Where does our garbage go?

All of the garbage that we generate can be distributed in between different containers or bin types according to the garbage collection model of each city. However, once collected, waste can generally be disposed of in 3 different ways: recycling (including composting), landfill or incineration.

(I do not include reused objects or waste since it is evident that they obviously don’t end up in a treatment facility but rather ends in the hands of another person who uses them or gives them a new use.)

Of the total amount of municipal waste treated in Catalonia[1] in 2012, 46% went to landfills, 18% was incinerated and 36% was sent to recycling facilities (including composting facilities). In Spain,[2], in 2012, 61% went to landfills, 9% was incinerated and 30% went to recycling facilities (recycling and composting). In Europe[3] (EU27), in 2012, 33% ended up in landfills, 25% was incinerated and 42% was sent to recycling facilities (recycling and composting). In the cities of around the world,[4], it is estimated that 56% of the waste goes to landfill, 17% for incineration and 27% are is recycled (recycled and composted).

More than half of our waste ends up in landfills and incinerators

In the case of Catalonia case, it should be specified it’s worth specifying that the selective or recycling collection is at 39% and that, due to the wrong waste being deposited in the recycling bins (the inappropriate items), this percentage is reduced to 32% (net recycling rate). Afterwards, this rate is increased bumped up by the waste recovered waste from the Eecoparks. Therefore, the final recycling figure would be around 36% (data compiled from other official data).

Reviewing In light of these recycling quotas, we should be aware of the low level of waste recycling being carried out level by both by individuals and businesses. If the selective waste collection reaches is at 39% in Catalonia, which means that there are many people are involved participating in selective collection and recycling, although but it also means that there are still those who do not recycle at all. The figures speak for themselves: we haven’ not even reached achieved 50% of when it comes to recycling.

In relation to the European data,[5]  this is shown in the following table, for European countries ordered by the higher highest recycling rate for the year 2012. I don’t want to overwhelm you with data and tables, but I do think this is worth taking a look at:

Watching From this table, it is clear that the European countries with more experience in the waste treatment –- such as Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria or Sweden –-send only, on average, 2% of the generated waste generated to landfill but, on the other hand, they have higher incineration rates –- 43% on average –- and recycle rate 56% of their waste.

In the most advanced European countries, 2% of waste ends up in a landfill and 43% in incinerated

Want to know more?

 The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019

I recommend visiting the Waste Atlas website where there is a lot of information about municipal waste in many countries and cities around the world


Statistical data EUROSTAT of the European Union


[1]. Based on data extracted from the General Program for the Prevention and Management of Waste of Catalonia 2013-20. The data does not account for 100% of the waste due to a reduction in weight.

[2].EUROSTAT. Official statistics. European Union

[3]. Ibidem

[4]. “What a Waste,” World Bank report, 2012

[5]. EUROSTAT. Official statistics. European Union

8 thoughts on “Where does our garbage go?”

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