Austria, Wales and Taiwan leading the world when it comes to rates of recycling

A new study shows who are amongst the world’s best recyclers and why.

Austria has been revealed as the world’s best country for recycling in a new study by Reloop and Eunomia Research and Consulting.

Global Recycling League - 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 to celebrate World Environment Day.

Eunomia Global Recycling League Table

Tove Andersen, President and CEO of TOMRA said:
"Increasing all countries’ recycling rates is key in preventing overuse of the world’s resources, and our 50-year experience in the field has taught us that targets must be specific for efforts to have maximum effect. The lack of international standardization on exactly what should be measured, at which point in the recycling process, however, has made cross-country comparisons notoriously difficult. Uncovering which nations are actually the greatest recyclers, allows for application of best practices across borders, and increased recycling rates for all."

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 10 performing countries 


Adjusted RR


Recycling Rate

























Northern Ireland



South Korea




Global Recycling League Table

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.

Joe Papineschi, Chairperson, Eunomia Research and Consulting said:
"It is very important to understand how each country around the world is performing in terms of waste generation and recycling of the generated waste so that we can accurately track the progress on moving towards a more circular world economy. This Eunomia initiative will enable us to do that, with 48 countries already included in this phase, and more countries to be added in the subsequent phases."

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 10 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.

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.

Eunomia’s 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

    It is intended that a Phase 2 publication covering a larger number of countries will be published prior to INC-5 in the 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.