Circular Economy : 18 EU Member States at risk of missing waste targets

whistleblower, person, employee, worker, anonymous, informant, concept, vector, illustration, whistle, reveal, report, waste, fraud, abuse, corruption, danger, public, health, safety, rectify, illegal, immoral, business, government, abstract, protect, right, law, individual, information, action, brave, justice, misconduct, harassment, witness, persecution, head, freedom, campaign, expose, society, informer, warn, help, spy, gossip, voice
© ptgregus -

Which countries are at risk of missing the 2025 targets for preparing for re-use and recycling of municipal and all packaging waste and the 2035 landfill target? The European Commission answered this question in a recently published early warning report. But first the good news. Nine Member States are on track to meet the 2025 targets: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

And just as a reminder, these are the targets set out in the Waste Framework Directive and the Directive on packaging and packaging waste we are talking about:

  • 55% recycling and preparing for reuse of municipal waste;
  • 65% recycling for total packaging waste;
  • and material-specific packaging waste recycling targets (75% for paper and cardboard, 70% for glass, 70% for ferrous metals packaging, 50% for aluminium, 50% for plastic and 25% for wood).

Like our content? Subscribe to our newsletters!

Bad news for some countries

And now the bad news: 18 Member States are at serious risk of missing one or both of the 2025 targets.

Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Spain and Sweden are at risk of missing the municipal waste target.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are at risk of missing both the municipal waste and the total packaging waste targets for 2025.

In addition, some countries continue to landfill most of their municipal waste and are likely to miss the 2035 landfill target. The Commission is making recommendations to these Member States, building on the ongoing financial and technical support provided to improve waste management performance. These recommendations cover a wide range of actions: reducing non-recyclable waste, increasing re-use, promoting separate collection, developing treatment capacity for sorting and recycling, improving governance, using economic instruments and raising awareness.

"Implementing waste reduction and recycling measures on the ground is key for our circular economy transition. Turning waste into resources helps us on the way to climate neutrality, increases the security of supply of energy and raw materials, and creates local jobs and innovation opportunities. The early warning report allows us, in close cooperation with the Member States, to detect shortcomings, take action ahead of the deadlines for meeting the targets, and share best practices in sound waste management," said Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

Waste generation on the rise

On average, Europeans generate 530 kg of municipal waste per person per year (waste from households and similar waste from businesses). Although it is increasingly recycled and less landfilled, municipal waste (MSW) is still one of the most complex waste streams to manage. In the EU, about 50% of MSW is recycled or composted and 23% is landfilled. The amount of packaging waste generated is constantly increasing. Between 2013 and 2020, the amount of packaging waste generated in the EU will increase by 15% to almost 80 million tonnes. Around 64% of packaging waste is now recycled, although this varies by material. More than 75% of paper, cardboard and metal packaging is recycled, but less than 40% of plastic packaging - a problem in most EU countries, many of which are at risk of missing the material-specific target for plastic packaging waste recycling.

The early warning report allows us, in close cooperation with the Member States, to detect shortcomings, take action ahead of the deadlines for meeting the targets, and share best practices in sound waste management.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

Significant differences between Member States

Looking at the report, one thing is clear: There are considerable differences in waste management performance across the EU. Some countries still have a long way to go to meet the targets agreed in EU legislation and further reforms are needed, in particular to ensure the treatment of biowaste, which accounts for a third of municipal waste, to ensure separate collection of waste - a prerequisite for recycling - and to improve data quality. However, most EU countries have introduced or are in the process of introducing waste reforms to improve recycling rates, some of which are expected to bear fruit in the coming years.

The results were also influenced by external factors, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced or stopped separate collection in some countries. The recent rise in energy prices is also having a negative impact on recycling activities.

The early warning report builds on the Environmental Implementation Review, which had already identified problems with the implementation of EU waste legislation. In particular, almost 2000 illegal or substandard landfills are still operating in the EU, representing a significant source of pollution and greenhouse gases and a missed opportunity for the recovery of secondary raw materials.