The U.S. recycles or composts only 35 percent of its waste, sending the rest to landfills, according to the EPA. By contrast, top recycling countries like Germany, Austria, South Korea, and Wales recycle over half of their national waste. These are 12 common items that other countries recycle but American facilities dump out.
While plastic bags are recycled in some states, they are not accepted at every American recycling center. In fact, most facilities in the U.S. cannot recycle products like plastic bags or lids because they often jam the sorting machines. But “just because an item is not accepted at [an American] facility does not mean there is no way to recycle it,” Marinozzi says. Countries such as Canada, China, South Africa, and most European countries have invested in recycling machinery that can process plastic bags. Some have even started programs to encourage plastic bag recycling, charging plastic bag users a fee that goes toward funding the recycling process. As it turns out, reusable shopping bags have their own set of cons.
Most Americans toss their plastic, paper, and glass materials in recycling bins, but recycling polystyrene—more commonly known as Styrofoam—is far less frequent. Not only is Styrofoam toxic to both humans and the planet, but the process of recycling it is often messy, slow, and expensive. Many cities across the United States have chosen to ban Styrofoam products altogether, according to Marinozzi. However, countries like Japan, Korea, and some European countries recycle as much as 60 percent of their Styrofoam wastethanks to new systems that make the recycling process cheaper and easier. Better yet, these countries are replacing plastic in the most brilliant ways.
Although some U.S. recycling facilities have recently started to accept milk cartons, they don’t actually recycle the entire carton. Instead, they separate the cartons’ fiber components from its plastic and aluminum parts, and then send the latter two materials to the landfill. Recycling centers in Finland, on the other hand, recycle both the fiber and aluminum found in old milk cartons. The fiber will eventually be turned into products like paper towel rolls, according to Finland’s national website. While Americans can still recycle milk cartons in good conscience, just don’t toss any of these 15 things into the recycling bin.