16 November 2016 by Robin Nierynck

Recycling rates in Europe continue to rise, EEA claims

European countries are improving their diversion of household waste from landfill, a European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment has suggested.

In particular, the move away from landfill has been accompanied by a considerable rise in recycling rates across Europe over the past decade, due in part to European environmental policies, according to the EEA report, published this week (14 November).

Recycling rates are continuing to rise across Europe, the EEA has claimed

Recycling rates are continuing to rise across Europe, the EEA has claimed

But, the Agency, which monitors environmental performance in Europe, has called for improvements in waste data capture and harmonisation of national reporting methodologies, as current discrepancies are a barrier to progress.

Landfill decline

The EEA briefing, titled ‘Municipal waste management across European countries,’ compiled the latest EEA member countries’ data on waste management practices (including the 28 EU Member States plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, with some information on Western Balkan countries).

Figures showed that the volume of municipal waste going to landfill in the 32 EEA member countries fell from 49% in 2004 to 34% in 2014. Overall, landfill rates decreased in 27 out of 32 countries. In Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, virtually no municipal waste was sent to landfill sites.

In the United Kingdom, municipal waste generated per person declined from 602kg in 2004 to 482kg in 2014. Municipal waste recycling almost doubled from 23% in 2004 to 44% in 2014 (see graph). This put the UK among those countries with the highest increase in recycling rates (increase of 20–29 percentage points) together with Lithuania, Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic

However, while total municipal waste generation in the 32 EEA member countries declined by 3% and average waste generation per person dropped by 7% from 2004-2014, EEA analysis found no uniform trend across countries. Municipal waste generation per person increased in 16 countries and decreased in 19 others.

Recycling in numbers         

Municipal waste recycling in EEA countries – which covers material recycling, composting and digestion of bio-wastes – achieved an average total rate of 33% in 2014, compared with 23% in 2004. For EU Member States, this rose to 37% to 44% over the same 2004-2014 period.

Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden recycled at least half of their municipal waste, statistics showed. Overall, in 15 out of 32 countries, the increase in recycling rates was at least 10 percentage points over the 2004-2014 period. As such, increased recycling rates and declining rates of landfilling are clearly linked, the Agency concluded.

This link is remarkable, the EEA claimed, as usually landfilling declines much faster than the growth in recycling, as waste management strategies mostly move from landfill towards a combination of recycling and incineration

Figure 1: Municipal waste recycling in 34 European countries (2004 and 2014)

Future progress

Despite this progress, the EEA concluded that the outlook for reaching the EU’s 50% recycling target for municipal waste by 2020 is “mixed” and noted that many countries “will have to step up their efforts.”

The Agency also noted that the data used was limited in some cases, as Member States can choose between four different methods to monitor their progress, and countries have different definitions of what constitutes municipal waste or the make-up of recycled material.

As such, the EEA called for “improvements in waste data and harmonisation of national reporting methodologies,” as the difficulties in comparing data are a barrier to assessing progress and to the effectiveness of policy measures.

In this regard, the EEA welcomed the European Commission’s proposal to amend the Waste Framework Directive, which includes a new target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030 and a revision of definitions and calculation methods (EC, 2015). These proposals are part of the Commission’s circular economy package which aim to maintain the value of products, materials and resources in the economy for as long as possible.

While municipal waste only accounts for around 10% of total waste generated in the EU, it “remains a visible problem,” according to the EEA, and “preventing it reduces the associated environmental pressures and recycling would help turn waste turns it into a valuable source of material for the economy.”

Related links

Municipal waste management across European countries 

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