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
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Image credit: European Environment Agency