Europe – Among all European countries, Austria, Germany and Belgium recycled the largest proportion of municipal waste in 2010. But while some countries have rapidly increased recycling rates, Europe is still wasting vast quantities of valuable resources by consigning them to landfill, and many countries risk falling short of legally-binding recycling targets. Overall, Europe recycled 35% of its municipal waste in 2010, a significant improvement on the 23% recorded in 2001. But many countries will find it extremely difficult to meet EU-mandated targets to recycle 50% of household and similar waste by 2020, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) covering the management of municipal solid waste in the EU-27 plus Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. Although five countries have already achieved the target, most of the others will need to make extraordinary efforts to achieve this goal ahead of the deadline, it is contended.
The UK increased its municipal waste recycling rate from 12% to 39% between 2001 and 2010, while Ireland went from 11% to 36% over the same period. Slovenia, Poland and Hungary have also dramatically improved recycling levels since joining the EU. Recycling rates are highest in Austria (63%), Germany (62%), Belgium (58%), the Netherlands (51%) and Switzerland (51%).
The EEA report also suggests Europe is successfully moving up the ‘waste management hierarchy’ – albeit more slowly than required by legislation. The amount of waste sent to landfill has decreased since 2001, while Europe has boosted the amount of waste incinerated, composted and recycled. Municipal waste generated per EU citizen fell 3.6% between 2001 and 2010 but this could be due in part to the economic downturn.
Norway, Ireland and Poland were the most successful countries between 2001 and 2010 in terms of cutting the proportion of municipal waste going to landfill. Countries successful in reducing landfilling and in increasing recycling generally implemented a range of national and regional instruments including: landfill bans on biodegradable waste or municipal waste that has not been pre-treated; mandatory separate collection of municipal waste fractions; landfill and incineration taxes; and waste collection fees incentivising recycling.
The EEA report can be downloaded at:
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