European circular economy: urgent measures needed to reduce waste

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Recent Commission’s assessment report on the EU-wide goals towards reducing landfill municipal waste by 2035 underlined that only nine EU states – or just one-third of the block – were able to reach the goals. The report also presented some initiatives that could contribute to a more circular economy’s patterns and would support the member states’ efforts in improving performance in waste management to reach the desired targets.  

Discouraging statistics
Commission identifies some EU states that are at risk of not meeting the 2025 targets and ill-prepared for reaching re-use and recycling targets for municipal and all packaging waste required by the 2035 land-filling target. Recent report identified that only nine member states were on track to meet the 2025 targets: Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia.
Other 18 member states are at risk of missing one or more of the 2025 targets; thus, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Spain and Sweden are at risk of missing the municipal waste target. While Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are at risk of missing both the targets for municipal and the overall packaging waste for 2025.
Some countries also continue to landfill most of their municipal waste and will probably fail to meet the 2035 land-filling target.
However, there are significant differences among the EU member states in waste management performance: for some countries, there is still a long way to go to meet the targets agreed in EU legislation and more reforms are needed. For example, there are no sufficient measures in order to ensure bio-waste treatment, which represents a third of municipal waste in Europe, as well as in separate collection of waste, which is a vital prerequisite to further optimal recycling; some other drawbacks are dealing with the improving quality of waste management data collection.
However, Commission notes that most EU countries managed to adopt (or are in the process of putting in place) necessary waste management reforms to improve recycling rates; some of these reforms would yield positive results during recent years.

Legal framework
Recent assessment was a sort of “early warning report”: i.e. it evaluated the EU member states “likelihood” to meet the 2025 recycling targets set out in the Waste Framework Directive and the Directive on packaging and packaging waste. As is known, generally, the main two “waste targets” are the following: 55% recycling and preparing for reuse of municipal waste and 65% recycling for total packaging waste.
There are specifically mentioned in the Directive so-called “material-specific packaging” in the waste-recycling targets: i.e. 75% for paper and cardboard, 70% for glass, 70% for ferrous metals packaging, 50% for aluminium, 50% for plastic and 25% for wood.
The EU-wide waste directive also lays down some basic waste management principles; it requires that waste be managed in the following way: without endangering human health and harming the environment; without risk to water, air, soil, plants or animals; without causing a nuisance through noise or odors, and without adversely affecting the countryside or places of special interest.
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     EU rules on packaging cover all types of packaging substances and packaging waste that are being circulated in the integrated European market; this means all materials and packaging including industrial, commercial, household and other sectors. These types of rules regulate various packaging substance in the EU-wide markets, as well as packaging waste management and packaging waste prevention measures. All packaging placed on the EU market has to comply with essential requirements related to its manufacturing, composition subject for a subsequent re-usage and/or recovery.
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   As to the bio-waste management issues, recent report identified most vital drawbacks in hindering performance in recycling, in spite of the f  that the obligation of separately collecting bio-waste already apply for all EU states from January 2024. The early warning report builds on the environmental implementation review, which had already unveiled issues with the implementation of the EU waste legislation. Notably, almost 2000 illegal or substandard landfills are still operating in EU, a considerable source of pollution and greenhouse gases and a missed opportunity for recovery of secondary raw materials for business.

Waste generation problems: rising issues
The amount of packaging waste generated in the EU has been steadily on the rise during last decade: thus, each year average European generates about 530kg of municipal waste; these are wastes coming from households and businesses.
Although the member states are increasingly recycling various wastes and there are less land-filled sites, municipal waste remains one of the most complex kinds of waste to manage. In the EU, about 50% of municipal waste is recycled or composted and 23% is still land filled.
Between 2013 and 2020 the amount of generated packaging waste grew by 15% in the EU-27, reaching nearly 80 million tones.
Around 64% of packaging waste is now recycled, although this varies by material: e.g. more than 75% of paper, cardboard and metal packaging is recycled, compared to less than 40% of plastics; the latter is a problem in most EU countries, many of which are at risk of not meeting the material-specific target for the recycling of plastic packaging waste.

     Commission made some recommendations in the mentioned report to those member states that are at risk of not fulfilling their obligations, building on continuous financial and technical support provided for improving performance on waste management. Furthermore, the Commission has presented initiatives that contribute to a more circular economy and will support the member states’ efforts in improving performance in waste management and reaching the targets. Among these initiatives are also proposals for new regulations on waste shipments, on packaging and packing waste and on eco-design for sustainable products; these measures activate businesses in the member states in waste management.

    More information in the following Commission’s websites: = Staff Working Documents; = Factsheets for each Member State; = EEA briefing and country assessments; = Waste Framework Directive webpage; = Prospects for EU Member States of meeting the recycling targets for municipal waste and packaging waste in European Environment Agency (

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