Recycling is a process to change materials into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution and water pollution by reducing the need for “conventional” waste disposal, and lower greenhouse gas emissions as compared to plastic production.
There are some ISO standards related to recycling such as ISO (15270:2008) for plastics waste and ISO (14001:2004) for environmental management control of recycling practice. Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, and electronics. Although similar in effect, the composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste—such as food or garden waste—is not typically considered recycling. Materials to be recycled are either brought to a collection center or picked up from the curbside, then sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into new materials bound for manufacturing. In the strictest sense, recycling of a material would produce a fresh supply of the same material—for example, used office paper would be converted into new office paper, or used foamed polystyrene into new polystyrene.
Which Countries Recycle the Most?
Some countries, such as Wales, have ambitious recycling targets. Wales aims to achieve zero waste by 2050, and the EU is looking at adopting a new target for 2030, thought to be at least 65%.
The report singles out Wales, which it says outperforms many larger European countries because of its “political leadership and investment”. It says that Wales is a “global leader” in recycling and could outdo Germany, as early as 2018.
Recycling just over half of household waste may seem quite a low rate, but Eunomia says that reported recycling rates have been overstated.
For instance it has been reported that Sweden recycles almost all of its waste. But Eunomia says that’s only because the country counts energy recovery from waste incineration as a form of recycling, which it says is out of step with how the term “recycling” is generally used.
Singapore says that it recycles over 60% of its waste, but Eunomia calculated that much of this was actually commercial and industrial waste, and downgraded its total to 34%.
And as the chart below shows, countries’ reported recycling rates are much higher than in the first league table which Eunomia adapted to take into account the various ways in which recycling is measured.
What Happens to Recycled Waste?
A huge amount of recycling ends up being shipped to Asia. But China, the world’s largest importer and recycler of scrap metals, plastic and paper, has decided it will no longer take what it calls “foreign garbage”, and is set to ban imports of 24 types of waste.
And this may force industrialized countries to recycle more of their own waste.