MARCH 2011

EU moving towards recycling society but progress needed

The European Commission published a report on member states’ performance in the prevention and recycling of waste. This shows that some member states have made excellent progress, but that they are still some way from achieving the long-term goal of becoming a recycling society – one that not only avoids producing waste but also uses it as a resource.

The report shows that in most member states, overall waste generation seems to be increasing (or at best stabilizing) but at a lower rate than economic growth. Over the last 10 years municipal waste generation has stabilized at around 524 kg per year per person, although household consumption has increased by around 16 percent during the same period. More could be done, therefore, to reduce the absolute generation of waste. For example, 25 percent of food bought by EU households is thrown away. Some 60 percent of this waste could be avoided.

There are huge differences between member states. Recycling rates vary from a few percent up to 70 percent. In some member states landfilling has virtually disappeared, in others more than 90 percent of waste is still buried. This shows a significant margin for progress beyond the current targets.

Waste still represents about 20 percent of all environmental infringement cases. As recent events in Hungary and Italy have shown, full implementation of waste legislation is vital to protect the environment and human health.

The new Waste Framework Directive, which should have been transposed by December 2010, has still not passed into national law in many EU countries. Member states had a transitional period of two years to put the necessary measures in place to comply with the new directive. However, only a small number have so far informed the Commission of the transposition of the legislation. The commission is monitoring the situation closely and, if necessary, will take action against those failing to implement the directive.

The directive modernizes the waste policy around the concept of life cycle thinking. The directive introduces a binding waste hierarchy defining the order of priority for treating waste. Top of the list is waste prevention, followed by re-use, recycling and other recovery operations, with disposal such as landfill used only as the last resort. The directive obliges member states to modernize their waste management plans and to set up waste prevention programs by 2013. They must also recycle 50 percent of their municipal waste and 70 percent of construction and demolition waste by 2020.

The commission will continue to monitor the implementation and enforcement of waste legislation at national level, including the requirements of the new Waste Framework Directive. But it will also seek to develop support for member states in designing appropriate strategies and policies upstream. To further consolidate its waste policies, the commission will make further proposals in 2012 including setting out the concrete steps it will take in order to move closer towards an EU resource-efficient recycling society.