Managing waste is a major issue for countries around the world. When I am visiting somewhere one of the first things I look for are recycling containers. If they are easy to find, then that place is usually doing a better job encouraging people (tourists and residents) to recycle. In Malta I didn’t encounter many recycling bins in the places I visited; however, Malta is producing less waste than in 2003. The problem is that only a small amount is being recycled or composted. In 2013, Malta generated 570 kilograms (1,257 pounds) of waste per person and only 6% was recycled and 5% composted. The remaining waste (89%) went to landfill.  The average recycling rate for the European Union (EU) member states is 29%. The EU target for member states to recycle 50% of municipal waste by 2020. That goal has been reached in Germany, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland. Recycling efforts vary by country and can be impacted by a number of factors.  Countries like Malta generate a higher level of per capita trash because of the large number of tourists who visit the country each year. In 2014, 1.7 million people visited the country, which is about five times the country’s population. Encouraging the tourists to recycle is a step in the right direction.

In the United States, recycling rates are steadily increasing. In 1985 we recycled only 10.1%. In 2013 the U.S. generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 34.3% of it.  That’s a per person rate of 1.51 pounds out of the 4.4 pounds of waste each person generates daily. The largest component of trash in the U.S. is organic materials, such as paper, yard clippings, and food.

Image from U.S. EPA Total MSW Generation (by Material), 2013

What can we do to reduce waste? The number one thing is conscious consumption. Reduce your consumption, and when you buy something pay attention to how it is packaged. Repair, reuse, and repurpose things. When you have to throw something out, recycle it if possible.  A recent study indicated that European countries are shifting towards a less waste intensive lifestyle. The same may also be seen in some sectors of the U.S.

A key to successful recycling is to make it convenient. Well-placed recycling containers help to encourage people. I was impressed when I visited the Roman Colosseum and saw several bins for recycling and composting. I found the same convenient recycling when I visited Pompeii. Great job Italy!

For more information on ways to reduce waste in your life, visit Rethink Waste on the UGA GreenWay website, which is brought to you by the University of Georgia Extension.

Remember, when you throw something away there is no away.

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