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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Sustainable consumption and production

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Key messages

In the years since the Kiev conference in 2003, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) has become more prominent on the policy agenda although few substantive results have yet merged. The impacts on the environment of increased production and consumption are growing. The challenge for all countries is to break the link between economic growth and environmental impacts from consumption, resource use and waste generation.

Production and resource use

  • The economic sectors which cause the most significant environmental pressures in WCE are: electricity, gas and water supply; transport services; and agriculture. These priority sectors are likely to be the same in EECCA and SEE countries, although the impact of mining and construction, together with production of basic metals and industrial minerals, are also expected to be significant.

  • The main trade flows from WCE and SEE to EECCA are in manufactured goods. EECCA countries primarily export fuels and mining products to WCE and SEE countries. Such asymmetry causes a shifting of environmental impacts across borders.

  • Over the last decade, per capita use of resources in the pan-European region has been stable. Efficiency of resource use varies significantly between countries. It is several times higher in EU-15 than in EU-10 and SEE countries, and up to twenty times higher than in EECCA.

  • The projected outlook for resource use in both EU-15 and EU-10 is for a progressive increase toward 2020, which highlights the urgency of promoting sustainability.

  • A life-cycle approach in policy-making ensures that impacts are assessed from cradle to grave, and environmental impacts are not simply hidden by moving them to different countries or different stages of production or consumption.

  • As well as improving energy efficiency across the region, it is essential to invest in innovative technologies that reduce resource use. This includes bringing these technologies to the market.

Consumption

  • Household expenditure is between three (EU-15) and five (SEE) times higher than public expenditure. Household consumption per capita is on the increase in all European countries, with levels about four times higher in EU-15 than in EECCA countries.

  • Patterns of consumption are changing rapidly across the region with the food component decreasing, and the shares for transport, communication, housing, recreation and health on the rise. In EECCA, many rural households still have little or no surplus for non-essential goods. However, a small but growing urban middle class is increasingly adopting the consumption patterns of WCE.

  • Food and beverages, private transport and housing (including construction and energy consumption) are those consumption categories that are causing the highest life-cycle environmental impacts. In WCE, tourism and air travel are emerging as future key impact areas.

  • Whilst some decoupling of economic growth from domestic resource and energy use have been noted in both EU and EECCA, it is not clear to what extent changes in consumption patterns have contributed to this since most high-impact consumption categories are actually increasing.

  • Changing consumption patterns cause increased impacts as spending shifts to more impact-intensive categories (transport and household energy use). Within these categories, growth in consumption has more than offset benefits from improved technological efficiency.

  • Environmental impacts of consumption can be reduced by specific controls at sites of production, use and disposal or by transferring demand from higher to lower impact consumption categories. Policy options for public authorities include improved environmental information and labelling, green public procurement and market-based instruments. Green taxes increased in EU-15 from 1992–1995 but subsequently stagnated. Applying such mechanisms to break the link between growth and impacts are likely to be equally challenging in the expanding economies of EECCA and SEE countries.

    Waste

  • On aggregate, the pan-European region is generating ever more waste. The amount of municipal waste increased by an average of 2 % each year and even more in EECCA. The intensification of economic activities outweighs the effects of waste prevention initiatives.

  • The volumes of waste range from less than 0.5 tonnes to 18 tonnes per person. Per capita waste generation is, generally, higher in EECCA than in EU countries due to large amounts of waste from raw material extraction and processing industries.

  • Three to four percent of this amount is hazardous waste which presents a special risk to human health and environment. The waste sites, inherited from the past, present a major problem in EECCA countries and, to a lesser degree, in the SEE region. Problems arise mainly from the storage of hazardous waste and old chemicals, including pesticides.

  • Landfill is still the most common method of waste management across the pan-European region. However, increasing amounts of municipal waste in the EU are now diverted away from landfills as a result of regulations and targets. In the EECCA and SEE countries there has been no measurable progress in recycling and recovery of municipal waste since the Kiev conference.

  • EU and EFTA Member States are increasingly focusing on utilising the resources in waste. In the EECCA and SEE countries, recycling is driven by financial interests and thus tends to concentrate on industrial waste.

  • Many EECCA and SEE countries have developed waste strategies and legislation for specific waste streams. However, many countries have yet to prepare and implement waste management plans and effective legislation. Proper collection and safe landfill still remain a challenge.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100