Managing municipal solid waste - a review of achievements in 32 European countries

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Improved waste management is an essential element in efforts to make Europe more resource efficient. If a country is to generate greater economic returns at lower costs to the environment then it must find ways to extract more value from the resources that it takes from nature, while cutting the burden of emissions and waste. One key means of achieving that is by shifting waste management up the waste hierarchy — reducing waste disposal (for example landfilling) and instead focusing on waste prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery.

In recent years these important goals have been integrated into European environmental policy, notably the European Commission's Roadmap on a resource efficient Europe (EC, 2011) and the EU's Waste Framework Directive (EU, 2008). But national efforts to shift up the waste hierarchy have been under way for longer, in large part driven by earlier EU legislation such as the Landfill Directive (EU, 1999). Together, these instruments establish a range of waste management targets and broader goals for the years to 2020.

Effective implementation of these waste policies demands an understanding of what has been achieved so far and progress towards future targets. The present report responds to that need, reviewing national municipal solid waste management in EEA member countries (the EU-27, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey) and Croatia for the period 2001–2010. It demonstrates that the municipal waste management landscape has changed significantly during that period.

Municipal solid waste (referred to simply as 'municipal waste' in this report) has been chosen in part because the 2008 Waste Framework Directive introduced a new 50 % recycling target for such waste. In addition, municipal waste is primarily a public sector responsibility and the current economic situation in many EU Member States demands an added focus on how to achieve policy goals most cost-effectively.

Key findings
Although only a few countries reduced their municipal waste output between 2001 and 2010, there are clear indications of a shift away from landfilling towards preferred waste management approaches. The number of countries that landfill more than 75 % of municipal waste output decreased sharply, while the numbers recycling more than a quarter of their municipal waste recorded the opposite trend. Nevertheless, the majority of countries still landfilled more than half of their municipal waste in 2010.

In general, there have been substantial increases in the proportion of municipal waste recycled. Twelve countries increased the percentage recycled by more than 10 percentage points between 2001 and 2010 and another ten achieved increases of 5.10 percentage points (calculated as a share of municipal waste generated). In the remaining countries, however, the average increase was negligible and in five cases it was actually negative.

Progress in enhancing recycling rates is primarily due to trends in recycling of materials, with bio.waste recycling performing less well. Whereas 19 countries achieved fairly substantial increases in their material recycling rates, there was comparatively little change in national bio.waste recycling rates. This suggests that, despite significant achievements in increasing material recycling in some countries, there is a need for greater focus on bio-waste recycling in line with the Waste Framework Directive's waste hierarchy.

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