Packaging waste statistics

Data from March 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: January 2018.

This article shows recent statistics on packaging waste in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States. In particular it summarises the developments during the 2005–2014 period for which official reporting on packaging waste for all EU Member States was implemented. Information and data are based on the Directive 2004/12/EC which lays down the recycling and recovery targets. The Directive aims at providing a high level of environmental protection and harmonizing national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste.

Figure 1: Shares of packaging waste generated by weight, EU-28, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 2: Development of packaging waste generated, EU-27, 2005–2014
(million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 3: Development of packaging generated per inhabitant, EU-27, 2005–2014 (kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 4: Development of overall packaging waste generated, recovered and recycled, EU-27, 2005–2014
(kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 5: Development of recycling and recovery rates for packaging, EU-27, 2005–2014
(% by weight)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 6: Share of treatment for overall packaging waste, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Table 1: Recovery and recycling rates for packaging waste, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Table 2: First and second stage targets and the years in which they must be achieved
Source: Council Directive 94/62/EC
Figure 7: Volume of overall packaging waste generated and recycled per inhabitant, 2014
(kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 8: Recycling rate for all packaging, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 9: Recovery rate for all packaging, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Main statistical findings

In 2014, 162.9 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU-28. This quantity varied between 48.3 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 220 kg per inhabitant in Germany (see Figure 7). Figure 1 shows that ‘paper and cardboard’, ‘glass’, ‘plastic’, ‘wood’ and ‘metal’ are, in that order, the most common types of packaging waste in the EU-28. Other materials represent less than 0.3 % of the total volume of packaging waste generated in 2014.

Time series of packaging waste generation and treatment

Figure 2 shows the development of packaging waste generated from 2005 to 2014 in the EU-27. For reasons of comparison, EU-27 data are also shown for 2012 to 2014, although EU-28 data are available. (Data for Croatia are not available prior to 2012.) The total quantity of generated packaging materials rose from 79.0 million tonnes in 2005 to 81.5 million tonnes in 2008. Afterwards the volume dropped to 76.6 million tonnes in 2009 and recovered in 2010 to 78.5 million tonnes and, in 2011, to 79.9 million tonnes. This was the first time a drop in packaging volume had occurred in the EU-15 since 1998 or in the EU-27 since 2005. This decline of all packaging materials might be due to the economic slump in 2009, as the GDP in the EU-27 turned negative in 2008–2009.

In 2012 there was a second drop in the volume of total packaging waste: the EU-27 presented a total of 78.7 million tonnes, which was a decrease of 1.5 % compared with 2011. In 2014, all packaging waste materials experienced an increase compared to 2013 which resulted in a total volume of packaging waste of 82.5 million tonnes of generated waste – a rise of 3.9 % compared with 2013.

Over the 10-year period ‘paper and cardboard’ was the main packaging waste material generated, contributing with more than 34 million tonnes to the total packaging waste generated in 2014. ‘Glass’ reached a total of 15.7 million tonnes in 2014 as the second most important packaging material. Plastic packaging material had a volume of 15.3 million tonnes, wood packaging 12.8 million tonnes and metal packaging 4.5 million tonnes in 2014.

While all packaging materials experienced a clear decrease of 5.0  million tonnes (– 6.0 %) from 2008 to 2009, the decline was especially sharp for ‘metal’ and ‘wood’. The volume of ‘metal’ shrank by 0.4 million tonnes (– 7.8 %) and the volume of ‘wood’ by around 2 million tonnes (– 15.0 %). Both packaging materials held a high share of the transport packaging, especially the use of wood pallets. The decline can therefore be attributed to the dip in trade volume.

The decrease in the generation of packaging waste from 2011 to 2012 was more moderate compared with the 2008–2009 decline and occurred, as in 2009, in all packaging materials, except for ‘plastic’, which increased by 0.7 % in the EU-27. The largest percentage decrease took place in wooden packaging (– 3.1 %) followed by glass packaging (– 3.0 %). The generation of metal packaging decreased by 1.3 % from 2011 to 2012 in the EU-27 while ‘paper and cardboard‘ decreased by 1.0 %. In 2014, packaging waste generation appeared to have recovered, increasing by 3.9 % over the previous year. This increase was mainly due to a 5.3  % increase in ‘paper and cardboard’ and a 8.0  % increase of ‘wooden’ waste generation.

The development of total packaging waste generation and each of the main materials during the 2005-2014 period shows, albeit with various fluctuations, an increase in the total packaging generation, paper and cardboard, and plastic (4.5 %, 11.9 %, 8.3 % respectively) whereas glass and metal show a decrease for the same period of (-5.0 % and -7.4 % respectively). The generation of wood packaging stayed at nearly the same volume in 2014 as in 2005.

Figure 3 depicts the development of the quantity of waste per inhabitant by main waste materials. The total waste generation of the main packaging materials per inhabitant in the EU-27 in 2005 was 160.8 kg. The generation peaked in 2007 at 164.3 kg per inhabitant and afterwards dropped to 153.7 kg per inhabitant in 2009. In 2010 the packaging generated had somewhat recovered to 157.2 kg per inhabitant and increased to 160.1 kg per inhabitant in 2011. Hereafter, it fell back to 2010 levels in both 2012 (157.3 kg) and 2013 (158.2 kg). Compared with the total volume per inhabitant of packaging waste in 2005, the total volume per inhabitant in 2014 increased by 3.1 kg per inhabitant.

Figure 4 shows the evolution of the volume of overall packaging waste per inhabitant generated, recovered and recycled. In comparison to the previous year 2013 the amount of packaging waste generated rose by 3.6 %; packaging waste recycled increased by 3.9 % and packaging waste recovered went up by 2.9 %. While for the 2005–2014 period the amounts of packaging waste generated show fluctuations, both recycling and recovery volumes in 2014 were significantly higher than in 2005, although during the 2009 slump, the recycling and recovery volume experienced a short reduction.

Figure 5 shows the corresponding evolution of the recycling and recovery rates during the 2005–2014 timeframe. In the EU-27 the recycling rate of packaging waste went up from 54.6 % in 2005 to 65.5 % in 2014. The recycling rate and the recovery rate evolved in parallel. The recovery rate including incineration at waste incineration plants with energy recovery rose from 66.8 % in 2005 to 78.7 % in 2014.

Figure 6 shows the share of treatment options for the overall packaging waste. ‘Other recovery’ adds only a minor share. The major form of recovery in all countries is recycling. In some countries 'Energy recovery' and ‘Incineration with energy recovery’ contributed significantly to the overall recovery rate. Especially countries which utilise ‘Incineration with energy recovery’ as a standard method of waste disposal achieved a significantly higher recovery rate. This was typically the case for Nordic countries such as Finland, and Norway but also for Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. These countries all presented rates of incineration with energy recovery over 15 % in 2014.

Recycling and recovery targets

Article 6 of the Packaging Waste Directive sets out the recovery and recycling targets for the years 2001 and 2008.

The recovery and recycling rates of the EU-28 Member States and EFTA countries for 2014 is shown in Table 1 according to which Belgium held both the highest recovery rate (99.2 %) and the highest recycling rate (81.3  %).

Table 2 shows the first and second stages of targets which are set in the packaging waste directive. The targets had to be met by different dates from June 2001 to the end of 2008 for all EU Member States, with some exceptions (see Table 2).

The ‘2001 targets’ set a 50–65 % target on recovery (Art. 6(1)(a)), a 25 % target on recycling of all materials and a 15 % target for each material (Art. 6(1)(c)).

For the ‘2008 targets’, the Packaging Waste Directive sets the following targets: a minimum of 60 % recovery rate (including waste incineration); between 55 % and 80 % of packaging waste to be recycled; with minimum rates of 60 % for glass, paper and cardboard; 50 % for metals; 22.5 % for plastics; and 15 % for wood.

These targets are calculated according to weight, by dividing the amount of packaging waste recycled by the total amount of packaging waste generated.

For the reference year 2014 Latvia is the only country which still does not have to comply with 2008 targets for recycling and recovery.

Overall recycling rates

The overall amounts of packaging waste generated and recycled are compiled for all packaging materials including ‘glass’, ‘paper and cardboard’, ‘metal’, ‘plastic’, ‘wood’ and ‘others’. Figure 7 gives an overview of the data reported by the EU Member States in 2014 on the overall generation and recycling of packaging per inhabitant. Nearly all the Member States that joined the EU before 2004 showed high amounts of packaging waste generated per inhabitant, except Greece. Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia (62.5 kg, 52.4 kg and 48.3 kg/inhabitant, respectively) exhibited the EU’s lowest amounts of generated and recycled packaging waste. Germany (219.5 kg/inhabitant), Italy (196.8 kg/inhabitant) and Luxembourg (195.1 kg/inhabitant) report the highest amounts of packaging waste generated. Germany, Italy and Ireland report the highest amounts of packaging material recycled (156.7 kg/inhabitant; 128.7 kg/inhabitant; 132.7 kg/inhabitant respectively). Estonia had the highest amount (173.3 kg/inhabitant) of packaging waste generation among the Member States that joined the EU after 2004.

Figure 8 shows the recycling rates of packaging waste for the EU Member States and EEA/EFTA countries in 2014. The ‘2008 target’ of 55 % recycled packaging waste was met by all Member States except Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Malta.

Latvia only needs to achieve the target of 55  % for the reference year 2015.

Overall recovery rates

The recovery rate for packaging waste of 60  % which should be achieved by all EU Member States and EEA/EFTA countries in 2014 (except Latvia) is shown in Figure 9 together with the performance of each country. The recovery rates in Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia and Malta were below the ‘2008 target’ of 60 %.

Conclusions

  • The data reveal that the amount of packaging waste generated in the EU-27 has slightly increased until 2008.
  • Due to the 2008 global financial and economic crisis, the amount of packaging generated decreased but recovered during the following years and in 2014 the volume of packaging waste reached the highest value since 2005.
  • Over the 2005–2014 period, the generation of ‘paper and cardboard’ and ‘plastic’ packaging increased while ‘glass’, and ‘metal’ packaging decreased and the amounts for ‘wooden’ packaging fluctuated.
  • The absolute amount of recycling and recovery increased from 2005 to 2014.
  • The recycling and recovery rate has increased steadily.


Data sources and availability

The packaging waste data are reported by the EU Member States as laid down in Commission Decision 2005/270/EC. The reported data are usually available in the Eurostat database on packaging waste approximately 21 months after the end of the reference year.

The analysis focuses on the EU-28 in 2014, as data on packaging waste are available for almost all EU Member States. The exceptions are Ireland and Greece, for which data are not available for all years. For the calculation of the EU aggregate of 2014, estimated data were taken from the latest year available (2013) for these two countries. For the EFTA country Iceland, estimated data referring to 2012 are presented as data are generally not available . When looking into time series and comparing 2014 data with previous years, the analysis is carried out at EU-27 level, since data for Croatia are not available prior to 2012.

Data for the EU-15 is also available from 1997 onwards, except for data per inhabitant. Data from previous reporting years for the EU-27 (2002–2004) is not included, as data for the entry year are not sufficiently robust for many packaging materials.

Context

As a first legal basis, Council Directive 85/339/EEC of June 1985 required the establishment of national programmes for the reduction in the volume of beverage containers disposed as waste in order to raise consumer awareness of the advantage of using refillable containers. The directive was repealed by the introduction of the European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste, as amended by Directive 2004/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (Packaging Waste Directive). This directive aims at harmonising national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste and lays down measures aimed, as a first priority, at preventing the production of packaging waste and, as additional fundamental principles, at:

  • reusing packaging;
  • recycling; and
  • implementing other forms of recovering packaging waste hence reducing the final disposal of such waste.


It also limits the level of heavy metals in packaging.

Commission Decision 2005/270/EC of March 2005 established a common format on which reporting by EU Member States is based.

Definitions

Packaging is defined as any material which is used to contain, protect, handle, deliver or present goods. Packaging waste can arise from a wide range of sources including supermarkets, retail outlets, manufacturing industries, households, hotels, hospitals, restaurants and transport companies. Items like glass bottles, plastic containers, aluminium cans, food wrappers, timber pallets and drums are all classified as packaging.

Article 3 and Annex I of the Packaging Waste Directive specify ‘packaging’ in further detail. In contrast to other waste statistics, the term ‘packaging waste generated’ means not the amount of ‘packaging collected’, but all ‘packaging placed on the market’.

The main packaging materials are glass, paper and cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and steel) and wood.

Composite materials are made of paper, plastic and metal which could not be separated by hand. Composites are reported under their predominant material by weight. Other packaging materials are counted as ‘others’.

Recycling is divided into ‘material recycling’ (the reprocessing to the original material) and other forms of recycling (including the reprocessing for other purposes such as organic recycling).

Recovery includes recycling, energy recovery (e.g. as fuel in cement kilns or blast furnaces), other forms of recovery and incineration at waste incinerators with energy recovery. Energy recovery means energy generation from waste at special incineration plants. Incineration with energy recovery and the other forms of recovery are defined by Annex II.b in the Waste Framework Directive 75/442/EEC (amended).

The weight of recovered or recycled packaging waste is determined as the input to an effective process or, for practical reasons, as the output of a sorting plant which is sent to an effective recovery or recycling process. The weight should exclude non-packaging materials as far as practical.

Reusable packaging is only counted once in its lifetime and not after every refilling and purchase trip. The recycling or recovery rates are the total quantity of recycled or recovered materials divided by the total quantity of generated packaging material.

The recycling or recovery rates are the total quantity of recycled or recovered materials divided by the total quantity of generated packaging material.

See also


Further Eurostat information

Publications

All publications on waste issued by Eurostat.

Main tables

Waste streams (t_env_wasst)
Recovery rates for packaging waste (ten00062)
Recycling rates for packaging waste (ten00063)

Database

Waste (env_was)
Waste generation and treatment (env_wasgt)
Waste streams (env_wasst)
Packaging waste (env_waspac)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures on this page (MS Excel)

Other information

External links