Europe dumps or incinerates 60% of waste: NGO report

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Europe recycles only 25% of its municipal waste, a far-cry from the EU's promise of a resource-efficient economy, says a study released today (14 February) by Friends of the Earth Europe.

The EU's 2008 Waste Framework Directive calls for recycling of at least 50% of household waste by 2020. The legislation calls for a European “recycling society” that apparently hasn’t yet reached all corners of the Union.

Some 60% of the European Union’s municipal waste ends up in landfills or incinerators, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions as well as an increasingly unsightly landscape, the environmental campaign group said.

Europeans are particularly wasteful with used textiles, the report said, with 75% of the 5.8 million tonnes discarded every year going to dumps or incineration.

“Europe is still stuck in a system where valuable materials, many of which come at a high environmental and social cost, end up in landfill or incineration,” said Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

The study calls for tighter regulation on landfill use and incineration and higher recycling goals.

“Recycling targets are a good start,” Rodrigo said, “but reusing products and materials and preventing waste in the first place won’t be the norm until we have EU targets for these too.”

Bulgaria was the EU’s most wasteful country, dumping all of its municipal trash, the report said. Romania was a close second, landfilling 99% and recycling 1%.

But in general countries within the EU 27 fared better than those outside the union, including accession hopefuls Turkey and Croatia, which landfilled 99% and 96% of their municipal waste respectively.

Germany was the greenest of the EU 27, dumping none of its waste and recycling 45%.

Resource-efficiency roadmap

Under the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Commission released its resource efficiency roadmap in 2011 in which it flags the dangers of over-consumption and wastefulness.

But Friends of the Earth Europe says the roadmap needs to be strengthened.

“The roadmap lacks robust and reliable solutions focused on reducing consumption, including through sustainable energy, trade and investment policies that would reduce Europe’s overall impact on the global environment”, the report said.

The campaigners also criticised the EU executive’s emphasis on the “green economy”.

“The roadmap focuses on ‘natural capital’, arguing that ‘ecosystem services’ give natural resources – soil, land, air, water and seas – an economic value that will protect them from depletion and pollution.

“This economic approach is no substitute for real regulations shaping and guiding the use and disposal of resources, and resource-friendly manufacturing processes,” the report said.

Resource-efficiency is one of the seven flagship initiatives in the 'Europe 2020' strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, endorsed by EU heads of states in 2010.

The concept means decoupling economic growth from natural resource use – including raw materials, commodities, water, air or ecosystems.

The European Commission unveiled its Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe in September 2011, recommending the introduction of indicators and targets across the 27-nation bloc to measure the consumption of natural resources.

 In June 2012, it set up a Resource Efficiency Platform in a bid to set new standards for more efficient use of resources in the EU. The platform has been divided into three working groups:

  • Circular economy;
  • Setting objectives and measuring progress;
  • Framework conditions for investment in resource efficiency.

Indicators and targets are needed in all these three groups and hence the next meeting of the platform, on 14 December, will focus mainly on discussing and possibly drawing up a set of indicators. Stakeholders have already sent the platform around 170 responses to the initially proposed indicators.

  • Summer 2013: Platform expected to issue a first set of recommendations for short-term measures that can be adopted in about 12 months
  • By 2014: Commission to revise 2020 recycling targets set in the Waste Framework Directive
  • Mid-2014: Mandate ends, the platform makes recommendations for the longer term

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