What are the recycling rules in Spain?

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What are the recycling rules in Spain?
What are the rules for recycling in Spain? Photo: Lucia Grzeskiewicz / Pixabay

What are the recycling rules in Spain, the common mistakes to avoid, and are there any incentives for recycling you should know about?


Spain is far behind its European neighbours when it comes to recycling. The country failed to meet the objectives of the previous Waste Law in 2011 and the European directive of 2008.

Both these laws stated that before 2020, the level of reuse and recycling of domestic waste should reach at least 50 percent by weight. In 2021 in Spain, this number stood at just 35 percent, while according to the Cotec Foundation for Innovation, the EU average was 48 percent. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as Cicloplast, which represents the plastic manufacturing and transformation industry in Spain, found that in the last ten years the Spanish have doubled the recycling of domestic plastic containers.

They found that in 2020 each Spaniard recycled about 13.1 kilogrammes of domestic packaging. 

According to a 2021 survey carried out by Ecoembes, the entity that manages waste from Spain, eight out of ten Spaniards said they recycle at home and 82.3 percent said they have several buckets to separate their waste.

The sample of 8,800 individuals, translates into 38.9 million Spaniards having declared themselves recyclers in 2021, two million more than in 2019.

The study found that those over the age of 55, were the most committed to recycling at 84.5 percent, followed by those aged between 35 and 54 at 83.9 percent and, surprisingly, the least committed are young people aged 25 to 34 at 76.4 percent and from 16 to 25 years old at 76.3 percent.

This means that about a quarter of Spaniards between 16 and 34 years old do not separate their waste at home.

The same survey by Ecoembes found that Madrid is the region that recycles the most with 21.8 kilos of packaging per inhabitant.

This is followed by Navarra at 21.3 kg/inhabitant and the Balearic Islands with 21 kg/inhabitant. The regions that recycle the least amount are Valencia, the Canary Islands and Cantabria.  


What are the general recycling rules in Spain?

There are standard coloured bins for recycling in regions across Spain.

The blue bins are for paper and cardboard, the yellow bins are for plastic containers and tins and the green bins are for glass.

The grey bins are for general waste and the brown bins (which have been introduced in some, but not all municipalities) are for organic waste.

This may all be quite straightforward, but Ecoembes has found that are several common recycling errors made across the country.


What are the common recycling mistakes in Spain?

One of the main ones is that cartons should go in the yellow bins and not the blue bins. “We think it is cardboard and therefore deposit it in the blue container. But, cartons always go in the yellow bin, since they are made up of cardboard, plastic and aluminum,” they state on their website.  

Another common mistake is that people think that all plastic items can go in the yellow bins and often put things in there like plastic toys, baby dummies and kitchen utensils. These should either be given to NGOs (in the case of toys) or put in the general grey waste state Ecoembes.

Baby nappies are often also put in the wrong bin – people think they are organic waste and put them in the brown bins, but they should always go in the grey bin instead.

The last common mistake is with the green bin. Many think that pottery and lightbulbs can go in there too. “Mirrors, ashtrays, glasses and crockery must be recycled at a collection point. The green bins are only for glass,” says Ecoembes.


How is the recycling situation in Spain being improved?

In 2021, a new waste law was introduced in Spain to align with European directives. This law includes the EU goals for the recycling of household waste, which it sets out as 55 percent in 2025, 60 percent in 2030 and 65 percent in 2035.  

The new waste law also establishes that as of July 2022, all municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants must have separate collection systems for organic waste, in addition to paper, metal, plastic and glass waste. Those with fewer than 5,000 will have until 2024.  

Textiles, used cooking oils and hazardous household waste must also have their own separate collection bins before the end of 2024.  

A municipal waste tax will also be introduced to penalise landfill or incinerator treatment and there will also be a tax for the manufacture, import and purchase of non-reusable plastics. 

In 2021, Spain also announced a ban on the sale of fruit and vegetables in plastic wrapping in supermarkets which will come into effect in 2023, as part of a decree drafted by Spain's Ministry for Ecological Transition.


Are there any recycling incentives in Spain?

Several incentive schemes have been set up across the country to encourage Spaniards to recycle more. Last year, Ecoembes created Reciclos, the Return and Reward System (SDR), which has already been implemented in all regions across the country. This means that more than 3,200,000 citizens of 43 municipalities in Spain can now receive incentives for recycling.

To benefit, you must register on the Recycles app found here. It works by scanning the barcode of the can or plastic bottle before throwing it into the correct recycling bin. You can then scan the QR code on the bin to prove you've done so. Reciclos has also installed recycling machines across the country in transport stations, hospitals, ports, shopping and leisure centres.

These machines are already in operation in railway stations in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, in markets and municipal offices in the city of Valencia, in the ports of Balèaria in Valencia and Denia, in the Sanitas La Zarzuela University Hospital in Madrid, in Los Arcos in Seville and Zenia Boulevard in Alicante, among others.

In both cases, you will be able to earn points which you can exchange for different types of rewards.

READ ALSO: How to properly get rid of old furniture and appliances in Spain



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