Production and Consumption introduction

Page Last modified 08 Dec 2022
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This section of the zero pollution monitoring assessment examines available knowledge and trends in pollution related to different components of production and consumption. In addition to this summary assessment page there are sub-sections providing more detailed analysis on resource extraction, production, consumption and waste management. A collection of ‘Signals’ is also provided which highlight emerging issues and other available knowledge on pollution from production and consumption.


European citizens consume a wide range of goods and services, delivered through a complex series of industrial, agricultural and transport systems. Pollution is an inevitable consequence of making the goods and providing the services that characterise our lifestyles. Potentially harmful releases to the environment associated with production and consumption include air pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (see the cross-cutting story on the co-benefits of addressing climate change and pollution), effluent discharges to water bodies, soils and waste, and burdens that are less well recognised, such as noise and light pollution. Releases can occur across every stage of economic activity — from raw material extraction to goods production, consumption and use, and waste material management.

How can a new approach to production and consumption support the zero pollution ambition?

The EU’s zero pollution ambition is rooted in the idea that policies and actions to reduce environmental impacts should first focus on prevention at the source of pollution. The core principle is that avoiding actions that release harmful substances is always better than controlling emissions and remediating damaged environments.

The targets set by the action plan focus on the impacts of pollution on ecosystems and health. However, meeting these targets and achieving the 2050 zero pollution vision will require substantially mitigating the harmful effects of production and consumption activities. Prevention measures include introducing circular economy business models, using low-emission technologies and changing European consumption habits to reduce the amounts of new goods produced and raw materials used.

Pollution associated with production and consumption can affect a particular location (‘point sources’) or be widely dispersed in the environment (‘diffuse pathways’). These emissions from production and consumption, along with accidental pollutant releases, result in harmful substances being discharged to the environment and affecting the health of flora, fauna and people. Environmental regulation plays an important role in helping manage emissions and waste in Europe; however, there is less certainty about the local environmental and health impacts of imported commodities and goods.

This section focuses on the sources of pollution, addressing the questions, ‘Who pollutes?’ and ‘Where does pollution come from?’ 

Sections of the production and consumption assessment:

 Resource extraction



 Waste management

 Production and consumption signals

The EU’s zero pollution action plan

The EU’s zero pollution action plan aims to address key pollution issues that negatively affect the environment and human health. It presents a vision for 2050 where pollution is reduced to the extent that it is no longer harmful. Prevention is one of the core principles underpinning the zero pollution action plan. By preventing pollution at its source, we can eliminate the risks to human health and the environment. Further information on the role of the EEA in zero pollution monitoring is available on the zero pollution monitoring home page.


Pollution and production and consumption: summary of findings

Figure 1 presents a summary of findings from the assessment of four sub-topics: resource extraction, production, consumption and waste management. Further information on each of these is presented in the relevant sections. A collection of zero pollution ‘Signals’ is also available; these provide supplementary information highlighting other important or emerging issues related to pollution from production and consumption. 

Figure 1. Summary analysis of zero pollution and production and consumption

Guidance for interpreting the summary

The table above summarises the overall findings, described in each of the sections on extraction, production, consumption and waste. Two dimensions are considered:

  1. whether the past trend in pollution is positive, negative or uncertain
  2. the current 'distance to target', based on an assessment of the current trends or status and whether or not the EU is on track to achieve the defined zero pollution targets for 2030 and/or other relevant policy targets.

The assessment is based on a combination of (1) available indicators and data, and (2) expert judgement. Further details of this analysis are included in each of the sections (on extraction, production, consumption and waste), which summarise the rationale behind the finding and indicate the robustness of available data.


Cover image source: © Mateo Puđa, Well with Nature /EEA


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