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Adjusted recycling rates reveal top recycling nations recycling far less than reported

Leading recycling nations may be overstating their recycling figures according to adjusted figures released by environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting in its update on the work it published with Resource in March - ‘Recycling - Who really leads the world?

Building on the work carried out with Resource, Eunomia teamed up with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) to release ‘Recycling - Who really leads the world? (Issue 2)’ today (11 December), which represents an update on the figures released in March, while also presenting calculated adjusted municipal waste recycling rates for the top 10 countries to provide a more accurate comparison between them.

If only looking at recycling rates reported by each country, then a top three of Germany (66 per cent), Wales (64 per cent) and Singapore (61 per cent) emerges. Eunomia’s new report, however, interrogates the differing methodologies for measuring recycling used in different countries and produces a revised league table, which sees Germany retain top spot with 56 per cent, while Austria (54 per cent) and South Korea (54 per cent) make up the rest of the top three, with Wales falling back to fourth place (52 per cent).

Adjusted recycling rates reveal top recycling nations recycling far less than reported

The revised top 10 acknowledges the differences in how certain aspects are accounted for or not in the nationally reported figures, such as inclusion of Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste, inclusion of Commercial and Industrial (C&I) waste, Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA) and metals recovered from IBA, contamination within dry recycling and biowaste, inputs and outputs of mechanical and biological treatment and recycling processing losses.

Meanwhile, England continues to languish back in 18th position for reported recycling rates, with a 42.8 per cent rate, while it doesn’t make the top 10 for adjusted figures, with all of the top 10 countries showing adjusted rates of 50 per cent or more.

After looking at waste management policy, legislation and collection services, the report states that high performance is at least in part down to comprehensive recycling schemes (including mandatory separate collection of dry materials and biowaste), clear performance targets and policy objectives, funding for recycling through government or extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, and financial and behavioural incentives to directly and indirectly encourage citizens to recycle.

Although Wales will be disappointed that its adjusted recycling rate sees it drop out of the top three, some way below its reported 64 per cent for 2017 achieved three years before it had aimed to, Eunomia’s report forecasts that Wales could overtake Germany for both reported and adjusted recycling rates as soon as 2018, while other European nations could be incentivised to catch up once the EU’s Circular Economy Package is finalised, which is expected to see a target recycling rate of around 65 per cent for 2030.

Commenting on the report, Rob Gillies, Eunomia Managing Consultant and report author, said: “What’s interesting is that when ranked based on reported recycling rates, the winners are clear, whereas after making adjustments for different measurement methods the top recyclers are much closer together, so the top spot is all to play for if countries want to be ambitious.”

“It’s important to note this research has been carried out so we can identify who the real leaders in recycling are, to share best practice by shining a spotlight on what these countries are doing. We also hope that this will help progress the debate on how best to measure ‘real’ recycling, in line with the principles of the waste hierarchy, in a way that is as consistent as possible within Europe and further afield.”

The discussion on how best to measure recycling is a pertinent one, and forms the basis of one of the disagreements over the Circular Economy Package.

While the current method counts how much waste enters the recycling process, a calculation favoured by the European Commission, Germany is among the member states that has stated preference for a rate that deducts a ‘standard loss rate’ (which would vary from member state to member state) from the figure entering the recycling process to reflect the material that does not actually get recycling and create a more accurate picture of recycling in the EU.

“This kind of ground-breaking research tells us what EU countries really need to do to achieve higher recycling rates, which require proper collection and recycling of biowaste,” said Stéphane Arditi, Policy Manager on Circular Economy, Products and Waste for the EEB. “It also tells in a truly circular economy there can be no room for incineration of valuable resources that could instead be actually recycled. The fact that some countries have increased recycling rates by 35 percentage points in under 15 years shows that all member states can achieve the new EU recycling targets.”

The ‘Recycling - Who really leads the world? (Issue 2)’ report can be read and downloaded on Eunomia’s website

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