Experience of waste sorting in some leading countries

By Duong Anh - Dec 14, 2022 | 09:25 AM GMT+7

TheLEADERSource separation of waste is seen as core solution in the circular economy application, and has been applied by countries having high recycling rates.


Before the tiny Greek island of Tilos became a big name in recycling, taverna owner Aristoteles Chatzifountas knew that whenever he threw his restaurant's trash into a municipal bin down the street, it would end up in the local landfill, according to article named How Greek islands are racing to recycle published in Weforum.

In December last year, the island launched a major campaign to fix its pollution problem. Now it recycles up to 86% of its rubbish, a record high in Greece, according to authorities, and the landfill is shut.

Chatzifountas said it took only a month to get used to separating his trash into three bins - one for organic matter; the other for paper, plastic, aluminium, and glass; and the third for everything else.

Experience of waste sorting in some countries
Trash is separated into three recycling bins - one for organic matter; the other for paper, plastic, aluminium and glass; and the third for everything else. Image: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Sebastien Malo.

For its "Just Go Zero" project, the island teamed up with Polygreen, a Piraeus-based network of companies promoting a circular economy, which aims to design waste and pollution out of supply chains.

Several times a week, Polygreen sends a dozen or so local workers door-to-door collecting household and business waste, which they then sort manually.

They swiftly separated a colourful assortment of garbage into 25 streams - from used vegetable oil, destined to become biodiesel, to cigarette butts, which are taken apart to be composted or turned into materials like sound insulation.

Organic waste is composted. But some trash, like medical masks or used napkins, cannot be recycled, so Polygreen shreds it, to be turned into solid recovered fuel for the cement industry on the mainland.


Germany is considered a leader in recycling and waste management, and its success story comes down to two factors, including strong government policies and high public awareness in recycling.

Over the last two decades, the country has adopted a series of strategies, such as mandatory waste sorting policies and an extremely efficient deposit refund scheme, which have significantly improved its waste management and increased its recycling rates.

It also introduced a so-called ‘Energiewende’, a roadmap to the low-carbon and renewable energy transition, and in shaping the public opinion on the importance of environmentally sound management of waste.

Experience of waste sorting in some countries 1
Guide of waste sorting in Germany.

As some other European nations, Germany has implemented a Deposit Refund System (DRS). Under the scheme, bottles that can be recycled are labelled accordingly.

Germany also passed three major policies that have changed the waste management system for the better. They are based – like the DRS – on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. In this case, manufacturers and private industries are also responsible for eliminating waste and covering the costs.

In the country, people have to sort their waste into five different types of recycling bins. They includes blue bin for paper and cardboard, yellow or orange bin for plastic and metal containers, brown bin for biodegradable goods which are used to make biogas and compost, grey bin for everything else what people cannot sell, donate or recycle.

The last one is glass recycling bins for glass containers that don't have a deposit.


While particular garbage separation rules are implemented by each municipality, garbage is divided into four main categories in Japan, including burnable, non-burnable, recyclable, and oversized.

Most household garbage, including kitchen waste and paper scraps, is classified as burnable garbage.

Non-burnable garbage refers to non-recyclable waste, like metal and glass items.

Plastic bottles, container jars, and cans are classified as recyclable garbage.

Lastly, oversized garbage includes large furniture and home appliances. According to the Home Appliance Recycling Law, air conditioners, TVs, refrigerators, and washing machines are not collected in local municipalities.

Residents must pay a recycling fee of between 1,000 and 6,000 yen to dispose of their oversized garbage. They can have it collected by shop staff where the item was purchased, or take the item to a designated pick-up location yourself.

Specially, recyclable garbage is further divided into four subcategories. For example, in Shinjuku Ward, which has Tokyo's highest population of foreign residents, recyclable garbage is sorted into four types, including bottles, cans, plastic bottles, and aerosol spray cans.


The 2020 Law on Environmental Protection stipulates that before December 31, 2024, all households in Vietnam must sort domestic waste prior to discharge. It prescribes volume-based fees on collecting, transporting and treating domestic solid waste.

This is an amendment of the new law, requiring households and individuals to sort their domestic waste into three groups, including recyclable, food, and others.

It also stipulates that domestic solid waste which has been recycled is not subject to waste collection, transportation and treatment fees.

Provincial People's Committees have the right to determine the fees, while the unit that collects and transports solid waste each day has the right to refuse to collect and transport the waste of households and individuals that is not sorted, according to the new law.
Detailed plans for waste sorting at source and volume-based waste collection must be completed by local authorities no later than December 31, 2024.