In Europe, we currently use 16 tonnes of material per person per year, of which 6 tonnes become waste. Although the management of that waste continues to improve in the EU, the European economy currently still loses a significant amount of potential ‘secondary raw materials’ such as metals, wood, glass, paper, plastics present waste streams. In 2010, total waste production in the EU amounted to 2,5 billion tons. From this total, only a limited (albeit increasing) share (36%) was recycled, with the rest was landfilled or burned, of which some 600 million tons could be recycled or reused.

Just in terms of household waste alone, each person in Europe is currently producing, on average, half of tonne of such waste. Only 40 % of it is reused or recycled and in some countries, more than 80% still goes to landfill

source: Environmental Data Centre on Waste, Eurostat.

Waste generation in Europe

From 2005 to 2016 the average amount of municipal waste as measured per capita declined by 7% in the EU. However, trends can vary by country.  Wealthier states tend to produce more waste per capita. Tourism also contributes to higher rates.

Waste management

In order to look after the environment, waste either needs to be avoided or treated to reduce its impact. The EU wants to promote the prevention of waste and the re-use of products as much as possible. If this is not possible it prefers recycling (including composting), followed by using waste to generate energy. The most harmful option for the environment and people’s health is simply disposing of waste, for example on landfill, although it is also one of the cheapest possibilities.

According to statistics from 201647% of all municipal waste in the EU is recycled or composted. However, waste management practices vary a lot between EU countries and quite a few countries are still landfilling large amounts of municipal waste. Landfilling is almost non-existent in countries such as Denmark, Sweden or Germany (among others). Here incineration plays an important role alongside recycling. Germany and Austria are also Europe’s top recycling countries. The practice of landfilling remains popular in the eastern and southern parts of Europe. Twelve countries landfill almost half or more of their municipal waste. In Malta, Greece, Cyprus and Romania this is more than 80%; in Croatia, Latvia, Slovakia and Bulgaria more than 60%; while it is also more than half in Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Portugal. Other countries also use incineration and send almost a third or less of their waste to landfill: Estonia, Luxembourg, France, Ireland, Slovenia, Italy, the UK, Lithuania and Poland. Apart from Estonia, these countries also recycled more than 40% of household waste. Between 2004 and 2014, landfilling decreased substantially in Estonia (57 percentage points), Finland (41 percentage points), Slovenia (41 percentage points) and the UK (41 percentage points).