Total recycled quantities for six key material types in the EU27 including exports for recycling (11.1) (SCP 015) - Assessment DRAFT created Jan 2013
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Waste and material resources (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- SCP 015
Key policy question: 11. Is Europe moving towards a closed loop society?
Europe appears not to be moving closer to a closed loop society within its internal market. While, yearly recycled quantities of plastic, paper, glass, metals, textiles and wood waste generated in the EU increased by 11.1 million tonnes (7%) between 2004 and 2008, almost all of the increase resulted from a sharp rise in net exports of waste for recycling overseas. Yearly exports of waste for recycling had increased by a further 8 million tonnes by 2010. This may suggest some movement towards a closed loop society when treatment of European waste is viewed from a more global perspective.
Total recycled quantities for six key material types in the EU27 including exports for recycling
Note: Time series of total recycling amounts for six different material types, as reported by the EU27, plus the net exports of wastes of those 6 materials for the purpose of recycling in the rest of the world
- Treatment of waste (tonnes) provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
Net exports of six key waste materials from the EU27 for recycling
Note: Time series of amounts of net exports for six different material types from the EU27 to the rest of the world for the purpose of recycling
- EU27 trade since 1988 by SITC balance and crude rates (Eurostat) provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
The term ‘closed loop society’ is a society where the need for virgin materials is significantly reduced through recovery of materials from wastes to be reused in the production of new products. Ideally it refers to an ideal situation where materials from waste products are returned directly to the production chain of equivalent products, instead of to a lower grade product (i.e. construction waste from buildings is used for the construction of new buildings). Energy recovery from wastes does not match well with a closed loop society model since this will not reduce the demand for raw materials for production.
Material recovery within the EU (the lower elements of the bars in Figure 1 excluding net exports) has increased by a relatively small degree in recent years. Recycling of plastic, paper, glass, metals, textiles and wood waste within EU territory increased by only 2.6 million tonnes (2%) between 2004 and 2008. Material recovery of metallic wastes increased most rapidly (5%) with recovery of textiles, plastics and wood wastes actually reducing by 26%, 4% and 4% respectively.
It should be noted that material recycling did not increase steadily between 2004 and 208. The period began with an overall reduction in recycling between 2004 and 2006, mainly due to a 2.5 million tonne reduction in the material recovery of paper and cardboard wastes.
Material recovery within EU territory as reported on above includes waste imported to the EU for recycling. This is dominated by 7 million tonnes of imported metal scrap and 1.3 million tonnes of wood wastes.
The 2% increase in material recovery within the EU between 2004 and 2008 can be seen as a very modest change and may not even be keeping in step with increases in the generation of wastes. If generation of these wastes increased by 2% or more over the same period, actual recycling rates for these materials would at best have kept level. Unfortunately no reliable data is available on generation of these material wastes to calculate whether recycling rates have increased or decreased over this period.
A very different picture to the one above is obtained when considering total EU generated wastes which are recycled i.e. including waste exported to the rest of the world for recycling. This can be obtained by adding net exports of waste for recycling to total recycling within EU territory and is shown by the full height of the bars given in Figure 1.
Due almost entirely to a sharp growth in the export market for wastes, total EU generated waste recycled yearly increased by more than 7% between 2004 and 2008.
The growth in net exports of waste for recycling is shown more clearly in Figure 2. Data for net exports is also available for 2010 where again a large increase was seen since 2008 despite the global recession. Data for material recovery within the EU is not available for 2010 but even if this had stagnated since 2008, total recycling of EU generated waste in 2010 would be 11% higher than in 2004 simply as a result of increases in net exports for recycling.
Figure 2 also gives a breakdown of net exports by material type. There are two waste types – wood and to a much lesser extent, glass – for which the EU is a net importer. Otherwise the EU is a net exporter of wastes with exports exceeding imports for plastics and paper by a factor of 27 and 111 respectively in 2010.
As with imports of waste, net exports are dominated by metal scrap and paper wastes. Exports of metal scrap more than tripled between 2004 and 2010. Textile, paper and cardboard and plastic wastes grew by between 49% and 85% over the same period.
The destination of waste exports for recycling from the EU depend on the material type but is dominated by exports to the Asian market (EEA, 2009).
Relating these developments to the policy question on whether Europeis moving towards a closed loop society the 2% increase in material recovery within the EU is not a positive indication that this is occurring to any real extent. When considered in combination with indicator SCP014 which shows a 6% reduction in non-mineral waste generation in the EU over the same period this perhaps puts the 2% increase in a somewhat better light suggesting more significant increases in recycling rates.
It should also be considered that the EU is part of an increasingly global economy where to an increasing degree Europe is importing material goods from other parts of the world and fromAsiain particular. Seen in this context the rapidly increasing export of wastes for material recovery in Asia, where it is reused for the production of goods in part for export back toEuropecould be seen as a very gradual move towards a more closed loop society at the global scale.
A reduced demand for virgin materials, which is the ultimate aim of a closed loop society, demands that the growth in material recovery outstrips any growth in demand for materials for production of new goods. This indicator does not include any information on the demand for materials and the extent to which this is covered by material recovered from waste. This is considered by Indicator SCP042.
Generation of Waste (Eurostat)
provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
Traditional international trade database (comext)
provided by Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT)
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoAlmut Reichel
EEA Management Plan2012 2.5.2 (note: EEA internal system)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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