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Recycling in Europe: some figures

In the last 15 years, great progress has been made in the field of waste management: The amount of waste being landfilled keeps decreasing while recycling rates keep going up. However, data for 2010, recently published by Eurostat, reveal that landfill still accounted for nearly 40 per cent of municipal waste treated in the European Union. Other forms of treating the 502 kg of municipal waste annually generated per person in the EU are recycling (25%), composting (15%) and incineration (22%).

Waste management in Europe has improved considerably in the last years. Recycling rates for municipal waste have more than doubled in the area of the EU plus Norway and Switzerland, going from 17 % of municipal waste recycled or composted in 1995 to 38 % in 2010. Recycling already covers a large share of EU consumption of certain materials, especially paper and cardboard, iron and steel, but is below 10% for others such as copper, concrete and plastics. Revenues from recycling are just as substantial and fast-growing. According to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), the turnover of seven main categories of recyclables almost doubled to more than €60 billion in the EU from 2004 to 2008.


Source: European Commission

The growth of recycling is being driven by increasing demand for recyclables, as booming economies push up the price of materials. Another driver has been the EU Waste Directives which have created obligations to recycle or recover increasing percentages of waste, and discourage landfilling. As a result, the amount of recyclables sorted and placed on the market has increased 15 % between 2004 and 2009. Overall employment related to the recycling of materials in European countries increased by 45 % between 2000 and 2007.

However, the situation differs substantially between Member States. While almost 100% of municipal waste in Bulgaria and Romania end up in landfills, Germany and the Netherlands have abandoned this practice.
Recycling was most common in Germany (45% of waste treated), Belgium (40%), Slovenia (39%), Sweden (36%), Ireland (35%) and the Netherlands (33%). The Member States with the highest composting rates for municipal waste were Austria (40%), the Netherlands (28%), Belgium (22%) and Luxembourg (20%). On the other hand, in six new Member States (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia) less than 10% of waste was recycled or composted.

These data show that, despite all progress, there is still plenty of room for action in the field of recycling, in particular at local and regional level. Better collection schemes and recycling infrastructure could lead to more recycled materials in new products. As waste management practices still differ fundamentally across Europe, cooperation between the responsible authorities, knowledge transfer and the exchange of good practices such as exemplified by R4R are key to turning Europe into a ‘Recycling Society’.


Intereg IVC European Union
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