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Europe is generating too much waste — and not enough is being recycled. The EU is working to create a more circular economy, among others, by preventing waste and improving waste management. At the same time, there are goals to reduce waste’s burden on health and the environment, and to keep valuable resources in the economy.
Preventing unnecessary textile waste
Textiles is a fast-growing, environmentally impactful waste stream associated with unsustainable production and consumption. Clothing and other textiles are getting cheaper, meaning that people are buying more and using them for shorter periods.
Society can prevent textile waste through policies that ensure people buy fewer textiles, but a mentality and behavioural change is needed as well. Overall, the EU Textiles Strategy and other policies emphasise product design to promote durable and long-lasting materials. Preventing unnecessary textile waste is essential.
At the same time, support should be given to repair (e.g. through tax breaks) and reuse (e.g. through regulation). EU countries must also ensure that textiles waste is separated from other waste by 2025.
EU's waste exports
Although more than 90% of the waste generated in the EU is treated domestically, significant amounts are still exported to other countries. Iron and steel are the most prominent materials in waste imports into the EU as well as exports from it.
These shipments are almost exclusively composed of non-hazardous materials and are mostly exported for recycling. However, there have been indications that, in many instances, waste shipped for treatment outside the EU is not optimally managed. This potentially creates more pollution than if the waste were to be managed within the EU.
Our zero pollution report highlights some of the issues linked to waste exports.
How much of the municipal waste is recycled in your country?
Know your waste terms
Residual waste: waste that was neither recycled nor reused — that is waste material not collected separately for recycling or composting/digestion, and residues from sorting processes. Residual municipal waste is either incinerated or landfilled.
Recycling: any recovery operation in which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances.
Preparing for reuse: checking, cleaning or repair operations where products or their respective parts are prepared to be reused, without requiring any other pre-processing.
Waste prevention: actions taken before a substance, material or product has become waste that aims to reduce the quantity of waste, harmful substances associated with waste, and unfavourable impacts on the environment or human health.
What is your country doing to prevent waste?
Waste prevention is one of the key strategies to achieving a circular economy because it can reduce resource use, maximise the useful life of products and materials, and promote demand for more sustainable products.
Currently, almost all EU Member States have some quantitative targets and indicators on waste prevention but these targets and indicators vary widely.
The EEA has published updated ‘Waste prevention country fact sheets’, which show country-specific data and analysis on waste prevention efforts in EEA member and cooperation countries across Europe.