Most and Least Environmentally Friendly Countries

April 22 is Earth Day, the day folks around the world post appreciation pics of our planet. However, on April 23, the planet slips to the back of many people’s minds, though this isn’t the case for everyone. Europeans and folks living in East Asia celebrate the Earth year-round by recycling and composting as if their lives depended on it (and they kind of do). Other countries, like Japan, minimize human impact by incinerating their trash. This is better than sending large amounts of trash to landfills as heat from incineration can be used to generate electric power. Then there are the countries that love sending almost all of their waste to the landfill. Clearly some countries are more environmentally aware than others. Let’s take a look at countries doing the most and those that could try a little harder when it comes to waste management and our planet.
Which countries reduce, reuse, and recycle and which are garbage at disposing of their own? Sort the map by recycling and composting rates, different methods of incineration, and landfilling to find out. Then, read on for trashy trends we’d be rubbish at spotting without the help of a map.

Europe’s Bin Recycling and Composting, Have You?

Unlike the map of the worst statistics about the United States which highlighted some negative environmental impacts of certain U.S. states (Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, and North Carolina), we’re focusing on locations doing good for the planet. Europe, for example, is slaying the recycling and composting game compared to the rest of the world. It seems that saying au revoir to daylight savings time in 2019 leaves Europeans enough spare time to recycle and compost. Below is the list of countries with recycling and composting rates of 55% or higher, four of which are located in Europe:

  • Germany
  • South Korea
  • Austria
  • Slovenia
  • Belgium
  • Taiwan

The six countries above have the highest recycling and composting rates in the world. Germany takes the cake, recycling and composting 65% of waste. South Korea is second best, ethically getting rid of 59% of its waste. Coming in close behind are Austria and Slovenia, which tie for third place at rates of 58%. Belgium and Taiwan close out the top environmental do-gooders with a 55% rate of recycling and composting. Plus, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg deserve honorary mentions for recycling and composting rates 45% of trash.

Japan Incinerates the Competition

Incineration is just a fancy way of saying “burning trash.” While incineration does not eliminate the need for landfills, it does convert trash to smaller, more manageable levels. Incineration reduces waste mass by 83% and its volume by 96% which is why it’s popular in countries where space is limited. Some countries have expressed concerns about incinerators and their effect on the environment. However, not only do incinerators significantly reduce the amount of waste for disposal at landfills, the high temperatures of incinerators can also destroy pathogens and toxins that would alternatively fester in the landfill.

The top three incinerators — incineration without energy recovery on the map — include:

  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Canada

These three countries limit the amount of space waste takes up in landfills by incinerating a percentage of it. Just like with the highest rate of recycling and composting, Germany has the best rate of incineration without energy recovery: 13%. Japan comes in second with a rate of 6%, though this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Japan’s aptitude for incineration. Third place goes to Canada. Canada incinerates 4% of its waste without energy recovery.

Incinerating is a step above landfilling, even more so when utilizing incineration with energy recovery. This type of incineration generates energy that can be used for other purposes like electricity or heat.

The largest incinerators with energy recovery are:

  • Japan
  • Norway
  • Denmark

These countries incinerate their trash in the most environmentally-friendly way possible: with energy recovery. Japan does it the best at a rate of 71%. If you recall, Japan also had the second highest rate of incineration without energy recovery. Japan’s tendency to incinerate its trash may be because incineration is extra popular in countries with limited space, like Japan. Norway has the next highest incineration with recovery rate: 57%. Denmark follows with 54% of its waste being incinerated with energy recovery. Sweden — at 50% — also deserves recognition as it is the last country with a rate of incineration with energy recovery over 49%.

Remember when we noted that Austria and Slovenia tied for third when it comes to recycling and composting? They also tied with 0% rates of incineration without energy recovery. But while these two countries have identical recycling and composting rates and the same incineration without energy recovery rate, their incineration with energy recovery rates aren’t anywhere close. Austria has Slovenia beat big time when it comes to incineration with energy recovery. Austria does this at a rate of 35% while Slovenia incinerates with energy recovery just 1% of the time.

Countries that Love Landfills

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

We mostly focused on the positives up until now. But when it comes to landfills, there are only negatives. Air pollution, contaminated water, unwanted health effects, unworkable soil and land, high economic costs, and fires are only a few drawbacks of landfills. So when you group the map by landfills, keep in mind that countries with higher rates aren’t the ones doing the most for the environment. The countries that appear to love landfills include:

  • New Zealand
  • Turkey
  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • Israel
  • Greece

New Zealand, Turkey, Chile, Mexico, Israel, and Greece certainly have some explaining to do. With landfilling rates like New Zealand’s (100%), Turkey and Chile’s (99%), Mexico’s (95%), and Israel and Greece’s (81%), who needs enemies! But we also have some explaining to do. The data we used to make the map is from a Wikipedia table. Wikipedia is a great resource to find data that can be easily transported to a spreadsheet and copied and pasted into our spreadsheet data mapper. However, we’re also aware Wikipedia’s data may not be 100% accurate. Though it’s safe to say the countries with high rates of landfilling —according to Wikipedia — likely aren’t the most environmentally friendly places.

We noted that Austria and Slovenia tie when it comes to rates of recycling and incineration without energy recovery. Yet, Austria’s rate of incineration with energy recovery (35%) is much better than Slovenia’s (1%). Just like their un-identical incineration with energy recovery rates, Austria and Slovenia aren’t close when it comes to landfilling. Once again, Slovenia falls behind Austria. Slovenia sends a whopping 36% of its trash to the landfill while Austria does the same with just 4% of its waste. In addition to Austria, let’s give it up for the eight countries that have landfilling rates below 5%: Germany and Switzerland (0%), Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Japan (1% each), and Denmark and Norway (2%).

For U.S. mappers, let’s aim to get our country higher up in the ranks. We’re currently ranked 15th in both recycling and landfilling. And be sure to check out the world’s highest electricity usage to see which countries may want to consider relying on incineration with energy recovery to bring their electricity rates down. A lower electric bill and less in the landfill is a win-win in our book. We also wonder if the many different drinking ages across the globe have any effect on recycling rates. Beer cans are recyclable, right?