Living green in Barcelona (Part 1): From Transit to Garbage

Across the world, Barcelona is widely recognized as a best practice example for city planning and management, urban solutions, environmental programs, preservation/growth of green areas, transportation and regeneration.

This model has repeatedly received different international awards and has been replicated in different cities. Throughout this article, which will be published in two parts, we will look at the different tools, models and ideas that have made Barcelona one of the European cities with the best quality of life, and a place where living green is convenient to citizens.


tram.jpgThe city has an effective intermodal transportation system that links all major means of public transportation together (bus, underground, tram, suburban trains and bicycles). Integrated fares and ticketing make it attractive for citizens to use public transportation. Rail networks are the city’s high-speed backbone while people often get around within the city by bike or walking. Bicycles act as feeder systems for rail stations and are used to reach specific locations not covered by motorized public transportation. Just three months ago, the city government launched Bicing, an initiative that incorporates bikes into the public transportation system. The service has already attracted 30,000 users that join the city’s 43,000 daily bike users. The service would not have been successful if the city didn’t have 120 kilometers of bike lanes, bike-friendly streets and efficient connections to other transportation options.

Intermodal hubs also link the urban transit systems with regional and international networks, a high-speed rail system links the international airport with a downtown station for subways, suburban trains and buses. Just like in Curitiba, buses have access to special lanes with junction priority, making it a more attractive option than driving your own car. Barcelona has adopted a sustainable mobility strategy that promotes the use of public transport, pedestrian areas and that invests in environmental means of transportation such as trams and bicycles instead of other non-environmentally friendly options.

According to the 2005 Mobility Survey on Working Days, over a third of all travel within the city is made on foot or by bicycle, and almost 40% is by public transport. Private transport is only used for 25% of trips.

Waste Disposal

advertising1.jpgDuring the last year the city government has made major investments in underground waste containers. A system that has a waste-disposal truck lifting the container out of the ground to empty it. Some of the advantages compared with above ground containers include: optimization of space above the ground (unobtrusive), larger capacity that reduces the frequency of collections necessary, odors are minimized due to stable low temperatures, acoustic contamination is improved and a better environment around the containers, since waste no longer sits around. Garbage is recollected at night, avoiding traffic congestion. The investment required will be repaid by the productivity of the collection operatives, who can empty each container in less than two minutes, meaning that one person can do more than three had previously.

Just after the service was launched, government representatives visited households to personally explain the advantages of the new system, offer tips and encourage recycling practices. Selective collection is also promoted, as each container is color-coded for different types of materials. Despite that recycling happens on a voluntary basis, recycling rates in Barcelona are high (31.4%), showing the high degree of commitment to living sustainable lifestyles.

Per year each Barcelona citizen recycles 116.6 lbs of paper-carton, 35.2 lbs of glass, 19.4 lbs of plastic and cans and 118.1 lbs of organic waste.

waste-containers2.jpgNew waste collection infrastructure also includes a double purpose street panel that provides advertising spots for companies and a place to throw away small domestic products that require special disposable handling such as CDs/DVDs, light bulbs, halogen bulbs, batteries, mobile batteries, pens, printers cartridges, video tapes, cassettes and lighters. Scattered around the city, the panels not only make it easy to get rid of these products but leverages publicity to finance its collection.

Next week, Part 2: From brownfield regeneration to home solar

(11) Comments // digg // // Previous Article >>

Hello there!

The link to Adrian Muller doesn't work and can't find him in the "About us" team section.

Nice to see an article from Barcelona and looking forward to Part 2. I appreciate that Barcelona is a great place to live and is doing good in some respects but I think the article is a bit too optimistic in the following:

- 120km of bike lanes. This is the official figure but can be discussed: real figure much lower, existing lanes not well designed etc. In-depth analysis available here (in Catalan):
- In recent months commuters who travel into Barcelona are facing an almost daily nightmare due to bad service. This has probably been only covered by local media.
- Due to the construction of the high-speed train, connection between city and airport was disrupted for months with no efficient alternative.

On the positive side, I think it's good mentioning the CarSharing system that though not as successful as Bicing also contributes to a better mobility. More info (English):

Regarding waste, the only thing is that the underground containers are only in a few streets for now.

Posted by: Roger on July 10, 2007 6:14 PM

Hi Roger,

I just recently joined the worldchanging team, the bio should be up soon. You are right that the article is a bit too optimistic, however I have lived in different cities both in America (the continent) and Europe and I really think Barcelona is a city model for others to follow. Of course everything is not perfect and opportunities of things to improve are there, but the basis are there. Drop me an email if you wish to further talk.

Posted by: Adrian Muller on July 11, 2007 5:55 AM

I have visited Barcelona recently, and I very much agree with this article. Amongst the places that I have been to, I find that Barcelona is very "green-counscious" and that this feeling is supported by numerous public initiatives.

Barcelona is an example of how innovative solutions, even if small on the larger scope, can help resolve global problems. Adrian, good article, and I look forward to part 2!

Posted by: Gabriel on July 11, 2007 7:00 AM

I visited Barcelona for 4 days this May and one thing which struck me (and was commented on by native Barcelonans I spoke to) was the remarkable lack of green space to serve residential neighborhoods. Parks like Park Guell and Montjuic do nothing for quality of life on a daily basis for the residents who are starved for small local parks where kids can play. That fact alone makes me think that this article seriously overstates Barcelona as some kind of green world model. Yes, the mass transit system is good, but you could say the same for Madrid or, for that matter, many other European cities.
PS: Just learned about this website from an interview with Alex Steffen on Wisconsin Public Radio's Here On Earth - very best wishes in what you are doing!

Posted by: Amos Burritt on July 11, 2007 6:55 PM

Thanks Amos for the best wishes. Part 2 talks about green spaces. For a map on parks within Barcelona go here:

Posted by: Adrian Muller on July 11, 2007 8:12 PM

Hey, This is a great article. I am glad to see that Barcelona is doing so much to be earth friendly.
Recently my brother and I started a project to do our part to help the earth out. We talked with local land owners and made arrangements, so we can plant trees on their land. Then, we are haveing people sponsor trees to be planted in their name, and we go out and plant them. We have room for lots of trees already, we just need more people to sponsor them!

Check out our page!

Posted by: Ellen on July 14, 2007 9:24 AM

thanks this is awesome :) i reposted some of it on myspace with refs and a link of course :)

Posted by: Lisa Says on July 14, 2007 9:38 AM

Ellen I will definitely check out carbon footprint reducers. Lisa thanks 4 da support.

Posted by: Adrian Muller on July 14, 2007 10:18 AM

I noticed the lack of green open spaces there too; but what the Barcelonese understand, and could teach Americans a lot about, is how to design streets and plazas as public spaces rather than just traffic thoroughfares.

Posted by: Tom Radulovich on July 15, 2007 6:28 PM

A good article and I look forward to the second installment. The good-natured criticisms on your optimism have been well placed and bring depth to your article, but the thing I love the most about your article, and those put out by all WorldChanging writers, IS the optimism. Completely and utterly motivating. Your organization is by far the best of its kind that I have found on the internet and I wish you the best of luck at your new job!

Posted by: Malcolm on July 16, 2007 6:48 PM

Thanks a lot Malcom! I think everything has its pros and cons, worldchanging's philosophy is to focus on the positive side of things, never forgetting though, the problems our society currently faces.

Posted by: Adrian on July 17, 2007 2:58 AM



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