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Wales Managed to Double Its Recycling Rate in Just a Few Years

Wales recycled 48 percent of its household waste this year, more than double its recycling rate in 2005. Apparently progress is possible after all.

In 2005, the United States recycled 32.1 percent of its household waste—far better than Wales, which recycled only 23.1 percent of household waste in 2005-06. But between 2005 and 2010—the most recent year for which statistics are available—the U.S. recycling rate increased rather sluggishly, from 32.1 percent to 34.1 percent. Wales, meanwhile, just announced that its 2011-12 recycling rate was a remarkable 48 percent—more than double what it was six years ago. So what gives? What has Wales done since 2005 that we haven’t?

A key factor—at least according to the Guardian—has been Wales’ push to recycle or re-use all waste by 2050. The Towards Zero Waste program, which was launched two years ago this month, aims to increase Wales’ recycling rate by 1.5 percentage points every year from now through 2050. To make that happen, the country has actually passed hard recycling targets into law—pretty much a pipe dream in the United States—and has consistently met those targets. On top of that, Wales limits the amount of biodegradable waste that can be sent to landfills. It’s also governed by the European Union’s Waste Framework Directive, but that hardly seems to matter anymore; the directive requires countries to recycle 50 percent of household waste by 2020, but Wales might reach that figure by the end of this summer.

So what does that mean for those of us who don’t live in Wales? For one thing, knowing that recycling is the right thing to do isn’t enough—if Americans want to make serious headway on reducing waste, legal standards are probably necessary. For another, progress doesn’t have to be slow—if Wales can set ambitious goals and meet them, the United States can probably do the same.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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