Key Issues

The main challenge for a modern, industrial country is to break the historic link between waste creation and wealth creation. Over the years, per capita waste

Issues in Environmental Science and Technology, No. 18 Environmental and Health Impact of Solid Waste Management Activities © The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2002

arisings and wealth (expressed as GDP) have appeared to grow inexorably - with waste production outstripping economic growth. Total reported waste generation within the EU and the European Free Trade Area increased by 10% between 1990 and 1995. Over this period, economic growth was 6.5% in constant prices. The EEA has demonstrated a close correlation between economic activity and municipal waste generation.1

Although limited data hinder the development of projections for future waste trends, it is considered that most waste streams will probably increase over the next decade.

The European Union's 5th Environment Action programme Towards Sustainability2 set a target of stabilising municipal waste generation at the 1985 level of 320 kg/capita/annum by 2000. However, there has been little progress and it is clear that this was not met. In fact MSW generation within the EU averaged 400-450 kg per person in 2000, representing a growth of about 30% between 1985 and 2000 (an average annual growth of about 2%). The European Union's 6th Environment Action programme Environment 2010: our future, our choice3 changed from capping individual waste generation rates to setting targets for landfill diversion. This is arguably easier to achieve and is certainly easier to measure.

It remains very difficult to improve the way society uses resources, improving efficiency and reducing the environmental impacts associated with the flow of unwanted materials and energy. This is not because of any particular technical barriers, but is rather a matter of costs and acceptability. While holes in the ground are relatively abundant, more sustainable waste management options can seem unreasonably expensive alternatives, particularly when there is no agreement over who should bear those costs.

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