{Green Living} Recycling in Sevilla

This is a Guest Post from Gloria of Lolailo.

One of the most beautiful things about traveling is that it opens up your eyes to other realities.  I grew up in Sevilla, a city of about 750,000 on the southwest corner of Spain.  I visited my family this past month, and during my vacation decided to document how Sevilla handles recycling.

The garbage trucks don’t go from door to door.  There are large containers within walking distance of your house or apartment where you can put trash and recyclables.  The city asks that you keep glass (“vidrio”), paper (“papel”) and plastic/aluminum (“envases”) separate.  The trucks then come to these areas and empty the containers at an established frequency.

These garbage and recycling areas also serve an interesting function.  Second-hand stores are not common in Spain, so many people leave discarded items by the containers, such as books, furniture, clothes, hoping someone else can make good use of them.  It was next to a recycling container that I found a wooden crate that had once held strawberries, and that I converted into a bulletin board.

The trash and recycling containers don’t exactly add to the urban décor.  Although necessary, they are ugly and clunky.  Sevilla has been cradle to a myriad of artists through the centuries, and faithful to its tradition, the city has sponsored many contests to decorate the glass recycling domes.  Artists from all over the world have provided their individual vision, like Elnekros’ oversize collection of bottles.

or Maestro Cerezo’s depiction of the entire recycling process that glass goes through.  At his website, you can see a 360º view of the container!

The newest item that Sevilla recycles is used cooking oil.  There are special stations located in a few points of the city where it can be dropped off.  This oil is used in the production of biodiesel.

You would think that hazardous waste would be a little more tricky to recycle than glass bottles and cardboard, but surprisingly that’s not the case.  It is of course better to use rechargeable batteries, but those are uncommon in Spain.  Batteries get recycled in special containers found wherever batteries are purchased.  It makes so much sense!  This is an extremely easy way to encourage recycling.

I live in the Bay Area, in California.  If I want to recycle batteries, I have to take them to my local hazardous waste collection facility, but only the second or fourth Saturday of the month, and only if I have previously made an appointment…

When medicines expire or no longer need to be taken, they can be dropped off at any pharmacy for proper recycling.  If some are determined to be safe and within their useful shelf life, they are donated to non-governmental organizations that can make good use of them.

Meanwhile, in California, when I clean up my medicine cabinet and need to get rid of expired pills and cough syrups, my alternatives are:

The FDA suggests I throw them in the trash after previously mixing them with an “undesirable substance”, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter.

I can also take them to a proper disposal center.  A quick look on the Save The Bay website lets me know there are no such places in my city, not even in my county.

If I am hell-bent into doing the right thing, I can go to my neighborhood pharmacy.  They won’t be able to take any of my expired medicines, but they would gladly sell me, for $3.99, a special envelope so that I can mail them to a safe disposal site.

Most people want to do what’s right for the environment, but get discouraged once it gets too difficult.  It is easier to chuck your spent batteries into the trash than look for the phone number of the hazardous waste disposal site, make the appointment, drive over there on Saturday morning…  It is easier to empty the expired bottle of pills into the toilet and contaminate the water supply than chop them finely with some kitty litter.  The hoops we need to go through to properly dispose of these materials are too much.  No one has the patience or the disposition to deal with all these hurdles.  The United States has made great strides in its efforts to reduce recyclable waster, but there is still a long ways to go.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could copy some of the initiatives that have been implemented in Sevilla and in other communities throughout Spain?

How easy or how difficult is it to recycle where you live?  Please share your thoughts with us!

When the economic recession put Gloria Mercado-Martin’s winemaking career on sabbatical, she founded Lolailo, where she creates organizational pieces using irrelevant corks that go in the trash once the bottle of wine is empty, pieces of wood destined for kindling, dusty frames found at thrift stores, and other forgotten materials.  She inherited her green ways from her mother, who started recycling when it wasn’t remotely hip.  She lives in the Suisun Valley, California.  You can find her on her blogTwitter, Facebook, and Pinterest

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  1. Truly fascinating to find out how others recycle! Fabulous photo essay as well. We are so fortunate where we live that there is very little that can’t easily be recycled. At the local pharmacy they have small info sheets that suggest you take your old rx to the sheriff’s dept. down the street where they will dispose of the drugs safely. This not only keeps the rx out of the water supply, but out of the hands of kids. As well, recycling programs are cropping up all over Oregon and they are breaking things down for recycling themselves. There is even a wonderful program in Eugene that now takes styrofoam, old video tapes and x-mas lights. Reading your article I see Sevilla has a lot of wonderful ideas we could benefit from – thank you for sharing!!!

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments! It looks like Eugene is ahead of the curve. That’s great, and hopefully many other cities will follow

  2. Thanks for a great post. I didn’t know about the prepaid envelopes at the pharmacy, I will have to look into it. We do make recycling a job don’t we. Until recycling becomes a less labor intensive effort it will be hard to get Americans to adopt it as culture.
    In our part of the country (Suburban New York) our weekly trash provider has us recycling plastic, glass, and paper in single stream bins. Hazardous waste including electronics and batteries is collected twice a year at the local community center. I try to limit what hazardous waste goes to the recycling center though because a lot of it seems to end up contaminating other countries that don’t have the governmental safeguards that we do. We do have an informal recycling policy. Local junkers prowl the curbs the night before trash pick up so anything that might be valuable to someone else we leave curbside Tuesday nights.

    • I like the ingenuity of the local junkers. A lot of what we throw in our trash has so much life left in it, if only we gave it a chance. Thank you for your comment!