Research challenges highest recycling rates

A new report published by environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd with the support of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) reveals that the world’s leading recycling nations may be overstating the level of real recycling they are achieving.

Recycling – Who Really Leads the World? (Issue 2) is an update to the Eunomia publication (launched in March 2017) that ranked countries by reported recycling rates and then, using publicly available waste data, calculated adjusted recycling rates for the top 10 on a like-for-like basis to provide truly comparable recycling rate figures.

Although recycling rates reported by each country establishes a top three of Germany (66%), Wales (64%) and Singapore (61%). Eunomia’s updated report goes further to look in more detail at what is included in these reported recycling rates, and uses new research to create a revised recycling rate league table. After adjusting for differences in how different countries measure recycling rates, for example whether construction or commercial waste is included or excluded, or how ash from incineration is accounted for, a more comparable set of recycling rates can be derived. Using these adjusted rates, the top three countries are: Germany (56%), Austria (54%) and South Korea (54%) with Wales dropping into fourth place (52%).

Eunomia’s in-depth knowledge of waste management practices and measurement methods in Europe has recently been recognised by the European Commission with Eunomia supporting the development of the new Circular Economy package.

Rob Gillies, Eunomia Managing Consultant and report author said: “What’s interesting is that when ranked based on reported recycling rates, the winners are clear, whereas after making adjustments for different measurement methods the top recyclers are much closer together, so the top spot is all to play for if countries want to be ambitious.”

“It’s important to note this research has been carried out so we can identify who the real leaders in recycling are, to share best practice by shining a spotlight on what these countries are doing. We also hope that this will help progress the debate on how best to measure ‘real’ recycling, in line with the principles of the waste hierarchy, in a way that is as consistent as possible within Europe and further afield.”

Stéphane Arditi, Policy Manager on Circular Economy, Products and Waste for EEB said: “This kind of ground-breaking research tells us what EU countries really need to do to achieve higher recycling rates, which require proper collection and recycling of biowaste. It also tells in a truly circular economy there can be no room for incineration of valuable resources that could instead be actually recycled. The fact that some countries have increased recycling rates by 35 percentage points in under 15 years shows that all member states can achieve the new EU recycling targets.”


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