Household waste levels in the EU are rising, but so is recycling

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  • EU residents generated an average of 505 kilograms of waste in 2020, up almost 10% since 1995.
  • Denmark and Luxembourg produced the most municipal waste.
  • Only seven Member States produced less per person in 2020 than in 1995.
  • However, the share of waste reaching landfills has fallen rapidly and recycling has almost tripled.

Household waste weighing more than a camel or a mini caravan? This is the average amount each person in the EU generated in 2020, according to Eurostat.

At 505 kg per person, people generated 4 kg more municipal waste than in 2019 and 38 kg more than in 1995. The average adult camel or mini caravan, meanwhile, weighs around 500 kg.

Eurostat defines municipal waste as anything collected by local authorities. This means that it comes mainly from households, but also includes waste from shops, offices and public institutions.

The EU produced 225.7 million tonnes in 2020, a 1% increase on 2019 and a 14% jump on 1995, according to Eurostat figures.

Most EU countries produce more waste than in 1995.

Most EU countries produce more waste than in 1995.

Image: Eurostat

Which EU countries produce the most waste?

Denmark and Luxembourg were the largest producers of municipal waste in 2020, with 845 kg and 790 kg per person respectively. Close behind were Malta with 643 kg and Germany with 632 kg.

The lowest volumes came from Romania, with 287 kg per person, followed by Poland with 346 kg and Hungary with 364 kg.

Most EU countries produce more waste than in 1995.

Image: Eurostat

Only seven EU Member States produced less municipal waste per person in 2020 than in 1995: Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

At the other end of the scale, Croatia generated 90% more, Latvia 80% more and the Czech Republic saw an increase of almost 70% in waste volumes.

Less waste going to landfills

While the region’s overall municipal waste levels could increase, the share of EU waste going to landfill has fallen to 23% in 2020 from 61% in 1995, according to Eurostat.

This is partly due to new laws on reducing packaging and waste and reducing the level of biodegradable waste going to landfill, according to Eurostat.

Much less EU waste goes to landfills.

Image: Eurostat

At the same time, recycling has almost tripled in the EU, rising to 241 kg per person in 2020 from 37 kg in 1995. This means that the total for the region has risen from 37 million tonnes to 107 million tonnes.

End waste with a circular economy

Luxembourg may be a big producer of waste in 2020, but it is looking to change things. It implemented a zero waste strategy in 2019, which emphasizes the development of more responsible and sustainable waste management.

The strategy echoes the principles of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, which aims to eliminate municipal waste going to landfill by 2030.

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build sustainable ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Scale360° Playbook Journey

Image: Scale360° playbook

Its unique hub-based approach – launched in September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators around the world can connect and work ideas and solutions together through UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform.

Find out how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

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2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies the ambition of a more circular car industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 car manufacturers, suppliers, research institutes, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this short-term ambition.

CCI recently released a new series of circularity roadmaps, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specificities of this new circular transition.

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3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerating sustainability and circularity in the manufacturing and production sectors.

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The World Economic Forum remains committed to helping businesses, governments and citizens recognize and address the issues associated with the current approach to consumption and waste.

The Forum’s Circular Economy Initiative brings together private, public, civil society and expert actors to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in three key areas: advancing leadership engagement, transforming materials and develop innovation.

The project is part of the Forum’s Nature and Climate Center platform.


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