Waste recycling in Europe

  The waste recycling rate — the proportion of waste generated that is recycled — is growing in the EU-27, indicating progress towards using more waste as a resource and achieving a circular economy. The rate of progress is slowing down, however, with little improvement over the past 5 years. Achieving a more circular economy requires a faster rate of progress, as the amount of waste recycled is still less than half of total waste generated. Specific waste streams show varying recycling rates, ranging from 66% for packaging waste to 39% for electrical and electronic waste.  

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Waste generation and decoupling in Europe

  Between 2010 and 2018, total waste generation increased by 5% (114 million tonnes) in the EU-27. When major mineral wastes are excluded from the total, it increased by 7% (50.3 million tonnes). This means that the EU-27 is not on track to meet its policy goal of reducing waste generation. These trends have been driven mainly by economic growth; however, the amount of waste generated increased by a smaller extent than the economy, indicating the relative decoupling of waste generation from economic growth.  

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Diversion of waste from landfill in Europe

A key goal of EU waste policy is to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill. Overall, the amount of landfill waste has decreased ( in 2018 it was  7.6% less than in 2010), even though the total amount of waste generated has continued to increase. The landfill rate — waste sent to landfill as a proportion of waste generated — decreased from 23% to 20% in the same period. For some waste streams, such as (mixed) household and similar waste, relatively good progress has been made towards diverting waste from landfill. However, the amount of sorting residues sent to landfill has doubled since 2010.

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Use of freshwater resources in Europe

Overall, water abstraction and economic growth in the EU showed absolute decoupling over the period 2000–2017. Total water abstraction declined by 17 %, while total gross value added generated from all economic sectors increased by 59 %. However, water scarcity conditions and drought events continue to cause significant risks in southern Europe, as well as in specific areas of other European regions. Agriculture remained the sector exerting the highest pressure on renewable freshwater resources overall, being responsible for 59 % of total water use in Europe in 2017. This is mainly because of agriculture levels in southern Europe. In 2017, 64 % of total water abstraction was from rivers and 24 % from groundwater. Annual renewable freshwater resources per inhabitant showed a decreasing trend across all regions except eastern Europe over the period 1990-2017. Large decreases were observed in Spain (-65 %), Malta (-54 %) and Cyprus (-32 %). Climate change and population increase exerted high pressures on renewable freshwater resources in Europe over this period. The increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme droughts and floods enhance the risk of there being reduced volumes of renewable freshwater resources in the future.

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Land recycling and densification

Land recycling is still low in all European countries: on average, land recycling accounted for only 13.5 % of total land consumption in European cities in the 2006-2012 period. The land use densification process, i.e. when land development makes maximum use of existing infrastructure, accounts for the largest proportion of land recycling. However, in most countries, land take dominates over densification in total land management with the exception of Finland and France. Grey recycling, i.e. internal conversions between residential and/or non-residential land cover types, is secondary to densification, ranging from 14 % to less than 1 % of total land consumption. Land take predominates over grey recycling in total land management in all countries. Green recycling, i.e. the development of green urban areas using previously built-up areas, is an important trend that reverses soil sealing, but it is a marginal process in all countries and, on average, it accounts for only 0.2 % of total land consumption.

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