The 5 Best Countries in the World for Recycling - How the UK can catch up?

3rd Mar 2022

Global warming is having a severe impact on our planet and governments around the world have set ambitious carbon reduction targets. Statistics by the World Bank Group show that the world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of waste each year and this is expected to reach 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050.

Currently, at least 33% of worldwide waste is not managed in an environmentally safe manner. This is contributing huge amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and polluting our environment. Sustainable waste management will play an essential role in reducing pollution and achieving net-zero by 2050.

Governments around the world are introducing innovative recycling schemes to improve the efficiency of waste management. In this article, we will look at how the 5 best recycling countries in the world for handling their waste and recycling equipment, and how the UK can catch up.

Top 5 recycling countries

1. Germany

Germany has held the highest recycling rate in the world since 2016, with 56.1% of all waste being recycled in the country. A country-wide packaging audit was conducted in Germany in 1990 to address the amount of waste going to landfills.

Since then, manufacturers of packaging have been responsible for all packaging waste they produce and must dispose of it in a sustainable manner. To comply with this, manufacturers created “The Green Dot” - the world's first dual recycling system for collecting waste from households and businesses. This scheme increased Germany’s recycling rates significantly.

2. Austria

Austria had a recycling rate of 53.8% in 2018. The country has banned certain waste items from going to landfills and has also banned products that have a carbon emission rate of more than 5%. This essentially prevents packaging from ending up in landfills.

3. South Korea

South Korea has encouraged recycling by introducing a scheme where private companies collect waste and sell it for a profit. The country had a recycling rate of 53.7% in 2018. South Korea banned PVC and plastic bottles in 2020 and plans to phase out disposable cups and plastic screws by 2027.

4. Wales

In 2018, Wales had an impressive recycling rate of 52.2%. The government in Wales has a statutory duty to promote sustainable development and they have introduced a number of schemes to encourage the uptake of recycling across the country. Wales has set an ambitious target to achieve a 70% recycling rate nationwide by 2025.

5. Switzerland

The fifth country on the list is Switzerland, which had a recycling rate of 49.7% in 2018. The country has introduced a recycling policy known as “polluter pays” where businesses and households pay for any non-recycling waste they produce. Bin bags taken to landfills are also taxed which encourages residents to recycle and avoid non-recyclable items. Most waste items can be taken to recycling points across the country to be recycled.

What can UK households and businesses take from this?

Government statistics show that 46.2% of all waste from UK households was recycled in 2019, showing an increase from 45.0% in 2018. The UK produced around 37.2 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste in the same year. The recycling rate in the UK is increasing, but so is the population.

It is more important than ever for UK households and businesses to handle their waste in a safe and sustainable manner. As we can see from the examples above, eliminating single-use plastic products and plastic packaging is at the heart of most recycling schemes.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for businesses to reduce their plastic waste. For instance, companies can utilise an industrial shredder to transform old cardboard boxes into sustainable and affordable packaging. This will eliminate the need to buy plastic packaging like bubble wrap. For the most effective and low cost method of recycling a company can make use of a plastic baler.

Businesses can also use innovative recycling machines, like a cardboard baler, to streamline their waste management and lower their overhead costs. A baling machine compacts cardboard waste into convenient bales that can then be stored on-site until the waste is collected. Investing in a cardboard baler can save companies £1,248 a year according to experts at QCR.


Recycling rates have been increasing over the past few years, but there is still a long way to go if governments are going to meet their environmental targets. Recycling will play an essential role in achieving net-zero by 2050 and it is crucial that UK businesses promote recycling in the workplace and handle commercial waste responsibly.

The UK can take inspiration from countries like Germany and Austria that are leading the way in creating a greener, more sustainable future.

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