Future Waste Amounts in the EU

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Abstract

As waste generation and economic activity are closely related, it is possible to predict how much waste we will generate in years to come. Such projections are, however, subject to much uncertainty, especially because the necessary basis in the form of data on waste is, at the EU level, incomplete and lacks harmonisation. Nevertheless, the ETC/W has made such projections for household waste, waste paper and cardboard, waste glass and end-of-life vehicles, covering the years 1995 to 2010. Household waste amounts, for example, are expected to increase by 22 per cent, i.e. from 151 million tonnes to 191 million tonnes. Waste paper and cardboard will increase by between 44 per cent and 62 per cent from 1995 to 2010. And the impressive increase in recycling rates percentage is not expected to be able to offset the increase in consumption. It means the absolute amount going to landfill or incineration will be the same in 2010. Waste glass is expected to increase by between 24 per cent and 53 per cent from 1995 to 2010. Recycling alone cannot solve the waste problem. Solutions should be looked for in the form of, for example, higher-quality products in terms of durability and repairability, and extended use of deposit and return schemes for glass packaging.

Introduction

In general, waste generation is governed by two factors. The first factor is how efficiently we exploit resources in our production. The second factor is the amount of products produced and consumed. As amounts of produced and consumed products are decisive, it will normally be possible to demonstrate a correlation between economic activity in society and its waste generation.

For example, waste generation in the European OECD countries increased by almost 10 per cent from 1990 to 1995, whereas economic growth reached around 6.5 per cent in fixed prices (EEA, 1998a).

Generally, waste data from the EU Member States are incomplete and lack harmonisation, and therefore data should first and foremost be used to show tendencies. For the same reason, it is extremely difficult to make projections for future waste developments in the EU.

Nevertheless, the European Topic Centre on Waste has made projections for waste generation in the EU in the period from 1995-2010 covering the waste types household waste, waste paper and cardboard, waste glass, and end-of-life-vehicles. The work was carried out at the request of the European Environment Agency. In the following, the projections for household waste, waste paper and cardboard and waste glass are discussed. (1)

Projection Methodology

The projection methodology is based on the assumption that there is a direct correlation between waste generation and the waste generating economic activity. The task thereby consists of linking waste amounts and economic activities at a detailed level and testing whether historic data show proportionality between waste amounts and economic activity. On this basis, a formula has been set up and subsequently used for projections.

Projections may also be made using a constant waste coefficient between waste generation and economic activity. The coefficient is based on a base year. In both cases (formula or constant waste coefficient) Mr Frits Møller Andersen from the Risø National Laboratory has made the projections.

For waste paper and cardboard, reasonably good historic data are available from 1983 to 1996. For waste glass, reasonably good data are available from 1990 to 1996. Only very few countries have long time series for household waste data.

Concerning economic data it was found too simple to only relate waste generation to developments in the overall gross national product or private consumption. Part of the method has therefore been to find areas of economic activity and consumption characterising household waste, waste glass, and waste paper and cardboard respectively. For this task, OECD outlines of national accounts 1983-1996 have been used. The projection methodology for household waste is considerably more refined than the projections made by Coopers & Lybrand in 1996, which were based on total private consumption.

Household Waste

Due to lack of waste data is has only been possible to make projections based on constant coefficients. The results show that in the EU as a whole household waste generation will increase by 22 per cent in the period from 1995 to 2010, corresponding to an increase from 151 to 191 million tonnes.

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