The ten countries that recycle the highest proportion of their municipal waste.
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Researched, written, narrated and produced by Bryce Plank
Video editing and effects by Robin West
These are the 10 countries with the important distinction of having the highest rates of recycling their municipal waste.
Iceland keeps 45% of its waste out of landfills. The country’s extremely small 332,000 population helps, as does Sweden, who takes in and recycles all of Iceland’s paper and plastic.
The Italians have impressively doubled their recycling rate in the last decade, reversing a reputation for poor waste management. Food waste in Milan is collected and fed into anaerobic digesters, which generates electricity to power a plastic reprocessing plant located on the same site.
Luxembourg, like number 10 Iceland, has less than a million people. Glass bottles can be returned to the shop where they were purchased in exchange for a fee–similar to community recycling centers here in the States.
Sweden prevents 99% of its household waste from reaching landfills by incinerating more than 2 million tons of it to generate heat and electricity. The Swedes take pride in having reduced their heavy metal emissions by 99% since 1985.
The Dutch approach to recycling is called Lansinks Ladder, based on the simple approach of creating as little waste as possible, but recovering and reusing the valuable materials when waste is generated.
The Swiss have extensive rules regulating recycling and waste disposal and operate on the simple, but beautiful Polluter Principle, which states: the party that produces the pollution is responsible for paying for the damage done to the natural environment.
Belgium is the most efficient country in Europe, generating just 197 kilos of waste per person, only about 2% of which ends up in landfills.
Austria has easily exceeded the European Union goal of a 50% recycling rate by the year 2020. The Waste Management Act helped its citizens understand the exact ways they should be recycling.
With half of Korea’s 25 million people living in its capital, Seoul, the world’s second largest city, it makes sense for it to be so good at recycling. It simply doesn’t have the space not to be. Starting in the mid-80’s the Koreans were an early adopter of the three ‘Rs’ standard: reduce, reuse, recycle.
And with 82 millions citizens, the most on this list, the Germans bring a whole new level of efficiency to the quest for a zero waste future. Germany’s Green Dot initiative has put businesses on a diet: the more packaging there is, the more that manufacturer or retailer has to pay in fees.
By embracing the best practices that are successful in each of these countries, every country in the world can drastically cut down on its waste. Many of the world’s biggest producers and consumers have a lot of work to do on this front. But if populated countries like Germany, South Korea, and Italy can do it, so can nations like China, the US, Japan, and India.
Thanks for watching. Until next time, I’m Bryce Plank.