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Germany outperforming other EU countries in terms of sustainability goals

The Circular Economy Index takes into account seven key metrics – annual municipal waste per person, municipal recycling rate, trade of recyclable raw materials, material reuse rate, investments in circular economy sectors, circular economy patents, and annual food waste per person. 

According to the Index, the top five out of the EU’s 28 nations are Germany, France, United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Italy. The worst performing nations are Greece, Malta and Cyprus.

In general, countries with the highest circular economy scores have robust recycling systems in place and high levels of innovation in circular economy sectors.

Bigger countries also tended to have higher circular economy scores, due in part to the fact that they have larger economies with more private investment and patents. The two metrics that most closely align with the final ranking are the number of patents and investment and jobs in circular economy sectors.

Germany took the crown on the Index due to its recycling rate and patents related to the circular economy, which Politico estimates at 1260 – significantly more than any other country in the EU, with France second in that category at 542 patents. Germany is also particularly well known for its waste-to-energy sector.

The country takes about 5% of its waste to landfill, 65% goes toward recycling and 30% goes to waste-to-energy. Germany is also the testbed for Volvo’s newest electric refuse truck – the FE Electric, which is capable of carrying up to 27 metric tonnes.

Overall, the EU has made significant efforts to promote a circular economy, and earlier this year adopted a new set of measures, including a EU-wide strategy for plastics in the circular economy, a monitoring framework on progress, and a report on critical raw materials.

The EU has also set targets including recycling 65% of municipal waste and 75% of packaging waste by 2030, and banning the landfilling of separately collected waste.

According to Politico’s estimates, Germany is the only country that has already hit the 2030 municipal recycling target, with Slovenia, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands trailing closely behind, while the chances for Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Malta to reach the goal look bleak.

One particular country to watch as the EU moves towards these targets is the UK, which is slated to leave the EU on March 29 2019 following Brexit negotiations.

As it inches toward independence, the UK is responsible for developing its own legislation around waste management, and is currently considering a tax on firms that package goods in unrecyclable plastics in an effort to eliminate plastic waste by 2042.