European recycling report shows new leaders emerging

A new report from the European Environment Agency finds that “Europe is still wasting vast quantities of valuable resources by sending them to landfill, and many countries risk falling short of legally binding recycling targets”.

Overall 35 % of municipal waste was recycled in Europe in 2010, a significant improvement on 23 % in 2001. Recycling rates are highest in Austria, with 63 %, followed by Germany (62 %), Belgium (58 %), the Netherlands (51 %) and Switzerland (51 %). The United Kingdom increased the share of municipal waste recycling from 12 to 39 % between 2001 and 2010, while Ireland raised recycling rates from 11 to 36% over the same period. The amount of waste sent to landfill has decreased since 2001, while Europe has increased the amount of waste incinerated, composted and recycled.

The reports findings include:

  • Recycling can reduce greenhouse gases and save valuable resources. This is because recycled materials replace virgin materials. From a life-cycle perspective, changing municipal waste treatment between 2001 and 2010 has successfully cut greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste by 56 %, or 38 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, the report says.
  • Preventing waste in the first place is the first priority of EU waste legislation. The municipal waste generated by each EU citizen fell by 3.6 % between 2001 and 2010. However, this may be due to the economic downturn – waste generation per capita was quite stable between 2001 and 2007.
  • Municipal waste produced by the average Slovakian increased by 39% between 2001 and 2010, while Norwegians and Croatians increased annual municipal waste by 30 and 25 % respectively. At the other end of the scale, several countries reduced the amount of waste they generated – including Bulgaria (18 % reduction), Estonia (17 %), Slovenia (12 %) and the UK (12 %).
  • Improved recycling rates are primarily due to trends in recycling of materials, with less progress in bio-waste recycling.
  • Countries that successfully reduced waste sent to landfill and increased recycling usually used a range of national and regional instruments. These included landfill bans on biodegradable waste or municipal waste that has not been pre-treated, mandatory separate collection of municipal waste fractions, economic instruments such as landfill and incineration taxes, and waste collection fees incentivising recycling.

The report and its individual country supplements present a very useful resource on waste management and social engagement technologies. Our sister publication, Gallon Environment Letter, will be presenting a summary of some of the highlights from this massive data resource in an early issue. To subscribe to Gallon Environment Letter visit http://www.cialgroup.ca/subscription.htm

For more information on the EEA report Managing Municipal Solid Waste, a copy of the report (free)  and its country supplements (also free) visit http://www.eea.europa.eu/pressroom/newsreleases/highest-recycling-rates-in-austria

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