Austria, Wales & Taiwan found leading global recycling rates

Image: Shutterstock

Austria has been revealed as the world’s best country for recycling in a new study by Reloop and Eunomia Research and Consulting. Wales leads the way in the UK, coming in at number two. Northern Ireland was ranked 9th England at 11th and Scotland at 15th among the 48 countries included in the comparison.

‘Global Recycling League Table – Phase One Report’ examined the recycling performance of 48 countries, including the countries that report the highest recycling rates and many of the world’s largest economies. The study also includes lower income countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, to highlight global disparities. It is being published today (5 June) to celebrate World Environment Day.

Tomra, the Welsh Government, International Aluminium Institute and the Can Manufacturers Institute, in collaboration with Reloop, funded the research with the aim of ascertaining who was doing what well when it comes to recycling.

The top ten performing countries:


Adjusted RR



Recycling Rate

























Northern Ireland



South Korea



The report compares countries’ recycling rates on a like-for like basis. The focus is on ‘municipal waste’ recycling rates in line with the definition used by the EU. Municipal waste is household waste and waste from other sources that are similar in nature and composition to household waste.

A country’s performance was analysed from their officially reported recycling rate (if they have one – wherever possible using a figure that approximates a “municipal” recycling rate) and endeavours to use underlying waste data and other published sources to adjust the results to present them on a consistent basis.

The report found the world’s top recyclers are not exceeding a 60% recycling rate for municipal waste, once differences in reporting practice are accounted for. Eight of the top ten are to be found within Europe, with seven being in Western Europe, reflecting the longstanding strategies and policies that have driven investments in collection, logistics, sorting and reprocessing across the continent.

The exceptions are two East Asian nations, Taiwan and South Korea, which also have long-established collection and treatment systems. These results highlight the importance of long-term investment in making recycling convenient and efficient, as well as the role that establishing behavioural norms over many years plays in creating a recycling culture.

The countries with the biggest drops in reported recycling rates were Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Germany. A few countries saw adjustments increase the performance or compensate for the fact that they were not reporting recycling rates – China and South Africa being the biggest beneficiaries.

Wales was the highest performing country in the UK, sitting behind Austria in second place. The recycling rate in Wales has increased dramatically since the introduction of a new waste strategy; Towards Zero Waste in 2010. The strategy set long term, escalating recycling targets for local authorities in Wales, backed by financial penalties if the targets were missed. Also making up the top ten was Northern Ireland in ninth place, with a 45.3% recycling rate. England made it to in 11th with a 44% recycling rate, and then Scotland in 15th place with a 39% recycling rate.

The work also looked at collection for recycling rates for glass, metal and plastic beverage containers. Whilst data availability was more limited, we found there were big differences in the amounts of beverage containers being placed on the market, and little correlation between consumption and recycling performance. While the countries with highest municipal waste recycling rates also generally had good beverage container collection rates, the countries with the greatest amounts of beverage containers placed on the market (US for plastics and metal, and Australia for glass) had quite low ‘collected for recycling’ rates.

The features of countries who had high municipal recycling rates included:

  • A formal waste and recycling strategy, including clear goals regarding targets to be achieved and steps to be taken to improve.
  • Widespread separate collection of common recyclables, including organics, to provide households and businesses with a convenient way to recycle.
  • Methods to ensure that recycling is funded on a “polluter pays” basis, such as EPR, to incentivise producers to avoid selling unnecessary packaging and to prevent performance from being restricted by the funds available to public bodies;
  • The use of financial and other behavioural incentives to encourage households and businesses to use the recycling system (e.g. to avoid costs).
  • The study found that many of the lower income countries from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East have the lowest performance both in terms of recycling and data quality. Moreover, a big part of their waste collection and recycling is undertaken by the informal sector, which had to be excluded from the calculation of recycling performance as it could not be verified that this waste is being managed appropriately.

Our recommendations for all countries are to:

  • Improve municipal waste and recycling reporting including:
    – Use of clear and consistent definition of municipal waste
    – Reporting point of measurement
    – Reporting by key materials
    – Reporting by waste types
    – Reporting by source
    – Distinguish as far as possible between estimates of waste generation, collection and recycling.
  • Adopt practices that are associated with high performing countries, as referenced in the list above.
  • Where the informal recycling sector operates, examine how this could be formalised to protect human health and the environment, raise living standards, and improve recycling and data reporting

Scott Breen, Can Manufacturers Institute, senior vice president of sustainability, said:
“This research confirms that metal beverage cans have the highest recycling rates compared to plastic and glass,” He adds: “While the aluminium beverage can has the highest beverage container recycling rate in United States, the US aluminium beverage can sector is committed to increasing that rate and has set targets with four pillars of action to increase the rate.

Marlen Bertram, director of scenarios and forecasts at the International Aluminium Institute, said:
“The aluminium industry is committed to achieving full circularity, aligning with the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario. Thanks to aluminium’s unique properties, it can be recycled indefinitely without losing its quality. Currently, around 36% of global aluminium production comes from recycled materials. However, between seven and eight million tonnes of aluminium are still lost annually, a rise from 5.5 million tonnes a decade ago, with a significant portion in the form of packaging. Leaders in the aluminium can value chain are actively addressing this issue. At COP28 in Dubai, they announced a Call to Action to increase global beverage can recycling rates from currently 71% to at least 80% by 2030 and close to 100% by 2050.”

She added: “We are proud to have partnered with various stakeholders on this report, which highlights that out of 47 countries studied, 13 do not collect data on aluminium cans. This lack of data is a significant barrier to improving recycling performance. We urge these countries to begin data collection and collaborate to set ambitious targets for the collection, recycling, and quality of used beverage cans, ensuring they can be efficiently recycled into new cans.”

It is intended that a Phase 2 publication covering a larger number of countries will be published prior to INC-5 in the UK’s autumn. A database will be produced and published on the Reloop Global Data Observatory. Countries wishing to provide additional information to improve our estimates of their adjusted performance are welcome to submit this to Eunomia for review.

Related content

Leave a reply

CanTech International