Best cities for recycling

Research from Business Waste UK shows which cities have the best recycling rates

Vancouver (pictured above) is suffering from horrendously high temperatures, which scientists believe are linked to climate change. But the city is doing its bit for the environment when it comes to recycling, having upped its rates to 60 per cent over the past decade. By contrast Kuwait has one of the worst rates, put at just 10 per cent. 

Top 15 greenest cities in the world, based on recycling rates:
1. Vancouver - Canada’s shining jewel when it comes to recycling, the city of Vancouver has increased its rate from 40 to over 60 per cent in just over a decade, with a goal of 80 per cent. The city does this by making recycling part of the circular economy and innovative schemes that reward businesses which upcycle or reuse materials.
2. Singapore City - Singapore generates an impressively small amount of landfill waste per person each year - just 307 kg, compared with the average of 380 kg across the rest of Asia, according to the Siemens Green City Index. It has a goal to recycle 70 per cent of its waste by 2030, and has increased business participation by introducing laws which make companies responsible for the waste they generate.
3. Copenhagen - aiming for a 70 per cent recycling rate, Copenhagen benefits from the Danes’ enthusiastic support for waste reduction (Circular Copenhagen). Door-to-door collections make it as easy as possible for citizens, and Copenhagen is working towards becoming a zero waste municipality by 2050.
4. Helsinki - despite struggling with waste collections during the frozen winter months, Helsinki recycles 58 per cent of its waste. The city has been improving its eco credentials - including green taxis - in recent years, introducing schemes to recycle construction waste and adding a much-needed plastics recycling scheme.
5. Curitiba - Awarded the title of Sustainable City in 2010, Brazil’s Curitiba is environmentally focused by design. A piece in Smart Cities Connect has explored how it prioritises pedestrians over cars, has interconnected green spaces, and - most impressively - has a ‘green exchange’ which allows the city’s poor to exchange collected rubbish (two thirds of which are recycled) for fresh food.
6. Delhi - this city has some of the worst traffic congestion in the world, meaning its CO2 emissions are very high. However, it's making efforts to reduce waste and get residents to recycle their rubbish. The city has created ‘eco-clubs’ in over 1,000 schools,with the aim of getting children to understand the importance of protecting the environment. 
7. Los Angeles - Los Angeles recycles almost 80 per cent of its waste according to Columbia Climate School - more than most cities in Europe. Led by a city-wide education drive and company tax concessions for recycling, LA is on a zero waste drive.
8. Leeds -  Leeds is a great city and it's recycling rates are good - around 40 per cent of its waste overall is diverted from landfill. Its ‘Leeds by Example’ scheme has placed over 180 on-street recycling points across the city, which have almost tripled individuals' recycling rates in the city centre to 49 per cent. The scheme represents the UK’s biggest effort to improve the level of food and drink packaging recycling rates.

9. Vienna -  Innovative Vienna is unusual for keeping its waste management entirely within city bounds rather than shipping it elsewhere (Bloomberg) - and since the introduction of recycling plants in the 1980s, recycling containers for metals, plastics and glass are found all over the city. While Austria has some way to go when it comes to recycling on the whole, Vienna is improving each year.
10. Stockholm - Stockholm is an exceptional example of recycling in Europe, having undergone something of a revolution. According to, 50 per cent of its waste was turned into energy in 2019 and 84 per cent of cans and bottles were recycled. Clothing recycling is also a huge part of Stockholm’s economy, with homegrown fashion giant H&M offering garment recycling in its city stores.
11. Seattle - One city using tech to tackle waste problems is Seattle in Washington State. The city’s use of an app called Recycle-It allows citizens to check waste removal dates and set reminders, and has helped increase Seattle’s engagement with its compulsory recycling scheme.
12. Songdo - This South Korean 'smart city' is doing something revolutionary with its waste disposal system. As reported in Bloomberg City Labs, a series of underground pipes automatically collect waste and take them to a processing facility nearby, meaning residents have no excuse not to help Songdo meet its recycling goals.
13. Kamikatsu - not a city, but a village isolated on the side of a mountain, Kamikatsu is widely known as the ‘waste free town’. Due to its remote location, locals separate their waste into a staggering 34 categories to ensure its waste reduction can be optimised without the need for costly (and environmentally-unfriendly) transportation of waste.
14. Ekilstuna - Sweden’s Ekilstuna is one of the most environmentally-friendly cities in the world overall. Biofuel public transport and low-carbon power plants earn it this title - helped by the city’s 100 per cent recycled shopping mall, Retuna, where all goods are donated by citizens and resold on, creating a truly circular economy.
15. San Francisco - Landfill disposal here is at its lowest rate ever, thanks to around 80 per cent of its waste being diverted via reduction, reuse, and recycling schemes every year. As such San Francisco is one of the most successful cities in the world when it comes to minimising landfill waste. The authorites engage people by using a mix of incentives, educational programmes and easy to use recycling systems.
But what of the cities where recycling is low on the priority list? Despite global efforts to reduce, reuse and recycling, many cities have yet to get recycling fully embedded in the culture.

Top five least green cities in the world
1. Mexico City - While recycling initiatives have been launched in Mexico City, it has yet to run a smooth system and relies on private waste management. The city closed its largest landfill site, where over 70 million tonnes of waste are already buried and causing environmental problems, almost a decade ago, leading to illegal dumping grounds forming and streets piled high with waste. Just 15 per cent of the city’s waste is regularly recycled, leaving much room for improvement.
2. Beijing - In 2017, Beijing, with a population of 21 million, incinerated or sent to landfill almost all (95 per cent) of its waste according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics - a shocking number for such a densely populated city. Despite historically poor recycling rates, China’s ban on importing landfill waste from other countries in 2017 has led to improved efforts to responsibly process its own waste.
3. Kolkata -  India’s Kolkata has recycling rates well below the international average. While India recycles approximately 60 per cent of its plastic waste, the city of Kolkata is growing so quickly that it struggles to implement effective recycling collection and processing, leading to a growing problem with landfill in the area. It’s a problem which faces many fast-developing cities, who are under both ethical and legal pressure to meet increasingly important global targets.
4. New York - it isn’t only developing cities which are wasteful.. the Big Apple, despite aggressive recycling drives across the city, fails at the most important hurdle - producing less waste in the first place. According to Grow NYC, in 2019 the city’s residents produced 12,000 tonnes of waste per day, which it farms out largely to nearby landfill sites.
5. Kuwait - Being an incredibly wealthy city doesn’t mean having a robust recycling programme.Despite being in one of the richest countries in the world in terms of GDP, Kuwait City’s citizens generate twice the global average of waste per day and less than 10 per cent of it is recycled. Grassroots movements to improve recycling in the city have been introduced, but it has a long way to go.