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 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
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!
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?
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.
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:
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
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:
- Which countries recycle the best?
Germany, South Korea, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland
- 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.
- 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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