Michael White, of the UK- paper The Guardian, released an article in May on the state of British recycling. The article is fairly tongue-in-cheek, making for rather enjoyable reading. Snuck in towards the end, however, are some hard facts which speak to how recycling is going for our European neighbors.
But overall, we Brits remain pretty hopeless. According to EU figures a few years back, the virtuous Dutch recycle 59% of their municipal waste (Austria and Germany are not far behind), Spain is on 28%, and we and the Irish - who have since clamped down hard on plastic bags by charging 15 cents (`10 pence) a bag - were about tied on 13%, above Greece (9%) and Portgual (4%). We have since crawled up to 17% and beyond: this year's target figure is 25%, and the aim is 30% by 2010.
In any case the French (and most western European countries) seem to drop less litter than we do, so there are fewer of what the Irish call their ''national flag'' - the plastic bag - stuck to fences and bushes. At least 40 countries have now taken action to curb plastic bag use. Figures vary, but globally 80% of us in the industrial west seem to use between 500bn and 1 trillion (or is it four to five trillion?) each year and recycle very few. I have long used mine as bin liners, but that was more out of meanness than concern for the planet.
Read the full editorial “Land of Hope and Landfills” here.
How do Americans fare then? As a country, the EPA reports that the US recycles 28% of its waste. We Californians recycle 48% of our waste, which can be a fun tool for measurement – compare your trashcan and recycling bin to see which is more full. If it’s the recycling bin, then you’re doing better than the state of California. Still, don’t get too self-congratulatory too soon. We haven’t won the race until Everything goes into recycling and compost, and leaky landfills, their greenhouse gases, and cross-state trash hauling are all things of the past.
CAW has been working hard for over two decades to increase recycling and reduce waste in California, and our above-average state recycling levels show these efforts. The recycling rate of plastic bags, however, remains below 5%. Help CAW change this depressing statistic, as we try to pass AB 2449 in the legislature, which requires all grocery stores in the state to accept plastic bags for recycling and sell reuseable totes!
What You Can Do
- Or Send a Support Letter on behalf of your organization
- Consider CAW’s Shopping List for helpful waste-reduction tips