Communities: Recycling in Barcelona

Recycling in Barcelona

Can you imagine just how much garbage and trash there would be if no one ever recycled?  Why is recycling and waste management so important?  These may be some of the many questions you have asked yourself while learning about some of these topics in class.  Are you ready to learn about recycling and waste management efforts in Spain?

How do nations meet their communities’ needs?  Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so, is it easy for people to access?

In my opinion, Barcelona has a great recycling and waste management system.  I think that the system in Barcelona is exceptionally better than the system in Chicago. In Chicago, for example, you must pay more money to have a blue recycling bin brought to your home.  This charge keeps a lot of people from recycling.  In Barcelona, all of the containers are made from recycled materials, they are located on most street corners and, it’s free to recycle!  You can also open all of these containers by using your hand, or your foot, so a messy container is not going to prevent people from getting their contents inside!  This makes them very user-friendly and accessible.

There are five different color-coded waste disposal containers. Each colored top indicates the type of material that should be put into it, and the names of the particular recyclables are listed on the front of the containers as well.  Yellow containers are for plastics such as water bottles, plastic bags and yogurt containers.  The green containers are for glass bottles. Blue containers are for paper and cardboard.  The brown containers are for organic waste that will decompose (or can be composted), like bread, teabags, paper towels and more.  Lastly, the grey containers are for general household waste.  This is typically regular trash that cannot be recycled.

Are there similar recycling containers in your neighborhood?  Do you see very many trashcans or recycling bins on the streets, Metro stations or downtown?

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?

From what I’ve seen during my time here in Barcelona, people are very interested and involved in the state of the environment.  I constantly see city workers cleaning and sweeping the streets, and every night I see and hear the garbage trucks come to pick up the daily recycling and waste.  I have also seen store and restaurant owners carrying their trash and recycling to the containers across the street on several occasions.

In my host family’s apartment, we have four small drawers and a garbage can where we separate all of the waste and recycling.  We have to constantly dump these drawers outside in the containers, because they get filled rather quickly.  My host mother uses these five separate containers, because it makes it easier to place them in the correct bins outside.  This is also important, because it teaches my young host-sister the importance of recycling.  She is only seven years old, but she has already learned which materials can be recycled.  That means you can also make a difference at home and in your environment as well!  I think that it’s a great idea to learn about these important issues no matter how old you are.

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

There is currently an issue with over-use of plastic bags in Barcelona.  I have seen people double or triple bag their groceries, and the juice and pop cans are usually packed in plastic wrapping.  One of the most interesting solutions I have noticed is that people bring their own bags or a “carrito” with them when they go grocery shopping.  A “carrito” is a small shopping cart that looks like a small suitcase.  “Carritos” are starting to become more popular, and this will help to reduce the use of plastic bags.  Does your family bring their own bags to the grocery store with them?

The tap water in Spain is not very clean, and most people drink a lot of bottled water.  Although this is true, I have noticed that the drinking fountains are much larger here in Spain.  There are several nozzles where people can drink and fill their own personal water bottles.  There has currently been a shortage of drinking water in Spain, and I think that the use of personal water bottles is a step in the right direction.  My apartment also uses a Brita purifying system, and this is another great way to conserve water and avoid buying disposable bottles.  Do you have your own personal water bottle that you bring to lunch every day? Do lots of people use reusable bottles at your school?  You can’t stop everyone from buying bottled water, but you educate people about the issues and teach ways to conserve water.  You can also lead by example! So, please ask your parents for a refillable water bottle (they cost about five dollars at a CVS or Duane Reed)! New York City has some of the cleanest drinking water in the whole world, take advantage of that luxury and stop using plastic water bottles!

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

I did not necessarily find any recent laws or changes within the past five years, but I did find some recent updates.  In 2004, there was an amendment to Law 6/93.  This law stated that all shops, bars restaurants, offices, hospitals and other businesses have to meet certain requirements regarding recycling and waste management.  This is great for the environment, because larger containers are provided for the businesses that produce a large amount of waste.  With the incorporation of these special containers, the ones on the street will not overflow and spill out onto the streets.

In 2010, the city also added the brown containers to the collective waste system that I described earlier.  In the same year, over 10,000 more trashcans were added all across the city.  Barcelona is one of the European cities with the most trashcans.

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 a couple of organizations working on these issues in Barcelona.  I have heard of the two organizations, Agbar and Terra.  Agbar is an organization that is all about water conservation, protection and preservation.  This organization has several education projects where they work with the local communities and students.  One of these programs works with young primary school students like you! This program teaches students about the water cycle in Spain and the importance of responsible water usage.

In my investigations on Terra, I found that this organization posts lots of articles and facts about the environment.  This organization encourages residents, citizens and tourists to be more responsible.  This organization challenges people to take care of the environment and make a difference one small change at a time.

I have not seen a formal website for this group, but host mother told me that there is an organization that goes out and cleans the beaches on the weekends.  There are lots of beautiful beaches in Barcelona, because it is on the coast.  Sometimes there are pop cans, water bottles and other trash scattered on the sand.  So, it is great to hear that an organization is working on this important environmental issue as well.  Do you know of the organizations doing similar work in your neighborhood? How can you be an Environmental Hero?!


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