Waste quantities in Europe are increasing, but links between waste creation and economic activity remain unbroken for many waste streams and countries. The amount of municipal waste generated is considerably higher than the target for 2000 in the EU's fifth environmental action programme target, and a large proportion of biodegradable waste is still disposed of in landfills. These are among the key observations from the European Environment Agency's European Topic Centre on Waste (ETCW) in its most recent annual report.

The ETCW notes that waste represents the loss of material and energy resources; excessive waste generation is a symptom of inefficient production processes, low durability of goods and unsustainable consumption patterns. Waste generation, an indicator of how efficiently society uses raw materials, in Europe is increasing. lt is estimated that 1,300 million tonnes (Mt) of waste is generated each year in the EU. Beneficially, the use of waste taxes is increasing in EEA member countries; some have achieved higher recovery and recycling rates for packaging waste than target values. The most significant environmental impacts of waste are:

The transport of waste is seen as an area of growing concern. French studies reveal that 15 per cent of all freight transport involve waste and waste transport accounts for five per cent of the transport sector's total energy consumption. Transport distances are higher for recycling than for disposal. Environmental pressures caused by the transport of waste will increase as waste is separated into more fractions for different treatment.

Waste generation is currently increasing at a greater rate than economic growth. Waste generated in OECD countries increased by ten per cent between 1990 and 1995. During the same period gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 6.5 per cent. However, there are encouraging signs of progress. Germany, the Netherlands and lceland show successful delinking of municipal waste generation from economic activity. Still, annual per capita waste generation from household and commercial activities is greater than the EU's 5th environmental action programme target for 2000 of municipal waste generation of 300 kg. All EEA member countries have recycling schemes and an average of 13 per cent of municipal waste is collected separately. A large difference exists between northern and southern countries, for example, the Netherlands leads with 38 per cent, whilst five per cent is the average in southern countries.

Approximately 55 Mt of municipal biodegradable waste (paper, paper board, food and organic garden waste) was landfilled in 1995 in EU member states (including lceland and Norway, excluding Portugal) - a major source of the greenhouse gas methane. The EU landfill directive limit for landfilling biodegradable waste is 35 per cent by 2016 (19 Mtpa). Figure 1 illustrates that too much organic matter is consigned to landfills, rather than being composted or incinerated.

Variations in the quantities of waste landfilled can be linked to the way national taxation systems favour incineration over landfill. Figure 2 shows the level of any landfill tax compared with the average extra costs of incineration (compared with landfilling). Despite this, landfill taxes operate in several states to improve the competitive position of recycling and incineration with energy recovery.

Where landfill taxes have been implemented less biodegradable waste than average goes to landfill; Finland is the exception, proving that landfill taxes can only be effective as part of an integrated approach to waste management. Denmark and Norway also tax incineration. Sweden has implemented a scheme to compost ten per cent of all Swedish municipal solid waste (MSW) at a single site. Cement kilns have been converted to large composting vessels. Organic waste is provided by municipalities, super markets, airlines and fast-food chains. A pilot plant near Stockholm converts waste to compost pellets for agricultural and forestry land.







The EU directive on packaging and packaging waste includes measures aimed at preventing waste generation and increasing recovery and recycling of packaging waste. lt is estimated that each person generated 136 kg packaging waste in 1997 (almost one third of total waste from daily household and commercial activities), comprising:

    • paper/card


    • glass


    • plastics


    • metals



Paper and glass recycling are moderately successful, but the rate for plastics packaging remains poor. Only Austria and Germany currently achieve a recycling rate of more than 15 per cent for this waste stream. Europe displays wide-ranging differences in recovery rates, for example six per cent of plastics are recycled in Denrnark compared with 45 per cent in Germany.

The Norwegian approach to reducing waste generation uses economic incentives, including a fixed levy on one-way packaging of EURO1/unit and an environmental tax of EURO.4 on all packaging. The tax is reduced if packaging is returned for recovery or re-use. Glass and PET bottles are returned and re-used under a deposit scheme.

The system saves 83,000 tonnes pa of waste glass (equivalent to 20 kg per person).The ETCW contributed a section on waste to the first EEA indicator-based report Environmental signals 2000. Waste-related indicators addressed both packaging and MSW, for which measurable targets exist. ETCW's views on these indicators are shown in Table 1. ln future, the ETCW believes that priority needs to be given to construction and manufacturing waste streams, hazardous waste and waste transport.

Copies of the report Waste annual topic update 1999 (topic report 2/2000), Kirn Michael Christiansen & Birgit Munck-Kampmann are available free of charge from the European Environment Agency's European Topic Centre on Waste:

Overgaden oven Vandet 48E

1415 Copenhagen K, Denmark

Tel: (Int+45) 32 64 01 64

Fax: (int+45) 32 64 01 60

Email: etcw@mst.dk


The report is also available from the ETCW's website at http://themes.eea.eu.int/ binary/t/toprep02_2000.pdf