Waste recycling

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-378-en
Also known as: CSI 052 , WST 005
Created 29 Feb 2016 Published 13 Dec 2016 Last modified 05 Jan 2017
15 min read
Latest available trends show that recycling rates for both municipal waste and packaging waste have increased substantially: recycling rates for municipal waste increased by 13 percentage points between 2004 and 2014, and recycling rates for packaging waste by 10 percentage points between 2005 and 2013. In 2014, 43 % of the municipal waste generated in the EU-27 and Norway was recycled, while in 2013, 65 % of packaging waste generated was recycled. These improvements are, among others, driven by EU targets for the recycling of these two waste streams introduced in 1994 and 2008, respectively. Higher overall recycling rates for packaging waste compared to municipal waste probably result from the earlier introduction of packaging waste targets, producer responsibility schemes and the relative ease of recycling packaging waste from commercial sources. For municipal waste, large differences in recycling rates between European countries prevail; in 2014, the rates ranged from 64 % in Germany to 1 % in Serbia. In six countries, recycling rates were equal or higher than 50 %, while five countries recycled less than 20 %. In 2014, 24 countries recycled 55 % or more packaging waste and overall recycling rates ranged from 81 % in Belgium to 41 % in Malta. These differences indicate a large potential for improvement.

Key messages

Latest available trends show that recycling rates for both municipal waste and packaging waste have increased substantially: recycling rates for municipal waste increased by 13 percentage points between 2004 and 2014, and recycling rates for packaging waste by 10 percentage points between 2005 and 2013. In 2014, 43 % of the municipal waste generated in the EU-27 and Norway was recycled, while in 2013, 65 % of packaging waste generated was recycled. These improvements are, among others, driven by EU targets for the recycling of these two waste streams introduced in 1994 and 2008, respectively. Higher overall recycling rates for packaging waste compared to municipal waste probably result from the earlier introduction of packaging waste targets, producer responsibility schemes and the relative ease of recycling packaging waste from commercial sources.

For municipal waste, large differences in recycling rates between European countries prevail; in 2014, the rates ranged from 64 % in Germany to 1 % in Serbia. In six countries, recycling rates were equal or higher than 50 %, while five countries recycled less than 20 %. In 2014, 24 countries recycled 55 % or more packaging waste and overall recycling rates ranged from 81 % in Belgium to 41 % in Malta. These differences indicate a large potential for improvement.

Are recycling rates increasing in Europe?

Recycling rates in Europe by waste stream

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Municipal waste recycled and composted in each European country

Country comparison
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Recycling of packaging waste

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A key principle of EU waste legislation is to move waste management up the ‘waste hierarchy’ (i.e. waste prevention, preparing for reuse, recycling, other methods of recovery and disposal). This approach is a key way to extract more value from resources, and recycling plays a crucial role. The main aim is to increasingly meet the material demand of the economy by using secondary raw materials made of recycled waste, preventing the environmental impacts associated with extracting and refining virgin materials, and contributing to the security of supply.

This indicator shows how the progress Europe is making towards the goal to recycle more waste, using municipal solid waste (in the text called municipal waste) and packaging waste as examples.

For these two waste streams, legally binding quantitative targets for recycling exist in EU legislation. The Waste Framework Directive sets a target of 50 % of municipal waste (more precisely the target applies to specific types of household and similar wastes) to be recycled by 2020 in individual countries (except Turkey and Switzerland). The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) requires EU Member States to recycle at least 55 % of packaging waste by 2008. Several countries have different target years for meeting the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive targets: 2012 for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia; 2013 for Malta; 2014 for Poland; 2015 for Latvia. In addition, Romania and Bulgaria have been granted specific derogations, defined in their respective Treaties of Accession. In December 2015, the European Commission proposed a new set of more ambitious targets for recycling of both municipal and packaging waste, as part of its circular economy strategy.

The recycling rate of municipal waste grew continuously by 13 percentage points in the EU-27 countries and Norway in the period 2004-2014 (Figure 1), which clearly indicates improvements in waste management. In 2014, 43 % of municipal waste generated in the EU-27 and Norway was recycled, including both material recycling and composting, and anaerobic digestion.

The difference in municipal waste recycling performance between the countries with the highest and lowest recycling rates is large. In 2014, rates ranged from 64 % in Germany to 1 % in Serbia (Figure 2). Six countries, notably Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden, achieved (in descending order) recycling rates of 50 % or higher, while another six countries recycled less than 20 %, including two countries with less than 10 %. Ten countries – the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and the United Kingdom – made substantial progress, with an increase in recycling rates of over 15 percentage points between 2004 and 2014. In nine countries, the share of recycled municipal waste has barely changed since 2004 (less than five percentage points change). It is important to note that these recycling rates cannot be used to assess the countries’ progress against the 50 % recycling target of the Waste Framework Directive, because countries can choose between four different methods to calculate compliance with the target. The data shown in figures 1 and 2 only show recycling rates according to one of those methods, the only one where time-series data is available. Moreover, the target in the Waste Framework Directive includes preparing for reuse while this is not included in the data used in this indicator. 

Developments in the area of packaging waste are similar to those in municipal waste: the recycling rate of packaging waste grew from 55 % in 2004 to 65 % in 2013, i.e. by 10 percentage points in the EU-27 and Norway (Figure 1).  

At the county level, 24 countries recycled 55 % or more of their packaging waste in 2014 (Figure 3). The recycling rate in 2014 varied from 81 % in Belgium to 41 % in Malta, but on average, the differences (measured as standard deviation) in recycling rates between countries has decreased since 2004. The highest increases since 2004 were of over 30 percentage points and they occurred in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia, which indicates that these countries have caught up quickly. Another nine countries managed to increase their recycling rates by more than 15 percentage points. In Austria, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg - countries with high recycling rates already in 2004 - recycling increased by less than five percentage points.

Hungary and Malta missed their targets in 2014, Greece in 2013, and Iceland in 2012. Greece and Iceland had to meet the target by 2008, Hungary by 2012, and Malta by 2013.

It seems that the introduction and implementation of EU and national policies and targets have acted as drivers for the improvements made in the past years. However, regional and local policies within countries continue to play a significant role in the process. Recycling rates for packaging waste are consistently higher than for municipal waste, and differences in recycling rates between countries are higher for municipal waste than for packaging waste (measured as standard deviation). One reason for this is that targets for packaging waste recycling were already introduced in 1994, with 2001 and 2008 as target years, while the recycling target for municipal waste was only introduced in 2008 and has to be met by 2020. In addition, the target for packaging waste is more ambitious than that for municipal waste. The majority of countries introduced producer responsibility schemes for packaging waste, thus creating a mechanism for moving towards the targets. Moreover, packaging waste from households was, in many countries, the first waste type targeted for recycling of municipal waste. Finally, packaging waste from commercial sources is ‘easier’ to recycle because it contains larger and cleaner streams than municipal waste. However, it should be kept in mind that the two waste streams overlap as municipal waste includes packaging waste from households and similar sources.

All in all, while there is considerable progress reported by the countries for both waste streams, there is still room for further improvement - both for packaging and municipal waste - on the road to a circular economy.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator shows trends in recycling rates for two waste types: municipal solid waste (referred to in the text as municipal waste), and packaging waste, both on an aggregated European level and at country level. Recycling rates refer to waste recycled as a share of the waste generated. Higher recycling rates indicate a positive development towards using waste as a resource and moving towards a more circular economy.

Units

The unit in all figures is percentage (%).


Policy context and targets

Context description

Europe’s approach to waste management has moved from reducing harm to human health and the environment from waste disposal towards treating waste as an important resource. The overarching logic guiding EU policy on waste is the waste hierarchy, which prioritises waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery and finally disposal or landfilling as the least desirable option. In 2011, the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011)571) contained a section on turning waste into a resource. This focused on prioritising reuse and recycling, and developing a combination of policies that help create a full recycling economy. Additionally, the Roadmap contained a milestone such that by 2020 ‘recycling and reuse of waste are economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of functional markets for secondary raw materials. More materials, including materials having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials are recycled…’.  

More recently, the 7th Environmental Action Programme, adopted in November 2013, stresses the need for full implementation of EU waste legislation with a particular focus on the waste hierarchy. The vision set out in the programme is that ‘recycled waste should be used as a major, reliable source of raw material for the Union, through the development of non-toxic material cycles’. While existing waste policies have been successful so far, there is still a large potential ‘in moving towards a circular economy where ultimately nothing is wasted’.

In 2015, the European Commission adopted the Circular economy package. The package sets out a vision and concrete actions along the whole value chain to move towards a circular economy in Europe, including during design and production, throughout consumption and at the waste stage. In this way, the circular economy concept is implemented not only through waste policies, but also through policies on industry, competitiveness, products and raw materials. 

EU waste policies include a number of specific provisions and targets for the collection, recycling and diversion from landfill of different waste streams, such as packaging, end-of-life vehicles, waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and biodegradable municipal waste. For example, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) sets targets for the recycling of packaging waste, and the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) set targets for the Member States for the preparing for re-use and recycling of at least paper, metals, plastic and glass from households and similar waste streams, and for the recovery of construction and demolition waste. One element of the circular economy package is a legislative proposal on waste that includes more ambitious targets for the recycling of packaging waste and municipal waste. 

Targets

Article 11 of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) includes the following targets to be achieved by all Member States:

  • By 2015, set up separate collection for at least paper, metal, plastic and glass.
  • By 2020, prepare for the re-use and recycling of waste materials - at least paper, metal, plastic and glass from households and possibly from other origins as far as these waste streams are similar to waste from households - to be be increased to a minimum of 50% by weight.
  • Choose between four different methods to monitor the recycling target according to Commission Decision 2011/753/EU. This indicator shows only data according to one method, which is the most ambitious one. Reliable and comparable data for the other methods does not currently exist.

 

Article 6 of the Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) includes the following targets:

  • no later than 31 December 2008, between a minimum of 55 % and a maximum of 80 % by weight of packaging waste will be recycled; 
  • no later than 31 December 2008, the following minimum recycling targets for materials contained in packaging waste will be attained: (i) 60 % by weight for glass; (ii) 60 % by weight for paper and cardboard; (iii) 50 % by weight for metals; (iv) 22.5 % by weight for plastics, counting exclusively material that is recycled back into plastics; and (v) 15 % by weight for wood.
  • Several Member States have varying derogation periods for these targets. Specifically, the derogation period for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia was set to 2012, and for Malta to 2013. Poland is required to meet the minimum target by 2014 and Latvia by 2015. Bulgaria and Romania were not included in the Directive 2005/20/EC, amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste.

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
  • COM(2005) 666 final Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste
    COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS Taking sustainable use of resources forward: A Thematic Strategy on the preventionend recycling of waste
  • Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste
    European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe
    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 - Waste recycling rate in Europe: The recycling rate is calculated by calculating the waste recycled as a share of the amount of waste generated for each year. The municipal waste recycling rate is calculated by dividing the amount of municipal solid waste recycled by the amount of municipal waste generated for each year. Municipal waste recycling includes both material recycling and composting/digestion. Packaging waste recycling includes material recycling and other forms of recycling (such as composting and digestion).

Figure 2 - Recycling rates of municipal waste by country: The municipal waste recycling rate is calculated by dividing the amount of municipal waste recycled by the amount of municipal waste generated for each respective year for every country individually. The recycling rate includes material recycling and composting and digestion.

Figure 3 Recycling rates of packaging waste by country: The packaging waste recycling rate is calculated by dividing the amount of packaging waste recycled by the amount of packaging waste generated for each respective year for every country individually. The figure includes a line showing the recycling target set in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which requires a minimum recycling rate of 55 % packaging waste by 2008, with derogations for several Member States (the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia: 2012; Malta 2013; Poland 2014; and Latvia 2015). Bulgaria and Romania were not included in Directive 2005/20/EC, amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste.

Methodology for gap filling

Where data for the latest data year are missing for a country, this gap is filled with data from the latest available year. Specific gap filling is indicated in the note below the figure.


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

Data set uncertainties can be found directly in the metadata and explanatory notes provided by Eurostat.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been identified behind the rationale for this indicator.

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

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

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Almut Reichel

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.9.1 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100