As disappointing as it is, in regards to recycling, the United States does not make the cut. At just a 34 percent success rate, the U.S. sends only 1/3 of its waste into the recycling pool—which is well below many other countries worldwide.  

That stat got us thinking: What are the top recycling countries in the world? And, what traits do those successful recycling locations possess?

Austria sits with the highest recycling rate out of any country in the world: 63 percent of all waste is diverted from landfills. As recycling programs have evolved, Austria’s overall performance in terms of municipal solid waste recycling has been stable and at a very high level for the past decade, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

“Austria has a long tradition of diverting waste from landfills and has a long-established recycling system. Most of the MSW (municipal solid waste) generated in the country is either recycled or incinerated,” as published in the Municipal Waste Management Report released by the EEA.  

Furthermore, according to the Austrian constitution, the municipal waste management responsibilities are divided between the federal and the provincial governments. In addition to a handful of federal waste ordinances, a pivotal leg of the waste legislation is the 2002 Act on waste management, which established the bar for the country’s waste management practices.

According to a report compiled by Planet Aid—an organization that unites communities to bring about worldwide environmental and social change—Germany isn’t too far behind Austria. Germany sends 62 percent of its waste through the close-loop process, keeping it from landfills. And, Taiwan is keeping pace, hitting the top margin with a 60 percent success rate of recycling.

However, in an alternative approach, the recycling effort of the Zaballeen people in Cairo, Egypt, reflects even greater success than the aforementioned locations. With a metropolitan comprised of 60,000 people, you may be surprised to discover that the word Zaballeen is Arabic for “garbage people.”

As told in the 2010 documentary, Garbage Dreams, recyclers collect the urban waste and gather income from reusing, sorting, and reselling the articles they collect. The system has no established official or contemporary recycling facilities or sanitation services, yet, 80 percent of everything that is gathered is recycled.

“The Zaballeen have created the world’s most effective resource recovery system…they are actually saving our Earth. From out of the trash, they lifted themselves out of poverty and have a solution to the world’s most pressing crisis,” said Garbage Dreams Director and Producer Mai Iskander, as reported by Tom White for the International Documentary Association.

Likewise setting the recycling bar high—though, comparatively, with an established industry—Brazil recently broke global records for its aluminum recycling.

In 2014, the country recycled 98.4 percent of consumable packaging—and has been the number one recycler of consumer packaging in the world since 2001. In 2014, that high percentage equated to 289,500 tons of aluminum beverage cans out of 294,200 tons that were available in the market.

The country’s effort was linked to the economy—which was in recession—and the high cost of energy. Aluminum recycling requires less energy than producing new aluminum, so the cost-effective model created a natural incentive for the community.

Following Austria, Germany and Taiwan on Planet Aid’s list: another top recycling country is Singapore, sending 59 percent of its trash to be reused and recycled. Next up: South Korea recycles 49 percent of tossed goods. The United Kingdom hits the 39 percent mark with that percentage going into recycling. Lastly, closing out our top ten are Italy – recycling 36 percent of its trash – and France following closely behind with 35 percent.

The aforementioned locations are the top ten recycling countries in the world for varying reasons with their own unique approaches to the processes. As it seems, in order to implement a high success rate for a nationwide recycling program, the community requires one or all of these qualities: organization—be it through legislation, industry, or entrepreneurs—incentive: a personal motive or financial necessity, and cultural habit-building practices.

To learn more about recycling programs or how General Kinematics is pushing the efforts of worldwide recycling forward, contact GK today!

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