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Sound and independent information
on the environment


Waste (Spain)

Why should we care about this issue

Waste Waste
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Abandonment and inappropriate management of waste have a significant impact on the environmental media into which they are released and can result in water, soil and air pollution, and contribute to climate change and affect ecosystems and human health. However, when managed appropriately, waste can become a resource that helps save raw materials, conserve natural resources, prevent climate change and encourage sustainable development.

Spain's natural resources and areas of outstanding natural beauty deserve protection. Therefore, the theme of the potential impact of waste on the natural environment is addressed directly by the country's environmental policies. Another issue of equal concern is its contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, thus, to climate change.

Spain's economic growth over the last decade has been accompanied by increased generation of waste. Therefore, preventing waste production, encouraging re-use and promoting appropriate waste management constitute an environmental priority in Spain.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Generation of waste in Spain has increased in parallel with economic growth, as as in other European countries. In recent years, government, economic sectors and society have become more aware of the issue, waste treatment infrastructure has increased, and a solid business sector specialising in waste management has emerged.

A high percentage of the waste generated in Spain is still disposed of in landfill sites. In this regard, work is under way to reduce waste generation, encourage re-use, implement separate collection of differentiated waste, and decrease the amount of waste disposed of in landfill sites.

Management of household waste is the responsibility of local authorities and is performed to guidelines by the regional governments of Spain's autonomous communities. The challenge facing government is to implement efficient and effective management models that ensure compliance with the legal obligations and aims of the entire range of regional, national and community waste legislation.

As the data below show, urban waste generation increased moderately over the three years listed in the table (though in 2007 the year-on-year volume did decrease slightly). Separate collection only accounts for 15 % of the total, while collection of mixed waste makes up the remaining 85 %.

Practically all of Spain's population has access to separate collection systems, at least for glass, paper/cardboard and lightweight packaging.

The amount of household waste (paper/cardboard, glass, lightweight packaging and organic matter) recycled has risen in recent years. Nonetheless, despite efforts to increase the volume of separately collected waste, mixed waste still accounts for the majority.

Urban waste generation.

A large proportion of mixed waste is processed in urban waste treatment plants, which separate recyclable matter and consign the rest to disposal in landfill sites or incineration. Taking into account that in 2008, approximately 24 million tonnes of waste were produced in Spain, the amount disposed of in landfill sites remains very high.

Composting is the most widely used treatment option for organic matter, though the compost obtained often fails to meet the required quality parameters. Therefore, increasing separate collection of organic matter to favour production of high-quality compost is a priority.

Urban waste treatment
In recent years, Spain has increased its capacity to recover energy from waste incineration. The country currently incinerates around 2 million tonnes of urban waste and the energy value is recovered from the entire amount.

According to data compiled by the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (INE), Spanish industry generated 49.9 million tonnes of waste in 2008 (13.9 % less than the previous year). Manufacturing industry generated 19.4 million tonnes, mining and quarrying 25.7 million and energy generation accounted for the remaining 4.9 million tonnes.

Over the period 2000–2008, waste generation by Spain's industrial sector decreased by 22.6 %.

Industrial waste


The Integrated National Waste Plan 2008-2015 (PNIR in Spanish), provides a comprehensive analysis of the situation in waste generation and offers a wealth of information that complements the previous with other waste categories, such as vehicles at the end of its useful life, waste electrical and electronic, construction and demolition waste, etc.

The impact on the natural environment and human health and well-being in Spain are mainly the result of inappropriate waste management. To prevent it, authorities have implemented a large number of control, inspection and monitoring programmes in recent years and these actions are improving the situation. In this regard, it is worth highlighting the work done by the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA). A plan to eradicate illegal landfill sites is also being implemented in partnership with regional governments and, as a result, a significant number of these disposal sites have been closed.

Waste treatment and disposal operations also have an effect on the natural environment and human health if they are not performed correctly, and the impact varies according to the type of operation performed. To prevent these effects, Spain's regional governments, as the competent authorities, place particular emphasis on monitoring treatment facilities and inspecting them to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements before granting authorisation.

One of the impacts of most concern is emission of GHGs, principally CH4 from landfill sites and CO2 from incineration.

Waste composition determines how different types of waste perform as regards GHG emissions and, as a consequence, the reduction measures proposed also differ. The aim therefore should be to reduce activities that generate emissions, encourage those that capture carbon and investigate ways of reducing emissions associated with waste transport and treatment.




The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Other chapters in this report provide detailed analysis of the growth of Spain's economy and population. Nevertheless, it is still worth examining these factors in relation to waste generation. Specifically, comparing Spain's economic growth (both overall and individually for major economic sectors such as construction and services) with the increase in urban waste generation, whilst also taking into account population growth and the number of inbound tourists (the tourism sector's main input), produces the following analysis:

Over the period 1996–2008, total economic growth (measured as GDP at current prices) reached almost 130 %, while:

  • The increase in urban waste generation per inhabitant was just 7.3%, indicating that the two trends have been decoupled.
  • Population only grew by 16.4 %, showing that these two trends have also been decoupled.
  • The construction sector has grown relentlessly in recent years. This sector has recorded extremely high output levels, although the change of economic cycle has caused these to fall. While total GDP rose by 129.6 %, the construction GDP increased by 261.1 %. This strong growth was accompanied by the rise in the generation of construction and demolition waste.
  • Finally, the impact of the tourism sector, one of the Spanish economy's cornerstones, should also be taken into account. In the period 1996–2008, tourist arrivals increased by 58.2 %, while the gross product for the service sector (which includes tourism) rose by 139.3 %. In recent years, the Spanish hotel and accommodation sector's GVA has remained constant at around 11.2 % of the service sector's total.

The slow-down in GDP growth resulting from the economic context since 2007 will modify these trends, which makes it necessary to wait beyond 2009 before analysing any possible changes in tendency. As the chart show, between 2007 and 2008 there has been reductions in some indicators and lower increases in the others.


Change in GDP and waste




The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Waste generation in Spain in 2020 is likely to be linked to economic circumstances. Nevertheless, the preventive measures implemented under the 2008–2015 National Integrated Waste Plan (PNIR), approved in December 2008, will notably reduce waste generation, increase recycling rates and lower landfill.

Another aspect that will help improve the situation is application of legislation deriving from the incorporation into national law of the EU's Waste Framework Directive, which sets recycling targets for 2020 of at least 50 % for household waste, such as paper, glass, metal and plastic.

Some of the preventive measures included in the PNIR are listed below:

  • Strategy to Reduce Landfill of Biodegradable Waste. This Strategy, alongside compliance with legal obligations, helps extend the service life of landfill sites, diminish their impact on the environment and, in particular, reduce GHG emissions.
  •  For urban waste:
    • Voluntary agreements with economic sectors to reduce the quantity of packaging and packagingwaste.
    • Household and communal composting programmes.
    • Campaigns to inform consumers, companies and services and raise awareness about the role these groups play in waste generation, placing particular emphasis on reducing packaging waste (especially single-use shopping bags).
    1. For end-of-life vehicles: create a system to recover and manage spare parts. These parts should be collected and managed according to the environmental criteria applied to ELVs.
    2. For tyres: promote retreading. Support programmes aimed at vehicle users to inform the public, raise awareness and incentivise use of retreaded tyres.


    Some of the measures set out in the PNIR have already been implemented, and others will be put into practice during the remainder of its term. These are expected to decrease the impact on the natural environment significantly in coming years. In general, the measures established in the PNIR are principally intended to reduce waste's impact on the natural environment and human health.



    Existing and planned responses

    Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

    Responses to the waste issue in Spain principally take the form of specific waste legislation and local, regional and national waste plans.

    The Waste Framework Directive is currently at the consultation stage prior to incorporation into national law, after which the current Waste Law will be replaced with a new one. The new law will update aspects of the previous legislation that had become obsolete and will introduce new measures that encourage compliance with recycling targets and provision of better information about waste.

    As regards planning, as has been mentioned elsewhere in this report, the PNIR approved in December 2008 establishes specific management guidelines and targets. It includes household and similar waste, waste covered by specific legislation, contaminated land and some non-hazardous agricultural and industrial waste that, although not covered by specific legislation, is significant because of its quantity and impact on the environment. It also includes the Strategy to Reduce Landfill of Biodegradable Waste mentioned earlier in this chapter.

    The PNIR sets targets through to 2015 and encourages the various authorities and economic agents involved to consolidate management practices that effectively integrate the guiding principles of European waste policy and significantly change waste management in Spain. Many of the targets and measures included in the PNIR are strategic in nature and are intended to provide guidelines for development of specific management policies for various waste types and to change waste management.




    The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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