What are the recycling rules in Spain?

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

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

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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Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.