Packaging waste statistics
From Statistics Explained
- Data from February 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
The environmental impacts caused by the generation and treatment of waste are raising serious concerns. As waste generation also represents an inefficient use of valuable resources, prevention and better management of waste is one of the top priorities of the EU's sustainable development strategy. Although the magnitude of the different waste streams varies across European countries, it is possible to identify waste streams that require specific consideration - such as packaging waste. This article examines the recent statistics on packaging waste in the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU). In particular it summarises the developments during the period 2005 - 2010 for which official reporting on packaging waste for all Member States was implemented.
Main statistical findings
On average every citizen in the 27 Member States EU-27 generated 156 kg of packaging waste in 2010. This quantity varied between 43 kg and 202 kg per capita across European countries. Figure 1 shows that paper and cardboard, glass, plastics, wood, and metals are, in that order, the most common types of packaging waste in European countries.
Time series of packaging waste generation and treatment
The following analysis will focus on the EU-27 as data on packaging waste is now available for 6 years (2005-2010), data for EU-15 is still available from 1997 onwards except per capita. Data from previous reporting years for the EU-27 (2002-2004) is not included because data for the entry year are not sufficiently robust for many packaging materials.
Figure 2 shows a summary of the development of packaging waste generated for the years from 2005 to 2010. The total quantity rose from 78.6 million tonnes in 2005 to 81.3 million tonnes in 2008. Afterwards the volume dropped to 76.3 million tonnes in 2009 and recovered in 2010 to 78.4 million tonnes. This was the first time a drop in packaging volume has occurred in the EU-15 since 1998 or in the EU-27 since 2005. This absolute decline is mostly due to ‘paper and board’, wood and plastics packaging whereas metals and glass did not experience a significant reduction from 2008 to 2009. This decline of packaging material might be due to the economic slump in 2009, as the GDP in EU-27 turned negative in 2008/2009.
Over the 6-year period ‘paper and board’ is the main material of packaging waste generated which contributed with more than 31 million tonnes in 2010 to the total packaging waste generated. Amounting to a total of 16 million tonnes in 2010, glass is the second most important packaging material. Plastics packaging material generated had a volume of 14.9 million tonnes, wood packaging of 12 million tonnes and metal packaging of 4.5 million tonnes in 2010. The reporting of other materials is marginal, totaling less than 0.25 million tonnes per year. While all packaging materials experienced a sharp decrease of 5 million tonnes from 2008 to 2009, the decline is especially sharp for ‘paper and board’ and wood. The volume of ‘paper and board’ shrank by 1.5 million tonnes and the volume of wood by 2 million tonnes. Both packaging materials have a high share in transport packaging, especially the use of wood as pallets. The decline can therefore be attributed to the dip in trade volume. In 2010, both packaging materials generated recovered. ‘Paper and board’ nearly achieved the pre-crisis volume while for wood the recovery was much smaller. Comparing the whole 2005-2010 period, the absolute volume of plastic and paper and board packaging generated is nearly constant while the amount of metal, glass and wood packaging declined.
The development of the share of packaging materials is shown in Figure 3. It presents the share of the major packaging materials. During the 2005-2010 period, plastics experienced an increase in share from 17.9 % to 18.9 %. The share of paper and board went up from 38.6 % to 39.6 %. Metals declined from 6.2 % to 5.8 %, glass was significantly reduced from 21 % to 20.4 % and wood shrank from 16.2 % to 15.3 %.
Another standard criterion for assessing the growth of waste is the correlation between the quantity and the population. Figure 4 depicts the development of the quantity per capita of packaging material. The generation of packaging material per capita in the EU-27 in 2005 was 160.4 kg. The generation peaked in 2007 at 163.8 kg per capita and afterwards shrank to 153.1 kg per capita in 2009. In 2010 the packaging generated has somewhat recovered to 156.8 kg per capita. In contrary to the absolute volume which reached in 2010 again the volume of 2005, the volume per capita decreased with 3.7 kg per capita or is 2.3 % lower.
Figure 5 shows the evolution of the volume of packaging waste per capita generated, recovered and recycled for glass, ‘paper and board’, plastics, wood and metals. The recycling sector plays a fundamental role in waste management. Recycling is crucial for both waste reduction and the reduction of consumption of natural resources. Increased recycling would also help Europe to be less dependent on raw material imports. Thus, it is not surprising that the recycling sector is growing in economic importance in the European Union and also makes a significant contribution to employment. Figure 5 highlights that the amount of packaging waste recycled and recovered rose more than the amount of packaging waste generated. While for the 2005-2010 period the packaging waste generated shows a slow decline, the recycling and recovery volume in 2010 is significant higher than in 2005. Even during the 2009 slump, the recycling and recovery volume only experienced a short reduction and in 2010 gained the highest volume since reporting started.
Figure 6 shows the corresponding evolution of the recycling and recovery rates during the time frame 2005-2010. In the EU-27 the recycling rate of packaging waste went up from 54.6 % in 2005 to 63.3 % in 2010. The recycling rate and the recovery rate developed in parallel. The rate of recovery including incineration at waste incineration plants with energy recovery rose from 66.8 % to 76.2 %.
Figure 7 shows the share of treatment options for the overall packaging waste. “Other forms of recovery” add only a very minor share. The major form of recovery in all countries is recycling. In some countries 'Energy recovery' and 'Incineration with energy recovery' contribute significantly to the overall recovery rate. Especially countries which utilize 'Incineration with energy recovery' as a standard method of waste disposal achieve a significant higher recovery rate. Typically are the Nordic countries but also Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.
Recycling and recovery targets
Article 6 of the Packaging Waste Directive sets out the 2001 and 2008 recovery and recycling targets.
The 2001-target sets a 50-65 % target on recovery (Art. 6(1)(a)), a 25 % target on recycling of all materials and a 15 % target for each material (Art. 6(1)(c)).
These targets are calculated by weight; by dividing the amount of packaging waste recycled by the total amount of packaging waste generated. The targets had to be met by different dates from June 2001 to the end of 2008 for all Member States except Malta, Bulgaria and Romania (Table 1). Malta had to meet the 2001-target by the end of 2009. Bulgaria had to meet the 2001-target on plastic recycling by end of 2009.
For the 2008-targets, for each of the five packaging waste materials a minimum recycling rate by weight is required according to Article 6(1)(e) of the Packaging Waste Directive. Additionally a recycling target for the totality of the weight of materials of 55-80 % is laid down in Article 6(1)(d). For recovery the directive seeks a minimum recovery rate of 60 % (Art. 6(1)(b)). Table 1 also shows the deadlines for the 2008-targets according to the directive. Some countries have also year-by-year targets.
Generation of glass packaging waste differs significantly between the countries. In the EU-27 the glass packaging waste generated was 32 kg per capita in 2010.
The gap between the countries is rather wide. As Figure 8 shows, the amount generated in 2010 at the top consumer is 65 kg per capita in Luxembourg and 44 kg per capita in both UK and France. Many other countries which joined the EU before 2004 show glass packaging waste generated per capita between 32 kg and 38 kg. The Nordic countries have “unusual” low amounts. Finland with 12 kg per capita, Denmark has 13 kg per capita and Sweden 21 kg per capita. Most of the countries which joined the EU after 2004 have a medium range of glass packaging waste generated between Poland (25 kg per capita) and Slovakia (18.4 kg per capita). The countries with the lowest amounts are Greece (12 kg per capita), Bulgaria (8.5 kg per capita) and Romania (7.5 kg per capita).
The figures reveal that the amount of recycled glass packaging differs significantly from the glass waste generated. The highest amount of glass recycled per capita is shown by Luxembourg. Other countries with a high amount of kg per capita are Belgium (35 kg), France (30 kg), Germany (29 kg), the Netherlands (28 kg) and Austria and the UK (27 kg). We find small amounts of recycled glass packaging waste per capita in Cyprus (6.2 kg), Malta (1.4 kg), Greece (2.6 kg), Bulgaria (4.3 kg) and Romania (4.2 kg).
Recycling of packaging glass is the main recovery operation for this waste material. The other forms of recovery are minor and are used in a few countries only and are therefore not covered here. The recycling rate is shown in Figure 9. The 2001 recycling target of 15 % had to be fulfilled by all Member States. The target was reached by all Member States except Malta. The 2008-target was achieved by all countries which had agreed to fulfill the target by the end of 2008. Some countries – namely Ireland, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovenia are all well above the 60 % recycling rate.
Paper and board
Recycling and recovery of ‘Paper and board’ have been in operation since the 1980s in many Member States. Therefore, the recycling and recovery rates for ‘paper and board’ packaging were already high before the packaging legislation come into force. The main recovery operations are material recycling and incineration with energy recovery. Other forms of recycling and recovery played only a very minor role.
The amount of generation and recycling per capita is displayed in Figure 10. The amount generated in the EU-27 in 2010 is 62 kg per capita including a wide range starting from Germany with 88 kg per capita to Romania with 12 kg per capita. All countries which joined the EU before 2004 (except Greece) exhibit an amount greater than 47 kg per capita (Finland). The amount recycled in EU-27 is 52 kg per capita.
The recycling rate for ‘paper and board’ is shown in Figure 11. The 2001-target of 15 % is fulfilled by all Member States. The 2008-target for recycling of ‘paper and board’ is 60 %. All countries which agreed to fulfill the 2008-target in 2010 have exceeded the target. Only Slovakia, Malta and Poland show recycling rates lower than the 2008-target but all three countries have time until 2012, 2013, 2014 respectively.
The metal packaging waste consists of steel and aluminum. The breakdown of the data into steel and aluminum is voluntary and therefore only the sum of steel and aluminum is presented in Figure 12. The EU-27 metal packaging waste generated is 9 kg per capita of which 6.5 kg per capita is recycled. UK has the highest amount of metal waste generated of 13 g per capita followed by Belgium, Greece and Ireland. Bulgaria and Romania show the lowest amounts of metal waste generated of 2.1 kg per capita and 2.6 kg per capita.
The 2008 recycling target for metal packaging is 50 % by weight, shown in Figure 13. It should be noted that also Bulgaria and Romania had agreed to fulfill this target by the end of 2008. However, all Member States which should have met the target by the end of 2008 have recycling rates exceeding 50 %. Moreover, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia have already reported rates above the 2008 target.
Plastics packaging material is the packaging material with the highest growth rate over the 6-year period 2005-2010. In comparison to other packaging materials the recycling of plastics is more difficult and costly. Figure 14 illustrates the amount of plastic packaging waste generated and recycled by country for 2010. Luxembourg, Ireland, UK and Estonia show plastic packaging waste generated above 38 kg per capita. The following cohort of 11 countries plus Norway shows an amount per capita between 27 kg and 34 kg. The next cohort displays plastic waste generated from 19 kg per capita to 22 kg per capita. Romania and Bulgaria have only 13 and 11 kg per capita. The difference of the packaging waste generated between the countries is the lowest for plastic of all materials. The ratio between Bulgaria and Luxembourg is 4, while for ‘paper and board’ it is 7 and approximately 8.6 for glass.
For the recycling rates only ‘material recycling’ (meaning recycled back to plastics) is counted. In Figure 15 the recycling rates are shown also indicating the deadlines for the 2008-targets to be met. The 2001-target of 15 % has to be fulfilled by all Member States except by Romania. As the graph reveal, all Member States exhibit recycling rates above this threshold. The 2008-target of 22.5 % is fulfilled by all countries which agreed to meet this target. For the other Member States all countries except Malta (22 %) and Poland (20.2 %) met the 2008-target before time.
Wood packaging is mostly used for transport packaging ('pallets'). The 2010 data on wood packaging waste generated and recycled in kg per capita is shown in Figure 16. The data on wood packaging exhibits wide variations and is assessed as insufficiently robust. However, wood packaging shows some differences with respect to the other packaging materials. Countries like Finland, Sweden and Poland which for the other packaging materials have a low amount of packaging generated, exhibit very high figures for wood packaging. The opposite trend is found for UK, Spain and Denmark.
The countries show very different amounts for recycling. For Italy, Ireland and UK the absolute amount as well as the share of recycling is very high.
Commission Decision 2005/270/EC decreed that 'the data for wood shall not be used for the purpose of evaluating the target of a minimum of 15 % by weight …'. Figure 17 is therefore only indicative of the recycling rates achieved. All Member States which had to meet the 2008-target have done so.
Overall recycling rates
The overall amounts of packaging waste generated and recycled are compiled for all packaging materials including glass, ‘paper and board’, metals, plastics, others and wood. Figure 18 gives an overview of the data reported by the countries. The countries which joined the EU before 2004 show generally the highest amount of packaging waste generated except Greece. Of these countries Austria, Sweden, Finland and Denmark show a significant lower amount of packaging waste generated. Romania and Bulgaria exhibit the lowest amount of all Member States.
Figure 19 shows the overall recycling rate. The 2008-target is 55 %. All countries subject to meeting the 2008-target of 55 % recycling rate by the end of 2008 have achieved the target except Sweden (54.3 %). Other countries already have recycling rates above the 2008-target: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
Overall recovery rates
Figure 20 shows the recovery rate for all packaging materials. The 2001-target for recovery is 50 % and the 2008-target is 60 %. All countries except Bulgaria and Romania (2011) should have met the 2001-target by different dates up to the end of 2009. All countries subject to the 2001-target – with the exception of Slovakia (48 %) and Malta (29 %) exceeded the recovery target of 50 %. Bulgaria (62 %) met the target before the set deadline.
All Member States which agreed to the 2008-target met the 2008 target in 2010. A number of other countries have already met the recovery rate set in the 2008-target and show rates above 60 %: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia.
Export for recycling
Figure 21 shows the overall recycling rate and the corresponding export share. An often cited argument for the recycling economy is the additional work places which should come with a growing recycling industry. For small countries the necessary scale for an efficient recycling industry is missing. As is shown in Figure 21 the small countries exhibit export rates of nearly 60 % (Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Ireland) whereas the export share of bigger countries are only 30 % and lower (Germany, France, Spain, Italy). Please note that only data on export for recycling are mandatory while imports are voluntary. Import data are not reported because a homogeneous data set is missing.
- The data on packaging waste is hosted by Eurostat and are available in the dissemination database.
- As shown in this paper, the database allows a wide range of analysis.
- The data reveal that the amount of packaging waste generated in the EU-27 has slightly increased until 2008.
- Due to the economic dip the packaging generated has decreased but recovered in 2010.
- Over the 2005 to 2010 period, plastic and ‘paper and board’ packaging increase while metal and glass packaging slightly decrease.
- The absolute amount of recycling and recovery has been constant or increased from 2005 to 2010.
- The recycling and recovery rate has steadily increased.
- The amount of packaging waste generated on a per capita basis shows significant differences between the Member States. The ratio between the highest and lowest per capita amount is 8.6 for glass, 7 for ‘paper and board’, 6 for metal and 4 for plastic packaging.
The nature and dimension of waste related impacts on the environment depend upon the amount and composition of waste streams as well as on the method of treating them. Member States deliver quantitative data, to be reported under EU waste legislation, to a single data entry point, the Waste Data Centre operated by Eurostat.
Data for specific waste streams as well as official waste statistics are becoming available in a common reporting, processing and dissemination environment to allow for cross validations and assessments.
This one-stop-shop approach allows policy-makers, stakeholders, users from other European bodies and the interested public to find the data needed to assess the effectiveness of the European Union’s waste policy.
Data sources and availability
The packaging waste data is reported by the Member States as laid down in Commission Decision 2005/270/EC. The reported data is usually available in the Eurostat database on packaging waste approximately 18 months after the end of the reference year.
Packaging legislation is driven by European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/ECof 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste, as amended by Directive 2004/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (Packaging Waste Directive) and is concerned with minimising the creation of packaging waste material. It promotes re-use, recycling and energy recovery of packaging.
However, as a first legal basis, Council Directive 85/339/EEC of June 1985 required the establishment of national programmes for reduction of the volume of beverage containers disposed as waste in order to raise consumer awareness on the advantage of using refillable containers. These programmes began on 1 January 1987 and have been updated every four years since then. Great emphasis was put on the recycling of such containers.
The directive was repealed by the introduction of the Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC in 1994. The latter directive aims at harmonising national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste in order, on the one hand, to prevent any impact thereof on the environment of all Member States and third countries, or to reduce such an impact, thus providing a high level of environmental protection, and, on the other hand, to ensure the functioning of the internal market. Obstacles to trade and distortion and restriction of competition within the Community shall be avoided. To this end, this directive lays down measures aimed, as a first priority, at preventing the production of packaging waste and, as additional fundamental principles, at reusing packaging, at recycling and other forms of recovering packaging waste and hence at reducing the final disposal of such waste. It also limits the level of heavy metals in packaging.
The Packaging Waste Directive sets out the following targets (by no later than 31 December 2008 for the EU-15 except Greece, Ireland and Portugal): a minimum of 60 % recovery rate (including waste incineration); between 55 and 80 % by weight of packaging waste to be recycled; with minimum rates of 60 % by weight for glass, paper and cardboard; 50 % by weight for metals; 22.5 % by weight for plastics; and 15 % by weight for wood (The deadlines for the 2008 targets and additional interim targets for Bulgaria and Romania were set in the accession protocol).
Commission Decision 2005/270/EC of March 2005 has established a common format on which reporting of Member States is based.
Historical flashback and example
In France, the waste statistics municipal waste generated increased during the period from 1960 – 1990 from almost 220 kg per capita to approx. 360 kg per capita. However, during the same period packaging waste has risen from approx. 36 kg per capita to almost 120 kg per capita. As the municipal waste has increased by 33 %, packaging waste grew by 233 %.
Taking into account that the standard waste treatment in the 1980s was landfill, the waste volume might serve as a better benchmark since general estimates show that packaging waste with a weight share of 30 % may constitute up to 50 % of the waste volume. This underlines that packaging waste has an important impact on landfill capacity.
In recent decades many Member States have been striving to raise the environmental standards for waste disposal facilities for both incineration and landfill. Many smaller landfill facilities were closed and the construction of new ones was rarely approved. For Germany at the end of the 1980s, the landfill reserve capacities in some regions were estimated to last for a maximum of 2 to 5 years.
Packaging is defined as any material which is used to contain, protect, handle, deliver and present goods. Packaging waste can arise from a wide range of sources including supermarkets, retail outlets, manufacturing industries, households, hotels, hospitals, restaurants and transport companies. Items like glass bottles, plastic containers, aluminium cans, food wrappers, timber pallets and drums are all classified as packaging.
The classification of packaging waste and ordinary waste is defined according to the three criteria in Article 3 of the Packaging Waste Directive and highlighted in Annex I.
In contrast to other waste statistics, the term 'packaging waste generated' means not the amount of 'packaging collected', but rather all 'packaging placed on the market'.
The main packaging materials are glass, paper and board, plastics, metals (aluminium and steel) and wood.
Composite materials are made of paper, plastic and metal which could not be separated by hand. Composites are reported under their predominant material by weight. Other packaging materials are counted as 'others'.
Recycling is divided in two terms. Material recycling is the reprocessing to the original material. Other forms of recycling include the reprocessing for other purposes including organic recycling.
Recovery includes recycling, energy recovery (e.g. as fuel in cement kilns or blast furnaces), other forms of recovery and waste incineration with energy recovery. Energy recovery means energy generation from waste at special incineration plants. Incineration with energy recovery and the other forms of recovery are defined by Annex IIb in the Waste Framework Directive 75/442/EEC (amended).
The weight of recovered or recycled packaging waste is determined as the input to an effective process or, for practical reasons, as the output of a sorting plant which is sent to an effective recovery or recycling process. The weight should exclude non-packaging materials as far as practical.
Reusable packaging is only counted once in their lifetime and not after every refilling and purchase trip.
The recycling or recovery rates are the total quantity of recycled or recovered materials divided by the total quantity of generated packaging material.
Further Eurostat information
- European Environment Agency (EEA): Generation and recycling of packaging waste
- EEA: State of the environment report 5/2010 (SOER 2010)
- EEA: Effectiveness of packaging waste management systems in selected countries - Pilot study
- Eurostat: Generation and treatment of waste in Europe 2008 - Statistics in focus 44/2011
- Eurostat: Generation and treatment of municipal waste - Statistics in focus 31/2011
- Eurostat: Environmental statistics and accounts in Europe - Statistical book 2010
- Environment statistics, see:
- Recovery rates for packaging waste (ten00062)
- Recycling rates for packaging waste (ten00063)
- Environment statistics, see:
- Waste statistics (env_was)
- Waste streams (env_wasst)
- Packaging waste (env_waspac)
- Waste streams (env_wasst)
Methodology / Metadata
- Waste Statistics (ESMS metadata file - env_waspac_esms)
Source data for tables and figures on this page (MS Excel)
- Commission Decision 2005/270/EC of 22 March 2005 establishing the formats relating to the database system pursuant to Directive 94/62/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste
- Directive 2004/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 on packaging and packaging waste
- European Commission - Environment – Packaging waste
- European Environment Agency – Waste and material resources