Industrial waste in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-473-en
Also known as: INDP 004
Created 07 Jan 2019 Published 14 Jan 2019 Last modified 14 Jan 2019
11 min read
Total annual quantities of waste generation across industry remained generally static over the period 2010-2016. Taking the reported industry gross value added (GVA) into consideration, waste generation per unit of industrial output may be showing limited signs of decreasing. Data on E-PRTR waste movements (off-site transfers) from industrial sites does not indicate any significant downward trends in industrial waste transfers for hazardous or non-hazardous waste over the period 2007-2016. Based on E-PRTR data, the overall percentage of waste being transferred for recovery was actually lower in 2016 than in 2007. The recovery trend within different industry sectors is variable, but the data do not suggest substantial progress in increasing the fraction of waste recovery.

Key messages

  • Total annual quantities of waste generation across industry remained generally static over the period 2010-2016. Taking the reported industry gross value added (GVA) into consideration, waste generation per unit of industrial output may be showing limited signs of decreasing.
  • Data on E-PRTR waste movements (off-site transfers) from industrial sites does not indicate any significant downward trends in industrial waste transfers for hazardous or non-hazardous waste over the period 2007-2016.
  • Based on E-PRTR data, the overall percentage of waste being transferred for recovery was actually lower in 2016 than in 2007. The recovery trend within different industry sectors is variable, but the data do not suggest substantial progress in increasing the fraction of waste recovery.

1. Have the quantities of waste generated by industry in Europe changed in recent years?

Annual waste generation from four aggregated industrial sectors and gross value added

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Waste generation for aggregated industry sectors as a percentage of total EU-28 waste generation

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Analysis of waste generation statistics, available from Eurostat, was carried out in order to understand the patterns in waste generation in recent years and to provide a baseline for future indicators on industrial waste. In order to simplify the presentation of the data, figures for industry were aggregated into four main categories, namely the manufacturing industry, energy supply, the extractive industry and the waste industry. Figure 1 presents the waste generation data for these categories over the period 2010-2016, with the industry GVA statistics included to provide some indication of industrial output. Figure 2 illustrates the percentage contribution of each of the industry sectors to total EU waste generation.

Over the period 2010 to 2013 GVA remained relatively stable, with a more consistent rise from 2014 to 2016.  Despite this rise in GVA, the waste generation for manufacturing industry and energy have remained stable over the same period, suggesting a small relative decrease in waste generation when assessed against the underlying GVA.

The extractive industry sector is one of the largest sources of waste in the EU and waste generation figures can change substantially from year to year depending on activity levels in some of the larger sites in the sector. The construction sector is the largest source of waste, but data for the construction sector are not presented in this indicator. The data in Figure 1 indicate a downward trend from 2012 to 2016 for extractive waste, with a reduction in waste generation of around 100 million tonnes over this period.

For the manufacturing industry, the total mass of waste generated each year has remained relatively constant over the period 2010-2016, although its percentage contribution to total waste generation has decreased slightly over this period. Compared with the relative contribution of industry, the total waste generation from households in 2016 was approximately 214 million tonnes, slightly lower than waste generation from the manufacturing industry.

The introduction of BAT conclusions and circular economy initiatives into manufacturing industry activities would be expected to reduce waste generation figures. Taking the GVA data in Figure 2 into account, there is some evidence that waste generation per unit of value added may be beginning to decrease in the period 2014-2016. However it is too early to identify a consistent trend and further data over the coming years will provide greater certainty on any underlying trend in waste generation.  

In the energy supply sector, the underlying trend is in agreement with reported data from Eurostat for supply, transformation and consumption of solid fuels, which reports an increase between 2010 and 2012 and reductions over the period 2012-2016. Future trends in waste generation from energy supply are expected to be downwards as electricity generation from solid fuels are forecast to decrease significantly over the period to 2050, and thus the quantities of residues (ash) from solid fuel burning will also reduce.

For the waste industry, the quantity of total waste generation rose steadily over the period 2010-2016. This total waste figure includes both primary waste generation and secondary waste. Secondary wastes include residues from waste processing activities, for example, sorting residues, which are generated from the processing of municipal waste.

2. Did reported off-site transfers of industrial hazardous and non-hazardous waste change substantially between 2007 and 2016?

Total reported tonnage of hazardous and non-hazardous waste transfers for each E-PRTR activity sector (excluding waste management)

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Total annual E-PRTR reported quantity of hazardous and non-hazardous waste transfers (excluding data for the waste sector), and annual GVA value for industrial activities

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

This analysis is based on data from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR). The E-PRTR includes data from large industrial facilities across Europe, covering the EU-28 and also Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Reporting on waste transfers (i.e. off-site movements of waste) is included within the E-PRTR, with facilities being required to report data on waste transfers to the E-PRTR if they exceed specific thresholds, namely 2 tonnes per year and 2 000 tonnes per year, respectively, for hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

Figure 3 illustrates the annual reported waste transfers for a range of industrial sectors, generally indicating that there was no significant trend in off-site transfers of hazardous and non-hazardous between 2007 and 2016 for most sectors, although there was variability from year to year and evidence of trends in some sectors:

  • The trend in waste transfers for the energy supply sector has been downwards since 2012. This is expected to continue as electricity generation using solid fuels is forecast to decrease between now and 2025 (and onwards to 2050)[1]. A number of sectors (including energy) show a dip in waste generation around 2008/2009, likely to be related to the economic downturn in Europe, which occurred around this time. The reduction in transfers from the energy sector in more recent years also reflects the small reduction in reported waste generation from the energy supply sector as illustrated in Figure 1.
  • The extractive industry sector has displayed a downward trend in waste transfers since 2009, which is also partly reflected in the waste generation trend for this sector as illustrated in Figure 1. 
  • The significant increase in waste transfers for the iron and steel sector in 2015 is likely to be related to an outlier in the reported data.

Figure 4 shows the total E-PRTR reported hazardous and non-hazardous waste transfers in each year since 2007, as well as the annual reported Gross Value Added (GVA) for industry (excluding construction) as reported by Eurostat. The objective of showing GVA is to consider the impact of industrial output/productivity with respect to waste generation data. Analysis of Figure 4 does not suggest any consistent relationship between GVA for industry and total transfers of hazardous/non-hazardous waste from industrial facilities.

3. Does E-PRTR data provide any evidence of increased recovery rates within the various industry sectors?

Percentage of reported transfers, by sector, which are transferred for recovery

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

This analysis is based on reported industrial waste data from the E-PRTR, which is broken down into waste streams destined for disposal and for recovery. These data therefore allow analysis of the fraction of waste transfers that are destined for recovery.

Figure 5 shows the percentage of reported waste transfers sent for recovery from different industrial sectors. Overall (i.e. for total waste transfers from all sectors) the total fraction of transfers sent for recovery has actually decreased slightly from approximately 72 % in 2007 to 67 % in 2016, however within the different reported industrial sectors in E-PRTR there are noticeable upward and downward trends:

  • The chemical industry trend has increased relatively steadily from 42 % to over 50 % in 2016, though this is still the sector with the lowest reported fraction of waste transferred for recovery. This low level of recovery may be related to the generally complex nature of waste generated in this sector, with a significant percentage of hazardous waste streams. One potential reason for this increase could be related to increased treatment of waste at waste incineration plants, which are classified as recovery operations. Heat recovery in waste incineration installations is defined as a recovery operation, but only where the incineration installation meets the required heat recovery rates as specified in the Industrial Emissions Directive. The increased recovery could therefore, at least in part, be related to more waste being sent to incineration plants that achieve the required efficiency for classification as a recovery activity. Eurostat data on waste treatment[1] confirm that overall treatment by incineration (disposal) is consistently decreasing year on year, while quantities of waste sent for energy recovery increased by nearly 50 million tonnes between 2008 and 2016.
  • The energy sector recovery trend has been consistently downwards since 2007, though it has levelled off in more recent years. This is partly explained by an increase in reported quantities of waste being sent for disposal from this sector, which could be related to less on-site management of residues (e.g. less on-site landfilling, necessitating transfers of waste off-site). This sector has also consistently reported increased transfers of hazardous waste since 2007, which may be related to increased quantities of hazardous flue gas cleaning residues as a result of increased end-of-pipe flue gas treatment. This trend is also significantly influenced by a substantial downward trend in recovery rates in Germany for reported transfers from the energy sector. Between 2007 and 2009, the recovery rate for the energy sector in Germany was greater than 90 %, however this had dropped to close to 40 % by 2016.
  • The trend in the mineral industry, which reports one of the highest total transfers of waste, has been generally downwards since 2007, falling from 80 % recovery in 2007 to 72 % in 2016.
  • The paper, wood and pulp sector shows a consistent but modest increase in recovery from 81 % to 87 %, while transfers for recovery within the intensive agriculture and aquaculture sector have risen to 97 %. These two sectors have some of the highest recovery rates of all E-PRTR sectors.

Apart from the sectors mentioned above, most other sectors do not show any discernible or consistent trend in recovery rates based on reported waste transfers. Overall the trends towards increased recovery are considered to be weak and do not suggest any substantial move towards greater circularity[2] in terms of waste recovery rates. However, these data may mask varying levels of performance between different countries, with countries such as Romania actually reporting a significant overall increase in recovery of industrial waste from 52 % in 2011 to 73 % in 2016[3].

As part of the consultation for this indicator, reporting countries were asked to provide feedback on issues that were limiting improvements in waste recovery/waste generation within industry. A number of reporting countries provided additional thoughts on issues that could be influencing recovery within industry. These include:

  • A lack of specific measurable targets for recovery rates within individual industrial sectors, including a lack of specific targets within the BAT Conclusion documents for IED regulated activities. The lack of specific waste minimisation and recovery targets within permits for industrial activities was also highlighted as an issue;
  • Insufficient availability of detailed data on waste generation, recovery rates and recovery technology, which could inform the development of more specific/focussed BAT Conclusions on waste activities;
  • The relative cost of recovery versus the cost of purchasing virgin materials for an industrial process. This also includes high waste shipment costs which can reduce the incentive to send waste for recovery at specialised installations outside the country of generation. In parallel, there is a need to introduce financial instruments to encourage and facilitate the development of recovery initiatives;
  • On-site recovery activities are sometimes avoided due to the potential liability associated with holding and processing waste. The transfer of responsibility to a third-party waste management company is sometimes considered as a lower-risk option;
  • In some countries, the cost of landfilling is low, which is a disincentive for recovery activities;
  • The presence or potential presence of hazardous materials within waste (e.g. heavy metals) is reducing the potential to develop resource efficient recovery options within some industrial sectors;
  • With regard to the influence of the BAT Conclusions and BREF documents in general, the decision not to review certain BREF documents related to the chemical industry was highlighted as a relevant issue, which could impede progress in improving waste management within certain industrial sectors. The relevant BREF documents are the BREF documents for ‘manufacture of organic fine chemicals’, ‘production of speciality inorganic chemicals’, ‘production of polymers’ and parts of the BREF documents related to ‘large volume inorganic chemicals’. 

[2] Note that waste generation and recovery is only one element of the overall circular economy initiative, thus these data cannot provide a comprehensive indicator of circularity within industry. These data should be considered within the broader context of circular economy indicators.

[3] Based on EIONET consultation response from Romania.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator provides data and analysis on trends in waste generation, and the relative generation of hazardous and non-hazardous waste from industrial activities in Europe throughout the last decade. In addition, the indicator assesses trends in the recovery of industrial waste. The data provided in this indicator will also act as a baseline to assess the effectiveness of future policy measures that will have an impact on industrial waste management. 


Millions of tonnes are the units used for data on waste generation and waste transfers. For data on gross value added, billions of euros are used. Percentages are also used to assist in presenting relative changes in various parameters such as waste recovery rates. 

Policy context and targets

Context description

The Waste Framework Directive (WFD, 2008/98/EC) sets the overall structure that defines waste management activities across EU Member States. The WFD defines key concepts in relation to waste management including the definition of what constitutes ‘waste’ and the properties that require a waste to be classified as ‘hazardous’. In addition, Regulation 1013/2006 on Shipment of Waste specifies the conditions under which waste can be moved between countries and is very relevant to industrial wastes, particularly hazardous wastes, which are often shipped throughout Europe for the purposes of disposal or recovery. 

The primary policy initiative, specifically in relation to the regulation of industrial activities (including waste related aspects) is the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED – 2010/75/EU), and its predecessor, the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (IPPC – 2008/1/EC). In general, the primary focus of the regulatory regime introduced under the IPPC and the IED is more on the management of environmental releases and there has been less emphasis on minimisation and/or recovery, including preparing waste for reuse, within the permitting process. The IED does include specific reference to the WFD in relation to minimising waste generation and managing waste in accordance with European law.

While for releases to air or water, the regulatory process normally specifies emission limits, there are generally no site specific targets set against which waste minimisation or waste recovery rates can be benchmarked. In practical terms, this tends to divert regulatory efforts towards those actions that can be measured, for example the installation of abatement technologies to minimise sulphur dioxide emissions, or the achievement of specific limit values for discharges to water. The nature of the regulatory approach to emissions to air and water also tends to generate more data. This allows for better measurements and the demonstration of improvements, with the data reported on waste (e.g. through the E-PRTR) tending to be less focussed as it is generally not used to assess compliance against a specific target.

One of the key improvements introduced under the IED, compared with the previous IPPC process, is the concept of Best Available Techniques Conclusions (BATc). The BAT conclusion documents set out legally binding requirements for industrial activities, which must be integrated into installation permits within 4 years of the BATc documents being published. The implementation of BATc is likely to have some positive influence in terms of minimising resource use and waste generation, and promoting efficient management of materials and residue recovery, as the BATc documents address waste management techniques in a more focussed way than was the case under the IPPC. Each BATc document will typically have a number of specific waste and resource efficiency related conclusions, which must be implemented by IED installations. However, in general these waste related BAT conclusions tend to be qualitative, rather than setting specific quantitative targets. It thus remains to be seen exactly how effective the BATc process will be in terms of influencing waste generation and recovery levels.

Apart from the specific waste management or industry related policies, other broader policy measures in the waste and resource efficiency area will also have an impact on industrial waste generation and recovery in the coming years, specifically policy measures in relation to the Circular Economy (CE). The 2018 Circular Economy Package sets out a strategic framework of measures that will help stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy, boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. As part of the circular economy package, the Commission will clarify rules on by-products and end-of-waste status, which will help support the development of industrial symbiosis — a process by which the waste of one company can become resources for another company. To promote resource efficient and innovative industrial processes, such as industrial symbiosis or re-manufacturing, the Commission supports innovative industrial initiatives under the financing programme Horizon 2020 and through Cohesion Policy funds.


As part of the consultation with EEA member countries, a number of responses were received with specific national information and tools that may also be of use in providing further contextual information. Links to some of these sources of information are provided below, while other consultation responses have been incorporated into the indicator descriptive text. The EEA would like to thank those countries that provided consultation responses.


There are no specific targets related to industrial waste management. 

Related policy documents


Methodology for indicator calculation

Eurostat based indicators/data

Eurostat data on waste generation were downloaded directly from the Eurostat database and were processed to extract the data necessary for Figures 1 and 2. The database is available at:

Data downloaded were based on ‘total waste’, i.e. primary and secondary waste generation figures, and for the total combined quantity of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Secondary waste is relevant mainly for the waste industry sector, where residues from waste processing would be considered as secondary waste (this could include sorting residues or sludges/liquid wastes from processing activities). Also, in the context of the waste industry, primary waste is defined as total waste excluding secondary waste (i.e. ‘total waste – secondary waste’). For the main NACE code related to the waste industry (i.e. NACE code E38 - Waste collection, treatment and disposal activities; materials recovery) secondary waste accounts for about 58 % (based on 2016 data) of total reported waste. Recyclable materials generated during the processing of wastes in the waste industry are categorised as ‘primary waste’ according to the methodology used by Eurostat. Also, the definition of the waste industry does not include other industrial activities, which manage their own waste (e.g. via on-site incineration or on-site landfilling). Because the waste industry is processing waste, which may originate from industrial activities, there is likely to be some double-counting of wastes within the reported dataset. However it was nonetheless considered useful to present data on the waste industry as part of the indicator. 

Eurostat waste generation data are reported by NACE code. In order to generate the data presented in Figure 1, the NACE codes were mapped to predefined EEA activity sectors. In some cases a number of NACE codes map to a single EEA activity sector. The EEA activity mapping methodology is published and available at: 

Eurostat data on gross value added by industry is also used in Figures 1 and 2. These data were accessed directly from the Eurostat database at:


E-PRTR based indicators/data

E-PRTR data on waste transfers are submitted to the EEA by reporting countries. The latest version of the E-PRTR dataset (V14) was used to generate the data in the indicator text and graphs (Figures 3, 4 and 5). The latest version of the E-PRTR datasets are publicly available at:

Figures 3 and 5 present E-PRTR data aggregated to a range of different industrial sectors. In order to generate these sector-based data, the E-PRTR activity codes were mapped to predefined EEA activity sectors. This EEA activity mapping methodology is published and available at: 

All graphs presented for E-PRTR data exclude data for the waste industry sector as this would result in double-counting of data (i.e. transfers reported by other E-PRTR industrial activities), and in the case of E-PRTR data the inclusion of these data was not considered to be of relevance in relation to the policy questions being addressed. 

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling is required. 

Methodology references


Methodology uncertainty

Two key data sources were employed in preparing this indicator, namely the Eurostat dataset on waste generation and also the E-PRTR dataset. The methodology is based on a simple approach to presenting data on waste from Eurostat and from the E-PRTR, hence the potential uncertainties in the methodology itself are limited, however the data uncertainty, described separately, will influence the overall uncertainty of the approach taken in this indicator. 

The Eurostat data are updated every 2 years and, for the purposes of this indicator, data from 2010 to 2016 are used (see data uncertainty section for details). 

The E-PRTR dataset includes data on waste transfers from industrial facilities. Data are reported only for facilities that carry out specified activities. The E-PRTR data include only data on waste transfers, i.e. off-site movements of waste, therefore, if waste is managed on-site (e.g. on-site landfill or incineration) then it would not be reported via the E-PRTR. In addition, reporting thresholds are set for waste transfers and only transfers above 2 000 tonnes (for non-hazardous waste) or 2 tonnes (for hazardous waste) are reported via the E-PRTR. E-PRTR data are reported by the 33 member countries of the EEA, with the exception of Turkey, which does not currently report data. Non-EU countries reporting E-PRTR data are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. 

These differences in the Eurostat and E-PRTR datasets mean that they are not necessarily comparable, e.g.:

  • E-PRTR deals only with larger industrial facilities;
  • Waste that is managed on-site is not reported to E-PRTR;
  • Waste transfers below the reporting threshold are not reported to the E-PRTR.

The way in which the datasets are reported also means that the activity classifications used in these waste indicators are different for each data source. For example, Eurostat waste generation data as presented in these indicators, are broken down into extractive industry, manufacturing industry, energy supply and waste industry based on the groupings of NACE codes used in Eurostat reporting. E-PRTR data used in these indicators are also presented in terms of extractive industry and energy supply, but more detail on sub-activities of ‘manufacturing industry’ are also provided. Data for the same sub-activities cannot be generated with Eurostat waste generation data due to the aggregation of data over multiple NACE codes. Also, data for the waste industry are not provided for E-PRTR based indicators, as there is potential for double-counting of waste transfers between sites. While double-counting is also likely with Eurostat data, it was decided to include data for the waste industry sector as the trend for this sector is of interest. 

Data sets uncertainty

The indicators presented here, which are based on E-PRTR data, are subject to the data limitations of the E-PRTR process. The extent of information collected in relation to waste is limited to waste quantity, treatment type (disposal or recovery) and waste type (hazardous or non-hazardous). Additionally, for hazardous waste transfers outside the country of generation, details of the recoverer/disposer and the recovery/disposal site must also be provided. No further detail on wastes are collected within the E-PRTR database. 

The reporting thresholds for waste (2 tonnes for hazardous waste and 2 000 tonnes for non-hazardous waste transfers) also means that not all transferred waste is reported under the E-PRTR. In some situations, there may also be outliers present in the data. These can only be corrected by the reporting countries, as the EEA cannot adjust/amend national data. Quality control checks completed by the EEA will flag potential outliers, which are then notified to reporting countries. The reporting country can then investigate the data and determine if an update of the dataset is required.  

Also, E-PRTR data relate only to off-site transfers of waste, hence on-site waste disposal/recovery activities will not be accounted for in E-PRTR data (e.g. on-site landfill, incineration or recovery activities).

In addition, E-PRTR data on waste do not provide any context on the environmental impact of waste transfers or information on the potential impacts of the wastes. Data are aggregated into hazardous and non-hazardous wastes, although within these broad categories there is potential for certain wastes to present a more significant risk to the environment due to their form or composition. Some countries do already collect data on waste composition as part of their national PRTR, although this is not requested as part of the E-PRTR data collection as there is currently no legal obligation to collect this information within the E-PRTR.

Some changes in year-to-year waste quantities reported to the E-PRTR may be related to the improved reporting and quality assurance of data both at a national and EU level. However, it is not possible to identify such variations in the reported data.

Within this indicator, Eurostat data are presented only for 2010 and later. Data are available for years before 2010, although there is some uncertainty over the consistency of these pre-2010 data compared with post-2010 data, hence it is not used in developing the indicator. The dataset includes estimates of the total quantity of waste generated based on activity NACE codes, with data also available per country. However, only EU-28 data aggregated data are used in this indicator.  

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified. 

Data sources

Generic metadata


information.png Tags:
, ,
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • INDP 004
Temporal coverage:

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Ian Marnane


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years
Document Actions
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