Waste opportunities: Past and future climate benefits from better municipal waste management in Europe

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

In its 6th Environment Action Programme (2002–2012), the EU set the objective of decoupling waste generation from economic growth. The European Commission's thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste (EU, 2005) called for life-cycle thinking in waste policies and moving towards a recycling society. And in its recent review of the thematic strategy (EU, 2011), the Commission also called for 'better information and forecasts of life-cycle-based environmental and health impacts of the waste policies with a specific focus on resource and climate policies'. This has in turn highlighted the opportunities for improved coherence between policies on waste and those on climate change and resource efficiency.

To help achieve these objectives, the EU has adopted directives to reduce environmental impacts from the waste stage of the product life cycle. The Waste Framework Directive (EU, 2008) aims to improve waste management, mainly by preventing waste and increasing recycling, while the Landfill Directive (EU, 1999) introduced targets to reduce the landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste. These measures will also improve resource efficiency in the EU, since recycled materials can partly replace virgin resources.

The objective of reducing waste generation, including municipal solid waste, has not yet been achieved. Eurostat data indicate that, on average, an EU citizen produced 468 kg of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 1995 and 524 kg in 2008. According to the analysis in the present report, that figure is projected to rise to 558 kg in 2020 if effective policies to reduce waste generation are not put in place. However, all EU Member States are obliged to draw up waste prevention programmes that can help reduce this projected amount.

Encouragingly, ever more MSW is recycled and less is landfilled. The EU recycled 17 % of its MSW in 1995 and 40 % in 2008. In that period, the landfill share dropped from 68 % to 40 %.

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