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Recycling – how we are doing as a global community; waste-to-energy

Recycle to GO GREEN


Effective waste management strategies for cities include citywide recycling programs, circular economy strategies, as well as waste-to-energy programs (discussed below). A simple, straightforward action that benefits the environment positively is recycling, as well as actions such as responsibly treating food waste (as seen in The Food Waste Recycling Action Plan in the UK, described at the bottom of this article). Globally, the scientific community and most governments agree that citizens worldwide must make vigilant, concerted efforts NOW on actionable climate priorities as simple as recycling.

One major step forward many communities of the world have taken is educating the public about, and enforcing, recycling standards. Increased world population, mass production, and mass consumption have led to increased waste. Recycling reduces the global waste problem. Recycling reduces GHGs released into the atmosphere from landfills (due to less waste being sent to landfills), and reduces pollution generated in manufacturing packaging of products. 


Which nations recycle the most globally?

the symbol for the Green Dot recycling program

The top five nations globally for recycling are Germany, South Korea, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland (as well as the country of Wales, in the United Kingdom. UK recycling and waste management efforts are discussed at the bottom of this article). All of these countries listed above have recycling rates of over 50%, while Germany now has a rate of over 65%.

Germany gained number one status by implementing what is called the Green Dot initiative; a nationwide waste management strategy that mandated packaging standards in order to increase recycling. The German Packaging Ordinance under the Waste Act led to the nationwide passing of Der Grüne Punkt (The Green Dot) recycling system for labeling recyclable packages that meet the requirements. A Green Dot recycling symbol on packaged goods is now standard for many products in Germany.

France also has legislated recycling into national laws, known as circular economy laws – which are being enacted throughout Europe and Asia. In France, 100% of all plastics and 55% of all waste must be recycled by 2025. The EU has legislated similar recycling laws, and banned some types of single-use plastics. Colored recycling bins designating specific recyclable waste types are ubiquitous throughout European countries – for residences, at businesses, and in public spaces.

Recycling in Europe is generally considered mandatory, or at least common practice (read below for specific examples of mandatory national recycling measures). Although recycling is ubiquitous throughout Europe, most European nations have yet to reach the 50% threshold. The below list is of nations nearing, or exceeding, the 55% rate for recycling nationwide.

The Green Dot

In order to get a Green Dot recycling symbol on a package, German manufacturers are required to pay a fee based on the size of the packaging, and the level to which the packaging is recycling-compliant. The fee is then used for the Green Dot recycling process itself. German manufacturers (now also many European manufacturers, as the Green Dot system has spread throughout Europe) have thereby been effectively incentivized to reduce the volume of packaging and to make packaging more easily recyclable.

The Green Dot program encourages companies to produce more minimalistic, innovative packaging; as well as more packaging from recycled materials (that can easily be recycled yet again). Germany also has an effective system of sorting domestic and commercial waste, going hand-in-hand with colored recycling bins for separate types of recyclable waste; to make sure materials are able to be recycled properly throughout the country.

The Green Dot system started operating nationwide in Germany in 1991, and has since been exported, and replicated in one form or another, to 28 European countries and Israel, as well as the creation of a Green Dot partnership with countries in North America. The following European (and 1 Asian) nations are the best at recycling in the world today:

World’s Best Recycling Nations

Zurich, Switzerland

5) SWITZERLAND The Swiss national character places a high value on order and cleanliness – you can pay a fine simply for tossing recyclable garbage in regular trash bins, or even for taking the recycling out on the wrong day – so it’s no surprise they are among the best recyclers in the world.

Switzerland is known globally for sending very little of its waste to landfills; instead incinerating waste in waste-to-energy waste streams to produce renewable biogas, or recycling it. Switzerland is busy creating a culture where it is unusual not to recycle throughout the country.

Fines are routinely  issued in Switzerland for companies, or even individuals, who don’t recycle, and instead, choose to just throw out recyclable waste with non-recyclable waste. The Swiss people place recyclable waste into free, specially designated bags before disposing of garbage; and whatever non-recyclable trash there is leftover goes into separate bags available at a small cost; this strategy has dramatically increased recycling rates throughout Switzerland.

4) AUSTRIA Austria has taken a comprehensive approach to encourage its citizens to recycle. The combination of economic incentives for people and businesses to recycle, the successful implementation of education and training programs, and memorable advertising campaigns have thoroughly convinced Austrian citizens of the value of recycling. These national programs have helped turn Austria into the fourth biggest recycler in the world.

3) BELGIUM – Belgium’s recycling program is considered to be the best in Europe besides Germany (and possibly Austria). Belgium is known for the Flemish commitment to zero waste. The densely-populated Brussels-Capitol Region of Belgium (the nation’s capital, and also the de facto capital city of the European Union), with plenty of Flemish influence, recycles well over half its garbage.

The Flemish part of Belgium (the equally densely-populated region of the country north of Brussels) has the highest waste diversion rate in Europe, with over 70% of the region’s waste being recycled or composted…what’s more; the Flemish economy has grown significantly since 2000, yet the level of waste generation has remained consistently low; usually, economic growth goes hand in hand with a rise in the production of manufactured goods.

With this kind of nationwide manufacturing efficiency and dedication to waste management, Belgium is on its way to a successful circular economy. Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria are three relatively small central European nations, with small economies (especially compared to the #1 recycling country globally – Germany), who continuously outperform many much larger nations when it comes to recycling.

2) SOUTH KOREA – South Korea spends 2% of its GDP on a Green Growth Plan, hoping to deliver environmentally friendly economic prosperity. Its recycling industry is booming, and major companies in South Korea are behind the recycling boom; as a transition to a circular economy in South Korea is underway. Residential and business city blocks have a fastidious recycling system similar to the Swiss model, where recycling is free, but merely throwing items in the trash costs you a small amount of money. Wherever you are in the world, it seems economic incentives are an effective way of convincing people to care about recycling.

The #1 country in the world for recycling is GERMANY, now recycling over 65% of its recyclable waste!


Who Recycles the Worst?

The worst countries worldwide for recycling are Turkey and Chile. Turkey recycles a mere 1% of its total waste. The government of Turkey places little to no importance on the recycling issue. Chile is known for having a bad infrastructure for waste management, and so a lot of illegal dumping occurs.


How Can Recycling Rates Be Improved Globally?

In order to improve recycling rates, it is important policymakers and local decision-makers prioritize citywide systems of ubiquitously available standardized colored recycling bins. This means both installing public recycling receptacles throughout cities, and providing recycling services free of charge to residential areas.

Most people will choose to recycle when it presents no apparent added effort, in order to participate in helping the environment, and help lower municipal waste management costs. The most effective recycling systems use colored bins which designate separate types of recyclable waste.

The more that these types of recycling bins are implemented and used throughout a country, the more successful a country’s recycling effort will become. This includes deploying colored recycling bins at residences, buildings, as well as public spaces, and green spaces.

Unless single stream recycling infrastructure is already in place, incorrectly recycled items create increased cost in the recycling process. In most cases, the multi-waste stream approach to recycling is effective; especially when a colored recycling bin system is consistently used, as seen in cities with a high recycling rate like Curitiba, Brazil.

Creating a penalty for not recycling is also a tool that can be implemented for increased community recycling. For example, it actually costs individuals and businesses in Switzerland to not recycle or have trash tossed in a waste stream not designated for recycling or incineration/ waste-to-energy, and to throw out your trash in a special plastic bag for non-recyclable waste instead.

Additionally, fines are levied for just disposing of recyclable waste instead of recycling in Switzerland. As a result of these policies, recycling rates in the country have skyrocketed. In Denmark, trash disposal is closely monitored and regulated in order to ensure the maximal recycling is done correctly. Germany issues each household and business in the country 5 different colors/ categories of recycling bins. Wales, UK, is an example of a region where fines for not recycling has been an effective measure to increase recycling rates.

Most importantly, city officials need to evaluate the needs of their city. If it is particularly windy, they may need to provide covered bins for residence; if there is constant illegal dumping, they may need to provide more accessible recycling and trash centers. The needs of each community vary so widely that it is impossible to prescribe one generic solution.

The important takeaway is that we all need to be doing something as a global community, to increase environmental welfare; and one of the simplest steps an individual can take for a cleaner environment is recycling.


Information on an innovative recycling program developed in the UK by Wrap.org.uk:

The Food Waste Recycling Action Plan

Working together to improve the capture, supply, and quality of household and commercial food waste, this comprehensive Action Plan sets out a series of actions to

  • Increase the amount of food waste collected;
  • Provide long term sustainable feedstocks for AD – anaerobic digestion [to generate renewable biogas];
  • Share the costs and benefits of collecting and recycling food waste.

Despite the estimated 10 million tonnes of post-farm gate food waste thrown out across the UK every year, only 1.8 million tonnes is currently recycled. Food waste prevention and minimisation will remain a priority but, by working together, all of those involved in recycling food waste, from producers to collectors and processors, have an important role to play in making sure that the maximum value possible is extracted from food that would otherwise be wasted.

The Food Waste Recycling Action Plan is the industry’s response to this challenge. The Action Plan has been designed to help increase both the supply and quality of household and commercial food waste available for recycling.

This collaborative, industry-led approach will help operators of food waste processing plants secure the future growth of feedstock. What’s more, it will enable food waste collectors to maximise the amount of food waste collected, so that collections can be delivered as cost-effectively as possible.”   FROM –  wrap.org.uk/content/food-waste-recycling-action-plan


Waste-to-energy

The above example from the UK is an excellent example of how waste can be used productively to generate renewable energy; in biogas produced from waste with AD technologies. Using AD to produce energy is known as waste-to-energy; along with capturing methane from landfills to use for energy. Renewable biogas can be generated from waste, and this is an especially productive use of food waste.

Waste-to-energy (W2E) through AD is prevalent throughout many European countries; and is common practice in countries such as Sweden and Denmark (for district heating, gas for sustainable public transit, energy for municipal grids, as well as local energy generation for farms and homes) – and especially in European cities such as Copenhagen. Using waste to produce energy is an effective waste management strategy, reducing the quantity of waste the ends up in landfills; and is a particularly great way to make otherwise polluting food waste into a productive source of renewable energy.


Please also see:

Recycling in Curitiba


  1. Which countries recycle the best?

    Germany, South Korea, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland

  2. What is the #1 measure a country can take to improve recycling rates?

    In order to improve recycling rates, it is important to make recycling receptacles ubiquitously available.

  3. What additional measures can a country take to improve recycling rates?

    Creating a penalty for not recycling is a tool that can be implemented to increase community recycling.

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Ride-sharing our way to saving the planet

Can carsharing help save the planet?


Sustainable Commuting

Carsharing (a.k.a. ride-sharing) services provide an opportunity to reduce emissions from cars, reduce congestion on roads, and provide economic savings. With customers’ access to low rates on fuel and insurance, as well as the ability to use cars only when they are needed, driving becomes both a minimal cost in a monthly budget; as well as minimal as far as the emissions that take place when driving a car as necessary.

By sharing travel in cars with sharing services, the carbon footprint of the travel is essentially reduced by the number of passengers included in the trip – vs. each individual needing a separate drive. Additionally, many ride-sharing fleets are converting to electric cars.

Two leading carsharing companies include ZipCar and Car2Go (with locations both in the U.S. & around the world), where drivers, sometimes millions of members, work together to access cars as they are needed.

Services like these provide customers the ability to reserve cars, to which they get automated access; until the end of the reservation period, then the car is cleaned and given to the next customer reservation. This works especially well for those who need occasional transportation on business travel and other occasions. For some, it serves as a replacement for rental cars, and for others, it is a transportation source when driving is only an occasional need.

Carsharing involves filling empty seats in cars by pairing drivers and riders with common origins, destinations, and/ or stops. Traffic congestion is lightened, the costs of driving cars are reduced, and the carbon footprint of car travel is reduced with all ride-sharing activities (carsharing, carpooling, ride-hailing).


Ride-Hailing

Ride-hailing services that use mobile apps like Uber and Lyft (also commonly referred to as ‘ride-sharing services‘; and that also offer food delivery & other services) offer much lower fares than standard taxi cabs, mobile apps for ease of payment, and the inclusion of more passengers than in the usual space of a taxi.

People in need of occasional transportation assistance can use these services as well. The use of hybrid and electric cars in carsharing fleets continues to grow, in the millions of cars that are shared in these programs worldwide.


The benefits of car sharing, for society

Less traffic and congestion.
You’re going to spend less time stuck in traffic. You’re going to get to where you want to go, with less risk of a delay.

Lower wear for roads.
Fewer vehicles partially correlates to lower road wear. So we can spend tax money on something else. This might be taking better care of the roads we already have, or improving other public transport services. Or it could be something else entirely.

Less air pollution.
This is a fundamental environmental benefit of car sharing. Fewer vehicles and more modern vehicles will improve local air quality. Cleaner air means a better time for those with certain health conditions. So less tax money would be spent on those suffering from the effects of air pollution, as well as conditions resulting from air pollution.

Less need for parking.
If the volume of traffic reduces, current parking will be more easily accessible. We may want to convert urban spaces from car parks into residences or other businesses.

Development of other transport and mobility infrastructure.
Car share members tend to do walk, cycle and use other modes of transportation more often. This can increase public support for developing infrastructure for these modes of transport. Think bigger pavements and sidewalks, more dedicated cycling paths, more bus lanes.

More fleets of newer vehicles.
Car share vehicles are used more than private cars, so the car share vehicles are replaced more frequently. Newer cars tend to be more efficient, cleaner, and quieter. So more cars on our roads will be more efficient, cleaner, and quieter, than if we had more private cars.

New technology is adopted faster.
As explained above, car share vehicles are replaced more frequently than private vehicles. So if there’s been a technological shift, this can be more quickly integrated into society. The adoption of electric vehicles (and retiring of fossil fuel vehicles) could happen much faster with widespread use of car sharing services.

Better acceptance of mobility as a service.
Car share members feel less need to own vehicles, and are more accepting of mobility services. When automated cars and more efficient transport solutions arrive, car share members are likely to be more accepting.


The benefits of car sharing, for the individual

Reduced cost.
Car sharing enables you to avoid the fixed overheads of car ownership:

  • Monthly payment or capital purchase
  • Depreciation
  • Insurance
  • Maintenance
  • Repairs
  • Annual testing and certification
  • Roadside assistance
  • Fuel
  • Parking

Owning a car requires upfront costs.

You may use the car because you’ve already paid some costs – you’re motivated to use your investment. Aside from fuel, or environmental concerns, there is little incentive to limit your use. But with a car share service, there is often zero or a very small overhead, and you pay per journey. So there is a clear additional cost for every trip, which may motivate you to question its necessity.

Less stressful to manage.
Buying and maintaining a vehicle can be stressful. At best it’s time consuming, and at worst you might get ripped off. You want to get a good deal on your car insurance. And you need to find a trustworthy mechanic. Well, car sharing eliminates all of those risks and hassles.

Health benefits.Car share members typically use other modes of transport more, including walking and cycling. This increases the amount of exercise that someone undertakes, which is great for your health.

Privacy.
It’s not always required, but having the choice to sometimes use a private mode is transport is good. Car sharing provides a method of private transport without the inefficient burden owning a car.

Personal freedom.
Sometimes you just need to rebel, right? Screw the bus timetable, I’ve got plans! Well car sharing gives the option of personal freedom to go where and when you like, without needing to own a car.

Improves access for all income levels.
Not everyone can afford to own a vehicle. The monthly payments may be too high, or the lump sum too much. But car sharing services only require small payments in accordance with how much you use it. This enables access to car mobility for all income tiers.”      FROM   –    brightaroundthecorner.com/mobility/benefits-car-sharing


Project Drawdown offers this summation for the recent rise in popularity of ride-sharing services-

“A wave of technologies has accelerated ridesharing’s popularity:

  • Smartphones allow people to share real-time information about where they are and where they are going.
  • The algorithms that match them with others and map the best routes are improving daily.
  • Social networks are buoying trust, so individuals are more likely to hop in with someone they have not met.”   FROM   –  drawdown.org/solutions