How is COVID-19 affecting recycling?

January 27, 2021

Although Spain already had a good recycling record before coronavirus hit, lockdown seems to have boosted interest in recycling, according to recent conversations on A.I.R.e, Ecoembes’ virtual recycling assistant.

Before the state of emergency was declared on the 14th March, Spain had ended 2018 with 78.8% of domestic plastic, metal, paper, cardboard and cartons recycled. On an industrial level, in 2019 20.2 million tonnes of waste was recycled, which represented an increase of 1.8% with regard to 2018, thanks to the 350 waste recycling companies in our country.


People occasionally query how and where they should recycle certain common materials such as cartons.

However, with the appearance of coronavirus, certain new products have become part of our daily life that were not necessarily there before, such as masks and gloves. This has created uncertainty as to where we should dispose of these materials – and the answer is always the general waste bin (never the plastics or paper bin, although it would be easy to make that assumption).

Regarding the waste produced by people with coronavirus and their carers (if they have any), Spanish Ministry of Health guidelines state that all waste, regardless of the material, should be hermetically sealed in a bag and placed in the general waste bin. This type of waste must never be placed in the recycling bins for sorting.

Evidence of the Spanish public’s increased interest in recycling is the more frequent use of the Ecoembes chatbot, A.I.R.e, during lockdown, with 45% more enquiries than in previous months.

Recent figures have also revealed a 15% increase in packaging deposited in the plastics recycling bins, which could mean a rise in the amount of material separated for recycling. And we say it could, as this increase does not necessarily mean more material has been recycled per se. It is important to remember that not all plastics can be recycled. However, the fact that the public is showing a desire to recycle more is positive, because it will mean recycling companies are able to give more materials a second use when possible.


Plastic is one of the most common materials we encounter every day. This means learning about how packaging is recycled and what we can do to help is a good way to start protecting the environment.

As a rule, plastics are made from polymers converted from resins and mixed with oil derivatives. There is an enormous range of different plastics with very different characteristics, including recyclability.

In order to know whether packaging materials are recyclable or not, you can check the Plastics Identification Code, which will tell you the composition of the packaging and whether it can be recycled or reused. In Spain there are 7 types of plastics in use, 6 of which can be recycled to a greater or lesser extent:

  • PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate)
  • HDPE (High-density polyethylene)
  • PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)
  • LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)
  • PP (Polypropylene)
  • PS (Polystyrene)
  • Others (mixture of other plastics, including those that cannot generally be recycled)


SP Group has developed an innovative way of helping food companies meet the challenges of sustainability head on. We follow four basic rules in the production of our plastics:

  • Research into biodegradable materials. Our R&D team seeks packaging solutions that are 100% biodegradable, as well as being compostable and biobased.
  • Use of recyclable materials. We ensure our materials contain a high percentage of recycled plastic. 
  • Move from multilayer to monolayer structures. Using monomaterials in packaging helps the recycling process.
  • Carbon footprint reduction. Using our formulas to find ways of downgauging materials while respecting their properties is a top priority to ensure carbon reduction.

If you are looking for a packaging solution that guarantees the sustainable transformation of your business, the team at SP Group is ready to help.

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