Italy is the European country that recycles the most waste, according to the European Commission’s Report on economic, social, and territorial cohesion. The Report was published in December 2021. 

The EU Commission 8th Report on Cohesion
The EU Commission 8th Report on Cohesion

Italy recycles 79% of the waste it collects, slightly above Belgium, which reaches 77%. In both countries, recycling is by far the dominant treatment mode. 

The share of waste recycled in Italy doubles the EU average, well above all the other large European countries (France recycles 56% of what it collects, the United Kingdom 50%, Germany 43%). Besides, despite an already high recycling rate, Italy still managed to improve its performance over time. From 2010 to 2018, the recycling rate in Italy grew by 8.7%. 

As Italian online outlet Il Fatto Alimentare explains, “in Italy, the entire recycling chain is worth a total of over 70 billion euros in turnover, 14.2 billion in added value, and over 213,000 employees.  

A paper recycling factory in Italy
A paper recycling factory in Italy

Reaching a high percentage of recycling is very important for sustainability. Recycling not only helps reduce waste production and raw materials consumption, but it also leads to substantial savings in energy consumption and consequently contributes to reducing climate-changing emissions.” 

In 2018, only eight EU Member States recycled more than 50% of what they collect, and the numbers were much lower in others, for example in Bulgaria and Romania where only 3% of garbage is recycled.  

The recycling share in the whole European Union has slightly increased, from 37% of total waste treated in 2010 to 38% in 2018. In 2018, the EU produced more than 2.3 billion tons of waste (around 5.2 tons per person).  

waste recycling

Construction is the main source of waste generation in the EU (being responsible for 36% of the total in 2018), followed by mining and quarrying (26%), manufacturing (11%), waste and water services (10%), households (8%), other services and energy (4% each). 

Waste production follows the business cycle closely. It fell in 2008 when the financial and economic crisis struck, but increased with the recovery to levels higher than before.