What can or can’t be recycled in Portugal – The Portugal News

What can or can’t be recycled in Portugal – The Portugal News

We are all probably aware that there are recycling and waste bins/containers available everywhere, and it’s possible you might have a favourite dumping place – you might even have recycling bins nearby as well.

So, considering how easy it is, how come Portugal seems to be falling behind in the ‘league table’ of top recyclers? In 2020, it was reported that the total recycling rate was 26.5 percent. This meant that Portugal was still 28.5 percent from reaching the 2025 target of 55 percent. Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world and apparently recycles around 66 percent of their waste. Their key to success has been a no-nonsense government policy, with the German citizens getting on board.

Where does it all go?

So, what’s next on the recycling journey after you’ve separated everything? After the items are collected, they are sent to a sorting station (Estação de Triagem), where they are separated according to material. Then, the materials are delivered through a recycling service, Sociedade Ponto Verde, which sends the sorted products to recycling companies to be made into new items. After going through this rigorous process, the recycled materials can contribute to new everyday objects, such as furniture or drainage pipes, etc – and yes, even toilet paper. Even old clothes can be recycled, or possibly collected for charitable causes in some places.

Colour-coded bins

In an effort to make things easier, waste can be recycled into colour-coded bins in many areas.

Yellow is for all plastic bottles and metal items, such as dog food cans, metal lids, etc. They don’t have to be sparkling clean, but really dirty stuff can’t be recycled anyway – so rinsing off any residue will stop the bins from getting smelly and make the sorter’s job easier somewhere down the line. You can’t add metal cutlery, tools, fuel bottles, cassettes, CDs and DVDs, hangers, cork stoppers, or pens. Worldwide, single-use items such as plastic plates, cups, cutlery and drink stirrers apparently can’t be recycled easily even when they are made from recyclable plastic as they downgrade a bit more each time they are recycled. They are also sometimes the wrong shape or are too light to be sorted correctly by recycling machines, which are designed to separate larger items like bottles and tubs.

A wonderful project has been in place since April 2006, Operação Tampinhas, where those hard plastic bottles or carton tops can be donated and delivered for recycling, with the value obtained used to buy and donate medical equipment. There are plenty of places where you can take yours, and they will gratefully be put to good use.

Green is for glass – beer, wine, jam-jars, etc., and should be uncapped. However, you may not add glass panes, lamps, medicine packaging, borosilicate glass (Pyrex/cookware and labware), light bulbs, mirrors, fiberglass and any other glass product that is not a glass bottle or jar.

(As an aside, the collection rate of glass in Portugal is reportedly less than 50 percent, a stark contrast to the 90 percent collection rate in some other countries.)

Blue is for paper and card, magazines, boxes, loo roll tubes, etc. If you can, flatten boxes, etc enough that they will fit in the bin. In general, if the paper has liquids, food, paint or dirt on it, you shouldn’t recycle it.

Grey is for non-recyclable, non-hazardous, household waste. This includes napkins, tissues, paper towels, greasy pizza boxes, used aluminium foil, etc.

Brown, if available, is for organic waste, and red, if there is one, is for batteries – usually found attached to the front of the yellow bin.

Waste that cannot be recycled is disposed of in landfills and incinerators, and Portugal’s incineration rate has been stable at around 18-19 percent since 2016. Old electrical appliances should be taken to larger recycling centres personally, though some stores will take away your old fridge, for example, when you buy a new one from them.

All bin types are not available everywhere, but hopefully, we can help get Portugal’s recycling quota up to scratch. It’s such a lovely clean country, surely it’s our duty to help keep it that way.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan