Recycling abroad

October 29, 2008 at 1:27 pm

The UK has been dubbed ‘the dustbin of Europe’ because we throw so much away in comparison to the rest of Europe. The government are encouraging people to recycle more and although it has become more popular in the UK, our continental counterparts are still streets ahead.

Germany, Austria & Switzerland

Germany and its German-speaking neighbours, Austria and Switzerland, take recycling seriously. There are even laws about separating your rubbish. Houses and apartment buildings all have several bins that are colour-coded to tell you where to dispose of your paper, glass, packaging and ‘green’ waste such as food and garden trimmings. There are even colour-coded bins in train stations, so there really is no excuse.
Supermarkets offer disposal of packaging before you leave the premises and batteries are to be returned to the stores for safe disposal. Drinks containers are cleaned thoroughly before reuse. Almost all bottles carry ‘Pfand’, a deposit refunded on return of the bottle. This deposit is normally between 15 and 25 euro cents, depending on the bottle’s size and material.


Scandinavia is often considered to be the ‘greenest’ area of Europe. This is not just because of its large areas of woodland and lakes but because Scandinavian governments have set high standards. Like their southern neighbours, Denmark, Norway and Sweden also have separate rubbish disposal for paper, plastics, glass, medicines, metals, chemical waste… in fact almost anything you can think of!

Southern Europe

However, it is a different story for the laidback, carefree Europeans in the south. In Greece recycling bins are almost unheard of and the capital, Athens, is now being described as a ‘toxic time bomb’ (International Herald Tribune, 2007) due to the waste management crisis there.
And the situation is no better in Italy, where recycling facilities differ from area to area. Inhabitants of Rome face hundreds of euros in fines if they do not recycle and the city has 2500 new colour-coded bins for separating rubbish. In contrast, Naples is struggling with a disposal dilemma similar to Athens’.
France, Spain and Bulgaria will be facing similar crises if they do not act soon.

So, while we might not be as bad as the Athenians, we still have a lot to learn from our friends in the cold north.

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