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Which Countries Are Best In Low-Zero Waste Management?

Maintaining a healthy environment is very important for the success of the planet’s flora and fauna. With a healthy, well-protected environment comes excellent air and water quality, rich biodiversity, and a balanced climate condition. 

It's the responsibility of countries worldwide to manage their waste appropriately. The first step to zero waste is adherence to the 4Rs, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

In this article, we'll be discussing the countries with the best recycling and waste management ethics. 

What country has zero waste management?

Plastic bottles for recycling
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

As we already know, some countries have problems reducing the amount of waste they produce and engaging in proper waste disposal. By 2050 the amount of municipal solid waste we generate is forecast to grow as much as 70% to 3.4 billion metric tons1. Here are some countries that are working towards maintaining zero-waste practices by focusing on zero-waste resource management and other policies: 

  1. Germany
  2. Austria
  3. South Korea
  4. Wales 
  5. Switzerland 


Germany is a leading and top recycler in the European Union. The country created a mandatory recycling scheme to maintain high recycling rates. By 2002, Germany was already recycling up to 56% of its garbage. 

The European Union approved the Waste Framework Directive in 2012, a set of basic waste management concepts alongside a 50% recycling target for all its member states.

In the country, Germany introduced the Circular Economy Act of 2012. It increased the recycling rates to 65%. Later, the EU amended the Waste Framework Directive, increasing the targets to 65% by 2035. However, Germany is way above this target, with a recycling rate of 67% in 2019.

Managing waste in Germany starts from the household. The majority of German residents are zero-waste inclined. Consumers separate their household waste according to the country’s recycling scheme. 

There are six separate garbage bins for food waste, plastic waste, and other types of garbage. The yellow bin is for plastic, the white bin is for clear glass, the green bin is for green glass, the brown bin is for brown glass, the blue bin is for paper waste, and the last bin is for organic and food waste. 

These distinctions make it easy for recycling plants to maintain a proper recycling process with no hitch, unlike other countries with a lower recycling rate. In addition, Germany implemented Energiewende, a roadmap to a low-carbon and renewable energy transition.

High recycling and waste to energy

The country has some waste-to-energy recycling plants running. This means that Germany reuses its waste to produce energy for household and commercial industries.

Because of the high recycling practices in Germany, the amount of waste sent to landfills has reduced significantly. As such, it continues to be one of the top recycling countries.

Other schemes the German government uses to manage plastic pollution and produce less waste are the Deposit Refund System, The 1991 Packaging ordinance, The Green Dot System, and the Closed Substance Cycle and Waste Management Act of 1996.


Austria is another of the top countries pursuing zero-waste. This Central European country became particular about protecting the environment in the 1970s. Since then, the country has followed strict rules that aim to reduce air pollution and, in turn, help mitigate the impacts of climate change. The country also created policies and made efforts to protect its water sources and manage its waste production and disposal. 

Like Germany, Austria has its own waste sorting policies. The citizens of Austria use brown garbage bins to collect organic waste so they can process it into compost. The gray bin is for clear glass, the green bin is for colored glass, the yellow bin is for PET bottles and cans, and the black bin is for trash that you can’t recycle.  

Also, Austria has a national heating network that keeps houses warm during the winter and summer periods. The city of Vienna strongly relies on biomass to produce energy. They generated energy by burning waste they couldn’t recycle. 

Burning trash is not a no-waste practice as it releases greenhouse gas emissions. However, in Vienna, the fumes go through a triple filter system to ensure emissions are as low as possible. This makes it safer than dumping plastic and packaging waste in landfills.

The 1990 Waste Management Act and Deposit Refund System were important tools used to improve trash management2. Austria’s most recycled item is paper. Also, the Packaging Ordinance helped reduce the number of plastics used to package items, contributing to a more efficient waste management system.

South Korea 

The high levels of waste produced after the boom in the country’s economy filled up landfills and caused the air quality to reduce. Also, the earth and water quality reduced drastically. South Korea created its Waste Management Law in 1986, a practical step to achieving a no-waste country.

The law focused on reducing the millions of tonnes of waste dumped at landfills. To reduce the high quantities of plastic in the garbage, the government banned the use of disposable plastic bags and containers. 

They also introduced a volume-based food waste fee and producer responsibility scheme. These schemes improved the rate at which the citizens of South Korea recycled packaging products, biodegradable food scraps, and other recyclable materials and reduced the quantity of waste produced. 

The installation of waste plants, reusing waste for energy, and illegal trash dumping policies helped the country reach an incredibly low-to-no-waste environment. Not adhering to the waste disposal policies attracts up to a $1,000 fine.


Wales had three goals to achieve from its zero-waste practice: a sustainable environment, a prosperous society, and a fair and just society.

Focusing on maintaining a sustainable environment, the Welsh government decided that waste prevention and collecting waste for recycling of waste would help achieve these goals. The welsh government also made it a statutory duty to promote sustainable development in 1998.

While Wales needs to improve in achieving high levels of waste reduction, it has more success with its recycling scheme. In 2020, the country recorded a recycling rate of 56%- making it the UK's top country that recycles materials. They get rid of food waste by sending it to anaerobic plants, where they convert it into 7 million watts. That is enough power for 12,000 homes.


Switzerland recycles up to 53% of its total waste. It is a country with a small land mass and produces about 90 million tonnes of waste yearly. To curb this, it implemented a pay-to-dispose rubbish policy. The people of Switzerland use the money to dispose of their trash by purchasing designated trash bags.

Also, there are laws in place to punish people who try to dump their trash illegally and fail to use designated recycling points. Laws also implore manufacturers and stores to accept certain types of waste for recycling. For instance, e-waste, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics, metals, and glass are acceptable. 

The Ordinance on Beverage Packaging (VGV) helped to regulate the sales and return of beverage packaging. It also requires that manufacturers make the packaging materials labeled and recyclable.


These countries around the world help us see the benefits of practicing zero-waste. It prevents environmental degradation, reduces municipal waste at source, and protects the community's health at large. Also, it improves the economy by creating more job opportunities. 

Since these countries set no-waste goals and laid down policies that helped them achieve them, there has been notable success in their economies and the overall well-being of their environment. You can not go wrong with sustainable living.  

1Kaza, Silpa; Yao, Lisa C.; Bhada-Tata, Perinaz; Van Woerden, Frank. 2018. What a Waste 2.0 : A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. Urban Development;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO

OECD WASTE REPORT: Austria (pdf). (n.d.). Austria.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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