Modern society is characterised by unprecedented advancements in every domain. We live in the age of great innovations and amazing technologies and they’re all meant to make life easier for us. But we have reached a point where the progress that human kind has been experiencing is backfiring.
It seems that in the process of improving our lives we are involuntarily doing the exact opposite, because we forgot that we must first take care of the environment. Every day we are being confronted with the devastating effects of pollution and it’s more and more obvious that this has become one of the greatest problems of our times.
It’s clear that we produce more waste than this planet can handle. The figures speak for themselves. At a global scale, there are 2.12 billion tons of waste generated each year. If that doesn’t impress you, just think about this: almost 99% of all the things we purchase are being thrown away in the following 6 months. And all this waste doesn’t just magically disappear into thin air, but it adds to the pile and destroys our planet further. Our current situation looks pretty bleak, but the future is even more concerning. It’s predicted that by 2050 the amount of waste we produce worldwide might increase by a staggering 70%.
Luckily, some of us are starting to wake up and realize that if we don’t take action right now, later might simply be too late. Everybody should do their part to solve this urgent issue and it’s certainly not enough if only some of us get involved, but each step taken in this direction is a welcome improvement that will bring us closer to a healthier and safer lifestyle. Let’s take a look at some of the countries that are willing to go the extra mile to upgrade the waste management game and save the environment.
Belgium is one of those countries that has made environmental protection a priority. The eco-friendly approach is part of the country’s culture and adopting as many measures as possible in order to reduce the waste has long been a top concern for Belgians.
It all starts with good education. Belgium has invested greatly in educating the population on the importance of waste reduction, introducing various school programs and campaigns to get citizens involved. And it definitely paid off: in 2017, approximately 690 000 tons of household waste have been recycled.
Having strong recycling policies in place, the country has managed to become one of Europe’s leading recyclers. Besides, what can’t be reused or recycled is being disposed of in a smart way. For example, to manage cardboard waste, it’s common for companies to use compactors, or ‘compacteur carton’ as it’s referred to in Belgium, and balers to reduce the volume of the garbage and dispose of it in a more efficient manner.
Going green is nothing new for Germans. They’ve been focusing on developing eco-friendly strategies for decades and that includes proper waste management. Reports put Germany at the top of the list for recycling. Almost 56% of the waste it generates is being recycled, making Germany the undeniable worldwide leader.
In 2003, Germans adopted a great strategy for reducing waste that made a considerable positive impact on waste management habits. The Pfand system that was introduced is based on paying a deposit when purchasing an item such as a bottle or a can, and you can get your money back when you give the container back to the supplier.
But Germany doesn’t intend to stop here. They are planning on implementing various innovations such as:
- introducing biodegradable packaging
- large fees for companies that fail to comply to eco-friendly policies
- creating more recycling centres
- investing more efforts into creating quality compost
- increase efforts to clean plastic waste from water
South Korea has come a long way since the 90’s. Imagine that only 30 years ago almost 90% of the waste ended up in landfill. But times have changed and South Korea has greatly evolved, reaching the performance of being in the first 5 recycling countries in the world. On the Asian continent, South Korea leads the way when it comes to recycling with a 53% recycling rate.
In 2016, when China banned the import of plastics, South Korea had to find new ways to deal with waste management and its efforts have been rewarded. Not only did South Koreans manage to improve their approach on recycling, but they have set bold goals for the future as well: by 2020 they decided to get rid of coloured plastic bottles and PVC and by 2027 they intend to completely eliminate disposable cups.
It’s worth mentioning that in the smart city of Songdo, 40 miles from Seoul, there’s no waste at all. The garbage is collected by the Third Zone Automated Waste Collection Plant through an underground piping system. That’s the waste management of the future.
Swedes are setting a great example for the rest of the nations. They send under 1% of the waste to landfills. It might seem impossible, but they managed to do it by transforming almost 2 million tons of the waste generated yearly into energy. This conversion method called waste-to-energy (WTE) is based on a thorough waste separation, so that each type of waste can be sent to specific waste management facilities.
Sweden has big plans for the future as well. They aspire at becoming a zero-waste country, using only materials that can be entirely reused. Until they reach their goal, they’re doing pretty well with their WTE plants that also process around 800 000 tons of waste from other countries.
It’s obvious that we still have a long way to go to put a stop to inadequate waste management. But the examples above show that there is a fix to all of our waste related problems. It’s only a matter of educating ourselves and becoming involved in actions that will ensure the wellbeing of our planet.