Reported total waste generation within the EU and the European Free Trade Area increased by nearly 10% between 1990 and 1995, while economic growth was about 6.5% in constant prices. Half the waste comes from the manufacturing industry and construction and demolition activities, while municipal waste, mining waste and waste from other sources each contribute about one sixth of the total. In the Accession Countries, amounts of industrial waste per capita are higher, while volumes of municipal waste are currently lower than the EU average.
Limited current systematic and consistent data hinder the development of projections for future waste trends. Nevertheless, most waste streams will probably increase over the next decade. In 2010 the generation of paper and cardboard, glass and plastic waste will increase by around 40% to 60% compared with 1990 levels. The number of scrapped cars should increase less, by around 35% compared with 1995 levels.
Today waste is also produced as a result of society’s attempt to solve other environmental problems such as water and air pollution. Some of these increasing amounts of waste give rise to new problems, such as sewage sludge and residues from cleaning of flue gases.
In most EU countries landfilling is still the most common treatment route for waste and a major change is needed in order to implement the EU strategy on waste. Furthermore, as illustrated by municipal waste, there has been no general improvement in this trend in the 1990s.
Paper and glass are some of the waste fractions where Member States have followed the Community waste strategy of increasing recycling instead of energy recovery and landfilling. However, the development has been only a partial success, because the total amount of waste paper and waste glass (container glass) generation has also increased in the same period.
Sewage sludge and end-of-life vehicles are other waste streams where substantial increases in quantities can be expected, calling for more efficient waste management practices.
The quantities of waste are now so big that transport of waste represents a significant part of total transport: in France, for instance, waste accounts for 15% of total weight of freight. The environmental impact of this remains to be assessed.