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Looking at Australia’s efforts at recycling compared to the rest of the world

Karina Grift, November 18, 2018 9:07PM Kids News

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We can all put our hands up to be better recyclers. media_cameraWe can all put our hands up to be better recyclers.


Reading level: green

Australians are good at recycling but we are not the best in the world. There are some good recycling habits we could learn from other countries.

Finding out which country is the best at recycling isn’t easy because not every country reports recycling in the same way.

But one report, published in December last year, says Germany is the best in the world. The report, by research company Eunomia, says Germany recycles 66.1 per cent of its waste, followed by Wales with 63.8 per cent.

The report lists these nations as the top 10 in the world for recycling:

1. Germany (66.1 per cent of waste recycled)

2. Wales (63.8 per cent)

3. Singapore (61 per cent)

4. South Korea (59 per cent)

5. Taiwan (58 per cent)

6. Netherlands (56.6 per cent)

7. Austria (55.9 per cent)

8. Slovenia (53.9 per cent)

9. Belgium (53.5 per cent)

10. Switzerland (52.7 per cent)

On this list, Australia ranks* 21st in the world with a recycling rate of 41 per cent. It is important to remember that the list has been worked out by including all waste, not just household waste. For example, the figure includes waste that comes from businesses and the building industry, which is a lot!

Australia recycles more than half its household waste.

VIDEO: Taiwan’s great recycling success


Germany is very serious about its recycling and there are many rules to follow. While we generally have one bin to place all our recyclable waste into, Germany has many. This means, it is up to everyone to sort their recycling and make sure the right items go in the right bins.

So, households have to separate their paper, glass, plastic and metals before each goes in the bin. Glass is even separated by its colour.

Recycling media_cameraRecycling at home is only worthwhile if you put the correct items in the recycling bin.

Waste such as food scraps, garden clippings, tea bags and coffee filters are placed in another bin. This type of waste is called bio-waste and it can be recycled into compost or used to make energy.

A driver fills up his tank with biogas fuel, 19 September 2007, at the Centre for Organic Recovery in Sequedin. The French city of Lille is to power a 100-strong bus fleet using biogas fuel made from organic household waste, thanks to the pioneering recycling plant unveiled today. In a project unique in Europe, the plant will supply the northern city with four million cubic metres of eco-friendly biogas per year -- enough to power 100 buses -- produced from food scraps, weeds, flowers and grass clippings. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN media_cameraA European driver fills up his tank with biogas fuel made from organic household waste. Picture: AFP

Residents must make sure their recycling has been rinsed before it goes in the bin.

Expecting people to clean and sort their rubbish before they put it in the bin helps reduce recycling costs.

Germany also has the Green Dot system. The Green Dot system means that companies making products that need packaging must pay a fee to have the packaging recycled. The more packaging, the higher the fee. Think about all the things you buy that come in packaging, such as in a box with plastic or polystyrene*, and you get an idea how much waste is involved.

To reduce costs, companies have to think of ways to reduce the amount of packaging, and therefore waste, required. They also have to find packaging solutions that are recyclable.


Australia could learn a lot from countries such as Germany.

In Germany, and many other European countries, customers pay a deposit for items such as drinks in glass or plastic bottles, which is then paid back when the bottles are returned. The bottles are cleaned and used again without having to go through the whole recycling process.

Other ideas used by countries in the top 10 include:

— Setting targets on how much recycling the country is aiming for

— Taxing household waste by weight

— Higher taxes for landfill

— Collecting bio-waste

Using recycled products, such as plastic or glass, to make new goods is expensive in Australia. This can mean companies find cheaper solutions, such as using raw products, instead of choosing recycled material. But we can choose to buy more items made from recycled products. Buying toilet paper made from recycled paper is one example.

The more we buy, the more reasons companies have to make products from recycled goods, which can help bring costs down.

Things are changing in Australia. On November 1 this year, the Queensland state government introduced a new container refund program called Containers for Change. Under the program, suitable drink containers made from glass, plastic, aluminium, steel and liquid paper board (such as juice boxes) can be cashed in for a 10c refund each. Similar systems already exist in South Australia, NSW and the Northern Territory.

Container Deposit Scheme media_cameraCans on their way for recycling as part of a container deposit scheme. Picture: Simon Dallinger

This is a great way for schools, sporting clubs and other community groups to make money while recycling.

media_cameraEdge Hill State School students Abby, Ben and Hannah Bissett deposit bottles and cans at North Queensland Recycling Agents in Bungalow. Picture: Peter Carruthers


While Australia could do better with its recycling, some countries are a very long way behind us.

In many countries, how waste is managed is not a priority* and much of it is sent to landfill. Turkey and Chile each only recycle 1 per cent of their total waste.

Getting rid of waste is expensive and poor countries are often not able to afford proper waste collection, which means a lot of it is dumped illegally.

When waste isn’t collected properly, it not only smells bad, it can cause health problems such as disease and pollution of drinking water.

media_cameraA young Indian ragpicker looks over the city after collecting usable material from a garbage dump at the Bhalswa landfill site in New Delhi. Picture: AFP


Part six: You can be a great recycler

Part seven: Close the recycling loop: buy it back



ranks: how something performs compared to others

polystyrene: a type of foam

priority: how important something is compared to other things



For classroom activities on this story and much more, go to to purchase the recycling workbook with 25 activities for the early bird price of just $5 (including GST).

Early bird offer ends at 5pm on December 14. Thereafter, the price increases to $20 inc GST.


Eunomia produced the report “Recycling — Who Really Leads the World?” For the report, visit

Earth911, a US sustainability resource, visit

Global Citizen, an international group of citizens working to end poverty, visit

The World Bank’s article called “Solid Waste Management” is available at:

Extra Reading in recycling