Recycling in Barcelona


1.    Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so, is it easy for people to access?

I have investigated the systematic way that the people of Barcelona recycle. Every other street corner has at least three dumpsters on it (at least the areas where there are apartments, they don’t have these dumpsters on busy downtown streets). One dumpster is for plastic and cans, another is for glass, one for paper, one for compostable and then one for other trash (the un-recyclable).  That’s five different kinds. So, if you are on a corner that has three dumpsters, then the corner across the street has a different three. Does that make sense? OK, so you’re on a normal street with four corners; two out of those four corners have dumpsters. One corner usually has glass, plastic and regular trash, while the other corner usually has compost, plastic and paper.

2. What is the public sentiment about the state of the environment, and do young people think they play a role in protecting the environment? If so, how?

The people of Barcelona love their conveniences. Further, the city water from the tap is not very good. When you go to a store to buy some fruit, each different fruit is put into a different bag, then those are put into a bag and when you checkout everything is put into a bag. I’ve never seen a culture use so many plastic bags.


But the recycling system is very convenient. The apartment where I’m staying in has three small trashcans in the kitchen: one for plastic, one for paper and one for other trash. The compostable stuff, like fruit peels, is put in a small brown paper bag and taken out often (usually daily). Kids usually have a water bottle that they refill. Although they usually get their drinking water from a bigger bottle of water at home, they use a cleanable water bottle. They also drink more beverages from the store like juice, milk or soda. That’s not very environmental, and I don’t think the kids would recycle if there were not recycling bins. For example, there are more regular trashcans in Barcelona than recycling dumpsters. If you are walking downtown and buy a juice in a bottle, it is usually thrown away in the city trash. Compared to Portland, people in Barcelona buy more drinks from the store. On the other hand, Portland does not have as many trashcans on street corners. So, although people in Barcelona buy more drinks and throw away/recycle more bottles, there is access to trash or recycling. Both Portland and Barcelona are clean towns. When I visited Italy a couple of weeks ago, there was trash in the streets, especially glass and plastic bottles.

3. What innovative solutions do you observe, or hear people talking about?

In Barcelona people mention that the recycling bins are appearing in more public areas, like malls and Metro stations. Even since I’ve been here (7 weeks), I’ve seen a new recycling bin placed in my neighborhood Metro station. They haven’t developed a system for clean water in the home yet, because of all the old pipes in the buildings and houses. Some of the apartment buildings are 100-200 years old. The pipes under the city are old also. So, the biggest success that Barcelona has as far as recycling is the availability of recycling dumpsters in the residential areas and the recycling bins in the bigger public areas.


4. Have there been changes to environmental laws lately, or have new systems of solid waste management been introduced in the past five years?

Barcelona is big on green energy. There is a big movement towards wind energy. I see in the papers and advertising that companies are saying that they are using eco or wind energy. Also when I investigated energy use in Barcelona on-line, I found many large companies and government agencies stating their intention and advancement in re-useable energy.

5. Are there any youth groups, community organizations, NGO or INGOs actively working to address solid waste management issues in your community? Who are they and what are they doing. What can we learn from them? If possible, take a field trip and check out their work!

There are NGOs in Barcelona! has been making a strong effort in Barcelona from what I’ve heard. The problem is that these organizations are not common names. After investigating I’ve found that this is still an underground movement in a sense. The everyday people are not very involved with going above and beyond what is convenient. Not that they wouldn’t; the green movement is just not as big as it is in the States or at least in Oregon. The good news is that you see movement from the big companies promoting a greener Barcelona to attract future businesses to Barcelona. Kind of like saying that Barcelona is a modern progressive city: We recycle, use wind energy and are moving forward with other alternatives therefore you want to do business here and with us.


6. What are some opinions that local people have about this?

As I have mentioned, there are recycling dumpsters on the corners in the residential areas, and more and more recycling bins in larger public areas. It is very common to see people on their way to school or work carrying two to three different small bags for the dumpsters as they leave their homes. They are wearing suits or some business attire, and carrying their briefcases or backpacks with one hand and their recyclable trash bags with the other hand. It’s kind of cool to see a guy in a suit with a briefcase and bags of paper and other trash, and watch him throw the bags in the appropriate dumpsters, and then walk to the Metro station. In Portland every house or apartment has a bigger trashcan in their garage, backyard or basement hallway that is collected weekly by the trash company. In Barcelona they eliminated the middleman. People take their trash from the kitchen trashcan straight into the neighborhood dumpsters.

The grocery stores do charge five cents for a bag in Barcelona, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from getting a bag. I would say over half of the people at the grocery stores get bags. Remember that they put their stuff in bags before they even get to the checkout stand.

The grocery items, from produce to snacks, are heavily packaged with plastic, much more than in the United States. What I have found out is that so much stuff in the stores is imported into Barcelona from other countries. In the United States many items we get in the grocery stores might come from a different part of the country, for example my favorite tortilla chips are from Colorado. But in Barcelona similar chips might come through two or three different countries. In Europe they have more regulations to uphold, which usually means a safe-wrapped product.

Also as I mentioned, people in Barcelona don’t generally drink tap water that means a lot more bottled water and drinks are purchased at the store.  Every week I buy at least one big 8.8 liter bottle of water for my apartment and to fill up my re-usable water bottle. When you go out to eat and ask for water in Barcelona, it’s bottled water every time.

I think Barcelona has a good recycling program and it’s moderately efficient. On a 1-10 scale I say it gets a 6. In Portland I would say that their recycling program gets at least a 7. Although Barcelona has a system, they still have a long way to go to make it work better. For example, finding a drinking water system would be priceless. I’m so amazed by how much plastic and plastic bottles Barcelona uses.




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