Recycling stats do not paper over EU’s waste problem


A study has said that Europe recycles 71.7% of its paper and cardboard, but landfill and incineration rates for other types of waste remain high across the continent.

The European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) announced yesterday (28 August) that European paper recycling rates rose some 30% over the past 20 years, to 71.7% in 2012. This made paper the most recycled material in Europe.

Paper fibre was reused on average 3.5 times a year in Europe compared to 2.4 times in the rest of the world, the report said.

EU paper consumption  dropped by 13% to the 1998 level but that the amount of recycled paper was 1.5 times higher, a "remarkable achievement", the ERPC said.

But while the trend appears good for paper, Europe’s potential to recycle many other materials may be being wasted.

Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE), said in an email: "The EU has achieved high recycling rates for paper in recent years which shows that recycling is perfectly possible. But other high-value materials which could be recycled are being burned or sent to landfill”.

A recent study by the environmental NGO showed that Europe still landfilled and incinerated 60% of its overall waste.

Whereas there were 13 countries with paper recycling rates that regularly exceeded 70%, there were significant discrepancies across the European Union. But the number of European countries with a recycling rate below 60% also decreased, the ERPC said.

The ERPC is involved in EU-funded projects to increase paper recycling especially in Central Europe, for example by improving collection systems.

But countries such as Bulgaria and Romania still dump or incinerate some 99% of their overall waste, according to the FOEE.

The European Commission’s environment DG has launched a number of initiatives aimed at cutting waste and increasing resource efficiency in Europe, including a recent public consultation on plastic waste.

In 2014, the European Commission is set to review EU recycling targets. Rodrigo called for them to be ramped up.

“They should massively increase the targets for all countries to reflect that 70% recycling of all materials – not only paper – is possible. For example, Flanders already recycles more than 70% of its municipal waste which proves it can be done,” she said.

The EU's 2008 Waste Framework Directive calls for recycling of at least 50% of household waste by 2020.

Commenting on the results of the report, ERPC Secretary Jori Ringman-Beck said: “The European paper value chain devotes huge efforts year after year to simplify paper recycling for citizens and consumers in offices and at home. The figures in the report prove that paper recycling is truly an industry “made in Europe”. And in line with EU policies it needs to be safeguarded to remain so.”

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.

  • 2014: European Commission to review recycling targets

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