How much do we recycle in Spain? This is how we have grown in five years

Big or small; colorful or in neutral tones; with QR technology or without great artifices. The variety in formats of containers and bins for separating household waste is proof that recycling, a habit practically non-existent among Spaniards 30 years ago, is here to stay. From then until today, the amount of recycled plastic, metal, brik, wood, paper and cardboard packaging has not stopped increasing. In fact, in 2023, 1,683,890 tons were recycled, 12% more than five years ago, according to the results of the annual Ecoembes Results Report. Compared to 2022, the figure increased by 3.5%.

The reason? The advancement of industry technology and greater citizen awareness. Of the total tons of recycled domestic packaging, just over 60% (1,012,036 tons) correspond to what Spaniards separate in their homes and deposit in one of the 397,721 yellow containers (for plastic, metal and brik containers) and 253,322 blue ones (for paper and cardboard packaging) on ​​the streets. Specifically, each citizen separated on average 20.4 kg in the yellow container (an increase of 5.15% annually) and 19.6 kilos in the blue container (2% more). This is what is called separate municipal collection, for which Ecoembes collaborates with public administrations through 56 agreements.

But to the domestic packaging that is collected from street containers, we must also add those that are collected privately in other spaces where we spend part of our daily lives, through the 57,000 recycling points and 310 RECICLOS machines. located in places with a large influx of public: stadiums, airports, transport or ski stations and spaces for large events such as concerts or festivals. In total, 13% of the tons recycled (almost 220,000) in 2023 came from these types of sites.

Adding both types of collection, private and municipal, we found that just over 73% of the total tons recycled came from separate collection. But where does the remaining 27% come from? Well, of the more than 452,000 tons of domestic packaging that they rescued from the plants that treat the rest fraction, where packaging erroneously deposited in the gray container arrives. We are talking about waste such as the white cork from food trays, made of polystyrene, which also goes in the packaging container and not the rest. Yellow is also suitable for metal containers, such as shaving foam bottles, air fresheners or whipped cream.

The challenges of recycling

The other side of the coin is the waste that does go in the gray container, but is erroneously deposited in the yellow one. Although the recycling habit is consolidated, in 2023, 32% of the waste that was deposited in the yellow container was not packaging. Some that we tend to confuse and deposit in this are: toothbrushes, plastic toys, bottles, pacifiers, kitchen utensils or plastic buckets. However, all of them should be left in a clean spot whenever possible and, if not, in the waste container. Thus, the challenge now is to extend the success in managing blue and yellow containers to other fractions.

“We are proud to have achieved that 1.7 million tons of packaging are recycled and have a second life,” says Rosa Trigo, CEO of Ecoembes, who celebrates that “thanks to public administrations, companies and citizens, “We have managed to promote a collaboration model that has placed recycling as the most widespread environmental behavior in our country, and which is a reference today.”

But Trigo also identifies another challenge for Spain in the area of ​​waste: «We have to focus on working for a future without waste, beyond recycling. We must produce less and be able to reuse them. “It is not only about meeting the ambitious objectives set by the legislation, but also about responding to the needs of the Planet.” Transforming waste is as important as everything that happens before the recycling process. Reduce, reuse and repair are also key steps towards a future circular economy. Although the path is not easy, the figures are getting better and the containers are here to stay.