At Willshee’s, we believe in the power of recycling. With increased awareness amongst the public about the world’s waste problem, more and more countries are employing new measures to cut down the amount of waste that gets sent to landfill.
Here in the UK, increasing pressure from the public has led to the government starting to pay more attention to environmental issues, and forcing big companies like Walkers Crisps to introduce recycling schemes.
And this got us thinking – how does the UK compare to other countries when it comes to recycling? And who comes out on top?
So we put together an interactive recycling map that lets you explore how the best 25 countries in the world at recycling and how they rank. We’ve based the map on research carried out earlier this year by the environmental consultancy Eumonia.
Have a click through the map, or read about the top-performing countries below.
As one of the largest countries in the world, it comes as no surprise that America generates a huge amount of waste every day, accumulating more than 260 million tonnes of the stuff each year.
Different states have varying guidelines when it comes to recycling. However, one which prioritises environmental concerns and the future of its waste is Oregon. Similarly to Germany, in Oregon residents have to separate their recycling to ensure it can be reused. The state was making positive moves towards reducing waste, however, since China’s recent ruling prohibiting foreign waste imports, many products destined to be recycled are instead ending up in landfill.
For a long time, Hong Kong lagged worryingly behind most global nations in the recycling race. The country continued to generate a huge amount of waste with little initiative in-place to recycle or even store the discarded materials.
Progress was made in May 2013, however as the government revealed the “Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013 – 2022” which mapped out a comprehensive strategy, policies and action plans for waste management over the next 10 years.
However, they still have a long way to go, most of their recycling is shipped to other countries to be dealt with. But, with China now refusing to take any more imports of waste, Hong Kong must address the lack of waste management facilities within their borders.
France has a lot of catching up to do compared to its European counterparts when it comes to recycling. Currently, less than 25% of the country’s plastic packaging is recycled, which is way behind the European average of over 30%.
One of the biggest issues in France is how their waste is sorted. Lack of clarity on packaging leads French households to incorrectly manage their materials. France is, however, aiming to improve, with a goal of recycling 100% of their plastics by 2025. One measure the country is taking to achieve this goal is to introduce a penalty system for packaging, where products with non-recycled plastic packaging will be more expensive.
The Finns are especially good at recycling bottles and cans, thanks to their national deposit scheme. This works so well that nearly 100 percent of glass bottles are recycled. And plastic bottles and aluminium cans aren’t far behind, at around 94 percent and 96 percent respectively.
They are also looking at ways to both reduce the amount of plastic packaging produced and and to prevent any remaining plastic waste from ending up in the landfill. One of the ways they intend to do this is by converting waste plastic into electricity. They are setting up incineration plants across the country, where heat created from incinerating plastic is used for municipal heating facilities.
Australia have been falling behind in the recycling stakes for a while, but have recently been making positive steps in the right direction. In July 2018, Queensland launched a container refund scheme in an effort to increase recycling. Other territories including New South Wales and South Australia are set to follow suit later in the year.
It has even been suggested that to really incentivise recycling, Australia could introduce a lottery scheme. If, instead of a small guaranteed amount on the return of each bottle, the recycler was entered into a competition that gave them the chance to win a more significant amount more people may be interested.
Northern Ireland showed their commitment to recycling and reducing waste by voluntarily adopting a plastic carrier bag levy two years before its neighbours were forced to under EU law. That’s right – Northern Ireland commendably bright in a carrier bag levy back in 2013. Good for their neck of the woods, but still a long way behind other European countries such as Germany.
Things are generally looking up for Northern Ireland when it comes to recycling though: the country recently recorded its highest recorded recycling levels, with 51.5% of household waste being recycled. This is thought to be partly down to a boost in local council marketing intiatives aimed at encouraging people to recycle.
Poland currently recycles around 44% of its waste. While this is better than the other members of the Visegrad Four, it’s still under the EU requirement of 50% that all member states are required to reach by 2020. This target is set to rise every five years after that, so Poland will have to up its game to keep up.
Poland’s recycling shortcomings are thought to be a result of poor management and reporting and cheap landfilling.
To give Poland some credit though, they rank relatively well for low amounts of municipal waste produced in the first place and plastic packaging recycling rates.
Despite initially being at the forefront of the recycling wave, recent years have seen the U.K fall behind targets and even witness a decline in its recycling efforts.
In 2018 it was reported that the recycling rates of councils responsible for over 14 million homes have fallen, with the amount of waste recycled by half of local authorities being lower in 2016-17 than 2011-12.
However, the U.K has introduced a number of successful recycling schemes. The plastic bag tax was introduced back in 2015 and since then retailers have issued around 83% fewer bags each year (that’s a reduction of more than 6 billion bags annually). 2018 has also seen the introduction of the plastic straw boycott as numerous big U.K brand switched to degradable straws.
Many have praised Norway’s approach to recycling, which is extensive and efficient. They have had a glass and plastic bottle deposit scheme since 1972, which means that the country recycles over 90% of plastic bottles. Norwegians take their bottles, tins and other recyclable packaging back to machines at the supermarket and receive a small amount of money back in return.
As well as incentivising recycling, it is also engrained in the culture: Norwegians recycle as a matter of habit and are even taught about it in school.
All the countries of the United Kingdom combined end up with a middling ranking on the top 25 list. As some powers in the UK are devolved to the individual countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, they all have slightly different systems when it comes to recycling – with various levels of success. Wales leads the way with recycling, followed by Scotland, then England, with Nothern Ireland performing the worst.
While UK residents do separate their waste, there are many different systems even within one country, depending on the district. Many argue that this leads to confusion and means that lots of items end up in landfill unnecessarily. Steps are, however, being taken to improve recycling systems, while an increasing number of UK supermarkets are responding to calls to use less plastic packaging.
Currently recycling just over 45% of their waste, the Scottish Government is pushing to further improve on its performance. Zero Waste Scotland is an initiative funded by the government that aims to all types of waste and help build a circular economy. As part of this movement, Scotland has announced plans to bring in a bottle deposit scheme – it will be the first country in the UK to do so.
A few years ago the Scottish Government and CoSLA (the Convention of Scottish Local ) Authorities also agreed upon a Household Recycling Charter that aims to bring more consistency to recycling services.
Denmark has achieved a big increase in the amount of waste it recycles in recent years, earning a reputation as a green country. According to Danish Environmental Agency statistics, Denmark is on target to reach its goal of 50% of all household waste being recycled by 2020.
Much like their Scandinavian neighbours in Norway and Sweden, the Danes are also expert recyclers. A large amount of sorting already takes place at home, with different bins for different types of recyclable waste. Having it as such a routine part of the culture is obviously paying off.
Sweden’s recycling system is so efficient that the country have had to turn to importing waste from abroad to keep its recycling plants running.
Since 2011, less than 1% of household waste in Sweden has ended up in landfill. This is thanks to the country’s longstanding dedication to environmental protection. They were one of the first nations in the world to place a high tax on fossil fuels when they did so in 1991, and the country today gets almost half of all its electricity from renewable sources.
The energy created from burning waste is used to heat homes during the winter.
Luxembourg has among the best rates in Europe when it comes to the collection and recovery of municipal waste. They recycle around 275kg of waste per capita annually. Around 46% of their municipal waste gets recycled, thanks to their highly efficient separated collection process. This puts them well on track to meet the EU’s 50% target for 2020. One of the things helping this steady increase in recycling rates is the good level of public awareness about sorting waste.
There is still scope for Luxembourg to cut down the amount of waste that gets incinerated where it could be recovered and recycled instead. Although some of the waste incinerated is used to generate energy, there remains room for improvement overall.
The country has aimed to create a recycling culture and has recently introduced a deposit scheme in many restaurants, bars and shops. This means that that included in the price of every bottled drink is a deposit will which be reimbursed on the return of the bottle, encouraging people to recycle.
Another step towards integrating recycling in Italian culture has been their move to cut down on plastic bags usage. Any single use bags that are still used must be compostable by law.
Switzerland is among the largest waste producers in Europe 730 kg of waste per capita, so you may be wondering why they rank so highly. However, the recycling rate for municipal solid waste exceeds 50 percent meaning they are amongst the top recyclers in Europe, and the world – they’ve already surpassed the target that the EU has set for all other countries to reach by 2020.
Not content with their success so far, Switzerland has published its own aims to increase municipal waste recycling levels to 60% by 2020.
According to a recent study by Coberec-Go4Circle federation of recyclers, Belgium recycles an impressive rate of over 80% of its plastic waste. In 2015 it had the best recycling rate in Europe for packaging materials and in 2016 began a long-term project to become the European leader of the circular economy (or zero-waste economy). It looks like it’s going pretty well so far!
But ever ambitious, Belgium is still looking for ways it can further improve, including by using more packaging that is only made of one single material and easier to recycle, as well as clear packaging that is easier to spot during sorting.
Slovenia is one of the fastest progressing countries when it comes to recycling. Their capital city Ljubljana produces 200kg less waste per person than the global average each year. In 2014, the city even became the first in European capital to adopt a Zero Waste strategy.
The country’s recycling success is in-part thanks to the support of inhabitants which was demonstrated in 2013 when over 600 people turned up to a screening of a recycling documentary.
It is also down to the RCERO waste treatment centre in the country’s capital, which is one of the largest and most state-of-the-art recycling centres in Europe.
Austria’s recycling initiatives have been very successful. The country’s capital of Vienna is a shining example of their waste-free culture and manages its residual waste entirely within the city limits. Waste that isn’t recycled it converted into a key resource by heating thousands of home throughout the winter.
And while recently there has been – rightly so – an increased focus on recycling and cutting down on plastic waste, back in 2015 Austria was named the paper recycling champion of Europe in a Eurobarometer survey. It’s saving the sea and the trees!
Perhaps one of the main reasons why the Netherlands scores so well when it comes to recycling is because the government actively tries to discourage people from throwing things away and buying new products when it’s not necessary. They impose a “recycling” or “removal” tax called “verwijderingsbijdrage”. The idea is that if people have to pay additional tax when buying a new product, they will be more likely to carry on using an appliance that still works, or get broken products repaired. And it seems to be working!
As well as an increased culture of reuse and repair thanks to this tax, the Dutch are pretty good at recycling packaging too. For example, the country recycles around 90% of their paper and glass to create new items.
What was once known as ‘garbage island’ now has an average recycling rate of 55%. Much of Taiwan’s current recycling success is thanks to public demand, as from the 90s to the early 2000s, the Taiwanese people demanded change to their failing waste system.
One of the biggest changes implemented by the government was the Pay As You Throw (PAYT) scheme, charging citizens in relation to the amount of waste they generate. Since introducing this in 2000, the waste generation per capita has fallen by over 30%.
South Korea has become known for its highly efficient waste management scheme, known as “Jongnyangje”. It is very strictly implemented, with waste bags that are colour-coded by waste type and district. You can incur penalties if you don’t comply properly with waste management, and people can receive rewards for reporting people who aren’t following the rules.
The country is also a pioneer in terms of food recycling, requiring residents to separate all food waste to ensure that it can be reused as either animal feed or compost. Again, there are even systems in place to charge inhabitants in relation to how much food they dump. Those who violate the guidelines can be fined over £500.
While Southeast Asia may be home to several big marine plastic polluters (such as Indonesia and Thailand), Singapore stands among them as a shining example when it comes to recycling. The country has introduced a string of impressive public waste-management initiatives in recent years which sees it recycling around 60% of its solid waste.
Singapore is also aiming to become zero waste country – which would mean no waste ending up in landfill. Measures it is taking to achieve this include offering research grants to organisations for developing sustainable waste management technology and plans to make generators of lots of packaging report on how much and what types of packaging they use.
As can be seen from its high ranking, Wales is well ahead of the rest of the UK when it comes to recycling. In 2017 it was announced that they had met their recycling target a massive 4 years early, recycling an impressive 64% of all their waste. By 2050 the nation is aiming to not send any of their rubbish to landfill. The county of Ceredigion has already managed to recycle an impressive 70% of its waste- hitting their 2025 target a whopping nine years early.
Wales has reached these impressive achievements through a well-organised and implemented range of measures, including statutory targets, good funding, co-operation with local authorities and education.
Their impressive recycling statistics are in-part thanks to government implemented policies which began to be introduced as far back as the 90s. Their early awareness of climate change issues, as well as long-standing policies, have helped to solidify recycling as part of German culture- the average German household has 6 different recycling bins.
One of their most famous and successful moves towards a greener Germany is the Green Dot scheme. By literally placing a green dot on packaging manufacturers indicate to recyclers that it must be accepted and removes any confusion that could prevent citizens from recycling.
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