AUSTRIA, WALES & TAIWAN LEADING THE WORLD WHEN IT COMES TO RATES OF RECYCLING

A new study by Eunomia Research and Consulting in conjunction with Reloop shows who are amongst the world’s best recyclers and why.

Bristol – 5th June 2024 – Austria has been revealed as the world’s best country for recycling in a new study by Reloop and Eunomia Research and Consulting. Wales leads the way in the UK, coming in at number 2. Northern Ireland was ranked 9th England at 11th and Scotland at 15th among the 48 countries included in the comparison. 

Global Recycling League Table – Phase One Report’ examined the recycling performance of 48 countries, including the countries that report the highest recycling rates and many of the world’s largest economies. The study also includes lower income countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, to highlight global disparities. It is being published today to celebrate World Environment Day. 

TOMRA, The Welsh Government, International Aluminium Institute and the Can Manufacturers Institute in collaboration with Reloop funded the research with the aim of ascertaining who was doing what well when it comes to recycling. 

The top 10 performing countries

 CountryAdjusted RR
 RankRecycling Rate
Austria159%
Wales259%
Taiwan353%
Germany452%
Belgium552%
Netherlands651%
Denmark751%
Slovenia850%
Northern Ireland945%
South Korea1045%

The report compares countries’ recycling rates on a like-for like basis. The focus is on ‘municipal waste’ recycling rates in line with the definition used by the EU. Municipal waste is household waste and waste from other sources that are similar in nature and composition to household waste. 

A country’s performance was analysed from their officially reported recycling rate (if they have one – wherever possible using a figure that approximates a “municipal” recycling rate) and endeavours to use underlying waste data and other published sources to adjust the results to present them on a consistent basis.

The report found the world’s top recyclers are not exceeding a 60% recycling rate for municipal waste, once differences in reporting practice are accounted for. Eight of the top 10 are to be found within Europe, with seven being in Western Europe, reflecting the longstanding strategies and policies that have driven investments in collection, logistics, sorting and reprocessing across the continent. 

The exceptions are two East Asian nations, Taiwan and South Korea, which also have long-established collection and treatment systems. These results highlight the importance of long-term investment in making recycling convenient and efficient, as well as the role that establishing behavioural norms over many years plays in creating a recycling culture.

The countries with the biggest drops in reported recycling rates were Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Germany. A few countries saw adjustments increase the performance or compensate for the fact that they were not reporting recycling rates – China and South Africa being the biggest beneficiaries. 

Wales was the highest performing country in the UK, sitting behind Austria in second place. The recycling rate, in Wales, has increased dramatically since the introduction of a new waste strategy; Towards Zero Waste in 2010. The strategy set long term, escalating recycling targets for local authorities in Wales, backed by financial penalties if the targets were missed. Also making up the top ten was Northern Ireland in ninth place, 45.3% recycling rate. England made it to in 11th, 44% recycling rate, and then Scotland in 15th place, 39% recycling rate.

The work also looked at collection for recycling rates for glass, metal and plastic beverage containers. Whilst data availability was more limited, we found there were big differences in the amounts of beverage containers being placed on the market, and little correlation between consumption and recycling performance. While the countries with highest municipal waste recycling rates also generally had good beverage container collection rates, the countries with the greatest amounts of beverage containers placed on the market (US for plastics and metal, and Australia for glass) had quite low ‘collected for recycling’ rates.


The features of countries who had high municipal recycling rates included: 

  • A formal waste and recycling strategy, including clear goals regarding targets to be achieved and steps to be taken to improve. 
  • Widespread separate collection of common recyclables, including organics, to provide households and businesses with a convenient way to recycle.
  • Methods to ensure that recycling is funded on a “polluter pays” basis, such as EPR, to incentivise producers to avoid selling unnecessary packaging and to prevent performance from being restricted by the funds available to public bodies;
  • The use of financial and other behavioural incentives to encourage households and businesses to use the recycling system (e.g. to avoid costs).
  • The study found that many of the lower income countries from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East have the lowest performance both in terms of recycling and data quality. Moreover, a big part of their waste collection and recycling is undertaken by the informal sector, which had to be excluded from the calculation of recycling performance as it could not be verified that this waste is being managed appropriately.

Our recommendations for all countries are to:

  • Improve municipal waste and recycling reporting including:
    • Use of clear and consistent definition of municipal waste
    • Reporting point of measurement  
    • Reporting by key materials
    • Reporting by waste types
    • Reporting by source
    • Distinguish as far as possible between estimates of waste generation, collection and recycling.
  • Adopt practices that are associated with high performing countries, as referenced in the list above.
  • Where the informal recycling sector operates, examine how this could be formalised to protect human health and the environment, raise living standards, and improve recycling and data reporting

Tanzir Chowdhury, Principal Economist at Eunomia Research and Consulting said:

‘It is very important to understand how each country around the world is performing in terms of waste generation and recycling of the generated waste so that we can accurately track the progress on moving towards a more circular world economy. This Eunomia initiative will enable us to do that, with 48 countries already included in this phase, and more countries to be added in the subsequent phases.’

The First Minister of Wales, Vaughan Gething, said:

“It’s fantastic news that this study shows Wales is now the world’s second-best country for recycling. This shows what we can achieve when people across Wales work together, aiming for ambitious targets, backed up by investment in facilities. 

He adds: “Thanks to the efforts of households and workplaces across Wales, we have transformed from a nation with very low rates of recycling at the start of the century to one of the leading nations in the world and far ahead of the rest of the UK. 

This achievement belongs to all of us, and we are committed to improving recycling rates further still with the number one spot in the world our next target.” 

Tove Andersen, President and CEO of TOMRA said: 

‘Increasing all countries’ recycling rates is key in preventing overuse of the world’s resources, and our 50-year experience in the field has taught us that targets must be specific for efforts to have maximum effect. The lack of international standardization on exactly what should be measured, at which point in the recycling process, however, has made cross-country comparisons notoriously difficult. Uncovering which nations are actually the greatest recyclers, allows for application of best practices across borders, and increased recycling rates for all’ 

Scott Breen, Can Manufacturers Institute, Senior Vice President of Sustainability said:

“This research confirms that metal beverage cans have the highest recycling rates compared to plastic and glass,”

He adds: “While the aluminium beverage can has the highest beverage container recycling rate in United States, the U.S. aluminum beverage can sector is committed to increasing that rate and has set targets with four pillars of action to increase the rate.”

Marlen Bertram, Director of Scenarios and Forecasts at International Aluminium Institute said:

“The aluminium industry is committed to achieving full circularity, aligning with the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario. Thanks to aluminium’s unique properties, it can be recycled indefinitely without losing its quality. Currently, around 36% of global aluminium production comes from recycled materials. However, between 7 and 8 million tonnes of aluminium are still lost annually, a rise from 5.5 million tonnes a decade ago, with a significant portion in the form of packaging. Leaders in the aluminium can value chain are actively addressing this issue. At COP28 in Dubai, they announced a Call to Action to increase global beverage can recycling rates from currently 71% to at least 80% by 2030 and close to 100% by 2050.”

She adds: “We are proud to have partnered with various stakeholders on this report, which highlights that out of 47 countries studied, 13 do not collect data on aluminium cans. This lack of data is a significant barrier to improving recycling performance. We urge these countries to begin data collection and collaborate to set ambitious targets for the collection, recycling, and quality of used beverage cans, ensuring they can be efficiently recycled into new cans.”

It is intended that a Phase 2 publication covering a larger number of countries will be published prior to INC-5 in the autumn. A database will be produced and published on the Reloop Global Data Observatory. Countries wishing to provide additional information to improve our estimates of their adjusted performance are welcome to submit this to Eunomia for review.

ENDS

Notes to Editors 

Eunomia Research and Consulting Ltd

At Eunomia, we are driven by the power of unwasted.  

We’re social-environmental problem-solvers and researchers with a difference. Combining real world consulting experience and deep knowledge with an active role in policy, empowers us to provide pragmatic, science-led solutions that reduce human impact on the planet.  

As the leading experts in our field for nearly 25 years, our role is to challenge the status quo. Our incomparable expertise means we ask the right questions and dare to go where others won’t. We get to the heart of the real issues impacting our clients’ businesses and impacting society.   

Eunomia specialises in sustainable material use and reuse, recycling, and waste management strategies, assisting businesses, governments and NGOs from policy evaluation to product responsibility. 

Aiming for a net-zero future, we measure and reduce carbon footprints, guide through carbon offset markets, and ensure alignment with global sustainability standards. 

We offer solutions for biodiversity enhancement, sustainable land use, and nature-based investment strategies, focusing on ecological balance and economic viability. 

We are a certified B-Corp business, globally. With 150+ employees across 5 offices, spanning three continents. Our leadership team is 50:50 female:male split.  

www.eunomia.eco 

TOMRA Group 

TOMRA is a global leader in solutions for transforming how we obtain, use and reuse the planet’s resources. With an ultimate mission of realizing a world without waste, TOMRA develops systems for enabling the circular economy, specializing in resource collection, recovery and sorting for recycling and mining applications, and sensor-based food sorting and grading. 

Founded in 1972, TOMRA now has approximately 105,000 installations in over 100 markets worldwide and had total revenues of approximately 14.8 billion NOK in 2023. TOMRA’s geographic footprint covers all continents, providing novel solutions for businesses and communities to operate more profitably and sustainably. TOMRA is headquartered in Asker, Norway and is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange (TOM).   

To learn more about TOMRA, visit www.tomra.com and follow us on Facebook @TOMRAGroup, X @TOMRAGroup, Instagram @TOMRAGroup, LinkedIn at TOMRA and on YouTube at TOMRA.   

The Can Manufacturers Institute 

The Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) is the national trade association of the metal can manufacturing industry and its suppliers in the United States. The can industry accounts for the annual domestic production of approximately 131.6 billion food, beverage, aerosol and general line cans; employs more than 28,000 people with plants in 33 states, Puerto Rico and American Samoa; and generates about $15.7 billion in direct economic activity.

About International Aluminium Institute   

The International Aluminium Institute (IAI) is the only body representing the global primary aluminium industry. The Institute has the most comprehensive global data on Aluminium with more than 50 years of analysis on production, consumption, energy use and environmental impact. For more information, visit www.international-aluminium.org, or connect with us on X and LinkedIn.