Here are the countries leading the way on recycling, and how Australia can catch up

Australia has set itself an ambitious target — to recycle or reuse 80 per cent of the waste being produced in the country by 2030.

But as of 2020-21, our resource recovery rate stood at just 63.1 per cent.

At our current pace, Australians will need to reduce or recycle an additional 12.92 million tonnes of waste each year to hit the 2030 target.

These three countries are leading the way.

The system Sweden uses to recycle 94 per cent of its glass

As of 2019, Australia was recycling just 46 per cent of its glass.

In 2020, Sweden recycled 94 per cent of its glass.

Glass recycling is highly centralized in Sweden, with every glass container collected in the country sent to one processing plant in the province of Närke.

A dump truck tipping out glass bottles for recycling
Every weekday, Svensk Glasåtervinning receives 700 tonnes of glass for recycling.(Supplied: Svensk Glasåtervinning)

Private company Svensk Glasåtervinning processes the collected glass, with major firms such as the Swedish Brewers Association, food retailers and trade associations owning part-stakes in the company.

Svensk Glasåtervinning managing director Magnus Andersson said the glass recycling industry was “booming” in Europe and was the result of decades of effort.

“It’s been a system that we’ve been working on for at least 30, 35 to 40 years,” Mr Andersson said.

“It’s not good enough to just put in a landfill basically. For us in Sweden, that means you have failed.”

European companies have flocked to Sweden’s centralized glass recycling system to cut costs.

A dump truck tipping out glass bottles for recycling
All of the glass in Sweden is recycled at one centrally located processing plant.(Supplied: Svensk Glasåtervinning)

It’s much easier to remelt waste glass than melt down sand, soda and ash to make new glass — meaning producers can save about 20 per cent of their energy costs by recycling.

But Mr Andersson said the success of Sweden’s system may be due to cultural mindset in addition to economic conditions.

Recycling glass generates fewer carbon emissions than the creation of new glass.

He said most of Svensk Glasåtervinning’s customers see reducing their carbon emissions as a major issue, leading to major market demand for recycled glass in Sweden.


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