Total recycled quantities for six key material types in the EU27 including exports for recycling (11.1)
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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.
11. Is Europe moving towards a closed loop society?
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 provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
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 Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
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.
Indicator specification and metadata
This indicator shows developments in quantities of six material waste types that are recycled by recycling plants within EU territory plus quantities of EU generated waste for the same six material types that are recycled both within the EU and in the rest of the world. It also illustrates the difference between the two variables – net exports of waste from the EU to the rest of the world – also differentiated by material type
The six key waste material types are:
- Metallic wastes;
- Glass wastes;
- Paper and cardboard wastes;
- Plastic wastes;
- Wood wastes; and
- Textile wastes.
Data has been reported to Eurostat by member countries.
The indicator is expressed in million tonnes of recycled waste in both figures.
Policy context and targets
This question concerns the reuse and recycling of end-of-life products to reduce, as far as possible, the demand for virgin materials. The term ‘closed loop’ 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).
Reuse and recycling are identified as an objective within the Sustainable Consumption and Production theme of the renewed EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy (2006) aimed at ‘avoiding the generation of waste and enhancing efficient use of natural resources by applying the concept of life-cycle thinking and promoting reuse and recycling’ under a broader objective to ‘avoid overexploitation of natural resources’.
One of the objectives of the 6th Environmental Action Programme (Article 8) is to ‘encourage re-use ….preference should be given to recovery and especially to recycling’.
The long term goal of the Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste is for ‘a recycling society that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource’. Reuse and recycling are the second most preferred waste management options after waste prevention in the waste hierarchy given in Article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD). The 2008 WFD sets new targets for Member States for the reuse and recycling of paper, metals, plastic and glass from households and similar origins, and for construction and demolition waste (Article 11). Closed-loop recycling is not mentioned specifically in waste policy at the EU level. However, end-of-waste criteria required under Article 6 of the WFD are developed in part to improve the quality of end-of-life materials to optimise their potential for utilisation in production of new products and thus support a shift towards a closed-loop economy.
The Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe (2011) contains a section on Turning Waste into a Resource. This puts focus on raising the priority to reuse and recycling and developing a combination of policies that help create a full recycling economy. These policies include product design integrating a life cycle approach, better cooperation among market actors along the value chain, better collection processes, and appropriate regulatory framework and incentives for waste recycling.
EU’s SD Strategy aimed at ‘avoiding the generation of waste and enhancing efficient use of natural resources by applying the concept of life-cycle thinking and promoting reuse and recycling
Relevant Waste Framework Directive (WFD) targets include:
- By 2015, all Member States to have implemented separate collection for minimum of paper, metal, plastic and glass
- By 2020, Member States to reach Article 29 recycling targets of 50% by weight of household waste (including paper, plastic, metal and glass) and 70% by weight of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste
The Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe contains the milestone that by 2020 ‘recycling and reuse of waste are economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of functional markets for secondary raw materials. More materials including materials having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials are recycled…. Energy recovery is limited to non-recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated and high quality recycling is ensured.’
Related policy documents
Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS): Renewed Strategy, by the Council of the European Union, No. 10917/06.
Decision no 1600/2002/ec of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 july 2002 laying down the sixth community environment action programme
COM(2005) 666 final Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste
COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS Taking sustainable use of resources forward: A Thematic Strategy on the preventionend recycling of waste
Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe. COM(2011) 571
Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC)
Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (Text with EEA relevance)
Methodology for indicator calculation
Figure 1: In order to construct this graph two elements have to be combined, data for recycling quantities in the EU27 along with data for the trade of wastes for recycling between EU-27 and the rest of the world. The reported quantities of recycled materials for the EU include imports of waste from outside the EU for recycling but exclude waste generated in the EU and exported for recycling. Therefore in order to calculate the total quantities of waste generated in EU which are recycled globally (i.e. both in EU and abroad) the total reported quantities of waste need to be supplemented by data on net exports of wastes for recycling. All materials exported and imported in the EU27 were drawn from Eurostat’s Comext database under the CN8 codes for waste and scrap for the 6 material categories investigated for this indicator. Imports are subtracted from exports to give net exports. The net exports are then added (but identified separately) to the total quantities of the 6 selected materials recycled within EU27, in order to produce the final graph.
Figure 2: The reported amounts of exports and imports of the 6 selected materials were retrieved from Eurostat’s Comext database under the CN8 codes for waste and scrap for the 6 material categories investigated for this indicator. It is important to note that the values represent only the external trade of EU27 countries with the rest of the world (and not between EU27 member states). The net exports are calculated by adding up all imports of the waste fraction that constitute one material type (different CN8 codes), applying the same method for the exports, and subsequently subtracting the total imports from the total exports for each distinct waste material.
Methodology for gap filling
No gap filling was necessary for producing this indicator from the Eurostat database
No methodology references available.
No uncertainty has been identified in the methodology used by the EEA to process the source data
Data sets uncertainty
The links to the Eurostat methodology for the source datasets on generation and treatment of waste can be found here: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_SDDS/EN/env_wasgt_esms.htm
The term ‘closed loop’ 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. The figures for recycling of waste do not provide information on whether recycled materials are returned to equivalent products or products requiring materials of lower quality.
Moreover, the indicator does not provide an indication of whether increases in the recovery of materials have led to an increased recycling rate or whether the generation of waste has increased at the same rate or more rapidly than increasing material recovery. If the latter is the case the EU would in fact be moving further from rather than closer towards a closed loop society. This information is provided in part by another Indicator SCP014.
Finally, it should be noted that the indicator doesn’t take account of reductions in quality of recycled materials compared to raw materials and how this may affect their potential for reuse in the same products from which they were originally recycled. This would be an essential characteristic of a truly closed loop society to which the question refers. The term ‘closed loop’ 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.
Generation of Waste
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Traditional international trade database (comext)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Resource efficiency and waste (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- SCP 015
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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