment research line at AZTERLAN, works on the characterisation of waste foundry sand by means of SEM

At AZTERLAN Metallurgy Research Centre “we work hand in hand with the companies to face this great challenge by means of the search of reutilisation and valorisation solutions in the process or throughout their application in other sectors. For instance, currently we are perceiving an elevated interest among foundry companies in the search of solutions to manage used foundry sand and fines”. For a long time, companies have been making significant efforts to minimise and reuse this waste. Consequently, waste generation rates have been considerably decreased. Nevertheless, “public administration considers that this is a reusable waste and proposes to explore and work on the search of new treatment ways, as recognised in the Ordinance of March 4th”. Therefore, to go forward in the path of reuse and revalorisation, “first of all, each stream must be analysed into detail and properly evaluated, even by their original source because in many cases a same sort of residue might require different strategies or working lines depending on how or where it was generated”.

Anyway, it will be necessary to deepen in the most practical and technical aspects when the Plan is finally defined and presented.

Lucía remarks that to keep advancing towards a more environmentally responsible society and a greener economy, a shared effort must be made. “It is important to remember that the pressure and the responsibility should not exclusively lie in the side of the waste generation. Making a great effort to find new valorisation routes for the residues will have a very low impact if it is not properly coordinated with the use of the secondary materials generated”.

In this field, public administrations and regulations do also play a determining role “by acting over several aspects such as the classification of waste, consideration of by-products, development of specific regulation for valorisation or even specific strategies to promote the use of recycled materials”, among many others. A common public-private strategy is required so that real solutions can be developed and implemented for industrial waste management and to ease the demand for secondary materials or recycled products, which up to date have not received the desired acceptation.