Waste generation and management - Environment in EU at the turn of the century (Chapter 3.7)

The reported total waste generation within EU and the European Free Trade Association countries increased by nearly 10% between 1990 and 1995, while economic growth was about 6.5 % in constant prices. The total amount of waste (excluding agricultural waste) generated in 1995 was estimated to be 1.3 billion tonnes in 1995 or about 3.5 tonnes per capita; while the amount of hazardous waste was about 36 million tonnes. Half of the waste comes from manufacturing industry and construction and demolition activities, while municipal waste, mining waste and waste from other sources each contribute about a sixth of the total. In the Accession Countries, amounts of industrial waste per capita are higher, while volumes of municipal waste are currently lower than the EU average.

Limited current systematic and consistent data hinder the development of projections for future waste trends. Nevertheless, most waste streams will probably increase over the next decade. In 2010 the generation of paper and cardboard, glass and plastic waste will be increased by around 40 to 60% compared with 1990 levels. The number of scrapped cars will increase less, around 35% compared to 1995 levels.

Managing this waste gives rise to a number of pressures on the environment: leaching of nutrients, heavy metals, greenhouse gases and other toxic compounds from landfills;use of land for landfills;· emission of greenhouses gases from landfills and treatment of organic waste;· air pollution and toxic by-products from incinerators;· air and water pollution and secondary waste streams from recycling plants although those substitute the production of primary resources;· increased transport with heavy lorries.

Waste is also now produced as a result of society’s attempt to solve other environmental problems such as water and air pollution. Some of these increasing amounts of bulk wastes give rise to new problems - examples include sewage sludge and residues from cleaning of flue gases.

In most EU countries landfilling is still the most common treatment route for waste and a major change is needed in order to implement the EU strategy on waste. Furthermore, as shown in the figure for municipal waste, there has been no general improvement in the trend in the nineties. This situation must first of all be explained by the fact that in nearly all EU Member States the average disposal prices for landfilling non-hazardous waste are far below those for incineration with energy recovery. This means that unless other regulations are in place, the market mechanisms act in direct opposition to the official Community strategy.

Paper and glass are some of the waste fractions where Member States have followed the Community waste strategy of increasing recycling instead of energy recovery and landfilling. However, the development has been only a partial success, because the total amount of waste paper and glass waste (container glass) generation has also increased in the same period. In the EU+Norway the recycling rate for paper and paperboard increased from 36% in 1985 to 49% in 1996, but a 3.5% per annum increase in total consumption meant that the quantity of paper waste incinerated or landfilled also rose. Similarly, while recycling for glass has increased almost 50% from 5 million to 7,4 million tonnes per year, the amount of waste glass for disposal was only reduced by 12% from 6,7 million to 5,9 million tonnes due to the increase in waste glass.

Sewage sludge and end-of-life vehicles are other waste streams where substantial increases in quantities can be expected, calling for more efficient waste management practices.

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