Europe, like much of the industrialized world, is using an increasing amount of materials. The EU-27 average annual use of material resources is some 16 tonnes per person. On average, about six tonnes of waste per person are generated each year in the EU-27. Demand for materials has long exceeded Europe's ability to generate by itself what it needs – 20-30 % of resources used are imported.
Resource use and waste generation in the EU-27 have been decoupled from economic growth. However, in most countries resource use and waste generation still increase in absolute figures. Although resource efficiency continues to improve, the growth of material productivity has for decades been slower than the increase in labour productivity. There are no indications that the 6th Environment Action Programme (6th EAP) objective of the EU becoming 'the most resource-efficient economy in the world' is being met.
The overall trend in waste generation, including hazardous waste, is upwards. The 6th EAP objective of substantially reducing waste generation has neither been achieved nor is likely to be met in the coming decades unless production and consumption patterns are transformed.
The management of waste has improved, with many countries recycling and recovering more, but more efforts are needed if the EU is to become a 'recycling society'. Implementation of existing legislation remains crucial, especially on the illegal shipments of waste, illegal or sub-standard landfilling, and packaging and electric and electronic equipment waste management.
The environmental pressures of Europe's consumption and production patterns, potentially resulting in damage to ecosystems and human health impacts, spread far beyond its borders. Most outlooks predict continued growth in the use of material resources both in the EU and globally, with key waste streams increasing as well.
Policy has only recently begun to address the challenges of the growing use of resources. Most actions taken to date do not comprehensively address the upstream causes of growth, focusing instead on the downstream consequences. As yet, there are no broadly accepted and robust methods for measuring the impacts of resource use, and few concrete targets or indicators exist. Policies aimed at the prevention of waste remain weak.
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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.
PDF generated on 06 Jul 2015, 08:35 PM