BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Saturday, 25 June, 2005, 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK
Recycling around the world
Recycling in US
Homeless people have been given recycling jobs in the US
The UK government is trying to encourage more people to recycle their waste and reduce the UK's waste mountain.

Figures suggest 60% of all household waste could be recycled or composted, but the largest nation in the UK, England, appears to be reusing only 17.7%.

Here BBC correspondents provide a snapshot of how the UK's European neighbours and other countries approach recycling of everyday rubbish.

SWITZERLAND: Imogen Foulkes

Switzerland is proud of its recycling efforts, and with good reason. Glass and paper are just some of the things the average Swiss refuses to simply throw away.

There are bottle banks at every supermarket, with separate slots for clear, green and brown glass. Every town has a free paper collection once a month, and that does not mean just old newspapers; most people recycle everything made of cardboard or paper, from cereal packets to old telephone bills.

Then there is green waste. If you have a garden, all the trimmings can be put out on the street (neatly bundled of course) every two weeks, and they will be collected.

Aluminium and tin can be taken to local depots, batteries handed over at the supermarket, and old oil or other chemicals deposited at special sites.

Plastic PET bottles are the most common drinks containers in Switzerland, and 80% of them are recycled - far higher than the European average of 20 to 40%.

But the Swiss do not recycle just because they care about the environment. There is a strong financial incentive. Recycling is free, but in most parts of Switzerland throwing away rubbish costs money - each rubbish bag has to have a sticker on it, and each sticker costs at least one euro (60 pence).

So the less you throw out, the less you pay. No sticker? Then the rubbish will be left outside your house to rot.

UNITED STATES: Matthew Davis

Efforts to improve recycling rates and to reduce household and commercial waste are led by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Today, the US recycles about 28% of its waste, the EPA says, a rate that has almost doubled during the past 15 years.

Recycling of specific materials has grown even more drastically: 42% of all paper, 40% of all plastic soft drink bottles, 55% of all aluminium beer and soft drink cans, 57% of all steel packaging, and 52% of all major appliances are now recycled.

Twenty years ago, only one roadside recycling programme existed in the US.

By 1998 there were 9,000 roadside programmes and 12,000 recyclable drop-off centres across the nation.

Some 480 materials recovery plants have been established to process the collected materials.

In 1999, recycling and composting activities prevented about 64 million tons of material from ending up in landfills and incinerators.

The EPA's WasteWise scheme is aimed at businesses and other organisations and targets the reduction of municipal solid waste and certain industrial wastes.

Recycling rates vary from state to state. At the bottom end of the scale Alaska, Wyoming and Montana recycle less than 9% of waste, while in New York, Virginia and five other states more than 40% of waste is recycled.

DENMARK: Thomas Buch-Andersen

Waste is not just waste. That is the underlying philosophy of one of Europe's "greenest" countries. For decades, the Danish environment policy has been to regard waste as a resource.

Tough standards have been set by consecutive governments, but it is up to the local authorities to collect whatever waste households may produce.

In 2003 that averaged 559 kg of waste per Dane, ranging from plastic and paper to bottles and batteries. In those councils where not all types of waste are collected at the house, nearby disposal sites or citizen helplines are in place.

Nearly 10,000 Danes are in the business of collecting waste - more than 0.1% of the entire population.

The hard push towards a greener Denmark has given he country a proud record.

Government figures for 2003 suggest that 31% of all household waste was recycled, while 62% was incinerated. The remaining 6% was landfill waste.

However, often the total amount of waste is not big enough for Denmark to have its own recycling plants. In particular, plastic waste, waste from electrical and electronic products, and batteries and metal are sent abroad for recycling.

The government also aims to limit the waste mountain by encouraging industry to promote products that leave a minimum of waste after use.

GERMANY: Tristana Moore

The Germans like to think of themselves as the world champions of the environment. There is no denying the fact that Germans take green issues seriously. When it comes to separating your household rubbish, this can be a complicated business.

As a foreigner living in Berlin, you can easily be embarrassed by your German friends who will berate you for not separating your rubbish.

There are at least five types of rubbish bin in the courtyards of apartment buildings and inside people's houses. Luckily, the bins are colour-coded, to avoid any confusion - a yellow bin for packaging (old milk cartons etc), a blue bin for paper and cardboard, bins for glass (separated into ones for clear, brown and green glass) a "Bio" bin designed for left-over food and plant waste. Finally, there is a black bin for the rest of the rubbish (or for those people who do not bother to sort out their rubbish).

In theory, people are obliged under German law to take any "special rubbish," such as batteries or chemicals, to a recycling centre. If you fail to do this, it could be considered an "administrative offence", although in practice prosecutions are rare.

The separation of rubbish is not compulsory for the private citizen, but according to surveys, around 90% of Germans are willing to sort out their rubbish.

Where all this rubbish finally ends up is also complicated. According to a new law which came into force on the first of June 2005, the left-over rubbish must not simply be consigned to a rubbish dump, but it must be subjected to a pre-treatment process.

GREECE: Richard Galpin

In the cramped offices of the Ecological Recycling Society in central Athens, Philip Kirkitsos hits me with some alarming statistics.

Every year, he says, one billion plastic drinking water bottles are thrown away in Greece, along with one billion soft drinks bottles and yet another billion plastic containers for cleaning fluids.

Almost one-fifth of the entire waste produced by this country is plastic, and yet just 1% of it is recycled. Greece, he admits, is at least 15 years behind the rest of the EU in almost all areas of recycling and is unlikely to meet EU targets for next year.

In Athens the recycling bins so common in most European cities are a rare sight. Although recently the authorities have launched new schemes, the impact so far seems to be minimal.

Recycling just is not high on the list of priorities for the average Athenian.

Most bags of household waste contain large amounts of glass, metal, paper and plastic which end up being dumped at the city's only landfill which - not surprisingly - is now almost full.

As a result, the capital currently faces an acute waste management crisis because no alternative sites have been set up.

Ironically the city does have what is believed to be Europe's largest recycling plant, built next to the landfill four years ago. But the plant - estimated to have cost at least 75m euros (50m) - has stood idle.

The reason? It was badly damaged by a mountain of rubbish which collapsed on top of it.

ITALY: Jeremy Bowen

Waste disposal regulations in Italy vary from district to district. In Rome, the rules were toughened earlier this month. People who do not separate their rubbish can be fined up to 619 euros if they have a recycling bin within 500 metres of their front door.

Romans often claim that it is hard to find a bin and even harder to find one that is not full. The city council has ordered 2,500 new bins. They are colour-coded green for household waste, white for paper and blue for plastic.

The streets of the historic centre of Rome have almost no recycling bins yet. The streets are cleaned very efficiently, by vehicles that drive over waste and suck it up like enormous self-propelled vacuum cleaners.

In southern Italy local politicians claim that the waste management industry is controlled by organised crime. Last year the European Commission said it was taking action against Italy, for 28 breaches of EU laws on the environment. It said that Italy was denying its citizens the same quality of life enjoyed by people in other EU countries.

When I moved here five months ago I asked the caretaker of my building whether I should separate my family's rubbish. He laughed and looked incredulous. "Are you joking?" he said. "This is Rome."

SENEGAL Hamadou Tidiane Sy

Recycling is not done on an industrial scale, but it is part of daily life for many resourceful Senegalese.

Everything is recycled, from plastic bags to school exercise books, food cans, bottles of mineral water and even fruit peel. The peel is said to be collected for use in cheap perfume.

Tomato tins become drinking cups in rural areas or are used by beggars in the streets, old newspapers and administrative documents are used to wrap bread, fruit or peanuts you buy in the street.

Some artisans also use metal waste to produce anything from chairs to kitchen utensils and children's toys.

Plastic bags are used to make shoes. In the old days, worn tyres used to be made into sandals, but these are much less popular now.

Recently, some smart people have started collecting all the metal waste they can find to send it back to factories in Europe.

The Swiss waste disposal firm Alcyon has signed a contract with the government worth more than $9m to collect and treat rubbish in the capital Dakar. The project is being managed by AMA-Senegal, which will remove a huge tip called Mbeubeuss and recycle much of the city's waste.

Waste mountain 'must be tackled'
24 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
Is going green still worthwhile?
19 May 05 |  Science/Nature
Targets 'hamper recycling effort'
13 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific