Understanding waste management Policy challenges and opportunities

ThinkTankLogo  09-06-2015
Five tonnes of waste per capita are generated every year in the European Union (EU), mostly from the construction and mining sectors, with municipal waste accounting for roughly 10% of the total. Although wide differences remain between Member States, recent trends in the treatment of municipal waste show a shift away from landfilling and an increase in the proportion of waste recycled.
Management of waste can have adverse effects on the environment, climate and human health. EU waste policy is built on a thematic strategy, a series of overarching directives, legal acts applying to specific waste streams, legal acts on specific installations, and implementing acts defining when specific materials leave the waste regime after treatment.
Various targets set out in EU legislation (in particular as regards recycling of household waste and landfilling of biodegradable waste) are being implemented at varying speed across Member States, regions and municipalities. Regional and local policies have a significant influence on waste recycling rates. Despite this legislation, illegal waste shipments remain a concern.
Waste management requires facing a number of challenging issues, for instance, balancing objectives between promoting recycling and protecting consumers against harmful chemical substances in recycled materials; insufficient data collection; quality aspects related to recycling; energy recovery of waste; and waste prevention. The opportunities relate mainly to a shift towards a more circular economy, with benefits for the environment and human health, as well as the economy. The European Parliament has consistently called for policies in line with the hierarchy of waste prevention and management options, and moving towards a more circular economy.

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