Waste Management

Waste is an issue that affects us all. We all produce waste: on average, each of the 500 million people living in the EU throws away around half a tonne of household waste every year. This is on top of huge amounts of waste generated from activities such as manufacturing (360 million tonnes) and construction (900 million tonnes), while water supply and energy production generate another 95 million tonnes. Altogether, the European Union produces up to 3 billion tonnes of waste every year.


All this waste has a huge impact on the environment, causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, as well as significant losses of materials - a particular problem for the EU which is highly dependent on imported raw materials. The best solution is, as always, to prevent the production of such waste, reintroducing it into the product cycle by recycling its components where there are ecologically and economically viable methods of doing so.


EU has adopted a series of environmental action plans and a framework of legislation that aims to reduce negative environmental and health impacts and create an energy and resource-efficient economy. The 2008 Waste Framework Directive is the cornerstone of EU waste policy.  The Directive brings a modernised approach to waste management, marking a shift away from thinking about waste as an unwanted burden to seeing it as a valued resource. It focuses on waste prevention and puts in place new targets which will help the EU move towards its goal of becoming a recycling society. It includes targets for EU Member States to recycle 50% of their municipal waste and 70% of construction waste by 2020 (More information on EU waste legislation).


The Directive introduces a five-step waste hierarchy where prevention is the best option, followed by re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery, with disposal such as landfill as the last resort. EU waste legislation aims to move waste management up the waste hierarchy.

Moving towards a recycling society


In some European countries, recycling and recovery are the predominant waste management options, with use of landfills being reduced to negligible amounts, whereas other countries still use landfills for the majority of their waste. It will be a crucial task in the future to move these countries up the waste hierarchy to achieve the EU’s goal of becoming a recycling society.


This is also an economic opportunity. Solid-waste management and recycling industries currently have a turnover of around €137 billion which is just over 1.1% of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product. Together, these areas create over 2 million jobs. Overall, municipal waste recycling increased from 19% to 38% between 1998 and 2007. If European countries recycled 70% of their waste, it could create at least half a million new jobs across Europe.


The development of municipal waste management in 32 European countries (2001-2010) is shown at the Figure (It covers the EU-27 Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey).


* Source: Managing municipal solid waste, EEA Report No 2/20 13.