The World’s Best Plastic Recyclers

It isn’t that long ago that we didn’t have a clue about recycling.
When I was at school 20 years ago, recycling was very much a myth of the hippy-vegan stereotype, and something you only did if you wore open toed sandals with socks.
I don’t know what happened between then and now, but it look likes some forward thinking has been going on.

Image by timtak

Plastic has always been one of the most difficult materials to recycle. It is estimated that almost every HOUR, somewhere around the region of 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped around the world.
But some countries have completely got the hang of this plastic recycling lark, and here I would like to share with you the positive news about re-using plastic waste .
Who Does it Best?
Looking at statistics for 2010, the U.K. recycled 38% of its plastic waste, which isn’t bad, with the United States following up behind at 20%.
But the winner in the race to recycle plastic has to be Japan, who raced to the top spot with 77%. They even have their own Plastic Waste Management Institute (PWMI) for this very purpose!
Not only this, but Japan has been a forerunner in this field for the last 12 years, if not more. In fact, their amazing achievement must hold a few essential lessons for Europe, Asia and other countries who are trying to keep up with the various demands of their governments and own in-house recycling  policies.
So, what are the main things that we can learn from Japan’s impressive accomplishment?
1) Make It the Law
Japan passed several recycling laws as far back as 1997, which applied to both domestic premises and businesses. This means that they had to separate their plastic waste, or face fines or imprisonment – that’s one way of making sure people take it seriously!
One of the main reasons behind this, admittedly, was a lack of space for landfill, but this is the same case in the U.K. They have a population of 127 million with urban areas increasing all the time which meant urgent steps had to be taken.
2) Separate Means “Separate”!
People of Britain might be guilty of giving a milk bottle a quick swish round under the tap and then throwing the whole thing in the recycling. But in Japan, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have to separate from all other kinds of plastic wraps and containers.
The label and cap must be removed too, as these can’t be recycled, leaving just the plain bottle.
This way, Japan is capable of recycling a whopping 72 per cent of its PET bottles, compared to 48 per cent in the whole of Europe and just 29 per cent in the United States! Incredible.
3) Re-using, Not Just Recycling
The PWMI of Japan doesn’t just do pure recycling though. About a third of it gets recycled, while the other two thirds (4.8 million tons of it) goes through a process of thermal recycling, which then converts it into chemicals that can be burned to generate energy. Genius!
They use things like plastic sheeting, textiles, industrial wastes and household items to break down, and even manage to export the commodity to other countries such as Hong Kong and China, who can re-use these materials to make toys and games. Very clever!
With manufacturers on side and the possibility to make money through export, Japan has made recycling into something profitable and this appeals to business men – and governments.
We need to pick up some tips here – there is no need for excessive waste or half hearted separation of waste, or for governments to tell us that there is no money in it. Where Japan leads the way with plastic recycling, hopefully we can all follow.
Estelle Page is a thirty something interior designer, loving life with her husband and two kids! When she’s not redecorating her home for the 100th time, you’ll find her taking in the scenery at a local garden show or being inspired by the antiques and decor at a nearby National Trust home. She also likes to blog, especially for Merritt Plastics.