Want to Move Abroad and Start a Zero-Waste Life? Here are the Countries Where Recycling is Prioritized

Want to Move Abroad and Start a Zero-Waste Life? Here are the Countries Where Recycling is Prioritized

Starting a zero-waste life seems utopian, as it’s often presented on social media as a clean and high-quality lifestyle. In reality, adopting it is considerably challenging. Especially, when a consumerist society and a profit-oriented business industry surround you. You might not realize how much waste you produce on a daily basis. This is because analyzing each product and service stage will most likely give you a headache.

Only in the European Union, 4.8 tonnes of waste were generated in 2020 per citizen, with only 39.2% recycled. EU waste management policies heavily mitigate environmental waste reduction. However, controlling the situation is impossible due to industries that contribute to waste. For example, construction, mining, and manufacturing.

Besides affecting the environment and worsening climate change, waste also influences the quality of life by releasing harmful chemicals and contributing to air pollution. So, if you want to start over with a zero-waste lifestyle, here’s where you could move to for superior recycling and high living conditions.


Germany’s recycling program is a game-changer in the industry. This is due to settled policies and top-notch organization. At the same time, the government handled public awareness strategies impressively. Some of the best strategies for Germany’s recycling include mandatory waste sorting, deposit refund schemes, and machinery for baling and compacting cardboard. These place the country as the leading recycler in the European Union.

A few years ago, Germany also banned single-use plastics and plastic bags at the manufacturing level. Thus, producing or importing them was eliminated. Even exports decreased considerably, even if Germany was a significant plastic waste exporter.

Unfortunately, the country is known for its waste incineration practices. This contributes to air pollution due to massive toxins and pollutants emitted. Hence, the recycling system isn’t perfect and can continually be improved. But, Germany is a flourishing green country where people can move for a better life.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the world’s happiest countries, ranked fifth in the top of 20 world countries. The country is also a leader in terms of life quality due to proper healthcare systems, affordable cost of living, and low environmental pollution. Hence, the recycling system in the Netherlands is notable in terms of coordination and fairness.

The Netherlands closely follows the EU’s circular economy guidelines regarding waste minimization and resourcefulness. Energy recovery and recycling are top priorities here, and the government chose to focus on managing the producer’s waste instead of endlessly taxing the end consumer.

The ERP program (extended producer’s liability) states that producers and importers are responsible for the waste of their products, especially for products like electronics, batteries, car tires, and plastic and textiles. These companies must notify the ministry that handles national waste management policies of their products and then submit a yearly report on their environmental impact.

South Korea

South Korea is one of the most ambitious countries when it comes to recycling, as they have almost zero food waste rates. People are provided with food waste bags where uneaten food is discarded and placed in particular bins to be picked up. The food will transform into biogas, animal feed, or fertilizers, while the revenue collected from them covers transportation costs without being expensive for citizens.

South Korea excels at making recycling convenient and cost-effective for the residents, which is a challenge for other countries. Even when it comes to plastic bottles, colored PVC, and disposable cups, South Korea is doing a great job of minimizing their impact.

A zero-waste lifestyle in South Korea is easily achievable. The public transportation system is affordable and fast, the food is nutritious, and the culture is based on respecting the rules and being an honorable citizen. However, things were not always this perfect since South Korea had to develop stricter systems back in 1995 due to massive municipal solid waste that was about to pollute the water and soil.

How easy is it to adopt this lifestyle?

Moving to a country where recycling and environmental issues are taken seriously will definitely help you better adopt these policies and contribute to a healthier and cleaner planet. However, this may not always be possible, and changing habits quickly includes making considerable efforts.

That’s because the cost of waste management might become a considerable financial burden to first-timers, as giving up more affordable products is not easy if you’re not prepared to withstand the costs of high-quality products. When you use better products, you automatically generate less waste. For instance, more wood-based products mean less plastic, and so on.

Moreover, recycling properly requires a stable base of knowledge on contamination. There’s a lot of information on recyclable and non-recyclable materials you must consult before taking waste to the bins because recycling will be useless and even dangerous if you mix them. Therefore, the waste will end up in landfills again.

Surprising non-recyclable products

Unfortunately, not everything is recyclable due to mixed elements used in packages. Or, simply the nature of the final product. So, here are some surprising things you must not take to the recycling center:

  • Lids and caps from bottled drinks. This is because they’re made of polypropylene
  • Packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene. Therefore, they need to be reused
  • Ceramic products have a high melting point. Thus, they won’t be accepted at recycling centers
  • Glass from windows, light bulbs, mirrors, eyeglasses and vases
  • Treated wood contains chemicals that can contaminate water or air
  • Water paper and cartons contain wax fibers that don’t break down
  • Hardcover books have non-paper components
  • Plastic straws and utensils are made of polystyrene. This is expensive to recycle

What do you think about living a zero-waste lifestyle?

If you want to contribute to a better planet and a responsible society, you might’ve thought about starting a zero-waste lifestyle. Of course, moving to a country that prioritizes it, like Germany or South Korea, would significantly help. However, this option isn’t always feasible. However, you can always make small changes in your lifestyle. For example, educating yourself on recyclable and non-recyclable materials and disposing of them correctly.

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