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Indicator Assessment

Waste recycling in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-378-en
  Also known as: CSI 052 , WST 005
Published 03 Aug 2021 Last modified 03 Aug 2021
12 min read

 

The waste recycling rate — the proportion of waste generated that is recycled — is growing in the EU-27, indicating progress towards using more waste as a resource and achieving a circular economy. The rate of progress is slowing down, however, with little improvement over the past 5 years. Achieving a more circular economy requires a faster rate of progress, as the amount of waste recycled is still less than half of total waste generated. Specific waste streams show varying recycling rates, ranging from 66% for packaging waste to 39% for electrical and electronic waste.

 

Recycling rates in Europe by waste stream

Note: Recycling rates of municipal and packaging waste as well as overall waste relate to waste generated in the same year. The recycling rate for municipal waste includes material recycling and composting/anaerobic digestion. The recycling rate for electrical and electronic waste is based on the average quantity of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market in the previous 3 years. The overall recycling rate excludes major mineral wastes. For WEEE, the recycling rate is calculated by multiplying the 'collection rate' with the 'reuse and recycling rate'.

Data source:

A key principle of EU waste policy is to move waste management up the ‘waste hierarchy’ and to follow the principles of a circular economy, namely to maintain resource value in the economic cycle to prevent and reduce the negative effects of using primary resources on the environment and society. Recycling is one of the main ways to reduce the consumption of primary resources, by replacing them with secondary materials made from recycled waste. This is the desired approach to achieving sustainability, material self-sufficiency and the other benefits of a circular economy.

EU targets for waste management are key drivers of increasing recycling rates, that is, of increasing the amount of waste recycled as a percentage of waste generated. For example, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive (EU, 2012) sets targets for the separate collection and recycling of electrical and electronic waste; the Waste Framework Directive (EU, 2008, 2018a) includes targets for the recycling and preparing for reuse of municipal waste; and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (EU, 1994, 2018b) defines targets for recycling packaging waste. In total, EU waste legislation includes more than 30 binding targets for the period 2015-2030.

Recycling rates for municipal waste, packaging waste and WEEE — significant sources of secondary materials and critical raw materials — are slowly increasing in Europe, indicating some progress towards using more waste as a resource and achieving a circular economy. The overall recycling rate — the ratio between total waste generated excluding minerals and the quantities that were managed through recycling  stayed below half of the total waste generation for the period data are available, showing a recycling rate of 48% in 2016. More recent data will become available in 2021.

Progress made in recent years for three key waste streams — packaging, municipal waste, and electrical and electronic waste — has been more significant than global progress. However, their recycling rates are still below half of generated waste, with the exception of packaging, which reached 66% in 2018.

 

Municipal waste recycling rates in Europe by country

Country comparison
Data sources:
Table
Data sources:

Most of the countries considered have significantly increased their municipal waste recycling rates since 2004, which clearly indicates improvements in waste management. However, the difference in municipal waste recycling performance between the countries with the highest and lowest recycling rates is large. In 2019, rates ranged from 67% in Germany to 5% in Montenegro. Eight countries, namely Germany, Slovenia, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark and Italy, achieved (in descending order) recycling rates of 50% or higher, while another six countries recycled less than 20% of their municipal waste. Moreover, several countries with relatively low recycling rates made little progress between 2004 and 2019 and, in 2018, 14 EU Member States were identified as being at risk of not meeting the 2020 recycling target set in the Waste Framework Directive (to recycle 50% of specific materials in household and similar wastes by 2020) (EU, 2018a).

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The two figures in this indicator provide information on waste recycling rates. Figure 1 shows percentage values of waste recycling rates for municipal waste, waste excluding major mineral waste, packaging waste and WEEE. Figure 2 shows municipal waste recycling rates as percentages and by country in the form of a bar chart comparing rates for the reference year (2004) with rates for the latest available year (2019 or, in some cases, 2018).

Units

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


 

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 stronger economic model where resources are used in a more sustainable way (EC, 2015, 2018, 2020). 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 (EU, 2018a). 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

Raw data for waste generation and treatment 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 is every 2 years. 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.

The recycling rate for municipal waste is the percentage of municipal waste generated that is recycled. The recycling of municipal waste includes material recycling and composting/anaerobic digestion.

The recycling rate for packaging waste is the percentage of packaging waste generated that is recycled.

The recycling rate of waste excluding major mineral wastes is the percentage of waste excluding major mineral wastes generated that is recycled.

The recycling rate of WEEE was calculated by multiplying the ‘collection rate’ set out in the WEEE Directive (Directive 2012/19/EU) (EU, 2012) by the ‘reuse and recycling rate’ set out in the WEEE Directive, where:

  • The 'collection rate' equals the volumes of WEEE collected 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 units of mass).
  • 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 units of mass) in accordance with Article 11(2) of the WEEE Directive, assuming that the total amount of WEEE collected is sent to treatment/recycling facilities.

 

 

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 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

Other info

DPSIR: Response
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 052
  • WST 005
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 2 years
EEA Contact Info info@eea.europa.eu

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