Citizen commitment to recycling grows Spaniards deposit 8% more packaging waste in yellow and blue containers in 2019

Each citizen deposited 17.1 kg of plastic packaging, cans and tetra-brik type containers for subsequent recycling in the yellow container, and 19.4 kg of paper and cardboard packaging in the blue container. In 2019, Spanish society as a whole made it possible to recycle a total of 1,505,661 tonnes of packaging, which prevented 1.67 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Recycling consolidated its position as the most widely practiced environmental activity in Spanish homes, well ahead of energy saving and reduced use of plastic bags. In the last five years, the use of the yellow and blue containers has increased by an average of 32% in Spain, demonstrating a sharp upward trend in citizen awareness.

Society is increasingly concerned about protecting the environment in which we live and more and more Spaniards are taking action to demonstrate that another future for the planet is possible. In achieving this objective, recycling has consolidated its position as the most widely practiced environmental activity in Spanish homes, well ahead of energy saving and reduced use of plastic bags. According to figures presented by Ecoembes, the non-profit environmental organisation responsible for the coordination of packaging recycling in Spain, Spaniards deposited 8.1% more packaging waste in the yellow and blue containers in 2019 than in the previous year. This increase is not proportional to the increase in consumption in households, which was up just 1.1%, according to the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE), and is mainly due to the fact that citizens have, to a large degree, internalised the habit of recycling.

The yellow containers saw the greatest increase, with 9.1% more waste deposited than in 2018. This was possible thanks to the fact that each citizen deposited 17.1 kg of plastic packaging, cans and tetra-brik type containers for subsequent recycling. And citizens deposited an average of 9.4 kg of paper and cardboard packaging in the blue container, up 7.2% on 2018. Although the figures were up in all Autonomous Communities, the greatest increases for the yellow container were recorded in the Autonomous Community of Valencia
(15.8%), the Region of Murcia (15.2%) and the Balearic Islands (14.9%); while the largest increases for the blue container occurred in the Autonomous Community of Madrid (13.9%), the Region of Murcia (13.5%) and the Autonomous Community of Valencia (10.9%). Through the combined individual efforts of everybody, Spanish society as a whole recycled a total of 1,505,661 tonnes of plastic packaging, cans and tetra-brik type containers, and paper and cardboard packaging in 2019. 616,736 tonnes of this corresponded to plastic packaging, demonstrating the special commitment of Spaniards to the correct treatment of this type of waste. 249,420 tonnes corresponded to metal containers, such as tinned food and soft drinks cans, while paper and cardboard accounted for 631,683 tonnes, making it the most recycled
material.

The figures achieved in 2019 are the result of the work carried out by citizens, municipal authorities and businesses, each assuming responsibility for their contribution to making recycling a reality. Recycling is an essential activity in which all of society participates with the common goal of protecting the environment, and it is a growing activity. In fact, in the last five years, the use of yellow and blue containers has grown by an average of 32% in Spain.

The recycling of 1,505,661 tonnes of packaging waste in 2019 prevented 1.67 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of total emissions by coal-fired power plants in Spain over a period of two months. Moreover, this recycling figure resulted in savings of 20.74 million m3 of water, 6.36 million Mwh of energy and 1.5 million tonnes of raw materials.

The aim of Ecoembes is to achieve a society fully aware of its environment and a recycling rate of 100%. To make this possible, the entity is working along a number of different lines. An outstanding example is the RECICLOS project, which is evolving the way in which recycling is carried out.

The project avails of mobile technology to enable committed citizens to be rewarded for their Ecoembes advocates responsible production and is working with companies to help them implement ecodesign in packaging, by reducing the quantity of raw materials used in the manufacture of packaging, incorporating recycled material in the composition of packaging and making packaging easy to recycle, amongst other actions. In the past 20 years, it has been possible to save up to 581,800 tonnes in raw materials.

The recycling cycle becomes a reality, thanks to the collaboration of all

To achieve these figures, the role played by all actors forming part of the recycling cycle in Spain -coordinated by Ecoembes- has been vital. The cycle begins with citizens, who separate their packaging waste for recycling and deposit it in the containers deployed on the street or at recycling points located in football stadiums, airports, offices, bars, hotels and restaurants.

From there, public authorities play a vital role in two areas: citizen awareness, through information campaigns, and the deployment of recycling infrastructures. Ecoembes works with the 8,131 municipal councils throughout Spain and finances –thanks to the funding of the Green Point selective collection centres by companies- the cost of the essential service of
packaging waste collection and treatment, as well as the total of 659,628 containers and recycling centres (20,689 more than the previous year) put at the disposal of citizens. 390,611 yellow containers and 224,945 blue containers are deployed on public streets, meaning that there is one container every 100 metres. The remaining 44,072 containers are deployed at recycling points located in places where citizens tend to spend some of their time.

Following collection from the yellow and blue containers, the waste is taken to one of the 96 sorting plants located throughout Spain, where the different materials are sorted prior to being converted into new raw materials. Ecoembes provides technical advisory services to facilitate the automation of facilities in order to enhance waste treatment efficiency. Finally, the sorted packaging waste is sent to one of the 422 certified recycling plants located all over the country.

In 2019, municipal councils received a total of €615 million for the purpose of carrying out thisprocess and paying for operators, trucks and containers,  collection costs, transport, waste sorting and awareness campaign. The payment of this amount to local councils is possible thanks to the Green Point payment made by the 12,500 companies that form part of Ecoembes. Through the Green Point symbol that features on the packaging, companies promote and finance the correct treatment of the packaging they place on the market, in accordance with the provisions of Spanish legislation.

Education and citizen mobilisation as tools for the future

Besides making the operation of the recycling cycle possible, Ecoembes is driving Spanish society towards becoming increasingly aware and responsible. The entity works with 900 social and environmental agents, including consumers, ecologists, resident associations and trade unions for the purpose of mobilising society towards greater environmental awareness.

In this regard, environmental and recycling education at all ages and educational stages is vital. Ecoembes has trained over 90,000 people through different projects. One such project is Naturaliza, which reached over 40,000 children in 2019, encouraging them to learn to respect and care for nature in a more accessible and didactic way.

This was possible thanks to over 1,000 teachers who participated in the initiative and incorporated an environmental perspective into all the curricular content of primary students throughout Spain.

Similarly, the Libera project –a SEO/Birdlife initiative, carried out in collaboration with Ecoembes- has the goal of building a society more active in the defence of the environment and one that is more committed to the prevention of litter in nature. The project enjoyed the participation of 30,000 volunteers and 800 associations throughout Spain, all of whom played
an active role in the quest for solutions to the problem of littering in natural spaces.