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Sound and independent information
on the environment

11. Waste

11. Waste

indicator policy issue DPSIR assessment
waste and economic activity is de-linking occurring? pressure
municipal waste generation and disposal is the 5EAP target being met? pressure
biodegradable waste landfilled is the Landfill Directive target being met? pressure
extra costs of incineration compared with landfill tax are taxes being used to correct the relatively low price for landfilling? response
packaging waste management is the treatment of packaging waste developing according to targets? response

Waste quantities are increasing, but de-linking of waste from economic activity has been achieved for some waste streams and countries. The amount of municipal waste generated is considerably higher than the target for 2000 in the EU’s fifth environmental action programme target, and a large proportion of biodegradable waste is still disposed of in landfills. However, recycling initiatives are increasing. The use of waste taxes is increasing in Member States, but they are not yet fully integrated into waste-management strategies. Some EEA member countries have achieved higher recovery and recycling rates for packaging wastes than target values.

Waste represents the loss of both material and energy resources. Because excessive waste generation is a symptom of inefficient production processes, low durability of goods and unsustainable consumption patterns, waste quantities can be considered an indicator of how efficiently society uses raw materials.

The key environmental impacts of waste can be summarised as:

  • use of land for landfills and leaching of harmful substances (nutrients, toxics, etc.) from landfills;
  • air pollution and toxic residues from incinerators;
  • water pollution and generation of secondary waste streams from recycling plants;
  • increased road transport.

All data on waste is associated with major uncertainties, but it is estimated that a total of 1 300 million tonnes of waste is generated each year in the EU. The overall aim and priority of European waste-management policy is waste prevention – the most challenging task for waste management. For waste that is generated, the EU waste strategy calls for increased recycling and energy recovery to prevent disposal, such as landfill or incineration without energy recovery. In addition, specific Directives impose common rules for the separate collection and treatment of certain waste streams, such as packaging, batteries and accumulators, waste oils, sewage sludge and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

This chapter focuses on municipal waste and packaging waste, both priority waste streams in the EU waste strategy and for which policy targets have been set against which progress can be measured. Hazardous waste, industrial waste, construction and demolition waste, sewage sludge and waste transport will be covered in future editions of this report.

The transport of waste, for example, is an issue of growing concern; French studies suggest that 15 % of all freight transport involves waste and that waste transport accounts for 5 % of the transport sector’s total energy consumption (Ripert, 1997). Transport distances for waste recycling are also much higher than those for disposal. The environmental pressures caused by the transport of waste are likely to increase in the future as waste is separated into more fractions for different treatment.

11.1. Is de-linking of waste generation from economic activity occurring?

Removal of the link between waste generation and economic activity has a key role in helping to meet the objective of reduced waste generation. Waste generation appears to be increasing at a greater rate than economic growth: the amount of waste generated in European countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) increased by an estimated 10 % between 1990 and 1995, while GDP increased by 6.5 % (EEA, 1999).

At Member State level, de-linking of municipal waste generation from household expenditure is occurring in some countries (Figure 11.1). In particular, Germany, the Netherlands and Iceland appear to show successful de-coupling of municipal waste generation from economic activity, while other countries such as Portugal, Greece, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden appear not to be making as much progress. Household expenditure, however, is not an ideal parameter for comparison purposes as municipal waste also includes commercial waste.

Figure 11.1: Municipal waste generation compared with household expenditure in selected EEA member countries, 1984-1998

Source: Eurostat and EEA-ETC/Waste

11.2. Are we meeting policy targets for municipal waste generation and disposal?

Although some de-linking from economic activity occurred in the 1990s for municipal waste, all EEA member countries (except for Austria and Iceland) are some way away from meeting the EU fifth environmental action programme (5EAP) target of stabilising municipal waste generation per capita at 300 kg per capita by 2000 (Figure 11.2).

Waste from daily household and commercial activities (Figure 11.2 and Table 11.1) consists of certain well-defined fractions of municipal waste, which can be compared between all EEA member countries. These fractions include bagged wastes (i.e. mixed waste collected from households and other sources) and separately collected wastes such as paper, cardboard, glass, metal packaging and food/organic waste. Bulky waste is not included in this indicator. As waste from daily household and commercial activities does not constitute all municipal waste, the distance to the municipal waste target is even larger.

Figure 11.2: Waste generation from daily household and commercial activities in EEA member countries, 1996

Source: EEA-ETC/W
Notes: Deviating reference years: France 1995; Germany 1993; Ireland 1995; and Sweden 1994. No data for Liechtenstein.

Waste generation per capita from household and commercial activities is much greater than the fifth environmental action programme target for 2000. There is a large potential for increased recycling.

On the positive side, all EEA member countries have recycling schemes and, on average, 13 % of municipal waste is collected separately. However, wide variations exist between countries and regions. In northern European countries, an average 20 % of waste is collected separately but large differences exist between countries – the Netherlands leads with 38 %. In southern European countries, an average 5 % of municipal waste is collected separately. Overall, there is a large potential for increasing the total amount of waste recycled.

This potential is further illustrated and reinforced by Figure 11.3 which shows that, in 1995, too much biodegradable waste was still going to landfill in many countries despite the fact that such waste could be recovered as compost or incinerated. Landfilling of biodegradable waste results in greenhouse gas emissions and is a loss of resources. An estimated 55 million tonnes of paper, paperboard, food and organic garden waste was landfilled in 1995 in EU Member States (less Portugal but including Iceland and Norway). If plastics are classed as biodegradable, this figure rises to 66 million tonnes. The Landfill Directive sets a target of reducing the amount of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled to 35 % by 2016, i.e. a maximum of 19 million tonnes. Minimising waste to landfill is a central plank of the EU waste strategy and it will be important to see in future editions of this report whether progress is made towards meeting the Landfill Directive target for biodegradable waste.

The variation between countries in the amount of landfill waste may be linked to the way their tax systems favour disposal by incineration rather than landfill. A landfill tax is operational in a number of Member States (Figure 11.4). The aim is to improve the competitive position of recycling and incineration with energy recovery as treatment methods. The limited capacity of landfills is another factor which may motivate countries to impose a landfill tax.

Figure 11.3: Biodegradable municipal waste landfilled in EEA member countries, 1995

Notes: Deviating reference years: Belgium partly 1996; Germany 1993; Greece 1990; Italy 1996; the Netherlands 1994; and Sweden 1994. No data available for Liechtenstein and Portugal.

Too much biodegradable waste ends up in landfills.

Figure 11.4 compares the relative costs of the treatment and disposal of waste by landfilling and incineration for a number of EEA member countries. In countries that have implemented landfill taxes, less biodegradable waste than the EU average goes to landfill. Finland is an exception; this can be partly explained in that the price difference between incineration and landfilling still encourages disposal to landfill over incineration. The Finnish example shows that landfill taxes can be effective only as part of an integrated approach to waste management when economic instruments are used synergistically to promote the desired environmental outcome and do not act in opposition to each other.

Figure 11.4: Landfill taxes in selected EEA member countries

Source: EEA-ETC/W
Note: All prices are average observed prices and cover large variations between plants. Denmark and Norway also have a tax on incineration; the landfill tax shown for these two countries is the difference between the tax on landfill and the tax on incineration with energy recovery. The additional costs are before tax. Also Belgium has a landfill tax, but it could not be shown due to lack of data.

Taxation of landfill disposal favours incineration only in Austria, Denmark and Sweden.

Closing the loop

To help meet the requirements of the Landfill Directive, Sweden has implemented an ambitious scheme to compost 10 % of all Swedish municipal waste at a single site in the near future.

Swedish engineers have developed a way of converting cement kilns to giant composting facilities; cement kilns are capable of processing hundreds of tonnes of waste per day and have a large infrastructure of storage tanks, silos, docks, weighing stations and conveyor-belt production. Cement kilns in Sweden are not currently operating at full capacity and older plants are under pressure to close. Switching from manufacturing cement to producing compost is one solution to this problem.

Organic waste material for the kilns is provided by a collaboration of municipalities, supermarkets, airlines and fast-food chains. The waste will be converted at a pilot plant near Stockholm into compost pellets suitable for application to agricultural and forestry land. The fast-food chains ‘close the loop’ by asking their growers and suppliers to use the compost pellets in crop production.

Source: Restructuring inefficient and polluting industries, G.Pauli.

11.3. Are the EU’s objectives for packaging waste being met?

One of the waste streams given special attention by the EU is packaging. The Packaging Directive includes measures aimed at preventing waste generation and increasing the recovery and recycling of packaging waste. In 1997, 136 kg/capita of packaging waste was generated, i.e. almost a third of total waste from daily household and commercial activities. Paper/cardboard is by far the largest fraction of packaging waste, with 63 kg/capita, followed by glass (35 kg/capita) and plastics (29 kg/capita). Metals (9 kg/capita) make up the rest.

A number of targets have been set by the Packaging Directive. Target 1 requires Member States to reach a recovery level of between 50 % as a minimum and 65 % as a maximum by weight of all packaging wastes. In this case, recovery covers all kinds of recycling, energy recovery and composting. To achieve Target 2, Member States must reach a recycling level of between 25 % as a minimum and 45 % as a maximum by weight of all packaging waste. The obligation for Target 3 is to reach a minimum recycling level of 15 % on specific packaging waste materials.

Good rates of paper and glass recycling have been reached, but progress with plastics has been poor (Figure 11.5). Municipal waste is the largest source of plastics waste, generating over 61 % of total plastics waste in 1996. Only Austria and Germany currently achieve a recycling rate of more than 15 % for plastics waste.

Paper and plastics recovery is high in countries where energy recovery is the predominant treatment method. The high rates achieved by some member countries indicate the potential for increased recycling and recovery throughout the EEA area. For example, variations between member countries include 6 % plastics recycling in Denmark compared with 45 % in Germany. The variation in recycling of glass is smaller.

Figure 11.5: Recycling/recovery of packaging waste

Plastics, 1997

Source: Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe

Glass, 1996

Source: FEVE (European Container Glass Federation)

Some EEA member countries have met the minimum requirements of the Packaging Directive. Not all countries meet all the Directive’s targets.

Paper and cardboard, 1997

Source: Member States’ reports to DG Environment under provisions of the Packaging Directive.

Note: Iceland and Ireland: 1995 data.

Four packaging materials, 1997

Source: Member States’ reports to DG Environment under the provisions of the Packaging Directive.
Note: (Energy) Recovery includes composting and energy recovery (also biogas for Sweden). Disposal is assumed to account for all remaining waste which is not recovered or recycled. Waste imported for recycling has been excluded and waste exported for recycling has been included. The aggregated data has been weighted for amount of waste generated for each of glass, plastics, metals and paper.

Waste prevention
An integrated Norwegian approach to reducing waste generation uses economic incentives, including a fixed levy on one-way packaging (EUR 0.1/unit) and an environmental tax (EUR 0.4) on all packaging. The environmental tax is reduced if packaging (e.g. bottles) is returned for recovery or re-use. If returns within an approved system exceed 95 %, no environment tax is paid and consequently both producers (importers) and consumers have an economic incentive to achieve a high percentage of re-use and recovery. An example of an approved system is the recycling of bottles with a deposit system covering the whole of Norway. Bottles made from glass and the plastic, PET, are re-used in a closed loop as part of this system. Consumers pay a reasonable deposit for the bottle, and the deposit is refunded when the empty bottle is returned to the retailer. This recycling system leads to estimated annual savings of 83 000 tonnes of glass waste (20 kg per capita per year).

11.4. Indicator development

For existing indicators, improved estimates of generation, treatment and disposal are needed for all waste streams as well as greater methodological consistency between countries. Consistent and complete trends data are also lacking in many areas, but in particular there are gaps for the base years against which progress towards policy targets is measured. Improved information on the use of economic instruments such as taxes would also be useful.

For the future, priority needs to be given to construction and manufacturing waste streams, hazardous waste and waste transport. Analysis of the effectiveness of economic instruments and the synergies between them, in particular taxes and voluntary agreements for meeting policy objectives, would be desirable.

Table 11.1: Waste generation from daily household and commercial activities, 1996
Unit: kg/capita
Austria 160 45 54 26 5 290
Belgium 281 6 32 22 5 346
Denmark 278 13 63 25 0 379
Finland 262 14 77 6 4 364
France 352 0 24 23 3 402
Germany 306 12 58 30 3 409
Greece 324 0 0 4 0 328
Iceland 240 0 21 11 0 272
Ireland 373 0 9 11 0 393
Italy 410 0 10 10 0 430
Luxembourg 318 0 39 34 0 391
Norway 295 11 45 9 2 362
Portugal 374 0 1 12 0 387
Spain 386 0 0 11 0 397
Sweden 300 0 46 11 0 357
Netherlands 248 75 54 22 3 402
UK 378 5 12 9 0 404
EEA 344 8 27 18 2 399
Source: EEA-ETC/W

Note: Data from Member States, plus Norway and Iceland. Data for France 1995, Germany 1993, Ireland 1995, and Sweden 1994.

11.5. References and further reading

European Commission/DG Environment (1998). Database on environmental taxes in the European Union Member States, plus Norway and Switzerland.

EEA (1999). Environment in the European Union at the turn of the century, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EEA-ETC/W (1999a). Generation of household waste and municipal waste in member countries of the European Environment Agency. Comparability and non-comparability. Draft report to the European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EEA-ETC/W (1999b). Construction and demolition waste management practices and their economic impacts. Report to the European Commission/DG Environment. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

Eurostat (1999). Waste Generated in Europe. (Draft). Luxembourg.

Ripert, C.(1997). La logistique et le transport des déchets ménagers, agricoles et industriels. ADEME, Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie. Ministère de l’Equipement des Transports et du Logement.

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