Waste generation in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-367-en
Also known as: CSI 041 , WST 004
Created 08 Jul 2019 Published 22 Nov 2019 Last modified 22 Nov 2019
19 min read
More and more waste is being generated. Between 2010 and 2016, total waste generation increased by 3.0 % (almost 74.7 million tonnes) in the EU-28 countries. Absolute total waste (excluding major mineral wastes) increased by 6.0 % (48.1 million tonnes) and generation per capita went up by 70 kg per capita. In 2016 the water and waste (28.0 %), households (23.0 %) and manufacturing (21.0 %)  sectors  generated the largest shares of waste, excluding major mineral wastes. These three sectors together produce almost 72 % of all waste, excluding major mineral wastes. Between 2010 and 2016, waste generation in the water and waste sector increased by 56 % ( almost 82 million tonnes).  This significant growth was driven mainly by secondary waste generation from the development of waste management systems in countries with growing waste treatment operations. In other sectors, the trend was gradually decreasing.  Waste, excluding major mineral wastes, generated by all economic sectors followed growth in economic development between 2010 and 2016, with only very slight decoupling.  

Key messages

More and more waste is being generated. Between 2010 and 2016, total waste generation increased by 3.0 % (almost 74.7 million tonnes) in the EU-28 countries. Absolute total waste (excluding major mineral wastes) increased by 6.0 % (48.1 million tonnes) and generation per capita went up by 70 kg per capita.

In 2016 the water and waste (28.0 %), households (23.0 %) and manufacturing (21.0 %) sectors generated the largest shares of waste, excluding major mineral wastes. These three sectors together produce almost 72 % of all waste, excluding major mineral wastes.

Between 2010 and 2016, waste generation in the water and waste sector increased by 56 % (almost 82 million tonnes). This significant growth was driven mainly by secondary waste generation from the development of waste management systems in countries with growing waste treatment operations. In other sectors, the trend was gradually decreasing. 

Waste, excluding major mineral wastes, generated by all economic sectors followed growth in economic development between 2010 and 2016, with only very slight decoupling.

 

Is Europe generating less waste?

Waste generation and decoupling in the EU-28

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Generation of waste excluding major mineral wastes, EU

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Generation of waste, excluding major mineral wastes, per capita and by European country

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Waste generation

In the period 2010–2016, total waste generation increased by 3.0 % (almost 74.7 million tonnes) in the EU-28 countries (Figure 1). Absolute amount of total waste, excluding major mineral wastes, increased by 6.0 % (48,1 million tonnes) as well as generation per capita (by 70 kg per capita) (Figure 3). The average amount of waste, excluding major mineral wastes, generated per person in European countries was 1 783 kg/capita in 2016.

In 2016 the water and waste (28.0 %), households (23.0 %) and manufacturing (21.0 %) sectors generated the largest shares of waste, excluding major mineral wastes (Figure 2). Together these three sectors produced almost 71 % of all waste in the EU-28, excluding major mineral wastes. Sectors that seem to have the least influence on waste generation trends are agriculture, forestry and fishing (2.2 %) and mining and quarrying (0,8%). The latter is mentioned because mineral wastes, excluded from this indicator, are produced mainly in this sector.

Between 2010 and 2016, two sectors increased their waste production; the water and waste sector (+56 % or almost 82 million tonnes) and the energy sector (+4 %, or 2.9 million tonnes). The rest of the sectors showed decreasing trends: services (-10 % or 15.1 million tonnes, ), manufacturing (-5 % or 10.7 million tonnes), construction (-11 % or about 5 million tonnes), households (-2 % or almost 4.8 million tonnes), mining and quarrying (-9 % or 710 thousand tonnes) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (-2 % or 430 thousand tonnes).

The significant growth in waste generation within the water and waste sector relates to the development of more complex waste management methods, where waste undergoes several treatment steps, such as sorting, pre-treatment and recovery. Such treatment steps generate secondary wastes (such as sludge from waste treatment, sorting residues and combustion waste from waste incineration) that are counted twice in the statistics. However, secondary waste is a waste stream that needs to be managed as well. Increased secondary waste generation is mainly related to the diversion of a large amount of waste from landfills towards recycling and energy recovery.

The reasons for the decreasing trends in the services, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, and construction sectors are not entirely clear. They could include changes in shifting part of the production to third countries, efficiency improvements in production processes and management, changes in the structure of the manufacturing sector, an increase in activities in the services sector and a shift towards less-intensive waste generating activities, as well as methodological changes in waste data collection, which seems to have been relevant for waste from agriculture. On the other hand, the rate of waste generation in the agriculture, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, and mining and quarrying sectors could be influenced by the greater number of by-products or non-waste regimes in these sectors. Implementation of relevant EU policies in combination with improved waste prevention efforts across Europe seems to contribute to the waste objectives, but only in some sectors. Overall, however, the European trend masks differing developments in European countries.

At country level (EEA-33 member countries and West Balkan cooperating countries, Figure 3), in 2016, the highest amount of waste per person, excluding major mineral wastes, was generated in Estonia (8 965 kg/capita). The lowest amount was generated in North Macedonia (336 kg/ capita), while the European average was 1 783 kg/capita. The large quantity of waste generated in Estonia is related to energy production based on oil shale (Eurostat, 2019a) and waste data for North Macedonia shows a high fluctuation rate over time. The most significant difference between 2010 and 2016 were observed in Bulgaria, Latvia and Malta where waste generation increased by more than 430 kg per capita and in Finland and Liechtenstein where it decreased (by more than 600 kg per capita). Available data for several countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo and Montenegro) are incomplete so it is difficult to measure change of waste generation per capita during the period of 2010-2016. 

Decoupling

GDP measures the value of goods and services produced in the economy. It is also used in connection with waste generation data to evaluate decoupling. Decoupling is the process of using fewer resources and generating less waste per unit of economic activity. The transition to a more circular economy requires the decoupling of profit from resource consumption and primary waste generation. The objective of this economic concept is based on value creation mostly by the prevention of waste generation, the re-use of goods and recycling of materials.

Waste, excluding major mineral wastes, generated by all economic sectors followed growth in economic development between 2010 and 2016, with only very slight decoupling. While, total waste generation and total waste, excluding major mineral wastes, increased by 3.0 % and 6.0 %, respectively, and GDP grew by 8.0 %.


 

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator consists of three figures about waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, although in Figure 1 the generation of total waste is also shown. Total waste consists of about 65 % mineral wastes, which represent a separate waste management sector with a large potential for material use. To take into account other significant sources of waste production, this indicator focuses 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 the 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 stabilised wastes (EWC-Stat 13).

Figure 1 shows indexed values of waste generation, population and gross domestic product (GDP) with 2010 taken as a reference year (2010=100 %). The figure shows both total waste and total waste excluding major mineral wastes. GDP was chosen as a basic indicator of 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 an important demographic indicator and driver for waste generation. 

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

 

Units

The figures used in the indicator are as follows:


  • 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 recent decades, is the 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 economic 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 methods of recovery and disposal. These priorities are highlighted by recent waste and resource efficiency policies and strategies at EU and national levels.

Although the importance of waste prevention has been recognised 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 subsequent 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 are becoming more and more important, not only in environmental policies, but also in industrial and raw material policies, and as a backbone of the transition to 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 included 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 should bring benefits for both the environment and the economy. 

Most recently, the European Commission’s 2018 Circular economy package sets out measures related to prevention of plastic waste, and the revised Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EU as amended by Directive 2018/851/EU) strengthens the provisions on waste prevention but does not include quantified targets for waste in general.

 

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 sets the target to 'substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse' by 2030 (12.5).

 

Targets

No quantitative waste prevention targets are established for waste in general. Some limited targets apply to selected waste streams, including food waste (Waste Framework Directive) and plastic bags (Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive). However, the EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme sets the objective of reducing waste generation both per person and in absolute terms, and UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out to reduce the 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 were retrieved from Eurostat. Eurostat aggregates for the EU-28 were used. Data on waste generation contain all NACE activities and households. Frequency of data publishing varies from every 2 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 activity and waste generation in households were retrieved from Eurostat. Eurostat aggregates for the EU-28 were used. Frequency of data publishing is every 2 years.

Figure 3

Data for waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, were retrieved from Eurostat. Data are displayed for 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 2 years.


 

Methodology for gap filling

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 and was substituted with 2014 data.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

There is little uncertainty about the methodology used. Eurostat aggregates for the 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 in the metadata and explanatory notes provided by Eurostat. Only official datasets by Eurostat have been used.

The indicator covers the latest available data year. Data for 2004–2008 are less reliable, mainly due to adjustments to country specific methodologies concerning the scope of the data (e.g. some materials that are now classified as by-products were, in 2004, considered as wastes etc.). Furthermore in 2008, the NACE categorisation had been revised in its entirety (introduction of the NACE rev. 2 in 2008). The change was very significant: NACE categories were reorganised on multiple levels, many categories were joined together across different original categories, many categories were abandoned entirely and new categories emerged. Also the Waste Statistics Regulation was changed, and data for 2010 and later follow the new rules (e.g. determination of major mineral wastes).

Some problems in data reporting persist in national implementation and interpretation of such definitions as waste, non-waste and by-product (e.g. for construction and demolition waste, agriculture), different methodical approaches and priorities of national waste management systems and statistics.  


 

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 to 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:

information.png Tags:
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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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