Waste generation

Briefing Published 29 Nov 2017 Last modified 24 Jun 2020
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Indicator past trend




Selected objective to be met by 2020

Indicative outlook of the EU meeting the selected objective by 2020

Waste generation in Europe (excluding major mineral wastes) — absolute and per capita levels


Yellow triangle: stable or unclear trend



Yellow triangle: stable or unclear trend

Reduce absolute and per capita waste generation  — 7th EAP

Stable or unclear trend

The past trend (2010–2014) is relatively stable and shows variation in waste generation among sectors, with reductions in some, little change in others and some increases. This mixed picture, as well as methodological uncertainties, suggest that the outlook to 2020 is unclear

For further information on the scoreboard methodology please see Box I.3 in the EEA Environmental indicator report 2017

The Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) states that, by 2020, absolute and per capita waste generation should be in decline. A society that meets its needs while producing less waste is more resource efficient, with lower environmental risks from waste management.
The total amount of generated waste, excluding major mineral wastes, is used as the indicator to track progress towards waste generation reduction. The amount of this waste remained relatively stable in the EU between 2010 and 2014 - it increased slightly by 1.9 % in absolute amounts and by 1.1 % per capita. Waste generation decreased in the services; agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; and household sectors. However, waste from the construction and the energy and extraction sectors increased, while waste in the water and waste sector that includes secondary waste, increased sharply. The increase in the generation of secondary waste, triggered by a move away from landfilling towards recycling and incineration, seems to be the major driver for the slight increase of waste generation over the 2010-2014 period. The overall variation in sector trends, combined with the methodological uncertainties (short time series — only three data points — and some data collection improvements in waste statistics) related to past trends prevent any conclusions on the 2020 outlook from being drawn. It is nevertheless noteworthy that the measures in the Circular Economy Package aim to reduce waste generation in the longer term, while the current positive outlook of economic growth may have the opposite effect. 

Setting the scene

The 7th EAP includes an objective that, by 2020, absolute waste and per capita waste generation are in decline and waste is managed safely as a resource (EU, 2013). The waste hierarchy is the central framework for EU and national waste policies. This hierarchy gives the highest priority to waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery and finally disposal. Reducing the amount of waste generated means that there is less waste to manage and also, potentially, that the demand for material and energy resources and associated environmental impacts has been reduced (AIRS_PO2.1, 2017). This briefing examines the trends in waste generation by using the total amount of waste generated, excluding major mineral wastes as an indicator. For terminology and rationale of choice, see the ‘About the indicator’ section at the end of the briefing.

Policy targets and progress

The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe contains several waste-related milestones to be met by 2020, including one that requires waste generated per capita to be in absolute decline (EC, 2011). 

Waste prevention and the use of waste as a resource is becoming increasingly important, not only in environmental policy but also in industrial and raw materials policy. In December 2015, the European Commission published ‘Closing the loop — An EU action plan for the circular economy’ (EC, 2015), otherwise known as the Circular Economy Package. Unlike the traditional linear take–make–consume–dispose approach, a circular economy seeks to respect planetary boundaries by increasing the proportion of renewable or recyclable resources while reducing the consumption of raw materials. Approaches such as eco-design and sharing, reuse, repair and refurbishing will play a significant role in maintaining the utility of products and components, and reducing the generation of waste (EEA, 2016, 2017a).

The Waste Framework Directive (EU, 2008), obliges EU Member States to adopt and implement waste prevention programmes. A review of available programmes indicates that countries use a broad range of measures with a focus on information-based instruments and, to a lesser extent, regulatory and economic instruments. A total of 17 out of 27 analysed waste prevention programmes include quantitative targets (EEA, 2015).

Figure 1. Generation of waste, excluding major mineral wastes, EU


The total amount of waste generated in the EU, excluding major mineral wastes, increased slightly between 2010 and 2014; it increased by 1.9 % (Figure 1). The total amount of waste, excluding major mineral wastes,  increased by 2.0 % also when Liechtenstein and Norway, the two other EEA member countries for which data are available, are included (EEA, 2017b). According to the methodology of this series of indicator briefings, this trend qualifies as ‘relatively stable’[1].

In 2014, the highest absolute levels of waste generation (excluding major mineral wastes) in the EU were recorded for the water and waste sector, for households, and for the manufacturing sector.

Between 2010 and 2014, there were some shifts in waste generation between sectors in the EU: reductions in waste generated by services (20 %), agriculture, forestry and fishing (9 %), manufacturing (9 %) and households (5 %). At the same time, waste generated in the construction sector, the energy and extraction sector and especially in the water and waste sector increased considerably (by 21 %, 10 % and 27 %, respectively). The reasons for these shifts are unclear. For example, waste from construction increased despite a slight decrease in construction economic activity of 0.3 % (Eurostat, 2017a). Methodological changes, such as the reallocation of waste between sectors might also have contributed to such shifts.

The generated waste includes secondary waste, which is accounted in the ‘water and waste sector’. The increase in secondary waste seems to be the main factor in the slightly increasing overall trend in waste generation in the 2010-2014 period. This waste is generated during the treatment of waste and comprises, for example, sorting residues, sludges and incineration ashes. More complex waste management such as recycling and incineration usually results in more secondary waste. The EU is moving away from landfilling of waste towards more recycling and incineration. For example, the share of landfilled waste (excluding major mineral wastes) decreased from 29 % to 25 % in the 2010-2014 period (Eurostat, 2017b). This development led to an increase in the amount of secondary waste generated: its share in total waste excluding major mineral wastes increased from 12 % in 2010 to 18 % in 2014.

The overall improvements and the shifts between sectors are probably due to a combination of factors including efficiency improvements in production processes and management, changes in the structure of the economy and an increase in economic activity in the services sector — this sector is not as waste intensive as others, for example, the manufacturing sector was an order of magnitude more waste intensive (0.12 kg/EUR) compared with the services sector (0.014kg/EUR) (Eurostat, 2017a). The overall improvements and the shift between sectors may also be due to methodological changes in data collection and should therefore be interpreted with caution.

In conclusion, the overall amount of waste generated has remained fairly stable, with a slight increase between 2010 and 2014, mainly because of a higher generation of secondary waste. There is significant trend variation in waste generation among sectors. In addition, only three data points can be used for the assessment — earlier data are available but strongly influenced by changes in data collection methods and therefore not used in this indicator. As a result of these uncertainties, there are currently no clear indications that total waste generation will be in decline by 2020, but rather uncertainty over the 2020 outlook. There is nevertheless a risk that waste generation may increase along with economic growth. On the other hand, measures in the Circular Economy Package and the waste prevention programmes in the EU Member States should contribute to a reduction in waste generation.

Country level information

Figure 2. Waste generation (excluding major mineral wastes) per capita, by country

In 2014, the EU per capita generation of waste — excluding major mineral wastes — amounted to 1 758 kg. This is 20 kg more than in 2010; a slight increase of 1.1 %, which qualifies as relatively stable per capita waste generation over the 2010–2014 period. When Liechtenstein and Norway (the two other EEA member countries for which data are available) are included in EU per capita waste generation, the trend over the 2010-2014 period continues to remain similar, with a small increase of 1.2 % being observed (Eurostat, 2017b).

Figure 2 shows that the majority of European countries generate between 1 and 2 tonnes of waste (excluding major mineral waste) per person per year. Between 2010 and 2014, half of the countries reduced their per capita waste generation, while the other half increased it. The high figures for Estonia are due to energy production based on oil shale (Eurostat, 2016a), while the high figures for Belgium include a high share of secondary wastes (Eurostat, 2016b).

Outlook beyond 2020

The long-term prospects for reducing the waste generated in the EU are uncertain. A shift to a circular economy, with increased reuse of goods and materials, has the potential to reduce waste generation. The waste prevention programmes adopted by EU Member States, Iceland and Norway can be expected to take effect towards 2020. However, the effectiveness of many of the waste prevention measures in the programmes can currently not be assessed for the EU and Europe as a whole. The Circular Economy Package (EC, 2015) includes a number of measures that aim to reduce waste generation beyond 2020. These include concrete measures to promote reuse and stimulate industrial symbiosis — turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material — and economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles). The success of these measures will be key to the medium- to long-term prospects for reducing waste generation.

About the indicator

This indicator is defined as the weight of waste generated per year, excluding major mineral wastes (mineral construction and demolition waste, other mineral waste, dredging spoils and soils). Although the indicator focuses mainly on non-mineral wastes, which represent approximately 35 % of the total waste generated in the EU, ‘it is considered to reflect the general trend in waste generation more accurately and in a more comparable way than the generated total including mineral wastes’ (Eurostat, 2016b). This exclusion enhances the quality of the indicator as the uncertainty over major mineral waste data and associated statistics (in particular construction and mining) is rather high, while for some waste streams (for example contaminated soils) the key aim is to remediate these waste streams rather than to count them as waste. The exclusion also enhances comparability across countries, as mineral waste accounts for very high quantities in some countries and for some economic activities, such as mining and construction.

Waste generation data by economic sector are published by Eurostat every 2 years. These are grouped for the purpose of the indicator in the following way: agriculture, forestry and fishing; energy and extraction; water and waste; manufacturing; construction; services; and households.

The water and waste sector includes water collection, treatment and supply, sewerage and three waste sector categories (waste collection, treatment and disposal activities; materials recovery, remediation activities and other waste management services; and wholesale of waste and scrap). The data, especially for the water and waste sector, include secondary waste, i.e. material that is the output of waste treatment (secondary waste). Progress in the (pre-)treatment of waste may result in an increase in the indicator because waste is counted twice, as primary and as secondary waste (Eurostat, 2016b.).

The energy and extraction sector includes electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply plus non-mineral wastes from mining and quarrying. Manufacturing includes foods, textiles, wood, paper, coke, chemicals, metals, electronics, transport equipment and other machinery. 

The data used in this indicator are based on reporting according to the EU Waste Statistics Regulation (EU, 2002). The first reporting year was 2004 and data quality has been improving since then. In particular, during the 2004-2008 period, many countries implemented methodological changes in their data collection, including allocation of wastes to sectors, reclassification from unspecific waste codes to more specific ones, and exclusion of by-products from waste reporting. In 2010, a major revision of the Waste Statistics Regulation took effect, enabling a more precise calculation of the waste category ‘waste excluding major mineral wastes’ and the separate identification of secondary wastes. For all these reasons, the indicator in this briefing uses 2010 as a base year instead of 2004 that was used in last years briefing. It should be kept in mind that an analysis of trends that is based on three data points only (2010, 2012, 2014) is, nevertheless, rather uncertain.

Footnotes and references

[1] According to the methodology used across this series of briefings (that supports the monitoring of the 7th EAP), a change of less than 3 % in the indicator value from the base year to the year with the latest available data is considered insignificant and the trend is assessed as being relatively stable, i.e. neither improving nor deteriorating.



EC, 2011, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe’ (COM(2011) 571 final).

EC, 2014, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on statistics compiled pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 2150/2002 on waste statistics and their quality (COM(2014) 079 final).

EC, 2015, Closing the loop — An EU action plan for the circular economy (COM(2015) 614 final) ( accessed 24 June 2017.

EEA, 2015, Waste prevention in Europe — the status in 2014, EEA Report No 6/2015, European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2016, Circular economy in Europe — Developing the knowledge base, EEA Report No 2/2016, European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2017a, Circular by design — Products in the circular economy, EEA Report No 6/2017, European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2017b, forthcoming ‘Waste generation (CSI 041)’, European Environment Agency.

EU, 2002, Regulation (EC) No 2150/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2002 on waste statistics (OJ L 332, 9.12.2002, p. 1).

EU, 2008, Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (OJ L 312, 22.11.2008, p. 3–30).

EU, 2013, Decision No 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’, Annexe A, paragraph 43(d) (OJ L 354, 28.12.2013, p. 171–200).

Eurostat, 2016a, ‘Statistics explained – Waste statistics’ ( accessed 18 April 2017.

Eurostat, 2016b, ‘Eurostat metadata — Generation of waste excluding major mineral wastes (tsdpc210)’ ( accessed 18 April 2017.

Eurostat, 2017a, Gross value added and income by A*10 industry breakdowns [nama_10_a10], ( accessed 23 June 2017.

Eurostat, 2017b, Waste excluding major mineral wastes, by waste operations and hazardousness (env_wasnmin) ( accessed 23 June 2017.

AIRS briefings

AIRS_PO2.1, 2017, Resource efficiency.


Environmental indicator report 2017 – In support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA report No21/2017, European Environment Agency


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