Even though greenhouse gas emissions from municipal waste are expected to drop considerably by 2020 due to increased recycling, Europe cannot rely on improved waste management practices to tackle unsustainable consumption and production patterns, warns the European Environment Agency (EEA).
"Europe cannot become complacent with regard to the continuing growth in waste," concludes the EEA in a report analysing how better management of municipal waste can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
Published in late January, the EEA report predicts a significant decrease in net GHGs from municipal waste by 2020 - of more than 80% compared to the late 1980s. This is mainly thanks to increased recycling and waste recovery, as well as incineration combined with energy production and diverting waste away from landfill.
However, it warns that unsustainable consumption and production patterns "in the long term may outweigh the improvements taking place in the waste management sector".
The agency predicts 25% growth in municipal waste between 2005 and 2020 "driven by several factors, such as economic activity, demographic changes, technological innovations, lifestyle and patterns of production and consumption". It warns that increasing amount of waste "could lead to saturation and increased GHG emissions due to inefficient management". Therefore it recommends keeping municipal waste to the minimum as the best course of action.
According to the EEA, each European citizen generated an average of 460kg of municipal waste in 1995 and 520kg in 2004, a figure which is expected to increase to some 680kg by 2020 "primarily due to an assumed sustained growth in private final consumption and a continuation of current trends in consumption patterns".
Waste and recycling policies are a cornerstone of EU environmental protection efforts, but the policy framework has been criticised as being too fragmented and inefficient. The current revision of the Waste Framework Directive seeks to address this issue and the EEA analysis aims to provide useful information in the context of the revision.