Guest Blog: 5 countries where recycling is good news

Stories of litter and pollution are making the front page almost everywhere at present, it seems. Trash is literally filling our TV and smartphone screens with images of negative and harmful environmental impacts. So, in this SustMeme Guest Post, Research Specialist with No 1 Junk Street, Tom Simpkins sets off on a virtual world tour in search of some good news, exploring new eco-friendly approaches to plastic pollution, recycling methods and waste management in five countries around the globe.

TS: With each passing day, we are realising just how vital recycling is to many industries and countries, all seeking new solutions to the likes of plastic pollution and excess waste. Whether it’s entrepreneurs creating robots that suck up ocean pollution, or companies unlocking the chemical composition of feedstocks for reprocessing, innovation is in demand.

Yet, whilst new materials, technologies and professional approaches are undoubtedly helping recycling rates creep up, one percentage-point at a time, we are still crying out for further advancements and faster progress.

Recent events have shown just how badly plastic pollution has been managed by countries including the US, Japan and even the UK. Their unwanted trash has now been rejected and returned by nations such as Malaysia, who are now no longer prepared to accept the monumental task of handling and recycling the world’s rubbish.

This failure on the part of global producer societies to manage their own waste responsibly begs the question of whether or not there is any hope for ways to properly clear our junk. 

This is why No 1 Junk Street began to reseach the standout approaches to the waste problem emerging elsewhere around the world — digging into how innovative companies, communities and individuals are helping countries handle an over-abundance of trash and discovering treasure in the new ways found to boost recycling.


Reverse vending machine rewarding recyclers with coupons and vouchers in Columbia
Columbia: Reverse vending machine rewarding recyclers with coupons and vouchers (image courtesy of Ecobot)

Colombia’s Ecobot, for example, has managed to make recycling an appealing activity by offering rewards for doing the right thing. Using a reverse-vending model, people interact with the Ecobot by inserting recyclable materials, such as cans and bottles, into the unit. The Ecobot then stores their deposits and provides coupons or vouchers for restaurants, shops and even services such as Uber rides. Created by Santiago Aramburo, Ecobot was designed in the hope of improving the country’s lowly 17% average of garbage being reprocessed.


Queue of citizens in Indonesia who can trade their garbage for medicine and medical services
Indonesia: Citizens queue to trade their garbage for medicine and medical services (image courtesy of Empowering People Network)

Spearheaded by Dr Gamala Albinsaid, Indonesia’s revolutionary approach to recycling creates an invaluable community service known as Garbage Clinical Insurance. In what is essentially a micro-insurance plan paid for with junk, citizens can trade their garbage for medicine and medical services. Dr Gamala Albinsaid explains that by crowd-collecting garbage in this way and converting organic waste into fertilisers, compost and recyclable products, the project is able to use the profits to fund their five clinics in Malang City.


Facility to convert garbage into ethanol and methanol in Canada
Canada: Facility to convert garbage into ethanol and methanol (image courtesy of Enerkem)

Canada’s Enerkem is a recycling specialist offering an array of different innovative garbage-treatment operations. The company spearheads the processes that convert non-recyclable and non-compostable waste into ethanol and methanol, both of which are renewable biofuels. Their solution therefore not only helps address the country’s waste challenge, but works to cut greenhouse gas emissions, too.


Providing a recycling solution  well-suited to a developing nation, Professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan, also known as the ‘Plastic Man’, has designed a way to transform plastic into a substitute for bitumen; the main ingredient in asphalt used for road construction. By 2015, 11 Indian states had already created over 3,000 miles of road using this plastic waste-bitumen substitute, which offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional road-building materials. The total distance mapped has now passed the 20,000-mile mark and continues gowing year by year. India also has other eco-friendly approaches to waste that can provide lessons for the rest of the world, including the groundbreaking I Got Garbage movement,  an initiative of tech pioneer Mindtree in the area of rag-picker livelihood and solid waste management.


Last but not least is an alternative use for recycled materials that helps highlight waste issues and influence behaviour-change, but does so in a fun way, engaging the next generation through play. The novel approach adopted by Ruganzu Bruno and Eco Art Uganda serves as a creative and charming means of dealing with rubbish; transforming it into something beautiful. These eco-conscious artists have created a small ‘amusement park’ from waste to promote environmental awareness, complete with fully functioning swings and life-size board games. Everything, from the playgrounds to the fences, is made from plastic bottles and other recycled materials.

Tom Simpkins is a Research Specialist, exploring new eco-friendly approaches to plastic pollution, recycling methods and waste management, representing the recycling-conscious house-clearance experts at No 1 Junk Street.

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