Recycling explained: Costa Brava

🕔 5 mins (total)
As we keep producing more and more waste, we need to really up our game when it comes to recycling
As we keep producing more and more waste, we need to really up our game when it comes to recycling

Spain, like other EU countries, has a well-developed system for recycling waste materials – but the system here might be a little bit different to what you’re used to at home.

Recycling bins can be found on just about every street. There are different types of recycling receptacles on different streets but don’t worry, it’s not complicated, and once you are familiar with the system it’s downright easy!

Recycling in Calonge-Sant Antoni

If you live in Calonge-Sant Antoni there has been a different system of garbage collection in place since June 2019. Click on this link to find a detailed explanation in English of how the system works there. For those living in any of the other towns on the Costa Brava, keep reading!

Recycling for everyone else!

Knowing which bin to throw what waste products into is all about the colour code. There are basically five categories:

Colour-coded recycling bins Catalunya
Colour-coded recycling bins Catalunya

Glass = Green

  • Bottles and jars – tops and caps removed X = NO:
  • Window glass or mirrors
  • Broken glasses or plates
  • Light bulbs or fluorescent lights
GREEN is for glass
GREEN is for glass

Paper = Blue

  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Cardboard boxes – collapsed
  • Envelopes
  • Egg trays
BLUE is for paper and cardboard
BLUE is for paper and cardboard

Organic = Brown

  • Fruit and vegetable waste
  • Nut, egg and seafood shells
  • Stale bread
  • Used tea leaves and coffee grinds
  • Meat and fish bones
  • Dry leaves and branches
  • Bottle corks and sawdust
  • Kitchen paper
BROWN is for organic waste
BROWN is for organic waste

Packaging = Yellow

  • Tins, cans and bottle tops
  • “Tetra-brik” cartons
  • Yoghurt packaging
  • Empty cleaning product packaging
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic bottles
  • Aluminium paper and trays
YELLOW is for packaging
YELLOW is for packaging

Rubbish = Grey

although in some places these grey bins are (unhelpfully!) green – but you’ll easily be able to differentiate between these and the glass bins if this is the case.

  • Mops and sponges
  • Cigarette buts and ash
  • Sanitary materials
  • Broken ceramics
  • Dust and dirt
  • Polystyrene
  • Wooden crates
  • Paper and cardboard packaging
GREY is for non-recyclable waste
GREY is for non-recyclable waste

Examples of Recycling Bins

Below are some photos of some of the most typical ones:

In Photo 1 below, we have all five types of receptacle represented. On the very left, with the green stripe is the one for glass (don’t forget to remove those bottle tops!). Next to that is the large blue bin for paper and cardboard and beside that the smaller brown “wheelie” bin for organic waste. To the right of those are two bins with yellow stripes for plastic and containers and on the right are bins for whatever trash is left over that can’t be recycled. If you’re thinking that the bins with the stripes look a bit on the small side, don’t let looks deceive you – there are large receptacles underground that can hold large quantities of waste.

Different types of colour-coded recycling bins
Different types of colour-coded recycling bins

In Photo 2 you can see three different types of a bin. There are two yellow ones on the left for all your plastics and containers, two grey bins for general waste and a smaller brown one for organic waste. Absent here are the blue and green for paper and glass. This is quite typical as, when it comes to recycling, by far the most important is the yellow category which is where you should deposit all your containers such as tin cans, drink cartons including the “tetra-brik type ones (cardboard with a thin plastic lining to hold liquids), and anything else plastic.

In Photo 3 we have an example of temporary recycling bins that are often used only during the summer months when the local population swells due to tourism. These are towed away at certain times every day and empty ones brought a little while later to replace them – so if your closest recycling station is of this type and one day it seems to have disappeared, fear not, it’ll be back shortly! Again the colour coded system is exactly the same.


There are other items that shouldn’t be thrown into the above-mentioned receptacles, but which are also easily recycled. For example, many of the supermarkets and some pharmacies in the area have containers where you can dispose of used batteries or old light bulbs (which shouldn’t be thrown in with glass bottles). There are also special recycling centres called deixallerias (in Catalan) which cater for electronic items, batteries, light bulbs, ink cartridges, oil, items of furniture, garden waste, tyres and basically anything you can’t dispose of through normal waste disposal.

You can check online or with the local town hall for the closest one to you and its opening hours and you may need to bring proof that you are resident in the town to be allowed access. When you go to your local deixalleria for the first time you can request a card to facilitate future visits. Some municipalities also have a mobile deixalleria that will allow you to bring items for recycling to a certain designated location on two Saturdays every month, so check with your local Ajuntament. Some municipalities even offer a free collection service allowing you to arrange for waste to be collected from your home. If in doubt you can always callCarlos!

Old clothes

Supermarkets (and other locations) too often have receptacles in their parking lots for clothes or shoes that you no longer want. A charity foundation called Humana manages the collection of second-hand clothes for recycling all over Spain, and you can check for the drop-off location nearest you on the Humana website. The benefits of this recycling are both environmental and social, with an estimated one job created per every 30,000kg of used clothing reused or recycled.

Clothes recycling is good for the environment and helps create jobs
Clothes recycling is good for the environment and helps create jobs

So, there you have it, folks; that’s how recycling works in Spain. It couldn’t be much easier, could it? And no matter where you live, you should have a recycling station within a few minutes’ walk, so there’s really no excuse for not recycling all those everyday items that should never end up in landfills or in the ocean. It’s just as easy to throw rubbish in the right bin as it is to throw it in the wrong bin – so it might as well be the right one! Right?

And just to make it even easier for you, we’ve specially prepared a printable version for you that you can stick up on your kitchen wall somewhere so that if you’re in doubt, you can check at a glance what goes where.

Be a good citizen and recycle!!

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