Europe is not on track to halve unrecycled municipal waste by 2030

Photo: Pasi Mäenpää, Pixabay

According to a briefing note from the European Environment Agency (EEA), published today, achieving this target requires both reducing waste generation and dramatically increasing recycling, perhaps even at beyond the binding recycling target of 60%. A second EEA briefing reviews municipal waste management in the Western Balkan countries.

The EEA briefing “Reaching the 2030 residual municipal waste target — why recycling is not enough” analyzes recent trends in municipal waste in the EU in light of the achievement of two key of waste: the obligation for each EU Member State to recycle at least 60% of municipal waste by 2030, and the EU-level target to halve residual municipal waste going to landfill or incinerated by 2030.

The amount of residual municipal waste has remained relatively stable in the EU over the past five years, at around 113 million tonnes, as recycling rates and the amount of waste generated have increased at roughly the same rate. In 2020, around 48% of municipal waste in the EU was recycled.

If more municipal waste is generated, the EU would have to recycle around 72% to meet the target of halving the amount of residual (non-recycled) municipal waste by 2030. Alternatively, the target could be achieved by reducing the amount of waste generated by around a third and reaching the recycling rate of 60% in all EU Member States, according to the EEA analysis.

Achieving the 72% recycling rate would require a significant improvement in waste collection systems and recycling infrastructure, as well as a widespread redesign of consumer products for easier recycling, the EEA briefing says. However, preventing waste generation in the first place would provide the greatest environmental benefits. This would require, for example, increasing the lifespan of consumer goods and ensuring strong support for the reuse of products.

As part of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission recently presented a set of proposals to make products on the EU market more environmentally friendly, circular and energy-efficient, as well as a new strategy to make textiles more durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable.

The EEA briefing “Municipal waste management in the Western Balkan countries” draws attention to the growing amounts of municipal waste and inappropriate waste management in the region. Most municipal waste in the Western Balkans is still sent to landfill and there is an urgent need to invest in separate collection systems and recycling infrastructure, says the EEA briefing.

Waste legislation and targets in the Western Balkans increasingly follow EU directives, but data on waste generation and management remain largely insufficient. There are many initiatives to improve data quality, but illegal, substandard and informal activities are hampering the proper funding and functioning of the legal infrastructure and its improvement, warns the EEA briefing. Extended producer responsibility schemes could provide additional funding to improve waste management in the region, if well designed, managed and implemented.

Melissa C. Keyes