Some EU Member States are Making Waste a Resource

Top performing EU Member States have recycling rates of up to 70 % and bury virtually nothing, whilst others still landfill more than three-quarters of their waste. A new report from the European Commission explains that by combining economic instruments the best performers have turned waste from a problem into a resource.

A mix of landfilling and incineration taxes and bans, producer responsibility schemes and pay-as-you-throw prove to be the most effective tools in shifting waste streams to more sustainable paths. If the EU is to meet the objectives set out in the Resource Efficiency Roadmap – zero landfilling, maximising recycling and reuse, and limiting energy recovery to non recyclable waste – these economic instruments will need to be introduced more widely across all Member States.

Experience in the Member States shows that a combination of the following instruments is the best way to improve waste management:

* Landfill and incineration taxes and/or bans – the results of the study are unequivocal: landfilling and incineration rates have decreased in countries where bans or taxes have driven up costs for landfilling and incineration.

* ‘Pay-as-you-throw’ schemes have proved very efficient in preventing waste generation and encouraging citizens to participate in separate waste collection.

* Producer responsibility schemes have allowed several Member States to gather and redistribute the funds necessary to improve separate collection and recycling. But cost-efficiency and transparency vary greatly between Member States and between waste streams, so these schemes need careful planning and monitoring.

There are significant differences in waste management between Member States. According to a Report published by Eurostat, the most advanced six Member States – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands – landfill less than 3 % of their municipal waste. At the other extreme, nine Member States are still landfilling more than 75 % of their municipal waste. Recent statistics published by Eurostat show continuous progress in some new Member States, where recycling rates are increasing rapidly. Municipal waste generation has also decreased in several Member States probably due to the economic downturn.

Replicating these instruments in all Member States will be necessary if the EU is to meet the targets set out in its waste legislation and its targets for resource efficiency. This is why the possibility of making their use legally binding in some cases will be assessed in a 2014 review of EU waste targets. The Commission is also including sound waste management in conditions for receiving certain European funds.

Meanwhile the Commission is encouraging Member States to implement existing waste legislation more effectively. Waste management and recycling industries in the EU had a turnover of Eur145 billion in 2008, representing around 2 million jobs. Full compliance with EU waste policy could create an additional 400,000 jobs within the EU and an extra annual turnover of Eur42 billion. Improved waste management would contribute to achieving several objectives and targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart sustainable and inclusive growth.

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