Trends In Waste Management

The European Environment Agency (EEA) predicts that per capita consumption in the EU is expected to continue to increase up to 2010. The baseline scenario used (based on OECD and EC socio-economic business-as-usual scenarios) projects a 45% economic growth between 1990 and 2010, and 50% increase in final consumption between 1995 and 2010. Notwithstanding the current limitations of waste data, the EEA has made predictions of total waste generation. Household waste generation in the EU is estimated to grow by around 20% to 2010 (ETCW, 1999) based on forecast increases in per capita consumption over the period 1995-2010.

The main challenge therefore will be to break the linkage between consumption and waste generation, if sustainability in waste management is to be achieved. Unless the linkage can be broken through strict implementation of a range of policy initiatives, we can expect to see a continuing trend of increasing waste generation throughout Europe. Increasingly this is being recognised in national recycling plans, with Denmark being a notable example.

The EEA found that landfilling remains the most common municipal waste management option in Europe. As a proportion of total waste handled in the countries of the European Union, ETCW believes it was actually higher in 1995 at 67% than over the period 1985-1990 at 64%. Over this period the absolute amounts of MSW landfilled increased from 86 to 104 Mt pa.

In a study carried out by Enviros for the Resource Recovery Forum (2000), Austria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland have all reduced MSW disposal to landfill during the 1990s. Only France, Norway, and Spain have increased volumes to landfill.

The growth in recycling and composting for four countries exceeded the underlying growth in municipal waste arisings over the various periods in question. These countries were Austria, Netherlands, Sweden and Germany. Germany however, showed a significant growth in recycling and composting, whilst appearing to decrease the total volume managed by three million tonnes (with a somewhat limited dataset).

In Denmark, enhanced recycling offset the growth in waste arisings and the two are now broadly in equilibrium. Similarly, Switzerland's recycling and composting performance was similar to the overall growth in waste managed. Three countries have MSW growth levels that in absolute terms outstripped the quantities of waste recycled and composted over the same period. These countries were France, Norway and Spain.

Those countries that have successfully countered waste growth through enhanced recycling and composting have benefited from a rapid development of the required infrastructure complemented by a parallel growth in energy from waste (EfW) capacity. Progress in increasing recycling and composting in many of these countries has been supported by the introduction of a number of economic and policy measures.

In all these countries there was a fundamental shift in waste policy in the early 1990s, moving away from a focus on collection and disposal towards an integrated set of measures, which have included the development of a planned infrastructure of recycling, centralised composting schemes, and energy from waste incineration. Most of these countries have already introduced limits or bans to landfill. This group of countries is also characterised by high waste treatment costs, and a high level of EfW capacity per capita compared to the UK.

Notwithstanding any efforts at waste prevention, a need exists to develop further complementary forms of downstream waste treatment. The response of many European countries to the Community Strategy and the EU landfill directive in particular has included a substantial increase in recycling, composting and EfW capacity.

At the national level, significant progress in reducing landfill and increasing recycling and composting over and above the underlying growth in MSW has been made in Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Notwithstanding the range of regulatory and policy instruments in place, these countries have benefited from rapid development in recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion and EfW infrastructure.

Data from Eurostat (2001) echoed these findings, while noting that some parameters are still not defined in a harmonised way, making comparisons at a European level problematic. Eurostat summarised the findings as follows.

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