Worldwide Recycling Report Card
Though the U.S. has long been known as a global power, where in the world does the U.S. stand on recycling? It depends on who you ask. The United States, according to a BBC-sponsored snapshot profile of several civilized countries, is not leading recycling efforts around the globe — not by a long shot. Instead, the U.S. falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. What are the differences between the U.S. and the rest of the world? Let’s take a look at what other countries are doing to make recycling a worldwide thing.

Not recycling? That’s garbage: Worldwide stances on taking out your own trash

What are other countries doing to make sure that their trash doesn’t pile up? Everything from fines to social snubs is commonplace in competing countries; just ask the English bus driver who was fined a good portion of his wages for the month for not complying with trash laws. A June 2008 New York Times article titled “Take Out the Trash Precisely, Now. It’s the Law.” spotlighted Whitehaven, England’s Gareth Corkhill, who was fined $215 and a further $225 delinquent fine on top of a criminal record note for a tiny garbage offense. What did he do? He left his garbage can lid slightly ajar. According to the article, residents were so outraged that they raised money and complained. The incident shed light on the fact that resources are dwindling, and governments worldwide know the fact to be true, according to Copeland Borough Council spokesman Ian Curwen. “Ultimately as a country, we have to do more. We can’t just keep producing and throwing things away,” Curwen says. So, if landfills aren’t an option, as they are filling up around the world, what is each individual country to do? Should they pay? Should they be snubbed? Many articles have since raised the question by citing social practices throughout the world that might raise more than a few eyebrows if known about.

Recycle or pay: Wacky and weird practices that work!

Imagine a society where recycling or other green efforts are known about, but not really practiced or mentioned. (Senegal) Now, picture (if you can) a place where environmental sustainability isn’t widely used as a marketing scheme. Going a little green with envy at this country yet? (Greece) Take it one step further, and try to fathom recycling as a practice rumored to be affiliated with organized crime. (Southern Italy) These three extremes come from the world’s biggest countries, according to a BBC article titled “Recycling Around the World.” If you were a German citizen who insisted on wasting trash, what would happen to you? Well, first of all, you would be a shame to the government, according to the article. Citing at least five different types of garbage bins outside of a typical building, a bad recycler is a shame to his or her community. If you are a visitor to the country, you better be on your best behavior — or prepare to be shown no mercy for the wasteful faux pas. “As a foreigner living in Berlin, you can easily be embarrassed by your German friends who will berate you for not separating your rubbish,” the article says. This is true 90% of the time, according to the article, citing surveys. Where does this put the U.S.? Well, in 2005, the bad news is, it was far behind that statistic. At publishing time of the 2005 article, states at the bottom of the recycling effort were Alaska, Wyoming and Montana. They recycled less than 9% of waste. The top states, New York, Virginia and five others, still only recycled 40% of waste. The good news is that now even states that weren’t leading the pack are shooting for goals as high at 75% by the year 2020. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection cited The Energy, Climate Change, and Economic Security Act of 2008 (House Bill 7135) as the goal-setting legislation. So, while the U.S. might not be a leader in recycling practices, it is making strides that, fortunately, may be pretty hard for the rest of the world to follow. What can you do to help? It starts by going to a recycling facility near you.