4 Initiatives to Improve Waste Management From the Countries Doing It Best

"The waste management wins of other countries prove that improved conditions and methods are possible in the United States."

It’s no secret that there are substantial flaws in our country’s waste management and recycling systems—and it can be a little disheartening. Between ever-expanding landfills and incomplete recycling programs, advocation and sustainable switch-ups seem to be an individual’s straightest path toward a waste-friendly (or free) future in the United States. In terms of systemic overhauls, learning about existing systems is essential to better direct our energy and foster effective legislation.

Another must? Turning our attention to the countries that have had more success with collective waste management. Their wins prove that improved conditions and methods are possible—and by observing what works elsewhere, we can find inspiration for policies that could help here. Here, four initiatives helping to prevent waste around the world.

4 Waste Management Initiatives From Countries Around the World

1. Switzerland’s Landfill Ban

mountain and houses

The hills are alive with the sound of progress: Landfills have been banned in Switzerland since 2000! Instead of literal mountains of trash, all waste is redirected, composted, recycled, or incinerated.

Conversely, the United States sends upwards of 140 million tons of waste to the landfill in a single year. What would implementing Switzerland’s ban look like for our (admittedly larger) population? Corporations and citizens would be forced to get much more creative with recycling efforts: Product designers getting serious about production, longevity, and sustainability, and consumer habits would shift with the knowledge that there are limited means of tossing items out after use.

2. South Korea’s Thorough Waste Separation

city during nighttime

Instead of separating waste into over-simplified trash and recycling, South Korea’s system includes four categories of waste. These include organic waste going to compost, landfill waste, recyclable waste, and large waste items like furniture.

Large waste items require an extra fee to dispose of, which takes the physical form of a sticker that certifies its disposal. Some bags are color-coded to help make the process easier: yellow for organic waste (like food), and white or blue for general landfill waste. Factors differentiate based on the area of the country in which you live.

This increased effort at the front end results in an organized system, meaning that items are more likely to end up where they need to go to be processed more efficiently. Information on how to dispose of trash is easily accessible, and detailed explanations exist to help you through the process.

A system like this results in a lot of positive impact for a small amount of effort, and would be a fantastic step toward a more eco-conscious future in the States.

3. France’s Free Water Fountains

Photo: Joséphine Brueder/ Ville de Paris

Paris has an extremely impressive system of beautifying water fountains scattered throughout the city—there are even interactive maps to help you find them. Access to reliable, clean drinking water (you can even find sparkling water) means that you can simply carry around a reusable water bottle, reducing the waste of single-use plastic bottles.

In the U.S. alone, approximately 60 million single-use water bottles are thrown away each day; and the majority of these bottles don’t end up getting recycled. Access to reliable water fountains in public spaces would discourage the use of disposable water bottles and save lives by providing clean and free water.

4. Sweden’s Extended Producer Responsibility Program

photo of brown high-rise building

Sweden has installed a system that shifts the burden of responsibility to the polluter by making them pay fees directly proportional to the amount of waste that they generate. In Sweden, this law is referred to as Extended Producer Responsibility.

In short, the cost of the waste management process goes to the ones who created the waste, rather than relying on broader entities like governments footing the bill. This covers processes like collection, treatment, and disposal for an array of items.

As with Switzerland, this law disincentivizes the creation of waste at all levels. Polluter pay principles are becoming popular among many countries looking to find ways to manage their waste levels, as it’s a straightforward way of holding entities accountable.

When it comes to sustainability, everywhere in the world counts areas of excellence and have severe flaws. By learning and striving as a global community, we can hope to build a more eco-friendly future built from systems that work to help both us and the planet thrive.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Matthias Buchmeier, licensed under creative commons.


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The waste management wins of other countries prove that improved conditions and methods are possible in the United States.

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