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Chapter 15: Waste - Introduction

Economic development involving increased production and consumption has caused increased production of waste worldwide. According to the OECD, the total amount of waste produced in 1990 in OECD countries was 9 billion (thousand million) tonnes (OECD, 1991). Of those, 420 million tonnes were municipal wastes and 1.5 billion tonnes were industrial waste, including more than 300 million tonnes of hazardous waste. About 7 billion tonnes of waste were residues from energy production, agriculture, mining, demolition and sewage sludge.

Concerns over the environmental impacts of the increasing volume and toxicity of waste have emerged dramatically in the last two decades. Improper management of waste has caused numerous cases of contamination of soil and groundwater, and threats to the health of the exposed population. Existing disposal facilities are reaching saturation, and difficulties emerge in the siting of new facilities. Increased movement of waste to less developed countries is seen to threaten these countries. The World Conference on the Environment and Development has pointed out that the increasing production of waste poses significant threats for the environment and is no longer acceptable (UNCED, 1992).

To date, there is no realistic inventory of waste production, composition and disposal paths for Europe as a whole. Systematic data collection on waste is recent and usually coincides with the enactment and implementation of waste regulations. Waste statistics across countries are often not comparable due to diverging definitions, classification systems and scope (Box 15A). The need to harmonise classification systems at the international level is gaining major attention since countries have recognised the importance of coordinated actions to control waste movements and to reduce the potential environmental threats of improper waste management practices (Box 15B).

This chapter analyses present trends in waste production and management in Europe on the basis of the most up-to-date information provided by national authorities through a joint OECD/Eurostat survey (1993) and/or reported in national state-of-the-environment reports. It also assesses the potential threats to human health and the environment resulting from current waste management practice. In addition, current progress achieved by European countries in reducing waste and recycling materials through integrated processes is examined. The information gap and the quality of existing statistics are briefly discussed in order to assess the state of knowledge and to identify future information needs.

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