Friday, September 17

The other side of La Graciosa, mountains of garbage and plastic in the streets of a protected island

No one is saved from the effects of climate change. The UN has pointed out in its latest report to humanity the gradual destruction of the regions, seas and populations of the planet. The climate crisis has been an emergency for years, but governments are still arming themselves to combat it. La Graciosa, a small 29-square-kilometer Canarian territory, could be a “laboratory of interesting strategies”, according to Matías González, professor of sustainable economics at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. However, in supermarkets plastic bags are still offered and in the nuclei where the population is concentrated on this island mountains of garbage and debris accumulate.

Garbage containers are not abundant in the La Graciosa nature reserve. A truck collects the waste from each house door to door, but when neighbors and tourists take out the bags after hours, they stay there until the truck passes again. So the cats and birds end up scattering the remains across the island. The Ministry of Ecological Transition explains that the collection of urban waste depends on the Teguise City Council, currently in the hands of the Canary Islands Coalition. For its part, the rubble and construction material correspond to the Cabildo de Lanzarote (PSOE).

The Cabildo awarded in 2015 the management of the La Graciosa Waste Transfer Plant to the company Integral Waste Treatment (TIR) ​​Zonzamas, the same company responsible for the Zonzamas Environmental Complex, in Lanzarote. The concession was made for 1.2 million euros during the mandate of Pedro San Ginés (CC).

As explained by the island corporation to this writing, this company treats waste in La Graciosa before it is diverted to the Lanzarote landfill. This process is carried out in a plant built underground in the center of the island, in an area known as Las Agujas. However, much of the waste remains accumulated in the less visible areas of this tourist gem, which receives more than 330,000 visitors a year. Canarias Now he has tried, unsuccessfully, to contact the company to find out why.

European protection

La Graciosa, in addition to being a marine reserve, is also protected by the Natura 2000 Network. It is a “European ecological network of biodiversity conservation areas”, the main instrument the European Union has to prevent destruction and the disappearance of species and habitat types from the community space. The Canarian Government intends to increase the protection of this territory through the Natural Resources Management Plan of the Chinijo Archipelago, the draft of which remains open to public information until next October 4.

The accumulation of mattresses, bathtubs, vehicle remains and construction materials on the island’s sites is punishable, according to sources from the Ministry of Ecological Transition of the Government of the Canary Islands. “It is punishable, of course. This waste has to go to clean points,” they point out from the area directed by José Antonio Valbuena. Ecological Transition could only intervene through the Canary Islands Agency for the Protection of the Natural Environment if there was a complaint from the environmental agents of the island corporation. Asked about the possibility of turning La Graciosa into a laboratory for sustainable waste management, these same sources refer to the PIRCAN (Canary Island Waste Plan) and the Circular Economy law.

Tourist trash

Although the population registered in La Graciosa does not exceed 800 people, during the summer and the high tourist seasons thousands of people who come and go live in this small island territory. The island is betting, as the rest of the Archipelago did in the past, on mass tourism.

The Ministry of Tourism, asked by Canarias Now about the possibility of establishing sustainable tourism projects, ensures that the area is working on sustainability plans at the destination. A tool through which the responsible authorities must ensure that the needs of tourists are met by protecting the natural area. Through this call, local administrations must present their projects to the regional Executive so that they can be co-financed by funds from the European Union, the State and the autonomous community. According to Tourism, in 2021 a 4.9 million euro plan was financed by the Cabildo de Lanzarote that included La Graciosa.

As Professor Matías González warns, administrations “should not favor an additional increase in visitors” without first having proposed solutions to waste management. Before opening the doors to unlimited tourism, González also proposes to review wastewater management. As this expert advances and some neighbors confirm, most residents have a septic tank in their homes, causing part of this wastewater to “end up in the sea”.

At the moment, the amount of waste that ends up in the ocean “is not so great as to cause serious diseases”, because the population that lives permanently on the island does not exceed 800 people. In 2017, the regional government assured that the installation of a treatment plant in La Graciosa was nearing completion to respond to a historic demand from residents. However, according to some visitors and residents, it does not work. To prevent garbage from “eating” La Graciosa, Matías González proposes to apply circular economy strategies. “It is hardly justifiable that plastic waste enters the island if its recovery is not guaranteed beforehand.”

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