The UK headed the leader board of the fastest growing recyclers in Europe in 2010, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The share of municipal recycled waste in the UK rose from 12% to 39% between 2001 and 2010, the EEA said.
Ireland raised recycling rates from 11% to 36% over the same period.
However countries with the highest recycling rates were Austria on 63%, Germany (62%), Belgium (58%) and the Netherlands and Switzerland jointly on 51% – all therefore meeting the EU target of 50% recycled household waste a decade ahead of schedule.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director, said: “In a relatively short time, some countries have successfully encouraged a culture of recycling, with infrastructure, incentives and public awareness campaigns.
“But others are still lagging behind, wasting huge volumes of resources. The current intense demand for some materials should alert countries to the clear economic opportunities in recycling.”
Despite the high recycling rates the EEA warned that many countries will find it “extremely difficult” to hit EU-mandated targets to recycle 50% of household and similar waste by 2020.
Most countries would need to make what the EEA called “extraordinary efforts” to achieve this figure by the deadline.