Diversion of waste from landfill

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-488-en
Also known as: WST 006
Created 09 Jul 2019 Published 22 Nov 2019 Last modified 22 Nov 2019
8 min read
•  Landfilling has negative impacts on the environment and economy and therefore should be avoided if at all possible. • European countries have made relatively good progress in diverting waste from landfill in recent years for almost all waste streams, particularly for household and similar waste. • During the period 2010-2016, the share of total waste (excluding major mineral waste) disposed of by landfilling decreased from 29 % to 25 % in the 28 EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and Serbia. The proportion of household and similar waste and other waste disposed of by landfilling decreased by 47.2 % and 19 %, respectively. However, the landfilling of combustion waste increased by 20.6 % and of sorting residues by 40.1 %. • According to the Landfill Directive, the proportion of municipal waste disposed of by landfilling should be reduced to 10 % or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated by 2035. By 2017, the proportion of municipal waste entering landfill had been reduced to 21.0 %, and, of 37 European countries, 11 had reduced municipal waste landfilling rates by more than 40.0 % and 10 landfilled less than 10 % of their municipal waste; however, 15 still had municipal waste landfilling rates of more than 50.0 %. • Trends in waste management have also changed. During the period 2008-2017, the rate of municipal waste landfilling decreased by 43.0 %, while energy recovery from municipal waste increased by 72.1 %, material recycling increased by 22.5 % and composting and digestion increased by 18.6 %.

Key messages

 Landfilling has negative impacts on the environment and economy and therefore should be avoided if at all possible.

• European countries have made relatively good progress in diverting waste from landfill in recent years for almost all waste streams, particularly for household and similar waste.

• During the period 2010-2016, the share of total waste (excluding major mineral waste) disposed of by landfilling decreased from 29 % to 25 % in the 28 EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and Serbia. The proportion of household and similar waste and other waste disposed of by landfilling decreased by 47.2 % and 19 %, respectively. However, the landfilling of combustion waste increased by 20.6 % and of sorting residues by 40.1 %.

• According to the Landfill Directive, the proportion of municipal waste disposed of by landfilling should be reduced to 10 % or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated by 2035. By 2017, the proportion of municipal waste entering landfill had been reduced to 21.0 %, and, of 37 European countries, 11 had reduced municipal waste landfilling rates by more than 40.0 % and 10 landfilled less than 10 % of their municipal waste; however, 15 still had municipal waste landfilling rates of more than 50.0 %.

• Trends in waste management have also changed. During the period 2008-2017, the rate of municipal waste landfilling decreased by 43.0 %, while energy recovery from municipal waste increased by 72.1 %, material recycling increased by 22.5 % and composting and digestion increased by 18.6 %.

Are we reducing landfilling of waste in Europe?

Amounts and share of waste deposited on landfills, by type of waste category

Stacked bar
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Municipal waste landfill rates in Europe by country

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Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Change 2006-2017
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
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Trend in municipal waste management

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Data sources: Explore chart interactively

The European Union's approach to waste management is based on the waste hierarchy principle, which prioritises the prevention of waste generation, followed by preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery and, finally, disposal or landfilling, which is the least desirable option and should be used only if absolutely necessary. Landfill sites can pose risks to the environment and, despite technical measures such as bottom sealing, can reduce the quality of groundwater and surface water. Landfill bodies can also significantly impact on the landscape. The long-term goal is therefore to turn Europe into a circular economy that avoids generating waste and uses unavoidable waste as a resource wherever possible. 

During the period 2010-2016, European countries (the 28 EU Member States (EU-28) plus Iceland, Norway and Serbia) achieved relatively constant decreasing trends in the amounts of waste landfilled. The amount of total waste (excluding major mineral wastes) disposed of by landfilling decreased from 212 million tonnes in 2010 to 188 million tonnes in 2016. The landfilling rate (waste landfilled as a proportion of waste treated) decreased from 29 % to 25 % during the same period. The key waste categories (Fig. 1) identified were household and similar waste (which covers, for example, mixed municipal waste, waste from markets, bulky waste and waste similar to household waste produced by small businesses, office buildings and institutions), sorting residues (mainly secondary wastes from waste treatment facilities) and combustion waste (e.g. waste from flue gas purification and slags and ashes from thermal treatment and combustion). All remaining waste categories were classified as other waste, which comprises chemical and medical wastes, recyclable wastes, equipment waste, animal and vegetal wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials, and common sludges. Between 2010 and 2016, the proportion of household and similar waste and other waste disposed of by landfilling decreased by 47.2 % (40.5 million tonnes) and 19 % (7 million tonnes), respectively. However, the landfilling of combustion waste increased by 20.6 % (12 million tonnes) and of sorting residues by 40.1 % (11.5 million tonnes). These increases in the landfilling rates of combustion waste and sorting residues were due to the expansion of combustion capacities in the EU, tightening conditions for the material utilisation of combustion residues and the development of the waste sorting sector in the context of a gradual shift from landfilling to the material recovery of waste. 

In terms of Europe’s progress in diverting municipal waste from landfill, the proportion of municipal waste disposed of by landfilling decreased by 21.0 % between 2006 and 2017 in the EU-28 and other European countries for which data were available (Fig. 2). Out of 37 countries, the most significant decreases in the amount of landfilled municipal waste were reached by Slovenia (69.0 %), Lithuania (65.0 %), Latvia (63.0 %) and Estonia (60.0 %). A total of 11 countries reduced their municipal waste landfilling rates by more than 40.0 % during the same period. There are however still some countries that have made only very limited progress. For example, in 2017, the landfilling rates for municipal waste were 100.0 % in Serbia and North Macedonia, 99.0 % in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 93.0 % in Malta. There are significant differences between countries in landfilling rates and the effectiveness of their policy measures. According to the legally binding quantitative target, which was set by the Landfill Directive (1991/31/EC, as amended by 2018/850/EU), the amount of municipal waste landfilled should be reduced to 10 % or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated (by weight) by 2035. In 2017, 10 European countries reported that they landfilled 10 % or less of their municipal waste (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland). On the other hand, 15 countries still had landfilling rates of more than 50.0 %. It is important to note that the currently available data differ from the reporting rules related to the target, and therefore, the data shown in this indicator cannot be used to show compliance with the target. All the countries with low landfilling rates have either banned the landfilling of biodegradable or untreated waste or implemented a ban combined with a higher landfill tax (more than EUR 50/tonne in most cases (CEWEP, 2017)). Moreover, other countries are gradually reducing the proportion of waste disposed of through landfill and changing waste management approaches in line with achieving a circular economy through policies, economic instruments and subsidies for the development of the waste treatment sector.

During the period 2008-2017, there was a perceptible change in trends in municipal waste management in the EU-28 (Fig. 3), with an apparent shift from disposal methods to prevention and recycling. Less waste is being landfilled as a result of reductions in the generation of some wastes, and increases in recycling and energy recovery. Although almost 101 million tonnes of municipal waste were landfilled in 2008, this amount decreased (by almost 43.0 %) to 57.6 million tonnes in 2017. A decrease, of 67 % (from 15.8 million tonnes in 2008 to 5.2 million tonnes in 2017), was also registered for other waste management operations (including waste incineration and mass loss). However, energy recovery from municipal waste increased by 72.10 % (by more than 28 million tonnes), material recycling increased by 22.5 % (13.5 million tonnes) and composting and digestion increased by 18.6 % (6.5 million tonnes). Changes in municipal waste management approaches have contributed to this diversion of waste from landfilling and more efficient resource use.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator consists of three figures, which show trends in the landfilling of waste at European level (the EU-28 and other European countries for which data were available), and it focuses entirely on waste excluding major mineral wastes. Mineral wastes represent about 65 % of total waste and this exclusion enhances the quality of the indicator, as uncertainties over major mineral waste data and associated statistics (in particular construction and mining waste) are rather high. Major mineral wastes excluded from the indicator are, according to Eurostat and the European Waste Classification for Statistical Purposes (EWC-Stat, version 4), mineral construction and demolition waste (EWC-Stat 12.1), other mineral waste (EWC-Stat 12.2, 12.3 and 12.5), soils (EWC-Stat 12.6) and dredging spoils (EWC-Stat 12.7). Combustion waste regards to waste code W124 according to ECW-Stat Waste Categories Reported under the Waste Statistics Regulation.


 

Fig. 1 combines two chart types. The stacked column chart represents the amounts and the proportions of waste deposited in landfill broken down into the most relevant waste categories. The category ‘other waste’ in the graph includes chemical and medical wastes, recyclable wastes, equipment wastes, animal and vegetal wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials, and common sludges. The line chart, with the scale on the secondary vertical axis, represents landfilling rates. The landfilling rates relate to waste treated because imported waste is also included, which would not be the case if landfilling rates were related to waste generated. Decreasing landfilling rates indicate a positive development towards using waste as a resource and a more circular economy.

Fig. 2 shows developments in landfilling rates in European countries in 2006 and 2017. Data are presented in descending order based on 2017 values. The line chart shows the landfill target for 2035.

Fig. 3 shows trends in municipal waste management for the period 2008-2017 and the distribution of specific waste treatment operations.

 

Units

The unit used to indicate landfilling rates in all figures is percentage (%). In addition, in Fig. 1 the amount of waste landfilled is expressed in millions of tonnes.

 


Policy context and targets

Context description

Current EU waste policy is based on the waste hierarchy, which prioritises waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery and, finally, disposal or landfilling, which is the least desirable option. Landfilling is considered one of the least suitable methods for waste management because it not only leads to significant material loss, but also poses risks to the environment (production of greenhouse gases, water and air pollution, etc.). The main underlying principle of a circular economy is to keep resources and their value in the economy for as long as possible rather than lose them as waste.

The 2011 Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM (2011) 571) contains a section focused on turning waste into resources and developing a combination of policies that help to create a full recycling economy. In 2013, the 7th EAP was adopted. It also focuses on turning waste into resources (with the prevention of waste generation being the highest priority, followed by reuse and recycling) as well as on 'phasing out wasteful and damaging practices like landfilling'.

EU waste policies include several specific provisions and targets for the collection, recycling and diversion from landfill of different waste streams. The circular economy package was adopted by the European Commission in 2015 and contains an action plan for a circular economy and legislative proposals that set targets and a framework for waste management at EU and Member State levels and facilitate a transition to a more circular economy. Directive 2018/850/EC amending Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfilling of waste contains the provision of applying appropriate measures until 2035, restricting the landfilling of all waste that is suitable for recycling or other material or energy recovery. This directive sets the target that by 2030 the amount of municipal waste landfilled must be reduced to 10 % of the total amount of municipal waste generated.

The diversion of waste from landfill and the decreasing of risks connected with emissions to air, water and soil are dominant interests at the global level too. In 2015, The United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 12 includes several targets aimed at 'ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns', including the target to 'achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment' by 2020 (SDG 12.4).

 

Targets

Article V of Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfilling of waste was amended by Directive (EU) 2018/850 and includes the following targets for all Member States:

    • By 2035, the amount of municipal waste landfilled should be reduced to 10 % or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated (by weight).
    • By 2030, waste that is suitable for recycling or other material or energy recovery should not be landfilled
    • Separately collected waste should not be accepted in landfills

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    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’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy COM/2015/0614 final
    COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy
  • Directive (EU) 2018/850 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste
    Directive (EU) 2018/850 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste
  • Directive 99/31/EC on landfill of Waste
    Directive 99/31/EC on landfill of Waste
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe COM(2011) 571
    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  
  • Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC)
    Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (Text with EEA relevance)

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Fig. 1: Amounts and proportion of waste deposited in landfill by waste category

Major mineral wastes are excluded from the calculation of absolute amounts of landfilled waste and landfilling rates in this indicator. Major mineral wastes are, according to Eurostat and the European Waste Classification for Statistical Purposes (EWC-Stat, version 4), mineral construction and demolition waste (EWC-Stat 12.1), other mineral waste (EWC-Stat 12.2, 12.3 and 12.5), soils (EWC-Stat 12.6) and dredging spoils (EWC-Stat 12.7). The category ‘other waste’ in the graph includes chemical and medical wastes, recyclable wastes, equipment wastes, animal and vegetal wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials, and common sludges. The geographical coverage is the EU-28, Iceland, Norway and Serbia. Countries have been excluded where no reporting took place for more than 1 year in the time series. Landfilling rates are calculated by dividing the amount of waste landfilled (D1, D5 and D12) by the amount of waste treated (so that imported waste is also covered).

Fig. 2: Municipal waste landfilling rates in Europe by country 

The municipal waste landfilling rates are calculated by dividing the amount of municipal waste landfilled by the amount of municipal waste treated for each respective year for each country individually. Data are published every year. The figure also includes a line showing the target landfilling rate — by 2035, the proportion of municipal waste landfilled should be reduced to 10 % or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated. It is important to note that the currently available data differ from the reporting rules related to the target, and therefore, the data shown in this indicator cannot be used to show compliance with the target.

Methodology for gap filling

On account of missing data for 2017, 2016 data were used for Iceland, Ireland and Montenegro. Instead of 2006 data, 2018 data were used for North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Data were not available for Montenegro or Albania for 2006. Data were not available for Kosovo (under UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99) for 2006 or 2017.

 

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been identified in the methodology used to process the indicator.

 

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
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DPSIR: Response
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years

EEA Contact Info

Ozlem Durmus
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