Switzerland has one of the world’s most thorough recycling systems, and is arguably one of the cleanest countries in Europe. By placing responsibility on the residents and industries who produce waste, much more care is taken to sort and recycle. Residents separate their trash into aluminium and tin cans, glass, PET bottles, food waste, electrical items, paper, old batteries, cardboard cartons and textiles. Much of this is collected from the kerbside, however large recycling plants have to exist within 1000 feet of residential areas by law, so even if people miss a collection they can still drop off their recyclables. Any trash that is not recyclable has to be put out for collection in blue bags with official stickers indicating contents which residents have to pay for. Most stores stock these blue rubbish bags and stickers. Textiles and shoes can also be repurposed at the recycling centres and supermarkets by using drop off points managed by Texaid. Just over 50% of Switzerland’s trash is sent to waste-to-energy facilities to produce energy, and by-products of this incineration process are used during infrastructure construction.
Japanese waste management also occurs at a municipal level and as such different areas have different rules. Depending on the area, residents must divide their trash into burnable, non-burnable, paper, plastic, PET bottles, cans, styrofoam, newspapers, cartons, unbroken glass and batteries for kerbside collection. Despite having an extensive waste sorting system, Japan actually doesn’t rank particularly high in terms of its recycling rate (20.8%). Instead, Japan uses fluidized bed incineration technology to convert waste to energy. Partly, this is due to Japan’s lack of space for landfill, inciting a need for alternate means of disposal. However, Japan excels at recycling PET bottles. By refining the discarded bottles down into a resin to reuse in the creation of new bottles, the amount of petroleum-derived material used to make PET bottles has been reduced by 90%.
Whilst this information pack will not detail the entirety of Germany’s waste collection procedures, it is worth mentioning their bottle recycling service — the Pfand System. Some types of PET plastic and glass bottles can be returned to supermarkets across Germany in return for a small deposit. Bottles that contained carbonated beverages are returnable, as are all types of water bottle, whether the beverages were bubbly or not. The exceptions to this are sparkling wine and champagne bottles, as they are classed as wine bottles, which are never returnable. Beer bottles on the other hand are perfectly acceptable to return. Some yoghurt containers are also returnable at the supermarket kiosks. The returned bottles are either washed, sterilised and refilled, or they are crushed and turned into recycled products such as door mats. The returnable deposit for glass bottles is 8 cents, whilst for PET plastic bottles it is 15 cents per bottle. It is quite common to see bottles left beside bins for people to collect, as the small amount of money gained from the deposit can make a world of difference to some.
In the UK, the average person generates over 450kg of waste annually. As landfill is the primary form of disposal, this is a worrying statistic. There are multiple independent waste authorities operating across England, making it difficult for waste management to be a coordinated effort. In London, co-mingled recycling and non-recyclable kerbside collections operate on a weekly basis. Co-mingled recycling includes paper, cardboard, glass, mixed plastic, tetra packs, foil, some plastic bags and cans. Where infrastructure permits, food waste, textiles and electrical items can also be collected. Depending on county, some residents need to sort their waste differently. For example, in Suffolk glass has to be taken to bottle banks and be sorted by colour, and foil bags cannot be recycled. Similarly, in Brighton, East Sussex, milk cartons cannot be recycled with your kerbside waste and instead need to be taken to collection points. Many environmentally conscious cafes and health food shops in England are now switching their packaging to ‘vegware’ products, a plant-based compostable packaging company. This brand offers a means for foodstuffs such as sandwiches, salads and drinks to be packaged in the traditional way in a non-harmful manner.
Whilst no perfect system yet exists, due in part to challenges facing the authorities coordinating management efforts, and struggles with fund distribution, there is growing momentum to eliminate unnecessary waste for good. With awareness increasing as wildlife photographers share their stories and begin campaigns against plastic (SeaLegacy), and grocers switch their packaging suppliers (HISBE, Vegware), there is hope for a cleaner future.