The Global Face of Recycling

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Many of us are aware of how the U.S. approaches recycling, but have we ever taken the time to consider how the world approaches it?

We are often so comfortable in our own surroundings, that sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to see how other countries approach the same daily concerns.  Here is a glance at some different parts of the world and how seriously they take recycling.

The village of Dharavi in the heart of Mumbai is also a recycling emporium. The majority of the one million plus inhabitants gathering waste from all over the city, transforming old, used and unwanted trash into new products. Photo:

The village of Dharavi in the heart of Mumbai is also a recycling emporium. The majority of the one million plus inhabitants gathering waste from all over the city, transforming old, used and unwanted trash into new products. Photo:


  • In Dharavi, India, many people make a living by creating their own recycling factories. It is estimated that the self-made recycling industry employs roughly 200,000 people. It’s not merely taking care of waste, but a way of life and a source of income.
  • India recycles roughly 40 percent of their e-waste a year. This includes such items as broken or unwanted electrical appliances.


  • Austria takes the cake by recycling roughly 60 percent of its waste.
  • The United Kingdom recycles roughly 17.7 percent of its waste. Ireland, Italy, and Portugal are around the same percentage.
  • The majority of recycling in the United Kingdom is handled by authorities. They institute incentives in order to encourage recycling. For example, a landfill tax is charged on top of normal landfill fees to encourage business and local authorities to recycle, reduce, and reuse.
  • Many of the products the United Kingdom recycles include, but are not limited to, paper (including cards), glass, clothes, shoes and aluminum cans.

Japan and China

    • In China, recycling isn’t just a citizen responsibility; it’s now considered second nature. Citizens and government alike in China are taking steps to encourage recycling. This has also become a profit machine. The citizens who diligently collect recyclables off the street are numbered around 2.5 million people. These scrap collectors earn the equivalent of $150 a month which is roughly half of what a cab driver earns in that country in the same time frame.
    • It is estimated that 20 percent of the countries waste is disposed of improperly in China. This includes such items as building materials.
    • Despite this, Beijing has built the world’s largest recycling facility and continues to install recycling bins. The city of Beijing hopes to increase their recycling rate from 10 percent to 80 percent by 2010.
    • In Japan, recycling is a $360 billion dollar industry.
    • In 1995, Japan established the Containers and Packaging Recycling Act to “meet the increasing need to reduce the volume of solid waste and make full use of recyclable resources by means of sorted collection and to recycle waste containers and wrapping.” The Japan Containers and Packaging Recycling Association helps to take on this responsibility by investing and managing recycling fees.
Recycling is "second nature" in China. Photo:

With the world’s largest recycling facility in Beijing, recycling is “second nature” in China. Photo:

South America

  • In Brazil, nearly 500 cooperatives employ approximately 500,000 recycling collectors. This is a $3 billion industry.
  • Fifty percent of the 140,000 tons of trash generated daily in Brazil is recycled.
  • Chile opened its first electronic scrap recycling facility in 2005.
  • Peru opened its first recycling plant in 2007, which processes plastic packaging.


  • The Glass Recycling Company has partnered with the government and glass manufacturers in South Africa in an attempt to increase the current glass recycling rate. This partnership increased recycling rates from 148,000 tons to 183,000 tons of glass recycling in roughly a year and a half.
  • In Egypt, refuse collectors actually buy the right to collect trash since it is seen as such a profitable business. The collectors gather and recycle anything they can turn for a profit.

A Different Angle

The world’s recycling perspective ranges anywhere from profitable to vital in preserving the environment and controlling waste. While some countries offer elaborate setups for recycling and their citizens take the extra step to sort their waste, other countries have to choose alternative methods.

In places like Africa, India and South America, the common trend is that the recycling industry is a means to provide income for many residents. While in the U.S., companies and governments take the lead in recycling, other countries do not have the structure to setup such an arrangement.

Despite this, the waste situation is real and turning the situation into profit has both helped many countries by controlling their waste and providing income for struggling families. However, there are very real health issues brought to light. While collecting the waste, people can easily contract diseases due to the methods of collection.

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  1. Unfortunatly, while the global face of recycling glows with hope, American recycling wears a green mask.

  2. Wow, Beijing is looking to increase recycling by 70 percent in one year by opening one recycling facility. That would be an impressive feat if it happens.

  3. Hold on. Lets not automatically rip into the USA and praise other countries.

    While there are plenty of places in our country that are behind the curve, we are well out in front of most of Europe. And, the scavenger model used in many developing countries is not ideal with hundreds of thousands of people exposed to health risks.

    There are numberous cities in the USA that are world leaders in recycling and we should be holding them up as models and looking to them for ideas.

  4. Its great and inspiring to know that many countries are increasing their capacity to recycle. However, the word recycling is alien to my country people in Nigeria -West Africa. I mourn the billions of Naira spent daily in collecting, transporting and burying these wastes(resources) in dumpsites. No wonder we are poor in the midst of plenty. Our organization has come on board to change the situation and mindset but how do we really bail the cat with low technological knowhow and no funds. Someone please help us. Thanks in anticipation.

  5. Pingback: The Global Face of Recycling | Live Earth

  6. In 2007 Tijuana began a school incentive program for recycling plastic bottles. Schools compete for computers, tvs, sports equipment and even a Wii was on the list of prizes for top recyclers this year. It is a great start here and helps educate children along with their parents about the importance of the three R’s.

  7. en Argentina estamos intentado mejorar el sistema de reciclaje pero nuestros gobernante son la muestra de la indiferencia,ante este aspecto y terminan con nuestra riqueza natural regalando al mundo lo que tenemos y nos dejan los residuos como ganancias.
    a muchos nos gustaria ser parte del mundo limpio que necesitamos ,con los mails quedan vuelta por elmundo recopilamos grandiosa informacion y nos ayuda a la concientizacion.ORAMOS fervientemente para que esto cambie,agradecemos la colaboracion de quienes estan capacitados en este emprendimiento. gracias .saludos

  8. I agree with George. What third world countries are doing is exposing themselves to harmful things in order to survive, including combing the garbage dumps for food. Stop putting down the country you live and work in and try making it a better place instead!

  9. Recycling is so vital for our Earth’s survival, however many people do think of the diseases and such that can arise from improper collection of waste. The fact that many countries around the world are providing incentives, such as money, to poverty stricken families who recycle, is a step in the right direction. With that said, it is our voices that can push proper collection methods on the forefront of such countries. We need to be the voices for these poor families who are recycling. Their amazing recycling efforts should not penalized through diseases, but rather awarded ( and not only monetarily). Great Post…keep ’em coming!

    – Maurizio Maranghi –

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