Austria Tops EU Recycling Rate, UK & Ireland Rapidly Improving

Austria tops the tables with a municipal waste recycling rate of 63% while the UK and Ireland are rapidly improving and a number of others are in grave danger of failing to meet EU targets by 2020.

Austria tops the tables with a municipal waste recycling rate of 63%, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA), while the UK and Ireland are among the most rapidly improving and a number of other countries are in grave danger of failing to meet EU targets by 2020.

In a new report by the EEA the figures for 2010 showed an overall 35% of municipal waste was recycled in Europe, a significant improvement on 23% in 2001.

However, the agency cautioned that many countries will find it extremely difficult to meet EU-mandated targets to recycle 50% of household and similar waste by 2020 and that Europe is still wasting vast quantities of valuable resources by sending them to landfill.

The agency added that although five countries have already achieved the target, most others will need to make extraordinary efforts to do so before the deadline.

The EEA gave the example of Bulgaria and Romania, which is said seem to recycle small proportions of municipal waste, and which in order to meet the target by 2020 must increase recycling by more than 4% per year during this decade – something which no country managed to do between 2001 and 2010.

The agency's figures also showed that the UK increased its municipal waste recycling from 12% to 39% between 2001 and 2010, while Ireland raised recycling rates from 11% to 36% over the same period. Slovenia, Poland and Hungary have also dramatically improved recycling rates since joining the EU.

Recycling rates are highest in Austria, with 63%, followed by Germany on 62%, Belgium on 58%, the Netherlands and Switzerland both on 51%.

“In a relatively short time, some countries have successfully encouraged a culture of recycling, with infrastructure, incentives and public awareness campaigns," commented Jacqueline McGlade, executive director at the EEA.

"But others are still lagging behind, wasting huge volumes of resources. The current intense demand for some materials should alert countries to the clear economic opportunities in recycling,” she cautioned

Key findings

Europe is successfully moving up the waste hierarchy, albeit more slowly than required by legislation Recycling can reduce greenhouse gases and save valuable resources. From a life-cycle perspective, changing municipal waste treatment between 2001 and 2010 has cut GHG emissions from municipal waste by 56%, or 38 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent in the EU, Norway and Switzerland Preventing waste is the top priority of EU waste legislation, and the municipal waste generated per capita fell by 3.6% between 2001 and 2010. However, this may be due to the economic downturn Municipal waste produced by the average Slovakian increased by 39% between 2001 and 2010, while Norwegians and Croatians increased annual municipal waste by 30% and 25% respectively. At the other end of the scale, several countries reduced the amount of waste they generated - including Bulgaria (18 % reduction), Estonia (17%), Slovenia (12%) and the UK (12%) Improved recycling rates are primarily due to trends in recycling of materials, with less progress in bio-waste recycling Countries that successfully reduced waste sent to landfill and increased recycling usually used a range of national and regional instruments. These included landfill bans on biodegradable waste or municipal waste that has not been pre-treated, mandatory separate collection of municipal waste fractions, economic instruments such as landfill and incineration taxes, and waste collection fees incentivising recycling.

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Image credit: European Environment Agency