The European Union (EU) circular economy action plan aims to halve the amount of municipal waste in the EU that is not recycled by 2030. According to a European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing, published this week, achieving this target requires both reducing waste generation and considerably increasing recycling, possibly even beyond the binding recycling target of 60%. A second EEA briefing reviews municipal waste management in the Western Balkan countries.
Europe is not on track to halve non-recycled municipal waste by 2030
The EEA briefing ‘Reaching 2030’s residual municipal waste target — why recycling is not enough’ analyses recent municipal waste trends in the EU in the light of achieving two key waste targets: the obligation for each EU Member State to recycle at least 60% of municipal waste by 2030, and the EU level goal of halving residual municipal waste that is landfilled or incinerated by 2030.
The amount of residual municipal waste has remained relatively stable in the EU over the past 5 years, at about 113 million tonnes, because the recycling rates and the amount of waste generated have increased approximately with the same pace. In 2020, about 48% of municipal waste in the EU was recycled.
If more municipal waste keeps getting generated, the EU would have to recycle about 72% of it 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 one third and achieving the 60% recycling rate in all EU member states, according to the EEA analysis.
Reaching the 72% recycling rate would require significant improvement in waste collection systems and recycling infrastructure, as well as a widespread redesign of consumer products for easier recycling, the EEA briefing states. However, preventing waste generation in the first place would deliver the greatest benefits for the environment. This would require, for example, increasing the lifespan of consumer goods and ensuring strong support for product reuse.
As part of the European Green Deal and the Circular economy action plan, the European Commission has recently made a package of proposals to make goods on the EU market more friendly to the environment, circular, and energy efficient, as well as a new strategy to make textiles more durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable.
Western Balkan countries struggle to improve waste management
The EEA briefing ‘Municipal waste management in the Western Balkan countries’ calls attention to growing amounts of municipal waste and improper 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, the EEA briefing states.
Western Balkans’ waste legislation and targets are increasingly following 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 hinder the proper funding and functioning of the legal infrastructure and its improvement, the EEA briefing warns. Extended producer responsibility schemes could provide additional funding for improving waste management in the region, if they are designed, governed and implemented well.