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Waste recycling

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-378-en
Also known as: CSI 052 , WST 005
Created 09 Apr 2019 Published 22 Nov 2019 Last modified 22 Nov 2019
15 min read
Recycling rates of municipal waste, packaging waste and waste electrical and electronic equipment — which represent significant sources of secondary materials and critical raw materials — are increasing in Europe, indicating a move towards using waste as a resource and a more circular economy. •Recycling rates for both municipal waste and packaging waste have increased substantially: by 16 percentage points between 2004 and 2017 for municipal waste and by 13 percentage points between 2005 and 2016 for packaging waste. In 2017, 46 % of the municipal waste generated in the EU-28 and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland was recycled; in 2016, 67 % of packaging waste generated in the EU-28 and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway was recycled. • Municipal waste recycling rates differ widely between European countries, ranging from 68 % in Germany to 0.3 % in Serbia in 2017.  In 2017, three countries recycled already 55 % or more of their municipal waste.  In 2017, 28 countries recycled 55 % or more of their packaging waste and 15 countries recycled 65 % or more of their packaging waste. • These improvements have been partly driven by EU targets introduced in 1994 and 2008 and later by the circular economy packages (2015).

Key messages

Recycling rates of municipal waste, packaging waste and waste electrical and electronic equipment — which represent significant sources of secondary materials and critical raw materials — are increasing in Europe, indicating a move towards using waste as a resource and a more circular economy.

•Recycling rates for both municipal waste and packaging waste have increased substantially: by 16 percentage points between 2004 and 2017 for municipal waste and by 13 percentage points between 2005 and 2016 for packaging waste. In 2017, 46 % of the municipal waste generated in the EU-28 and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland was recycled; in 2016, 67 % of packaging waste generated in the EU-28 and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway was recycled.

• Municipal waste recycling rates differ widely between European countries, ranging from 68 % in Germany to 0.3 % in Serbia in 2017.  In 2017, three countries recycled already 55 % or more of their municipal waste.  In 2017, 28 countries recycled 55 % or more of their packaging waste and 15 countries recycled 65 % or more of their packaging waste.

• These improvements have been partly driven by EU targets introduced in 1994 and 2008 and later by the circular economy packages (2015).

Are recycling rates increasing in Europe?

Recycling rates in Europe by waste stream

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Municipal waste recycled and composted in Europe

Country comparison
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Packaging waste recycling rates in Europe by country

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A key principle of EU waste policy is to move waste management up the ‘waste hierarchy’ (according to which waste prevention is the most favourable option, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling and other methods of recovery, and waste disposal is least favourable) and to follow the principles of a circular economy. The basic principles of a circular economy are to maintain resource value in the economic cycle for as long as possible and to prevent and reduce the negative effects of obtaining primary resources on the environment and society. Rising demand for and supply of primary resources weaken the EU's material self-sufficiency and put pressure on the environment. For this reason among others, recycling is one of the main ways to reduce the consumption of primary resources by replacing them with secondary materials made of recycled waste. This is the desired approach to achieving sustainability, material self-sufficiency and the other benefits of a circular economy.

The purpose of this indicator is to show the rate of Europe's progress (the 28 EU Member States (EU-28) and other European countries for which data are available) towards the goal of recycling more waste. Municipal waste, packaging waste, waste excluding major mineral wastes and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) are used as examples; these waste streams represent significant sources of secondary materials and also, especially in the case of WEEE, sources of critical raw materials.

For municipal and packaging waste, as well as WEEE, legally binding quantitative targets for recycling and preparing for reuse are stipulated in EU legislation. The Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) sets a target of 50 % of municipal waste (more precisely specific types of household and similar wastes) to be recycled by 2020 in individual countries (except Switzerland and Turkey). In 2018, more ambitious targets were adopted: to increase the level of preparation for reuse and recycling of municipal waste to 55 % by 2025, to 60 % by 2030 and to 65 % by 2035. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) stipulated that EU Member States recycle at least 55 % of packaging waste by 2008. In 2018, new targets for packaging waste were adopted: to achieve a minimum recycling rate by weight of all packaging waste of 65 % by the end of 2025 and a minimum of 70 % by the end of 2030. Targets have also been set for the recycling of individual packaging materials (i.e. plastic, wood, ferrous metals, aluminium, glass, paper and cardboard). For different categories of WEEE, minimum recycling and preparation for reuse targets are listed in Annex V to Directive 2012/19/EU.

The recycling rate of total waste excluding major mineral wastes grew by only 2 percentage points in the EU-28 in the period 2010-2014, to 55 % (Fig. 1). Major mineral wastes (such as construction and demolition wastes, soils, dredging spoils and other mineral wastes) were excluded, because waste excluding major mineral wastes reflects general trends more accurately than statistics on total waste. Although this trend is rather stable, it could indicate a shift in the distribution of waste treatment types in favour of preferred categories such as recycling. This shift is even more visible in the cases of municipal waste, packaging waste and also WEEE. The recycling rate for total WEEE (expressed as a ratio of the quantity of WEEE recycled to the average quantity of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market in the previous 3 years) increased in the period 2010-2016 by 13 percentage points in the EU-28, being steadily pushed higher by ambitious recycling and preparing for reuse targets for specific WEEE categories.

Municipal waste is mainly produced by households and also includes similar wastes from sources such as commerce, offices and public institutions (although there could be slight differences in municipal waste definitions among countries). Municipal waste represents only around 10 % of the total waste generated in the EU, but its heterogeneous composition (organic materials, paper, plastic, various metals, textile, glass, wood, etc.) makes environmentally sound management challenging.

The municipal waste recycling rate grew continuously by 16 percentage points in the EU-28, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland in the period 2004-2017 (Fig. 1), which clearly indicates improvements in waste management. Although in 2004 around 30 % of the municipal waste generated in the EU-28, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland was recycled, in 2017 this figure was 46 %. The recycling of municipal waste includes 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 2017, rates ranged from 68 % in Germany to 0.3 % in Serbia (Fig. 2). Six countries, namely Germany, Slovenia, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, achieved (in descending order) recycling rates of 50 % or higher, while another five countries recycled less than 20 % of municipal waste, including two countries that recycled less than 10 %. In 2017, three countries already recycled 55 % or more of their municipal waste (Germany, Slovenia and Austria).

Three countries — Lithuania, Slovenia and Italy — made significant progress, with increases in recycling rates of 30 percentage points or more between 2004 and 2017. In the case of Lithuania, the growth in share of recycling has reached 46 %, in Slovenia 37 % and in Italy 30 %. Another five countries (Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the United Kingdom) have increased their municipal waste recycling rates by more than 20 percentage points.  

In nine countries, the proportion of municipal waste recycled has barely changed since 2004 (a change of five percentage points or less). It is important to note that these recycling rates cannot be used to assess countries’ progress towards the recycling targets of the Waste Framework Directive, because countries can choose from four different methods to calculate compliance with the 2020 targets. The data shown in Figs 1 and 2 show recycling rates according to only one of those methods, that is, the only one for which time series data are available. Compliance with the 2025, 2030 and 2035 targets will have to follow new calculation rules adopted in 2019. In the case of the Western Balkan countries specifically, data sets for the period 2004-2017 are not complete and do not yet provide the necessary information.  Moreover, the targets in the Waste Framework Directive and in Annex V to Directive 2012/19/EU include preparing for reuse, but these are not included in the data used in this indicator.

According to current data, there has been progress in EU waste management. In general, in the period 2004-2017 the municipal waste generation decreased in the EU-28, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland and the rate of material recycling, composting and digestion increased.

Developments in the area of packaging waste are similar to those for municipal waste: the packaging waste recycling rate grew from 54 % in 2005 to 67 % in 2016, i.e. by 13 percentage points in the EU-28, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (Fig. 1).  The growth in packaging waste recycling has slowed considerably. It had stabilised at 65 % by 2013, then it rose slightly, by 2 %, to 67 % in 2016.

At the country level, 28 countries recycled 55 % or more of their packaging waste in 2016 (Fig. 3). The recycling rates in 2016 varied from 82 % in Belgium to 40 % in Malta, but, on average, the difference (measured as standard deviations) in recycling rates between countries has increased since 2005. The highest increases since 2005 were of over 49 percentage points and they occurred in Cyprus. Another 14 countries managed to increase their recycling rates by more than 15 percentage points. In Belgium, Germany and Austria — countries that already had high recycling rates in 2005 — recycling rates have remained constant or have changed by only five percentage points or less. Data for Liechtenstein, Norway, Croatia and Iceland were not available for 2005, so it was not possible to measure improvements.

The recycling target of 55 % by 2008 was reached by 28 countries in 2016. Only Hungary, Iceland and Malta have still not met this goal. Fifteen countries had already met the 65 % target by 2025 in 2016, and Belgium, Denmark, Czechia, the Netherlands and Germany had also achieved the 70 % target by 2030 in 2016.

It seems that the introduction and implementation of EU and national policies and targets have driven the improvements made in the past years. However, regional and local policies within countries also 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 deviations). One reason for this is that targets for packaging waste recycling had already been introduced in 1994, with 2001 and 2008 being target years, while the first recycling target for municipal waste was introduced in only 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 the 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.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator shows trends in recycling rates for several waste types — municipal waste, packaging waste, waste excluding major mineral wastes and WEEE — at an aggregated European level (EU-28 and other European countries for which data were available). For municipal waste and packaging waste, data are also presented at country level together with related targets for packaging waste. Municipal and packaging waste recycling rates refer to waste recycled as a proportion of waste generated. Recycling rates for waste excluding major mineral wastes refer to waste recycled as a proportion of waste treated. WEEE recycling rates refer to waste recycled as a proportion of the average quantity of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market in the previous 3 years. Higher recycling rates indicate a more positive development towards using waste as a resource and a circular economy.

Units

The unit used for recycling rates in all figures is percentage (%).


Policy context and targets

Context description

Europe's approach to waste management has moved from one aimed at reducing the harm to human health and the environment from waste disposal towards one that treats waste as an important resource. The overarching logic guiding EU policy on waste is based on the waste hierarchy, which prioritises waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery and, finally, disposal or landfilling, which is the least desirable option. The 2011 Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM (2011) 571) contains a section on turning waste into a resource. This focuses on prioritising reuse and recycling and developing a combination of policies that help create a full recycling economy. In addition, the roadmap contains 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'.

The 7th EAP, adopted in November 2013, stresses the need for the full implementation of EU waste legislation with a particular focus on the waste hierarchy. The vision set out in the 7th EAP 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'. Although existing waste policies have been successful so far, there is still large potential to move towards a circular economy where ultimately nothing is wasted.

In 2015, the European Commission adopted the action plan for the circular economy. The 2015 circular economy package contains a vision and a list of concrete actions along the whole value chain aimed at moving towards a circular economy in Europe, including in relation to design and production, through consumption to waste and secondary raw materials management. In this way, the circular economy concept can be 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, WEEE, batteries and municipal and biodegradable municipal waste.

In 2018, the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) were amended and new targets and provisions for municipal waste and packaging waste adopted.

Targets

 

Article 11 of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) was amended by Directive (EU) 2018/851 and includes the following targets and provisions to be achieved by all Member States:

  • By 2015, separate collection for at least paper, metal, plastic and glass must be set up.
  • By 2025, separate collection for textiles and by 2023 separate collection for bio-waste must be set up.
  • By 2020, preparing for the reuse 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 — must be increased to a minimum of 50 % by weight. Member states must choose from four different methods for monitoring progress towards recycling targets according to Commission Decision 2011/753/EU. This indicator shows data based on only one of these methods, namely the most ambitious one. Reliable and comparable data based on the other methods do not currently exist
  • The level of preparation for the reuse and recycling of municipal waste must be increased to 55 % by 2025, 60 % by 2030 and 65 % by 2035.

Article 20 of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) was also amended by Directive (EU) 2018/851 and sets the following target to be achieved by Member States:

  • By 2025, separate collection for hazardous waste fractions produced by households must be set up.

Article 6 of the Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) was amended by Directive (EU) 2018/852 in 2018 and includes the following targets:

  • A minimum of 65 % by weight of all packaging waste must be recycled by no later than 31 December 2025, and a minimum of 70 % by weight of all packaging waste must be recycled by no later than 31 December 2030.
  • By no later than 31 December 2025, the following minimum recycling targets for materials contained in packaging waste must be attained: (1) 50 % for plastic; (2) 25 % for wood; (3) 70 % for ferrous metals; (4) 50 % for aluminium; (5) 70 % for glass; and (6) 75 % for paper and cardboard. 
  • By no later than 31 December 2030, the following minimum recycling targets for materials contained in packaging waste must be attained: (1) 55 % for plastic; (2) 30 % for wood; (3) 80 % for ferrous metals; (4) 60 % for aluminium; (5) 75 % for glass; and (6) 85 % for paper and cardboard.

Several Member States had varying derogation periods for the old 2018 targets which are still applicable. Specifically, the derogation period for Czechia, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia was set to 2012, and for Malta to 2013. Poland was required to meet the minimum target by 2014 and Latvia by 2015. Bulgaria and Romania were not included in Directive 2005/20/EC, amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste.

Article 6 of the Directive 2004/12/EC amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste:

  • By no later than 31 December 2008 between 55 % as a minimum and 80 % as a maximum by weight of packaging waste will be recycled;
  • By no later than 31 December 2008 the following minimum recycling targets for materials contained in packaging waste will be attained: 60 % by weight for glass; 60 % by weight for paper and board; 50 % by weight for metals; 22,5 % by weight for plastics, counting exclusively material that is recycled back into plastics; 15 % by weight for wood

The European strategy for plastics in a circular economy set a target for plastics packaging:

  • By 2030, all plastics packaging placed on the EU market must be reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner.

Annex V to Directive 2012/19/EU on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) sets minimal recycling and reuse targets for different categories of WEEE.

Related policy documents

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Fig. 1: Recycling rates in Europe by waste stream

The recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste are calculated by dividing the amount of waste recycled by the amount of waste generated for each year. Recycling of municipal waste includes material recycling and composting and anaerobic digestion. The recycling rate for waste excluding major mineral wastes is calculated by dividing the amount of waste recycled by the amount of waste treated. The recycling rate of WEEE is calculated by multiplying the 'collection rate' as set out in the WEEE Directive with the 'reuse and recycling rate' set out in the WEEE Directive, where the 'collection rate' equals the volumes collected of WEEE in the reference year divided by the average quantity of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market in the previous 3 years (both expressed in mass units).  The 'reuse and recycling rate' is calculated by dividing the weight of WEEE that enters the recycling/preparing for reuse facility by the weight of all separately collected WEEE (both in mass units) in accordance with Article 11(2) of the WEEE Directive (2012/19/EU), considering that the total amount of collected WEEE is sent to treatment/recycling facilities.

Fig. 2: Municipal waste recycling rates in Europe 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 each country individually. The recycling rate includes material recycling and composting and digestion.

Fig. 3: Packaging waste recycling rates in Europe 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 each country individually. The figure includes horizontal lines showing the recycling targets set in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which stipulates a minimum recycling rate of 55 % of packaging waste by 2008, 65 % by 2025 and 70 % by 2030. Not all countries had the same deadline for attaining these targets: acceding countries to the European Union negotiated derogations for reaching the 2008 target to no later than 2012 (Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia), 2013 (Malta), 2014 (Poland) or 2015 (Latvia). 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

Several methods for gap filling were applied. Where data for the latest data year were missing for a country, this gap was filled with data from the latest available year. If EU-28 aggregate data were missing, they were calculated as the sum of the country-specific data for the EU-28 countries. The average value of adjacent years was calculated for missing data if possible.  


Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been identified in the methodology used to process this 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 in the rationale for this indicator.

Data sources

Metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
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DPSIR: Response
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 052
  • WST 005
Temporal coverage:

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years

EEA Contact Info

Ozlem Durmus

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