Recycling in Europe – Six countries compared and a trashy story about recycled potatoes

The beauty of Europe is its diversity.

We all appreciate that you have nearly tropical weather in the southern parts of the continent; while going up north, you reach arctic temperatures.

But there is one thing that we do want to be the same everywhere, and this thing is the quality of the environment.

Our life is indissolubly linked to the environment where we live. Treating the earth with respect translates directly to higher quality of life and better health for all living creatures.

I will share here my opinion about recycling in six European countries

  • Georgia
  • Ukraine
  • Italy
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Finland

DUMPSTERS

Looking in the dumpsters and trash bins may be disgusting for most people, but I am curious, and I am not like most people.

Therefore I have taken some pics of bins around Europe, to see how Recycling goes on in different countries. 

It’s astonishing to see how much information about us we can gather from the trash. 

¨You are what you eat¨ said someone, ¨you are how you recycle¨

Says the new aphorism

GEORGIA

The tiny and mountainous country of Georgia is for sure a fast-developing nation.

Georgians are incredibly welcoming and have for sure one of the best kitchens on the continent.

As for Recycling, there is still a long way uphill; I have noticed, especially in the countryside, that for many locals to sort the trash is something relatively unknown.

In the countryside, there are still people burning trash.

Georgia, Gvimralauri – An artful creation with recycled materials.

Georgia is getting closer to the EU and they have the right mentality and all the attributes to join the European community; I hope they will improve also recycling. I am somewhat confident that things will improve. 

Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine
Both in Ukraine and Georgia,I have seen some smart & artistic recycling creations. 

UKRAINE 

Kyiv has been for sure one of the main highlights of my cycling trip from Finland.

Creative and smart way of recycling – Ukraine

There are many beautiful words that one could use when talking about Ukraine: friendly and sweet people, general safety feeling, tasty food, great metro in the capital; good recycling practices, sadly, are not one of those.

As in the neighboring countries, I have noticed a significant presence of asbestos, and I have seen people disposing of it as ordinary trash, without even any PPE.

Waste collection in a residential building – Kiev, Ukraine

In the woods, there was also a visible amount of trash to spot. 

The situation in Ukraine is not much different than in Georgia, Belarus, or Armenia.

Southern Italy – Cilento

There have been decades of disastrous garbage management in the southern region of Campania, where organized crime was speculating on it. Since a few years, we see a significant change finally.

Bins of home recycling in Montecorice, Salerno, Italy

In the province of Salerno, for example, even in countryside localities, Recycling is done quite seriously. The municipalities and the population have committed and responsibilized, themself to recycle to the max.

They reached a virtual—for me, a bit doubtful 87% of recycled waste in 2019, as the city administration claims.

BELGIUM

The country of chocolate is one of the dearest countries, for me. It’s the country where I learned how to recycle, so it’s hard for me to criticize it.

In Belgium, there is a home-to-home collecting system.

A high-tech bin in Benelux

You pay the waste tax directly when you purchase the trash bags. Bio and plastic waste fees are pretty low, while one bag for non-recycling waste of 30 liters costs a bit more than one euro.

This system of home-to-home collection and taxes on I can say for sure that they lack the universal money-back Scandinavian system on cans and bottles.

DENMARK

The sweet Scandinavian country of the Danes is considered for many one of the best places for Recycling.

It’s hard to dispute the quality of the danish administration, and it is also hard to find anything better in the world. 

But still, while living in Copenhagen, I noticed that not everybody at home recycled properly, especially expats.

I have also noticed neon tubes in the organic waste behind some supermarkets.

A recycling center in Copenhagen

LAST MINUTE FINDINGS

While traveling virtually-moneyless in Denmark, I was worried about having no place to sleep, no food, and no transportation.

It happened that I had to find an apartment last minute. I concentrated all my efforts on it.

Finally, I have found an apartment, a boat, food, bicycle, and train transportation, all nearly for free.

Recycling center in Denmark – You can find anything there

Another day, I was outside Copenhagen, in a different municipality, to visit a friend. As I was about to throw away a paper towel, I asked: “where to trash my napkin,” my friend told me: ¨there is no recycling going on¨.

Is it that outside of Copenhagen, the Danes forget about being good guys and became wild Vikings again?

FINLAND

RECYCLED FRENCH FRIES (PRE-COVID)

It’s Friday, in Jyväskyä there is the “Theater students weekend,” many students from all around Finland gather for a theater competition.  

I am going to an end-festival party. An event where all the actors reunite to have some recreation after the plays. 

The Cafe’ it’s big, there are two floors, and the unconventionally bohemian-dressed musicians are entertaining the modest-sized public, which seems to enjoy. 

Music and dance are of my taste, but in my mind, I am worried a bit cause I am in ‘nomad mode,’ and I didn’t yet find a place to sleep for tonight. 

At 3.00 am, the music stops, bright lights show all the tired and drunk faces of people that have no other option to leave to go home, except me, that I don’t have one.

A drunken guy comes to me, I feel a bit annoyed, but I listen and try to answer him even though I don’t understand his babbling Finnish. He leaves, and my worries start to get bigger and bigger; I prepare myself to sleep outside, maybe at the train station (which will open at 6.00 am).

Suddenly Juha, the drunken fellow that was speaking to me previously, introduces me to his friends. 

A bin transformed into a grill – Sompasauna, Helsinki, Finland

After a short chat, they ask me: “do you want to come to sleep with all the other actors of the group in the school nearby and us” I answer: “I wasn’t waiting for anything else that this proposal: YES.” Luckily I had a place for the night.

After a good sleep and few kilometers on the bicycle, I see Juha, and he calls my name; I see him and some other friends eating french fries on a terrace. I go next to them, and we start to talk. I notice that they are leaving. 

The group of actors didn’t finish their potatoes, so I ask them if I can have some; they, of course, agree and say goodbye.

During the Flow Festival – Helsinki, Finland

I protrude my left arm above the railing that divides me and that unhealthy dish; I take the plate in my hand, and with the right hand, I insert the oily potatoes in my mouth one by one. Suddenly a waitress comes; he does not even look at me and misanthropically tries to pull out the dish from my hand. I instantly get angry, like a dog disturbed while eating, I look at him straight in the eyes, and I say:

“This was given to me by my friends,” he says, “you have to leave, you are not a customer.”

I can’t keep myself from jumping to the other side of the railing, although my bicycle is falling down; I stand in front of him, and I look at him in the eyes more intensely; I am pretty nervous, about to become furious. He repeats the same meaningless sentence that I have to leave. I say that I will do it soon. 

After few minutes, or seconds that look like minutes, I jump back to the outside and leave.

I drive down the small road, I am still nervous, and I think that those things should not happen, there are people in need of food and who is wasting it does not even allow anyone to get some, this thought stays in my mind, and I decide to go back to the restaurant, I want him to hear that what is in my mind. 

Flow Festival – Helsinki, Finland

The waitress is serving some customers, his back is towards me, I go behind him, and I wait that he turns. While turning, he gets scared of facing me so close, he tries to go away, but I prevent him from doing it, and I “invite” him to talk outside the view of the customers; he says that he needs to work and can’t go out, his hands are shaking, and he looks down with his small brown eyes. I take him few meters away, and I tell him that it is not fair to take food away from someone just because it’s supposed to go to the trash. He tells me that he is sorry; I understand that he didn’t get the message.

Okay, all that I have written above about Finland does not give any information about the recycling world of Finland, but at least it was a fun & uncommon ‘recycling’ story!

The way the Finns recycle is quite similar to their Scandinavian neighbors. You would gather your separated waste in seven different categories: bio, glass, metal, paper, cardboard, plastic, and non-recyclable.

Recycling space of an office building – Helsinki, Finland

In the inner yards of the buildings, you have the bins, where only residents can access. This way, One can dispose of the trash any day.

The funny and interesting fact is that the trash collectors have the keys to the various doors and gates to access the bins.

SCANDINAVIA MONEY BACK BOTTLES

Bin in Oslo, Norway

Here we don’t talk only about Recycling but also about having a clean environment and not having trash in the streets.

The content of the bin is not sorted as the label shows

One minus point for Scandinavia and Finland—ya, Finland is not Scandinavia!—is the fact that on the weekend, when people go out drunk, they forget about their eco-friendly culture & impressive civic sense

Helsinki city center – Weekend night

A lot of trash is thrown in the streets, which are anyway cleaned up by efficient and effective cleaning machines after a few hours.

WHICH IS THE BEST COUNTRY IN EUROPE FOR RECYCLING?

Scandinavia and central-northern Europe are for sure the best regions for Recycling.

If the Scandinavian system of money-back bottles were working with home-to-home waste collection and taxes on the bags, we would have the world’s best solution.

One extra point for the city of Copenhagen is the fact that there are many organizations doing activities to recycle. You can even go to recycling centers and get good stuff for free, rescuing it.

If you look at statistics on google, you will see that Germany scores as the best country globally for Recycling, but this is another story because I have never lived there, so I can’t comment on it.

Do you believe there is no connection between Recycling and dating?
There are a few; for example, I am so much into Recycling that I recycle the Tinder super like too.

Someone once stated

Bottom line

The richness of Europe is to share knowledge and learn from each other. 
The best recycling system will always be a mix of several ways of doing it, picking the top features of each system.

This article is not intended to be a statistic. 

I did not travel to mentioned countries to compare Recycling, but they were just places where I happened to live for a while. Therefore, there maybe be, in the same cities or countries, much better or worse places.

You are welcome to comment and share your thoughts.

Published by CyclOrBit P

CURRENT MISSION - Cycle from Finland to Argentina, play theater, and more of all: to enjoy! www.BikeTravelTheater.org ;

4 thoughts on “Recycling in Europe – Six countries compared and a trashy story about recycled potatoes

  1. Very interesting story, Lulu ! You are the most respectful traveler I know, my friend ! I hope the situation about trash and recycling will continue to improve in some countries or completely change in the others because the planet need it. Good job !

    Like

  2. Caro Luca, è interessantissimo questo tuo articolo che parla del riciclaggio dei rifiuti e dei diversi modi che i vari paesi europei ed extraeuropei adottano per affrontarlo. Come al soliti, i paesi del nord Europa sono tra quelli più civili e con soluzioni più adeguate alle soluzioni dei vari problemi. Mi ha colpito il fatto del Belgio dove la tassa sui rifiuti viene pagata già all’acquisto dei sacchetti della spazzatura.
    Purtroppo, in alcuni paesi, ed a volte anche da noi al Sud succede, si ricorre pur di eliminare i rifiuti a soluzioni poco opportune e dannose per la salute dei cittadini quali quelle di bruciarli.
    Certo quello dei rifiuti è un problema complesso, in primo luogo bisognerebbe cercare di produrne il meno possibile ad esempio non usando piatti e piatti di plastica, utilizzando borsine di stoffa per fare la spesa, ma spesso preferiamo le soluzioni più rapide come farci dare la busta di plastica dal commerciante.
    Speriamo bene che oin futuro il pianeta non venga soffocato dall’eccesso di immondizia.
    Complimenti per l’articolo e tanti saluti.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grazie per il commento Pina,

      Effettivamente in Belgio il sistema di pagare le tasse sulle buste è geniale.
      Vengono premiate le persone che riciclano meglio.
      Così, se uno non ha rifiuti perché in vacanza, non deve pagare niente.

      In Italia ci sono stati comunque miglioramenti, speriamo si vada nella giusta direzione.

      Like

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