The recycling rate is the total waste recycled from the total waste generated. Recycled waste includes the export and import of waste intended for recycling (UNEP, 2019). Table 1 lists the recycling rates of municipal solid waste in member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Excluding Singapore, most of the countries have less than 50% recycling rates because landfills, open dumps, and open burning are amongst the predominant forms of waste treatment in these countries.

Table 1. Recycling Rates of Municipal Solid Waste in ASEAN Countries

Recycling: Recycling Rate (Table 1)

Country Recycling Rate
Brunei 15%
Cambodia <50%
Indonesia <50%
Lao PDR <50%
Malaysia 50–60% (plastic, paper, metal)
<50% (others)
Myanmar 70% (plastic, paper, metal)
Singapore >90% (Fe, construction and demolition, used slag)
>80% (scrap tire)
>80% (wood)
50–60% (paper, horticulture)
>50% (others)
60% (overall)
Thailand >90% (metal)
50–60% (paper, construction)
<50% (others)
Philippines 30–70% (aluminium)
28–60% (glass)
23–42% (plastic)
20–58% (other metals)
20–33% (paper)
Viet Nam >90% (metal)
>70% (plastic, e-waste)
50% (paper)
<50% (others)

Source: UNEP (2017).

The recycling rate is commonly used as an indicator of the progress of national waste recycling activities. However, at least two factors cause a level of uncertainty and confusion, which could interfere in evidence-based policy-making processes.

First, because it is the informal sector that engages in waste-picking, sale of recyclables from households or offices to junk buyers and small-junk shops, and back-yard recycling (Hotta et al., 2014), the recycling rate is potentially underestimated. The informal sector’s recycling activities are mostly unrecorded (Hotta et al., 2016). The inclusion of such informal activities will increase the accuracy and validity of the recycling rate.

Second, the recycling rate is defined in various ways according to the goals of national policy (Hotta et al., 2014). Therefore, a specific national recycling rate will not be valid for regional or international comparability. The measurement of the recycling rate could cover four different aspects of policy: (1) recycled content (ratio of recycled materials in a certain product), (2) ratio of materials recovered from end-of-life product lifecycle (efficiency of resource recovery of existing recycling systems or facilities), (3) ratio of collected used materials for recycling purpose (collection rate), and (4) waste diversion rate (percentage of a potentially recyclable material  diverted out of the waste disposal stream and therefore not landfilled). Inter-country comparison based on one aspect is not fair. To harmonise it, a standardised measurement is urgently needed (Hotta et al., 2016).

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed a guideline to standardise recycling measurements to help state and local agencies in the United States measure the municipal solid waste recycling activities. It provides survey forms and worksheets with instructions.

Similarly, the European Environment Agency has published a report that includes a model of gathering the recycling rates amongst European countries. Although these countries do not experience uncertainty due to the absence of informal sector, their recycling rates were calculated in a clearly defined way: as a percentage of municipal waste recycled and composted or digested relative to the total municipal waste generated.

Using such recycling rate data, they could analyse and conclude that most European countries will still have to make an extraordinary effort to achieve the 50% recycling target by 2020. Such analysis is important not only in monitoring the progress but also in enhancing good competition amongst countries towards the legally binding recycling target. Still, the report underlines the need to harmonise national reporting methodologies, especially on waste fractions to be included when reporting on municipal waste. Some countries excluded or included only a minimum amount of packaging recycling due to varying definitions of municipal waste. Additionally, the report claims that adopting a right combination of national and regional policy instruments could be the key to increasing the recycling rate in the region, especially towards achieving 65% recycling rate by 2030 as targeted by the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package.

Some ASEAN countries have been conducting various measures to increase their recycling rates. Regional waste management schemes (e.g. intermunicipal cooperation and public and private partnership [PPP]) are amongst the effective measures. The Philippines has been enhancing compliance of local governments with Republic Act No. 9003, which mandates them to manage their own waste by installing materials recovery facilities. The promotion of local collaboration through clustering is optimised through provision of technical and financial assistance from the national or provincial government (Atienza, 2020). Thailand is promoting its Public–Private Partnership for Plastic and Waste Management (PPP Plastic), established by plastic alliances in June 2018 and aimed at reducing marine plastic debris by at least 50% by 2027, in line with Thailand’s Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management 2018–2030. Meanwhile, Indonesia is strengthening its waste bank role through the Minister of Environment and Forestry Decree No. 14/2021 on Waste Management in Waste Bank, which includes waste bank functions such as education and behavioural change media towards circular economy implementation. It also covers incentives to waste banks in the form of rewards, good performance exposure, recommendations for waste management financing support, and training.

However, to validate such good practices, a comparison of recycling rates amongst countries is required. To do this, harmonised measurement shall be designed by the region through government bodies such as ASEAN. By adopting this harmonised measurement, apple-to-apple comparisons can be made. The countries could also share lessons and establish healthy competition towards achieving jointly mandated regional recycling targets. Such synergic collaboration will strongly support the adoption of ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States (2021–2025).


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