Is there a link between recycling and happiness?
Each year since 2012, the World Happiness Report (WHR) has ranked countries on a range of economic and social factors to see where the most content people on the planet are.
Here at Fresh Start, we wanted to find out if there was a link between perceived ‘happiness’ and the amount of recycling undertaken by countries around the world, and there are some surprising results.
Starting at home, the UK is sandwiched between Luxembourg and Chile in 19th place on the World Happiness Report, yet as we divert 43% of our municipal waste away from landfill, we recycle the 10th highest amount compared to how much refuse we generate.
Germany is top of the tree for recycling rates, converting 65% of its rubbish into useful resources (a rise of 16% since 2000), while South Korea is the best of the rest on 59%. Again, both these countries are well adrift of the Top 10 according to the WHR, lying in 16th and 55th places respectively.
What of the happiest countries on Earth, though. How do their recycling rates stack up?
Only Switzerland has managed to break the Nordic domination of the Top 5 in 4th place, with Norway (#1), Denmark (#2), Iceland (#3) and Finland (#5) taking up the rest of the positions. Indeed, the Swiss, Danish and Icelandic citizens are all among the Top 10 recyclers in the world, too.
The Netherlands and Sweden also make the upper echelons of both lists, so as half of the Top 10 happiest countries are also fantastic recyclers, can we conclude that the happier a nation’s people are, the more waste will be saved from landfill?
Well, not exactly.
Take Egypt, 104th on the WHR. There are no official figures for waste recycling efforts because contemporary recycling facilities just didn’t exist there until the past few years. However, the Zabbaleen people of Cairo are a tight-knit community of around 70,000 people who have dedicated generations of their working lives to collecting rubbish from from districts throughout the capital.
The name Zabbaleen translates as ‘garbage people’ in Egyptian Arabic, and it is estimated that they recycle up to 80% of the waste they collect from homes and businesses.
Usually carried by donkey-drawn carts, their haul is sorted by hand at their home village of Mokattam, with organic matter fed to their pigs, and everything else separated into 16 main categories where it is then sifted through for salvageable, saleable and reusable materials.
Brazil is also perhaps a surprising world leader in aluminium recycling. While it lies 22nd in the World Happiness Report, in 2014 the country re-used 289,500 tonnes of aluminium drinks cans out of the 294,200 tonnes it produced – a staggering 98.4%.
According to the OECD, Sweden was the world’s 6th most efficient recycler of municipal waste in 2016, but it has no peers when it comes to domestic rubbish.
Just over 99% of trash in Swedish homes is diverted away from landfill, and the countries’ recycling plants are so under capacity as a result, that they actually import most of their recycling waste, including from the UK, and are paid for the privilege.
Things have improved dramatically in the UK since the turn of the millennium, with 250% more waste being recycled now than before. However, even those impressive figures lag behind the likes of Estonia (up by 600%) and Poland, which recycles 886% more waste than it did in 2000.
Top 10 Happiest Countries:
8 New Zealand
Top 10 Recyclers Of Municipal Waste:
2 South Korea
3= Slovenia, Austria
6= Sweden, Netherlands
10 United Kingdom
Fresh Start is a forward-thinking independent waste management company based in Manchester and covering the whole of the North West of England with daily collections.
We made sure that 40,000 tonnes of waste was diverted away from landfill in the region in 2016, a figure which we a passionate about growing in the years to come.