Spain Sunday: Recycling

Americans recycle 34% of waste they create. Austria recycles 64%, and Germany 63%.

South Korea recycles 49%. While  Spain only recycles 33%. (Sources)So less than any other place we’ve lived.

Sadly the roads are completely covered in trash here. I’ve seen women cleaning their purses out by just throwing used tissues and receipts on the ground. The freeways are worse or similar to the trash we’ve seen on the sides of roads in New Mexico or Mexico proper. It’s a bummer and very surprising for Europe (in our opinion).

Trash on the side of the road.

So some people not having a grasp on throwing away actual trash and not littering … well it doesn’t surprise us that recycling isn’t super common here.

The sad thing is that recycling is really easy here. I remember when we first got to Germany and there would be six different places for recycling. But instead of pictures our university would just have the word written: Verpackung, Restmuel, Dosen, Papier, Glas, Biomuel, Abfall, Gelb sack, … So for the first few weeks if I created any trash I would just put it in my pocket. Like I had used tissues and straw wrappers and a candy bar wrapper that I didn’t know where they should go. I didn’t want to get in trouble so I would just keep it on my person and ditch it in the dorm trash. It was difficult: a used tissue, I mean it’s technically paper but that’s not what they want. It’s not recyclable since it’s dirty…. I guess abfall?

In Korea we were expected to recycle food waste. We had a large greasy gross basket that fit into the drain of the kitchen sink. It would be full of all the things that came off our plates when we washed them. This was supposed to go into a little basket outside of our apartment where they would collect it to spread on crops as fertilizer. I can’t even begin to describe the stink it would create in the house and especially outside of the apartment on a hot day. We would freeze it and then plop it as a frozen mass to defrost in the collection bucket. Or just stop doing it when it got too gross.

Going back to Spain, obviously. They make it easy. No freezing food waste or memorizing vocabulary for 6+ boxes. Recycling here is color coded which is neat. Some bottles and packages even have the color printed on it so there can be no confusion where it should go.

Here’s a can of store brand Coke Zero (diet coke)

It says “Contenedor Amarillo” and if you remember your elementary school Spanish days Amarillo means yellow.

Here’s a carton of milk helpfully color coded yellow.

A can of whipped cream that says Al contenedor amairllo and tells you to separa para reciclar.

Finally a cereal box with the color coding (or just accidentally the right color from the box). Azul means blue if you don’t know/remember.

So all 3/4 things I grabbed are bound for the yellow container.

That makes sense because yellow is single stream recycling.

Yellow takes plastic, cans, packaging (like chip bags), and tetra packs. Tetra packs or tetra bricks are brick shaped containers for liquid. All of our milk and most juices are sold in bricks. Some wines and many broths are in the bricks, too. Finally you can find sauces, soups and tomato sauce in smaller bricks. This makes shipping much easier – there is no wasted space between anything as it fits together perfectly (like bricks in a house). Its convenient to haul a box full of 6 milks (6 liters or 1.5 gallons) home and put it in a cupboard for later. Lastly its convenient for the home: everything fits together neatly in the door of the fridge or in a cupboard.

Soup, cooking cream, tomato sauce and milk.

So yellow is for tetra bricks, plastic, cans, and packaging.

Blue is for paper, cardboard, newspaper and magazines.

Green is for glass.

Blue, yellow, green.

According to some website

Spain also houses 164,503 green bins (for glass); that’s 1 per 284 residents, making this one of the countries with the highest glass recycling bin-to-person ratios.

And yet… as we said there is a lot of trash just everywhere. When it rains hard enough you can watch some of it float down the street. Some of the trails we run (and people bike on) have a large amount of broken glass.

It’s not for lack of trying. We teach it in school and try to separate trash from recyclables in classrooms.

My first grade social studies textbook has this:

A decent enough lesson with stickers to stick onto the correct container.

Still as easy as it is, it’s just not enough. People make some effort. We’ll see all the recycling next to the trash container, so people sorted it at home but couldn’t be arsed to walk the block downhill to drop it off at the actual recycling. So they leave it next to the trash cans.

Also our recycling bins are usually extremely overflowed, so we throw our bags full of recycling on the other pile of bags next to the recycling then walk away. Just like everybody else. We did our part but the city didn’t do it’s part by keeping the containers empty.

So what about trash? Trash cans used to be green but glass recycling is green as well. So our city uses black for trash. We have a couple options for trash, either big dumpsters on corners or aside of parking on the street

It has a cool step on the bottom to open the lid so you don’t have to touch it

Or a block away is the magical underground trash pit of mystery.

This is underground trash. So you open the circular door, put the trash in and when you close it it drops down. It has a double door system, in this way, to stop kids from falling in or people just being stupid.

I honestly can’t tell you how they get it out or if there is a whole underground series of tubes that bring it somewhere else. You can see a metal barrier around the three of them so it’s possible that’s on a hinge and a large truck pulls it all out from below. Who knows. It’s the underground trash pit of mystery and we are but mere mortals. We cannot understand these things.

There are two more “recycling” bins. One is red for lightly worn clothes and shoes.

There is also an orange bin for oil recycling. Martos doesn’t have these but we have seen them in Tarifa. You collect used cooking oil in a sealable container and can deposit it in the orange bin. This is a fantastic idea considering how terrible oil is if you pour it down the drain.

So that’s it for recycling and trash in Spain. It’s considerably easier than in other places we’ve lived and for that we’re thankful. There’s nothing worse than trying to figure out banking and life in another country with a bunch of trash in your pockets because you can’t even figure that out.

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