From Statistics Explained
- Data from September 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article gives an overview on the development of waste generation and treatment in the European Union (EU) and several non-member countries; it draws exclusively on data collected within the framework of Regulation 2150/2002 on waste statistics.
Waste, defined by Directive 2008/98/EC Article 3(1) as ‘any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard’, potentially represents an enormous loss of resources in the form of both materials and energy; in addition, the management and disposal of waste can have serious environmental impacts. Landfills, for example, take up land space and may cause air, water and soil pollution, while incineration may result in emissions of dangerous air pollutants, unless properly regulated.
EU waste management policies therefore aim to reduce the environmental and health impacts of waste and improve the EU’s resource efficiency. The long-term aim of these policies is to reduce the amount of waste generated and when waste generation is unavoidable to promote it as a resource and achieve higher levels of recycling and the safe disposal of waste.
Main statistical findings
Total waste generation
In 2010, the total generation of waste from economic activities and households in the EU-27 amounted to 2 570 million tonnes; this was slightly higher than in 2008 but lower than in 2004 and 2006; the relatively low figures for 2008 and 2010 may, at least in part, reflect the downturn in economic activity as a result of the financial and economic crisis. Among the waste generated in the EU-27 in 2010, some 94.5 million tonnes (3.7 % of the total) were classified as hazardous waste. As such, inhabitants in the EU-27 generated on average about 5.1 tonnes of waste each, of which 188 kg were hazardous waste.
Table 1 shows an analysis of the total waste generated broken down by main economic activity (according to NACE Rev. 2). There were two activities that generated particularly high levels of waste across the EU-27 in 2010: they were construction (NACE Section F) accounting for 855 million tonnes (33.3 % of the total) and mining and quarrying (NACE Section B) contributing 727 million tonnes (28.3 % of the total). The vast majority of the waste that was generated within these activities was composed of mineral waste or soils (excavated earth, road construction waste, demolition waste, dredging spoil, waste rocks, tailings and so on). Manufacturing (NACE Section C) accounted for 280 million tonnes of waste generated in 2010 (10.9 % of the total), while households contributed a further 221 million tonnes (8.6 %). The relatively low share of total waste that was generated from agriculture, forestry and fishing activities (NACE Section A) is, at least in part, linked to manure and slurry being excluded from the data presented (as long as they are re-used within agriculture as a fertiliser or a soil improver).
There was a considerable variation in the amount of waste generated in 2010 across those countries for which data are presented in Table 1 – the highest share of the EU-27 total being accounted for by Germany (14.1 %), just ahead of France and the United Kingdom. These figures may also be expressed in relation to population (see Figure 1): using this measure, Latvia generated the lowest level of waste per inhabitant (668 kg) among the EU Member States; there were also relatively low levels of waste generated per inhabitant in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1.1 tonnes) and especially in Croatia (151 kg). The amount of waste generated ranged between 1.5 and 7.2 tonnes per inhabitant for the majority of the remaining EU Member States and the other non-member countries shown in Figure 1, rising to 10.2 tonnes per inhabitant in Romania, 12.5 tonnes per inhabitant in Sweden, 14.2 tonnes per inhabitant in Estonia, 19.5 tonnes per inhabitant in Finland, 20.6 tonnes per inhabitant in Luxembourg and peaking at 22.0 tonnes per inhabitant in Bulgaria.
Some of the large variations between countries may be linked to the differences in economic structures. For example, the high level of waste generated in Bulgaria, Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Romania was strongly influenced by large quantities of mineral wastes from mining and quarrying activities, whereas in Luxembourg, mineral waste from construction was largely responsible for the high amount of waste generated.
Non-mineral waste generation
The 912 million tonnes of non-mineral waste generated in the EU-27 in 2010 represented 35.5 % of the total waste generated; this figure was nearly the same as in 2008 and about 39 million tonnes less than in 2004 and 2006. When expressed in relation to the population, inhabitants in the EU-27 generated, on average, 1 817 kg of non-mineral waste each in 2010 (see Figure 2). Across the EU Member States, non-mineral waste generation ranged from an average of 613 kg per inhabitant in Latvia to 8.6 tonnes per inhabitant in Estonia (composed largely of hazardous combustion waste and hazardous chemical deposits and residues from the refining and incineration of oil shale).
Figure 3 shows the origin and development of non-mineral waste broken down by economic activity. In 2010, manufacturing (NACE Section C), waste and water management (NACE Section E and NACE Class 46.77) and households each contributed similar shares (between 197 million tonnes and 214 million tonnes) to the generation of non-mineral waste. Non-mineral waste from manufacturing has been steadily decreasing since 2004, down overall by 20.5 % between 2004 and 2010. By contrast, waste generation from the waste and water management sector saw rapid growth, rising by 59.4 % over the same period. After a slight increase from 2004 until 2008, the quantity of waste generated by households was unchanged in 2010.
Hazardous waste generation
Hazardous waste may pose a risk to human health and the environment if not managed and disposed of safely. In 2010, some 94.5 million tonnes of hazardous waste was generated in the EU-27; this was higher than in 2004 (89 million tonnes), but lower than in 2006 (101 million tonnes) and 2008 (98 million tonnes).
Figure 4 shows the amount of hazardous waste that was generated per inhabitant during the period from 2004 to 2010; note that the figures include all hazardous waste categories, including minerals. The high figures for Estonia (6.7 tonnes per inhabitant), as noted above, may be largely attributed to oil shale, and those for Bulgaria (1.8 tonnes per inhabitant) to the mining of copper ores. Aside from these specific cases, the generation of hazardous waste in the EU Member States ranged in 2010 from 22 kg per inhabitant in Greece to 747 kg per inhabitant in Luxembourg.
In 2010, some 2 366 million tonnes of waste was treated in the EU-27; this includes the treatment of waste that was imported into the EU. Table 2 presents more information in relation to the types of waste treatment operation that were employed, while Table 3 provides the same information for the treatment of hazardous waste. Almost half (48.2 %) of the waste treated within the EU-27 in 2010 was subject to disposal operations other than waste incineration (this was predominantly landfills, but also included mining waste disposed in and around mining sites and waste discharges into water bodies). A further 46.3 % of the waste treated in the EU-27 in 2010 was sent to recovery operations (other than energy recovery). The remaining 5.4 % of the waste treated in the EU-27 in 2010 was sent for incineration (with or without energy recovery).
Figure 5 shows the development of waste treatment by the main treatment categories in the period from 2004 to 2010. Waste disposal saw a steady decrease in the volume of waste treated from 2004 to 2008. However, in 2010 this situation was reversed, largely as a result of higher levels of waste treatment for mining and quarrying activities and for the disposal of the respective material in a few countries (Romania, Sweden and Finland). In spite of this rebound the share of disposal in total waste treatment fell from 54.0 % in 2004 to 48.2 % in 2010. The quantity of waste recovered (excluding energy recovery) steadily grew from 893 million tonnes in 2004 to 1 096 million tonnes in 2010, although the rate of increase was slower between 2008 and 2010. As a result, the share of recovery in total waste treatment rose from 41.1 % in 2004 to 46.3 % in 2010. An analysis of the latest data for 2010 shows that 193 million tonnes of waste recovery was used for backfilling (in other words, used in excavated areas for the purpose of slope reclamation or safety or for engineering purposes in landscaping). Waste incineration and energy recovery increased by 19.6 % from 108 million tonnes in 2004 to 129 million tonnes in 2008 and was unchanged in 2010.
For the treatment of hazardous waste, the share of waste disposal amounted in 2010 to 47.7 % of the EU-27 total, and therefore accounted for a share of total hazardous waste treatment that was in line with the corresponding share for all waste. Some 9.8 million tonnes (or 13.2 % of all hazardous waste) was incinerated or used for energy recovery, and 29.1 million tonnes (or 39.2 %) was recovered.
Data sources and availability
In order to monitor the implementation of waste policy, in particular compliance with the principles of recovery and safe disposal, reliable statistics on the production and management of waste from businesses and private households are required. In 2002, Regulation 2150/2002 on waste statistics was adopted, creating a framework for harmonised Community statistics on waste.
Starting with reference year 2004, the Regulation requires EU Member States to provide data on the generation, recovery and disposal of waste every two years. Data on waste generation and treatment are available for four reference years, namely, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. In order to allow the calculation of EU-27 aggregates, Eurostat estimates were made for reference year 2010 for four of the EU Member States – Greece, Italy, Latvia and the United Kingdom.
The EU’s approach to waste management is based on three principles: waste prevention, recycling and reuse, and improving final disposal and monitoring. Waste prevention can be achieved through cleaner technologies, eco-design, or more eco-efficient production and consumption patterns. Waste prevention and recycling, focused on materials technology, can also reduce the environmental impact of resources that are used through limiting raw materials extraction and transformation during production processes. Where possible, waste that cannot be recycled or reused should be safely incinerated with landfills only used as a last resort. Both these methods need close monitoring because of their potential for causing severe environmental damage.
The EU’s sustainable development strategy and its sixth environment action programme, which identifies waste prevention and management as one of seven thematic strategies – titled, ‘Taking sustainable use of resources forward – A thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste’ (COM(2005) 666 final), underline the relationship between the efficient use of resources and waste generation and management. The intention of Community policy in this area is to decouple the use of resources and the generation of waste from economic growth, while ensuring that sustainable consumption does not exceed environmental capacity. In order to review the progress being made with respect to the EU’s waste policy, an evaluation of the thematic strategy was carried out in 2010 (COM(2011) 13 final). This report stated that progress had been achieved on a number of fronts, including legislative changes, higher recycling rates, lower amounts of waste going to landfill, and a reduction in hazardous substances for some waste streams. Nevertheless, the conclusions also highlighted a range of issues where improvements could be made, including: the negative environmental impact caused by an expected increase in waste generation, a failure to grasp various opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a lack of progress in creating jobs within environmental services. There were also calls in the report to define new and more ambitious prevention and recycling targets, and to move towards material-specific targets in order to help achieve the Europe 2020 objective of promoting a resource-efficient economy.
Further Eurostat information
- Environmental statistics and accounts in Europe, Chapter 3 Waste (2010)
- Energy, transport and environment indicators pocketbook (2011 edition)
- Generation and treatment of waste in Europe 2008 (SiF 44/2011)
- Generation and treatment of municipal waste (SiF 31/2011)
- Waste statistics
- Environment, see:
- Waste statistics
- Waste generation and treatment (env_wasgt)
Methodology / Metadata
- ESMS metadata file (env_wasgt_esms)
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)
- Environmental Data Centre on Waste
- Regulation 2150/2002 of 25 November 2002 on waste statistics
- Thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste
- Being wise with waste: the EU’s approach to waste management
- European Commission - DG Environment - Waste in the EU
- European Environment Agency - Waste and material resources