Barcelona's Sustainability Guide

An eco-friendly introduction to this Catalonia capital

May 28, 2024
arc de triomfarc de triomf

Summer, sun, and sustainability - the trifecta of S’s for Barcelona. Even outside of the peak season though, this Catalonia classic boasts warm rays and environmental affection. With a city so centered around the great outdoors, is it any wonder that sustainability stays at the forefront of tourism?

Whether you’ stay in Barcelona for a month, a season or sabbatical, this city embraces all who visit with one proviso: treat with care. Tucked away on the dazzling Mediterranean, there’s much to love in its exteriors, but Barcelona also sits on a delicate ecosystem. As tourism inches along a path of expansion, it’s in the hands of those who visit to take care of the beautiful Barcelona.

Throughout this guide, we’re going to show you how to make the most of your Barcelona stay while still looking after the planet. Recycling in Barcelona, getting around with sustainable transportation, and finding all the local initiatives that make your heart and Earth home happy are detailed below.

Recycling in Barcelona

Let’s start with the basics: how to recycle in Barcelona. It seems easy, but in reality, recycling varies from country to country. With a spectrum of blue, yellow, and green bins, the recycling system in Barcelona can leave some perplexed. If Catalan isn’t your forte, we’re here to tell you what each bin means and how you can be a recycling buff in no time.

Barcelona’s Recycling Colors

Barcelona’s streets are teeming with character and sustainability. At the end of most streets, you’ll find a grouping of colorful bins to deposit waste. Each bin is denoted by color and labels:

  • The blue bins are for paper and cardboard,

  • Green is for glass,

  • And yellow is for plastic and wrappings.

There are normally two gray bins that are for general waste. Now you might be asking, “What happens if I throw all my trash in the gray bin?” First of all, please don’t. When the waste from the gray bin goes to the recycling sorting center, they do their best to salvage what’s been wrongly deposited, but the system isn’t perfect. It’s best to throw away what you know goes into the other bins and leave only the questionables for the gray container.

Some waste areas also include a brown bin intended for organic waste. Consider that your fish, bread, veggies, fruit, nuts, egg shells, corks, tea bags, coffee grounds, and even napkins and paper towels can all find a home here.

Is recycling mandatory in Spain?

Barcelona shines with pride over its sustainability measures. Embracing the Mediterranean lifestyle also entails a deeper sense of responsibility for the rich environment surrounding it. It’s not mandatory to recycle in Spain, but it’s highly recommended.

recycling bins barcelona beach

Travelers in the past have been known to get a bad rap in Barcelona. Piles of trash on the side of the street or incessant littering have created a somewhat negative view of visitors coming to Barcelona. To combat this, Barcelona has called for smart tourism - where its guests are aware of the beautiful backdrop and treat it as such. Is recycling required in Barcelona? No, but in order to be amongst the most admirable visitors, we suggest you do it.

Special recycling in Barcelona

Recycling varies from place to place, so, as a jetsetter, it can get confusing to know what goes where. Fortunately, the labeling makes it easy to know the basics of Barcelona recycling, but some of the exceptions remain in question. For the tricky stuff, we’ve got you covered.

Coffee capsule recycling seems to be at the top of the confusion list. Both organic and plastic, many of us don’t know where to put them. If you have a coffee capsule with a removable top, separate the granules into the organics bin and put the capsule in the plastic recycling bin.

las ramblas

Polystyrene recycling, more commonly known as styrofoam, tends to also exist in a gray area. Polystyrene is typically made of what we consider “type 6” plastic and therefore can be discarded in the yellow bin. If the styrofoam is made of mixed materials, dispose of it in the gray bin.

Clothes are another factor for consideration. You’ll find that each neighborhood has a dedicated trash day for bulkier items and on those days you might find piles of clothes, furniture, decor, board games, you name it, sitting next to the trash bins. If an item seems redeemable, locals typically set it aside for a chance to find a second home. If you’d like to find a more direct route for donating clothes, some organizations like Humana, have bins in the back of their stores for clothes donations. In some parts of the city, bright orange containers labeled “Roba Amiga” also allow for clothing drop-offs.

What is Barcelona doing about climate change?

If the expansive assortment of recycling bins speaks to Barcelona’s concern for climate change then its other measures are merely complimentary. Like much of Europe, the rising temperatures, more frequent weather fluctuations, and unsettling changes in the Mediterranean create a need for action.

Barcelona, as one of the most iconic cities in the world, has taken to that call for change. A city largely fueled by visitors understands its role in combating climate change, but to what extent?

Is Barcelona environmentally friendly?

At the beginning of 2020, Barcelona declared that the city was in a climate emergency. With the looming threat of rising temperatures set to rise 3 degrees Celsius before we even reach the end of the century, Barcelona felt the need to do something drastic and fast.

barcelona beach

The climate emergency put in place plans to combat the immense carbon emissions happening in the city, the port, and the nearby airport. Barcelona is alive with movement, but the city council urges that it must be sustainable liveliness if we want the city to continue in good health.

Future initiatives for sustainability in Barcelona

Putting forth an ambitious plan, Barcelona aims for complete carbon neutrality by 2050 and, in the nearest future, a slash of carbon emissions by 45% in the next eight years. In their environmental plan, they highlight seven pillars for change:

  • change of urban model,

  • change of mobility and infrastructure model,

  • change of energy model,

  • change of economic model,

  • change of consumption and waste model,

  • change of food model,

  • and change of cultural and educational model.

Each of these initiatives is a vital part of making Barcelona a sustainable city, but we can already see some of these pillars in play. Carbon emissions from cars in the city have been a battling issue and are reflected in the city’s poor air quality index score of 85, on average. Barcelona has been committed to reducing car fumes, which is reflected in their growing use of super blocks - a cluster of inner-minor streets that block through traffic and instead promote biodiversity with planters and trees.

Getting Around

A city built in ancient times surely wasn’t considering rush hour traffic or two-lane highways. So to say, Barcelona predates cars, buses, or any of our modern means of transportation. The city has bent to adapt to the necessary changes in transportation but has since realized the repercussions of a fume-filled urban area. Nowadays, there are many green alternatives for transportation in Barcelona.

Green rental bikes in Barcelona

With more sunny days than not, biking is a viable and fun option for this metropolis. Barcelona makes it easy for transients to partake in the cycling fun by offering a subscription service. Instead of having to buy a bike outright, Bicing provides the option to rent a bike - be it manual or electric. This bike service comes with two subscription options: the flat rate is 50 euros a year with the first 30 minutes of manual cycling included while the pay-as-you-go plan is 35 euros a year and 35 cents per 30 minutes.

bikeing in barcelona

Electric Scooter Rentals

For a faster means of transportation, electric scooters are also available for rent. Mint green, vintage-style scooters zip around the streets of Barcelona and have become an increasingly popular option for movement. Yego works on a pay-as-you-go basis, so however long you ride is how much you’ll owe. Drop it off in a legal parking area and pick up whichever scooter near you for the next ride. The best part? Yego is an Ukio partner meaning great deals and green savings.

Another great option for scooter rentals is the Cooltra scooter. This monthly scooter rental service is perfect for guests looking to consistently move around the city. Ukio guests can enjoy 12 euros off their next ride.

Other sustainable means of transportation in Barcelona

All the above options assume decent weather. On occasion, the skies do turn gray and more-covered means of transportation become necessary. For a green car rental option, the Spanish company Mec has introduced a new electric car sharing service. These green vehicles can be shared, charged, and used via their application for a couple of hours or a couple of days, depending on your needs.

Barcelona also has an expansive public transportation network including metros, light rails, buses, and regional trains. If you plan to stick around for a while, the Barcelona T-Casual card can be purchased with a month’s use and is valid for all city transportation. If you’d like to “save it for a rainy day” the T-10 plan comes with ten trips that are also usable for all of Barcelona’s transportation network.

Environmental Events in Barcelona

Sustainability is something worth celebrating. There are plenty of events happening in and around the city that are good for the planet and provide a great opportunity to meet the community.

The beach is a great place to start if you’re looking to get involved in some climate change fun. Barcelona hosts multiple beach clean-ups all along the coast - the most notable being the Barceloneta clean-up every Sunday at 4 PM.


As for a recurring event, the farmers' markets scattered around Barcelona make for a fun Saturday morning activity. Many of the markets, or mercats, around the city provide fresh fruit and produce daily which can be transformed into a fun activity that equally supports eating locally.

If you’re looking for an exciting day of education, the Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona is buzzing with information - literally! Right now, the museum is putting on an exhibition until October 2022 highlighting the importance of pollinators and bee conservation.

Barcelona’s Sustainable Brands to Look Out For

The deep blues of the Mediterranean and the earthy greens off of Montserrat are emblematic of Barcelona’s palette of environmental commitments. The community and organizations that inhabit it share this colorful love and care for the environment. Here are some organizations that help to care for the community in the most sustainable of ways.

Let’s talk caffeine. To some coffee is a necessity rather than an amenity, so how do we proceed with sustainability in mind? Slowmov makes it possible by providing sustainably-sourced coffee in a Barcelona-cool cafe. Their packaging is completely biodegradable, so no need to fret when throwing your coffee package away. Their products degrade at the same rate as fruit skin, in roughly 180 days. This company encourages visitors to slow down, take a sip, and stay sustainable.

sagrada familia

From coffee to cocina, Barcelona reigns in all things sustainable food. Voted World Capital of Sustainable Food in 2021, this Catalan capital prides itself on green eating. If it’s organic meals you crave, we recommend Flax and Kale, which is committed to organic ingredients and locally sourcing where possible. Vegetalia is a vegetarian’s dream, featuring delectable dishes without any harm to animals or the environment.

If you’re looking to take the sustainable foodie scene to your home, refill concept stores like Yes Future Positive Supermarket and Linverd provide eco-options for all your grocery needs.

Beauty, too, can be sustainable. Vegere is a vegan beauty center focused on both cruelty-free and eco-friendly products.

You can check the list of our favorites eco-shops in Barcelona.

Green Accomodations

A perfect stay wouldn't be complete without homage to its natural surroundings. Stay in eco-friendly residences in Barcelona, like Ukio, that promote green energy, natural light sourcing, and other sustainable solutions for the home.

A Sustainable Summary

Sensational and sustainable, Barcelona promises fun with an environmentally friendly flare. Get up-to-date with what’s happening around the city, like the climate protection protocols, community events, or even just the small ways that you can make a difference.

Go out and enjoy the city for all it’s worthwhile keeping the lovely planet that makes it all possible in mind. Barcelona is a treasure for all who visit. Treat it kindly. Treat it sustainably.