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Indicator Assessment

Waste generation and decoupling in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-367-en
  Also known as: CSI 041 , WST 004
Published 23 Jun 2021 Last modified 23 Jun 2021
4 min read

 

Between 2010 and 2018, total waste generation increased by 5% (114 million tonnes) in the EU-27. When major mineral wastes are excluded from the total, it increased by 7% (50.3 million tonnes). This means that the EU-27 is not on track to meet its policy goal of reducing waste generation. These trends have been driven mainly by economic growth; however, the amount of waste generated increased by a smaller extent than the economy, indicating the relative decoupling of waste generation from economic growth.

 

Waste generation and decoupling, EU-27

Note: This figure shows indexed values of waste production, population and gross domestic product (GDP) with the year 2010 as a reference year (2010=100%). The production phase shows generation of total waste and waste excluding major mineral wastes in absolute terms. 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 expenditure plus business investment plus government spending plus (exports minus imports)). Population, expressed as average population, is an important demographic indicator, which provides insights into development in a number of possible consumers and waste producers.

Data source:

Waste generation is increasing in the EU. Reducing this, and achieving the absolute decoupling of waste generation from economic growth, is a primary objective of EU waste and circular economy policies (EC, 2011, 2018 and 2020). The EU Waste Framework Directive (EU, 2018) sets out a waste hierarchy, the guiding principle of EU and national waste policies.

From 2010 to 2018, total waste generation increased by 5.0% (114 million tonnes) in the 27 EU Member States (EU-27). Major mineral wastes, such as hard rocks, concrete, soils and others (that are mainly produced in the mining and construction sectors) feature in big quantities in relation to other waste types. This alters the interpretation of trends. They also usually represent an environmental issue of relatively less concern. If we exclude them from the totals, the remaining waste streams, more environmentally significant, increased even more, by 7.0% (50.3 million tonnes).

The main driver of increasing waste generation is economic growth, with gross domestic product (GDP), the most commonly used indicator of economic growth, increasing by 23% between 2010 and 2018. Population size was relatively stable and thus does not explain the trend. However, while the amount of waste generated grew considerably, it did so at a significantly slower pace than the economy, indicating the relative decoupling of waste generation from economic growth.

Changes in waste management also contributed to the trend, as nearly half of the increase can be accounted for by secondary wastes, i.e. from operations such as sorting residues. This suggests that waste management is improving in the EU but that changes in management practices that generate secondary wastes also need to be managed.

Unfortunately, the trends observed suggest that the EU is not on track to meet its goal of reducing waste generation. The trends also indicate that the EU, as a whole, is not yet fully implementing the first step of the waste hierarchy — waste prevention — as laid down in the Waste Framework Directive (EU, 2018). However, measuring waste prevention is a complex task, with data quality and quantification issues. For this reason, waste generation related to demographics (e.g. population) or economic activity (e.g. GDP) and total waste generation are considered the best indicators for quantifying waste prevention.

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

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

Data source:

On average, 1.8 tonnes of total waste (excluding major mineral wastes) were generated per European citizen, up from 1.7 tonnes/capita in 2010. This average masks large country differences, both in absolute waste volumes per capita and in the waste generation trend.

Amounts generated ranged from less than 1 tonne per capita to 9.7 tonnes per capita in 2018. The large quantity of waste generated in Estonia is related to energy production based on oil shale (Eurostat, 2019a), while waste data for North Macedonia show a high degree of fluctuation over time. These differences partly reflect differences in the structures of countries’ economies, and extreme values or significant differences can be explained by specific situations in individual countries.

Trends over time also show a mixed picture: total waste (excluding major mineral wastes) generated per capita increased between 2010 and 2018 in 18 countries and decreased in 15 countries. In some cases, trends have been influenced by improvements in data quality over time.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The two figures in this indicator provide information on waste generation. Figure 1 shows indexed values of waste generation, population and GDP, with 2010 being taken as the reference year (2010 = 100%). GDP was chosen as a basic indicator of economic growth, and average population as an important demographic indicator and driver of waste generation. Figure 2 shows waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, per capita by European country. Data presented in the form of a bar chart are displayed for the reference year (2010) and the last year for which data are available (2018).

Units

The unit in which the indicator is measured

  • Figure 1: indexed values of waste volumes (in tonnes) and GDP (in chain linked volumes (2010), millions of euros) are expressed as percentages of 2010 values (set at 100%).
  • Figure 2: waste generation except major mineral wastes is expressed in kg per capita.

 

Policy context and targets

Context description

One of the characteristics of the linear economy system, which has predominated in recent decades, is a high level of resource consumption followed by a high level of waste generation (‘take-make-dispose’ model). This economic model is based on increasing profits generated by the consumption of primary resources and increasing demand for short-cycle products. In 2015, 2018 and 2020, the European Commission adopted circular economy packages to make the transition to a circular economy model, according to which resources should be used in a more sustainable way (EC, 2015, 2018, 2020). The waste hierarchy serves to set priorities for EU and national waste policies and gives the highest priority to waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other methods of recovery and disposal (EU, 2018). These priorities are highlighted by recent waste and resource efficiency policies and strategies at EU and national levels.

Targets

No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

 

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Figure 1: raw data for waste generation (total and excluding major mineral wastes) and GDP were retrieved from Eurostat. Eurostat aggregate data for the EU-27 were used. Data on waste generation contain all NACE (statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community) activities and households. Frequency of data publishing varies from every 2 years (for waste generation) to every year (for 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. No gap filling was applied to the data. Information on data set uncertainties can be found directly in the metadata and explanatory notes provided by Eurostat. Only official Eurostat data sets have been used.

Figure 2: data for waste generation, excluding major mineral wastes, were retrieved from Eurostat. Data are displayed at 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 32 EEA member countries and the Western Balkan cooperating countries. The frequency of data publishing is every 2 years. No gap filling was applied to the data. Information on data set uncertainties can be found directly in the metadata and explanatory notes provided by Eurostat. Only official Eurostat data sets have been used.

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

 

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

 


 

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 041
  • WST 004
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 2 years
EEA Contact Info info@eea.europa.eu

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Temporal coverage

Dates

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