In the past two editions of our series “Recycling Around the World” we have pointed out two of the EU’s best working recycling systems: Denmark and Belgium. This time we’d like to shed some light on a country that seems to be struggling quite a bit more with keeping up with European recycling guidelines: Spain.

The southern-most EU nation is a popular tourist destination and ranks second in visitors per year among all countries in the world, only beat by their neighbour France. When it comes to recycling, though, Spain’s numbers don’t look nearly as good. The EU’s average for municipal waste recycled lies at 45%, while Spain only manages to recycle around 30%. That is a huge problem since EU legislation has set the goal to be achieved by 2020 at 50% which “is materially impossible” according to Carlos Arribas (Ecologistas en Acción). The southern-European kingdom has to come up with a plan to solve this deficit pretty soon, since the EU-wide targets are rising to 55% by 2025 and 65% by 2035.

China’s Plastic Ban Troubling Spain

The major issue for the Spanish seems to be plastic packaging, especially bottled drinks. In contrast to countries like Denmark or Germany, Spain has not set up a refund system for disposable plastic that hands out money for returning single-use plastic drink packaging. Considering that Spain’s plastic use is above the EU average, that really looks like a cause for concern.

Adding to that, China has imposed a ban on other countries shipping over their plastic waste to be recycled by China which many European countries like the Republic of Ireland and Spain have been practicing avidly for years. Spain now has to deal with all of that waste, too.

Not All Hope Is Lost, Though

The obvious solution would be to just stop using as much plastic and go for greener, cheaper and easier-to-recycle packaging solutions. But Spain seems to struggle with those, too.

It’s hard to understand why Spain is so far behind the European average in recycling waste since the system itself is really transparent and easy to understand. The colour-coded out-of-home bins separate between glass, paper, clothes, plastic and metal, and used cooking oils.

The latter requires people disposing their used oils to fill them into a plastic bottle and dropping the bottle directly into the bin. Recycled oils can be turned into things like soap or even biodiesel. Collecting used oils is an inherently Spanish thing to do as the country is among the biggest producers and consumers of cooking oil world-wide.

Using more metal packaging could be a little help in the Spanish fight for better recycling numbers since it’s easier recycled than plastic. And with the glorious Spanish canning traditions, they might just turn this around a bit.

Now Let’s Do It!

The main problem, though, isn’t the Spanish population not returning recyclable waste but the authorities not showing the ability to handle the recycling properly. Setting up a refund system as in Denmark or a tax solution as in Belgium might help a bit but as it seems, the real problem lies deeper than that. Luckily, the Spanish government is already working on measures that are going to improve recycling in the future!

How do you think Spain can improve their recycling? Tell us in the comment section!

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