OECD Recycling Statistics

Recycling has grown in popularity in recent years.
Recycling has grown in popularity in recent years.

Recycling and composting are important activities for conserving the environment and reducing waste. Recycling involves converting materials that would otherwise be discarded into reusable objects. For example, recycled paper is often used to produce paperboard. Composting involves decomposing organic matter and using it to produce fertilizer. Municipal solid waste programs typically include a recycling and composting component. In successful programs, household separate their trash and the municipal service collects it and delivers it to processing sites. Some municipal solid waste programs are more successful than others and have earned their countries top ranking in global recycling efforts. This article looks at the top waste recyclers in OECD countries.

Top Recyclers


The best waste recycler of OECD countries is Germany. Here, 68%, the vast majority, of municipal waste is either recycled or composted. How have they accomplished this? First of all, a public education initiative informed residents how to identify what is trash, compost, or recycling, so the bulk of the work is done by the individual household. Residents are also required to pay more for higher use of packaging which has led to an overall reduction in use and increased participation in recycling and composting measures.

South Korea

The second highest recycler of municipal solid waste is South Korea. This country has invested 2% of its GDP into a Green Growth program. This investment coupled with public incentives and enforcement measures has led South Korea to achieve a 59% recycling and composting rate. They have similar programs as Germany where the waste producer pays per volume of waste produced. This rule incentivizes the local community to create less waste and separate recycling from trash.

Slovenia and Austria

Number 3 on the list of top recyclers is a tie between Slovenia and Austria. Both countries manage to recycle or compost 58% of municipal solid waste. Although Germany is number 1, Slovenia has had the most rapid improvement in its waste programs. This improvement has been aided by the Zero Waste initiative. The lack of garbage incinerators here has really helped increase recycling as well. In Austria, another European Union (EU) member, the local government has really committed to the years old EU goal of increasing recycling to 50% by 2020. Austria has seen that goal and surpassed it. Recycling plastic here has become the law, and 80% of the glass used is either recycled or reused.

Other Countries

Other countries on the list of top recyclers all belong to the EU and include: Belgium (55%), Switzerland (51%), Sweden (50%), Netherlands (50%), Luxembourg (48%), Iceland (45%), Denmark (44%), and the United Kingdom (43%).

Environmental Benefits

By converting what some consider trash into reusable items, recycling helps to reduce: the demand for new resources like timber and minerals, energy use, and air and water contamination. By recycling, the pollution produced from manufacturing new products is greatly reduced. In fact, this is a critical factor in cutting the emissions that lead to the greenhouse effect and global climate change. Another benefit is that increasing recycling and composting also helps to create new jobs in those industries. In the world today, where natural resources are being depleted at alarming rates, the benefits of recycling and composting cannot be overstated. The dedication of these countries is something that other governments should aspire to achieve.

The OECD Leaders In Waste Recycling

RankCountry% of Municipal Waste That Is Recycled/Composted
2South Korea59
10United Kingdom43

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