Waste generation

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-367-en
Also known as: CSI 041 , WST 004
Created 13 Feb 2015 Published 02 Mar 2015 Last modified 01 Oct 2018
12 min read
European economic production and consumption have become less waste intensive, even after the economic downturn since 2008 is considered in the analysis. From the production side, waste generation from manufacturing in the EU-28 and Norway declined by 25% in absolute terms between 2004 and 2012, despite an increase of 7% in sectoral economic output. Waste generation by the service sector declined by 23% in the same period, despite an increase of 13% in sectoral economic output. Turning to consumption, total municipal waste generation in EEA countries declined by 2% between 2004 and 2012, despite a 7% increase in real household expenditure. One of the objectives in EU waste policy is to reduce waste generation in absolute terms, within the overall goal to decouple economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts. Waste prevention efforts across Europe seems to contribute to the waste objectives; with considerable differences between the countries. Wider analysis across different economic sectors within and beyond EU borders will be needed in order to provide more comprehensive conclusions.

Key messages

European economic production and consumption have become less waste intensive, even after the economic downturn since 2008 is considered in the analysis.

From the production side, waste generation from manufacturing in the EU-28 and Norway declined by 25% in absolute terms between 2004 and 2012, despite an increase of 7% in sectoral economic output. Waste generation by the service sector declined by 23% in the same period, despite an increase of 13% in sectoral economic output.

Turning to consumption, total municipal waste generation in EEA countries declined by 2% between 2004 and 2012, despite a 7% increase in real household expenditure.

One of the objectives in EU waste policy is to reduce waste generation in absolute terms, within the overall goal to decouple economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts. Waste prevention efforts across Europe seems to contribute to the waste objectives; with considerable differences between the countries. Wider analysis across different economic sectors within and beyond EU borders will be needed in order to provide more comprehensive conclusions.

Is the generation of waste in Europe declining?

Waste generation by production and consumption activities

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

The waste hierarchy, the guiding framework in EU and national waste policies, gives the highest priority to waste prevention, followed by (preparing for) re-use, recycling, other recovery and disposal. The highest priority to waste prevention is also highlighted by the recent waste and resource efficiency policies and strategies at EU and national levels.

Measuring waste prevention is a complex task. Quantifying waste prevention is difficult since it often amounts to measuring what is not there. For that reason, waste generation related to demographics or economic activity, as well as waste generation as such are considered the closest approximation for measuring quantitative waste prevention.

European economic production and consumption is apparently becoming less waste intensive, even after the economic downturn since 2008 is factored into the analysis. European trend, however, masks differing developments across European countries.

Production activities

In EU-28 and Norway nearly half of the total waste, excluding major mineral wastes, was generated by the manufacturing and services sectors in 2012, while their contribution to the total gross value added (GVA) was predominant.

For both sectors, generation of waste declined in spite of increased economic output over the period 2004-2012 (Figure 1). The most notable decline in waste generation was observed in the manufacturing sector with 25% expressed in absolute terms. In the same period its economic output increased by 7%, with the largest increase in the information and communication sector. In the same period, economic output from the services sector increased by 13%, while waste generation declined by 23%, expressed in absolute terms.

It is considered that the services sector is less waste intensive than the manufacturing sector on average. As the waste intensity of the service sector (0.014 kg/EUR in 2012) was lower than for the manufacturing sector (0.12 kg/EUR in 2012), a shift to the services sector in the economy is a contributor to less waste generation.

This improvement might be due to a combination of various factors: efficiency improvements in production processes and management, changes in the structure of the manufacturing sector, increase in activities in services sector and a shift towards less-intensive waste generating activities.

According to the recent Environmental Indicator Report, EEA, 2014, the structure of production in Europe has changed in large part due to a shift of industrial production to regions of the world with lower labour costs in the past two decades. Trade liberalisation combined with lower labour costs and less regulation in many developing countries can act as driving forces for a shift towards the production of goods consumed in Europe to other regions of the world. Some sectors, including the metals, telecommunications, electrical, textiles, food and chemical sectors have been particularly affected by relocations since 2000. This development might have added to the decline in waste generation.

The share of services in the EU economy has increased, with the largest growth in the information and communication services sector. The Report also concludes that ’many environmental pressures within Europe are decreasing’, which is partially associated to the ’more eco-efficient production, but partially to the fact that resource extraction and the manufacturing of many intermediate goods and final consumer products have relocated elsewhere’.

Consumption activities

In EEA-33, excluding Liechtenstein, generation of municipal waste slightly declined by 2% between 2004 and 2012, despite an observed increase in household consumption expenditure of 7% in real terms (Figure 1). Generation of municipal waste was in continuous decline since 2007; showing absolute decoupling from household expenditure between 2009 and 2011. Behind the overall declining trend, there is large diversity between the EEA countries. Albeit temporary recovery of household consumption expenditure, generation of municipal waste continues to decline for more than 6% between 2007 and 2012.

It would require much more detailed data to find out if waste prevention policies in the countries have contributed to the decline in waste generation. Some countries have achieved a stabilisation of waste generation or even a reduction, while others follow a constant increase.

One of the objectives in EU waste policy is to reduce waste generation and to decouple waste generation from economic growth and environmental impact. Implementation of relevant EU policies in combination with improved waste prevention efforts across Europe seems to contribute to the waste objectives. Nevertheless, in-depth analysis across different economic sectors will be needed in order to provide more comprehensive understanding of the presented trends.

Waste collection methods (e.g. change in national reporting method over time), might also have played a role when interpreting waste generation trends. Reporting systems need further harmonization in order to ensure the figures reported by countries are comparable.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator consists of three figures aimed entirely on waste generation excluding major mineral wastes, although in Figure 1 is also generation of total waste shown. Total waste consists about 65 % of mineral wastes, which represent a separate waste management sector with a large potential for material use. To take into account also other significant sources of waste production, in this indicator we focus only on waste excluding major mineral wastes. 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. Major mineral wastes excluded from the indicator are according to Eurostat and European Waste Classification for statistical purposes (EWC-Stat, version 4): mineral construction and demolition waste (EWC-Stat 12.1), other mineral waste (12.2, 12.3, 12.5), soils (12.6) and dredging spoils (12.7). However, the indicator includes combustion wastes (EWC-Stat 12.4) and mineral wastes from waste treatment and stabilized wastes (EWC-Stat 13).

Figure 1 shows indexed values of waste production, population and gross domestic product (GDP) with year 2010 as a reference year (2010=100 %). Production phase shows generation of total waste and waste excluding major mineral wastes in absolute terms. GDP was chosen as a basic indicator of the economic growth as it expresses the total value of goods and services produced in the country (the components of GDP include personal consumption expenditures plus business investment plus government spending plus (exports minus imports)).  Population expressed as average population is important demographic indicator which enables to gain perception about development in number of possible consumers and waste producers.

Figure 2 shows waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, by specific NACE activities including a separate category for waste generation in households and their share to total waste generation. Data presented in form of ring diagram are displayed as a comparison of the reference (2010) and last available year.

Figure 3 shows waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, per capita by European countries. Data presented in form of bar chart are displayed as a comparison of the reference (2010) and last available year.

Units

  • Figure 1

    Indexed values of waste volumes (in tonnes), GDP (in chain linked volumes (2010), million euro) and population (as average population) expressed as 100 % in 2010.

     Figure 2

    Waste generation by NACE activities (in tonnes) expresses as a percentage of total waste generation, except major mineral wastes.

     Figure 3

    Waste generation except major mineral wastes in kg per capita.


Policy context and targets

Context description

One of the symbols of the linear economy system, which predominated in last decades, is high consumption of resources followed by high waste generation (´take - make - dispose´). This economic model is based on increasing profits generated by the consumption of primary resources and increasing demand for short-cycle products. In 2015 and 2018, the European Commission adopted Circular Economy packages to make the transition to a stronger economy model where resources are used in a more sustainable way. The waste hierarchy serves to set priorities for national waste policies and gives the highest priority to waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other method of recovery and disposal. The highest priority to waste prevention is also highlighted by the recent waste and resource efficiency policies and strategies at EU and national levels.

Although the importance of waste prevention has been recognized in European waste legislation since its first 1975 Directive on Waste (75/442/EEC), effective waste prevention measures in the Member States have been lacking. Waste prevention was especially underlined in the next Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC). Article 4 of the Directive requires that waste prevention measures should be considered a top priority when developing waste policy and Annex IV contains examples of measures connected with waste prevention. According to the Waste Framework Directive, all EU member states had to adopt Waste Prevention Programmes by 12 December 2013. These programmes are focused on a variety of sectors and waste types. According to Articles 29 and 30 (2008/98/EC) the Waste Prevention Programmes must be evaluated at least every sixth year.

Waste prevention and using waste as a resource is becoming more and more important, not only in environmental policies, but also in industrial and raw material policies, and as a backbone of the transitions towards a green economy. In 2011, the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM (2011) 571) set the objective that waste generation per person should be in absolute decline by 2020. Two years later, the EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme called for additional efforts to reduce waste generation both per person and in absolute terms. 

In 2015 the European Commission adopted a Circular Economy Package, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy. The Circular Economy Package consists of an EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy that establishes a concrete programme of action, with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. The annex to the action plan sets out the timeline when the actions will be completed. The proposed actions should contribute to "closing the loop" of product life cycles through greater recycling and reuse and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy. New Circular Economy Package was adopted in 2018 and brought revised legislative proposals that serve as tools for diverting from landfilling and increasing recycling rates.

Overall waste generation reduction and increasing waste prevention are dominant interests also at the global level. In 2015, The United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 12 includes several targets supporting ´ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns´ and set target by 2030 to ´substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse´ (12.5).

Targets

No quantitative waste prevention targets are established, but the EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme sets the objective to reduce waste generation both per person and in absolute terms and UN´s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets to reduce amount of generated waste through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Nevertheless, the Sustainable Development Goals are not legally binding.

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.’
  • A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy COM/2018/028
    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 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
  • Council Directive 75/442/EEC of 15 July 1975 on waste
    EEC, 1975, Council directive 75/442/EEC of 15 July 1975 on waste (OJ L 194, 25.7.1975, p.39-41), 75/442/EEC
  • Directive (EU) 2018/851 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste
    Directive (EU) 2018/851 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 2008/98/EC on 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

Figure 1

Raw data for waste generation (total and excluding major mineral wastes), population and GDP was retrieved from Eurostat. Eurostat aggregates for EU-28 were used. Data on waste generation contain all NACE activities and households. Frequency of data publishing varies from every two years (for waste generation) to every year (for population and GDP). The aggregated figures are indexed to 2010, which means that the figure for each year is divided by the figure for 2010 and then multiplied by 100.  

 Figure 2

Data for waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, by NACE activities and waste generation in households was retrieved from Eurostat. Eurostat aggregates for EU-28 were used. Frequency of data publishing is every two years.

 Figure 3

Data for waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, was retrieved from Eurostat. Data are displayed on country level, contain all NACE activities and households and are expressed in kg per capita. To provide the broadest possible picture of European countries, geographical coverage was extended to the EEA-33 member countries and West Balkan cooperating countries. Frequency of data publishing is every two years.

 Notes on missing data:

 Figures 1 and 2: Eurostat aggregates for EU-28 were used, therefore there was no need for gap filling or values estimation.

 Figure 3: To provide the broadest possible picture of European countries, geographical coverage was extended to the EEA-33 member countries and West Balkan cooperating countries. Data were not available for both displayed years (2010 and 2016) for Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. 2010 data were not available for Montenegro and Kosovo. 2016 data were not available for Ireland and Greece.

Methodology for gap filling

  • No gap filling required.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

There is little uncertainty about the methodology used. Eurostat aggregates for EU-28 were used, therefore there was no need for gap filling or values estimation.

Data sets uncertainty

Information on data sets uncertainties can be found directly at the metadata and explanatory notes provided by Eurostat. Only official data sets by Eurostat has been used.

Indicator covers time period only for years 2010-2014. Data for years 2004 – 2008 are less reliable, mainly due to adjustments to country specific methodologies concerning scope of the data (e.g. some materials which are now classified as by-products were in 2004 considered as wastes etc.). Furthermore in 2008 the NACE categorization had been revised in its entirety (introduction of the NACE rev. 2 in 2008), the change was very significant, NACE categories were reorganized on multiple level basis, many categories were joined together across different original categories, many categories perished entirely and new categories emerged. Also Waste Statistics Regulation was changed, and data for 2010 and later follow the new rules (e.g. determination of major mineral wastes).

Rationale uncertainty

Waste generation can be used only as a proxy for measuring waste prevention. Waste generation is influenced by many different factors, including economic development, structural changes of the economy, relocation of waste generating activities to other countries, storage of waste, and waste prevention measures. With the current data and information, it is not possible to disentangle the impact of these different factors and thus to identify the impact of waste prevention measures.

Data sources

Metadata

Topics:

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 041
  • WST 004
Temporal coverage:

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year and every 2 years

EEA Contact Info

Ozlem Durmus
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