Reducing Waste: 10 Lessons from the World’s Most Sustainable Countries
When it comes to reducing waste, it can be hard to know where to start, never mind finding the motivation to keep going. Take inspiration from around the globe to fuel your zero-waste journey!
Estimated Read Time: 5 minutes
Reducing waste at home
Let’s not beat around the bush, the main reason some countries are more sustainable than others is largely to do with governmental initiatives, not the general population.
It’s important to consider what different governments are doing to reduce waste and to hold large corporations accountable for their (or their lack of) sustainability efforts.
That said, at ZeroWasteStore.com, we believe that every small change can make a difference. We’ve been around the globe (*cough* Google) to find different ways the world’s most sustainable countries are reducing waste, and we’ve turned them into habits and swaps you can implement today.
You might not be able to turn your country into a plastic-free paradise overnight, but you can take a world of knowledge into your own home. And who knows, maybe you’ll inspire others in your community to make a change too?
The world’s most sustainable countries
Photo by Sandro Kradolfer on Unsplash
The word ‘sustainable’ is a loose term that can mean a lot of different things. When it comes to the world’s most sustainable countries, it really depends on how you’re defining it.
We’ve taken this list from the Environmental Performance Index, which measures the performance of 180 countries. Using 40 performance indicators, it scores and ranks the countries, based on climate change performance, environmental health, and ecosystem vitality.
The top 10 countries in 2022 were:
- United Kingdom
Aside from where to go on a Euro trip, what can we learn from these countries?
10 global lessons for reducing waste
Many cool and innovative policies make these countries top of the list, if you’re an eco-geek like us, we recommend reading more into them.
To keep things simple here, we’ve taken one key lesson from each place and turned it into an action plan you implement right away.
Lesson from Denmark: Eat locally and seasonally
Denmark is a leading country when it comes to sustainable food…and no, we’re not talking about Danish pastries.
The Danish Agricultural and Food Council has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. Though This it sounds ambitious, it reflects the general attitude towards food in Denmark and its neighboring countries. The Nordic Diet, as well as highly nutritious, focuses on local and seasonal produce.
This reduces the distance food has to travel and in turn, reduces carbon emissions.
Action plan: Once a week (or as often as you can), cook a meal from scratch based on ingredients that are in season where you live.
Lesson from the UK: Say no to plastic straws and bags
Since 2015, shops in the UK have charged an additional fee for plastic bags, to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable alternatives. In 2020, the UK also banned plastic straws, most being replaced by paper ones instead.
So, like a true Brit, politely decline a plastic straw in your drink when you don’t need one or a plastic bag when you bring your own. Add in a couple of unnecessary apologies, of course.
Lesson from Finland: Invest in reusable items
Finland knows that the best way to reduce waste, is to prevent it from becoming waste in the first place. In 2016, Finland was the first country in the world to prepare a circular economy road map. This outlined their plan to move the country away from a linear ‘make-take-waste’ economy, to a circular one that protects resources and eliminates waste.
You can create a more circular attitude to waste in your own home, swapping singular-use items, for ones that can be used time and time again.
Action plan: Swap single-use items for reusable ones, like our reusable sponge clothes, which replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels.
Lesson from Malta: Make every day a school day
Knowledge is power when it comes to sustainability. In Malta, they’re making sure sustainability is learned about, studied, and explored at various education levels.
In this article by the Malta Sustainability Forum, Alexia Micallef Gatt, a science and biology teacher, says:
Sustainability is really a way of life. Therefore, I believe that values and practices which enable sustainable living should be introduced to children as young as possible. This could help ingrain such good habits, which hopefully become second nature as children grow up.
The University of Malta (UM) also has a sustainability ‘Living Laboratory’, where experiments are carried out using real-life conditions.
We’re lucky to live in a world where there’s a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. Whether it’s documentaries, podcasts, books, or blogs, keep learning about the planet, and how best to take care of it.
Lesson from Sweden: Get involved in your community
Photo by Laurent Perren on Unsplash
Sweden takes a holistic approach to sustainability, which exists alongside the country’s emphasis on overall health and life satisfaction.
Their cities are designed so people can get around by public transport, walking, or cycling alone. Children are taught about environmental issues from a young age. Not to mention Swedes' fun eco-friendly hobbies like ‘plogging’ - litter picking while jogging.
The biggest thing we can take away from the Swedish approach to sustainability is that everyone is involved. Why not see if you can get your community involves in your own sustainability efforts?
Action plan: Find a community sustainability event, like littler picking or a beach clean, near you. Can’t find one? Start one yourself!
Lesson from Luxembourg: Walk, cycle, or carpool where you can
Luxembourg’s sustainability story shows us that it’s never too late to change. At the beginning of the 2010s, the country had among the highest C02 emissions in the world (even higher than the US, despite being a fraction of the size. Now, they’re in the top 10 and have the lowest C02 growth rate. Talk about a plot twist!
How did they make the change? By making it easy to avoid driving. In 2020, they became the first nation in the entire world to have free public transport across the entire country.
Even if you don’t live in an area with accessible and affordable public transport, see if there’s a way you can cut back on car journeys.
Action plan: If you’re traveling a short distance, try walking or cycling instead. For longer journeys, like your commute to work, see if you can share a lift with a friend or colleague.
Lesson from Slovenia: Fall in love with nature
Photo by Johnny Africa on Unsplash
Slovenians are known nature lovers, and it’s no wonder. Home to 20,000 animal and plant species, the country is one of the most diverse in the world. Their quaint capital city, Ljubljana, is Europe’s greenest capital.
Their enthusiasm for nature is perhaps why they’re doing such a good job protecting it. If you love the earth, you’ll be more likely to care for it.
Wherever you live, seek out and find natural beauty near you. Spend time outdoors and let your appreciation for the earth motivate your efforts to look after it.
Action plan: On your next free weekend, plan an adventure to a beauty spot you’ve not yet visited. Whilst you’re there, reflect on the things you’re doing to help protect nature.
Lesson from Austria: Give composting a go
Imagine if organic food was accessible for everyone? Well, in Austria, that’s becoming the reality. It was the first country in the world to establish national regulations for organic farming, and now over 20% of Austria’s farmland follows the organic farming standards.
Of course, buying exclusively organic food isn’t accessible for most people, in most places. If you’re unable to shop organically, why not try your hand at composting? That way you can use your food scraps to create an organic soil fertilizer to grow your own plants and vegetables.
Action plan: Start with this beginners guide to composting
Lesson from Switzerland: Make recycling a habit
Switzerland shares a mission with us: to rethink waste. It’s one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have a landfill AT ALL.
Household recycling is obligatory, and so it’s simply a habit for families to separate their waste. Anything that can’t be recycled is taken to incinerators and transformed into energy.
If you’ve fallen out of the habit of recycling your waste, now’s your sign to get back on it. You can also shop for things made from recycled materials, to support efforts to keep things away from landfills.
Action plan: Learn how to dispose of popular materials properly, to ensure you’re composting, reusing, or recycling wherever possible.
Lesson from Iceland: Choose natural beauty products
Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash
Iceland may seem like a mystical land when you look at images of glaciers, the northern lights, and dreamy lagoons. Its unique beauty is very real though, and they know how to make the most of it.
The famous Blue Lagoon is one example of how the country makes use of its geothermal energy. Both the spa and the research center use active ingredients from geothermal fluids for skincare and health products.
Whilst the location waits on your bucket list, explore natural and sustainable beauty products at home.
Action plan: Audit your personal care routine, and look for natural, eco-friendly, active ingredients instead. We love these 11 women-owned sustainable skincare brands.
Join our Plastic-free July challenge
Have you been participating in Plastic-free July? hopefully this blog has given you some ideas to implement for the second half of the month (and beyond).
If not, don’t worry, it’s not too late to start! Sign up for our newsletter to get weekly challenges, resources, and motivation to make plastic-free habits stick.
Oh, and each week, we’ll be choosing one person who takes us on Instagram to win a kit worth $100!