Packaging waste statistics

Data from May 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: November 2016.

This article shows the recent statistics on packaging waste in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States. In particular it summarises the developments during the 2005–2013 period for which official reporting on packaging waste for all EU Member States was implemented.

The environmental impacts caused by the generation and treatment of waste are raising serious concerns. As waste generation also represents an inefficient use of valuable resources, prevention and better management of waste is one of the top priorities of the EU’s sustainable development strategy. Although the magnitude of the different waste streams varies across European countries, it is possible to identify waste streams that require specific consideration — such as packaging waste.

Figure 1: Shares of packaging waste generated by weight, EU-28, 2013 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Main statistical findings

In 2013, 156.9 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU-28. This quantity varied between 46.7 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 210.4 kg per inhabitant in Germany (see Figure 8). 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.

Time series of packaging waste generation and treatment

Figure 2 shows a summary of the development of packaging waste generated from 2005 to 2013 for the EU-27. The total quantity of the five materials shown in the figure 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 78.8 million tonnes and, in 2011, to 80.2 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 absolute decline was mostly due to ‘paper and cardboard’, ‘wood’ and ‘plastic’ packaging whereas ‘metals’ and ‘glass’ did not experience a significant reduction from 2008 to 2009. This decline of packaging material 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 figures for overall packaging waste: the EU-27 presented a total of 78.9 million tonnes, which was a decrease of 1.5 % compared with 2011. Even when the packaging waste figures from Croatia are taken into account, the reduction amounted to 1.3 %. In 2013, waste generation recovered slightly, increasing by 0.6 % compared with 2012 to reach 79.4 %.

Figure 2: Development of packaging waste generated, EU-27, 2005–13 (1)
(million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Over the 9-year period ‘paper and cardboard’ was the main packaging waste material generated, contributing with more than 32.2 million tonnes to the total packaging waste generated in 2013. Amounting to a total of 15.6 million tonnes in 2013, ‘glass’ was the second most important packaging material. Plastics packaging material generated had a volume of 15.0 million tonnes, wood packaging 11.9 million tonnes and metal packaging 4.5 million tonnes in 2013. While all packaging materials experienced a sharp decrease of 5.0 million tonnes (– 6.4 %) 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 2.0 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. ‘Metal’ had still not recovered by 2013, while the value for ‘wood’ hovered around the 12.0 million tonnes mark from 2010 to 2013 (except in 2011, where it reached 12.4 million tonnes).

The decrease in packaging waste from 2011 to 2012 had a slightly different pattern compared with the 2008–2009 decline. The decrease occurred in all material categories except ‘plastic’, which increased by 0.7 % in the EU-27. The largest percentage decrease took place in wooden packaging (– 3.2 %) 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 2013, packaging waste generation appears to have recovered, increasing by 0.6 % over the previous year. This increase was mainly due to a 2.5 % increase in ‘paper and cardboard’ waste generation, since waste generation in the other material categories went down across the board.

The development of the share of packaging materials is shown in Figure 3. It presents the share of the major packaging materials which was quite stable during the 2005–13 period. The share of ‘plastic’ increased from 17.9 % to 18.8 %. The share of ‘paper and cardboard’ went up from 38.5 % to 40.6 %. ‘Metals’ declined from 6.2 % to 5.7 %, ‘glass’ was reduced from 20.9% to 19.7 % and ‘wood’ shrank from 16.1 % to 14.9 %.

Figure 3: Development of the share of main packaging materials, EU-27, 2005–13 (1)
(% of total packaging waste by weight)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Another standard criterion for assessing the growth of generated waste is the correlation between the quantity of waste and the population. Figure 4 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 160.1 kg. The generation peaked in 2007 at 163.7 kg per inhabitant and afterwards shrank to 153.1 kg per inhabitant in 2009. In 2010 the packaging generated had somewhat recovered to 157.3 kg per inhabitant and increased to 159.5 kg per inhabitant in 2011. Hereafter, it fell back to 2010 levels (157.4 kg per inhabitant) in both 2012 and 2013. Compared with the total volume of the five main materials of 2005, the total volume per inhabitant in 2013 decreased by 2.7 kg per inhabitant meaning that it was 1.7 % lower.

Figure 4: Development of packaging generated per inhabitant, EU-27, 2005–13 (1)
(kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 5 shows the evolution of the volume of overall packaging waste per inhabitant generated, recovered and recycled. The amount of packaging waste recycled and recovered rose more than the amount of packaging waste generated. While for the 2005–2013 period the packaging waste generated shows a slow decline, the recycling and recovery volume in 2013 was significantly higher than in 2005. Even during the 2009 slump, the recycling and recovery volume only experienced a short reduction and in 2013 gained the highest volume since reporting started.

Figure 5: Development of overall packaging waste generated, recovered and recycled, EU-27, 2005–13 (1)
(kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 6 shows the corresponding evolution of the recycling and recovery rates during the 2005–2013 timeframe. In the EU-27 the recycling rate of packaging waste went up from 54.6 % in 2005 to 65.3 % in 2013. 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 79.3 % in 2013.

Figure 6: Development of recycling and recovery rates for packaging, EU-27, 2005–13 (1)
(% by weight)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 7 shows the share of treatment options for the overall packaging waste. ‘Other recovery’ adds only a very minor share. The major form of recovery in all countries is recycling. In some EU Member States 'Energy recovery' and ‘Incineration with energy recovery’ contributed significantly to the overall recovery rate. Especially EU Member States which utilise ‘Incineration with energy recovery’ as a standard method of waste disposal achieved a significantly higher recovery rate. This was typically the case of Nordic countries but also Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria and Luxembourg. These EU Member States all presented incineration values with energy recovery rates at over 10 % in 2013.

Figure 7: Share of treatment for overall packaging waste, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Recycling and recovery targets

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

Table 1 shows the recovery and recycling rates of the EU-28 Member States for 2013 according to which Germany held the highest recovery rate (97.7 %) and Belgium the highest recycling rate (78.7 %).

Table 1: Recovery and recycling rate for packaging waste, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Table 2: First and second stage targets and the years in which they must be achieved (1)(2)
Source: Council Directive 94/62/EC

Table 2 shows the first and second stages of targets which are set in the packaging waste directive. The 2001 target sets 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)). These targets are calculated according to the weight; by dividing the amount of packaging waste recycled by the total amount of packaging waste generated. The targets had to be met by different dates from June 2001 to the end of 2008 for all EU Member States except for some countries (see Table 2).

For the 2008 targets, for each of the five packaging waste materials a minimum recycling rate by weight is required according to Article 6(1)(e) of the Packaging Waste Directive. Additionally a recycling target for the totality of the weight of materials of 55–80 % is laid down in Article 6(1)(d). For recovery the directive seeks a minimum recovery rate of 60 % (Art. 6(1)(b)).

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’, ‘others’ and ‘wood’. Figure 8 gives an overview of the data reported by the EU Member States in 2013 on the overall generation and recycling of packaging per inhabitant. The Member States that joined the EU before 2004 generally showed the highest amount of packaging waste generated except Greece. Of these EU Member States, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Finland and Sweden showed a significantly lower amount of packaging waste generated (all under 150 kg/inhabitant). Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia (53 kg, 48 kg and 47 kg/inhabitant, respectively) exhibited the EU’s lowest amounts of generated packaging waste. Estonia had the highest figure (170 kg/inhabitant) for packaging waste generation among the Member States that joined the EU after 2004.

Figure 8: Volume of overall packaging waste generated and recycled per inhabitant, 2013
(kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 9 shows the recycling rate of packaging waste in 2013, as well as the targets each group of EU Member States were to meet in 2013. Lithuania, Greece, Hungary and Malta did not reach the 55.0 % target of recycling rate for total packaging waste. Bulgaria already had recycling rates above the 2008 target.

Figure 9: Recycling rate for all packaging, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Overall recovery rates

Figure 10 shows the recovery rates of packaging waste in 2013 for each EU Member State and also the target which needs to be met. The figure shows that the recovery rates in Croatia, Romania, Cyprus, Lithuania, Greece and Malta were below the 2008 target of 60.0 % which should have been reached.

Bulgaria, whose targets were set in the future, already had met the recovery rate set in the 2008 target and showed rates above 60 %.

Figure 10: Recovery rate for all packaging, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Conclusions

  • The data on packaging waste are hosted by Eurostat and are available in the Waste dissemination database.
  • 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 in 2010 and 2011 and in 2013 the volume of packaging waste remained roughly at 2010 levels.
  • Over the 2005–2013 period, the generation of ‘paper and cardboard’ and ‘plastic’ packaging increased while ‘glass’, ‘wood’ and ‘metal’ packaging decreased.
  • The absolute amount of recycling and recovery has been constant or increased from 2005 to 2013.
  • The recycling and recovery rate has increased steadily.


The nature and dimension of waste-related impacts on the environment depend upon the amount and composition of waste streams as well as on the method of treating them. EU Member States deliver quantitative data, to be reported under EU waste legislation, to a single data entry point, the Waste Data Centre operated by Eurostat.

Data for specific waste streams as well as official waste statistics are becoming available in a common reporting, processing and dissemination environment to allow for cross-validations and assessments.

Data sources and availability

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

The analysis is focusing on the EU-28 in 2013 as data on packaging waste are available for all current EU Member States with the exception of one country as of the reporting year 2013. Whereas looking into time series, and comparing 2013 data with previous years the analysis is carried out at EU-27 level, since data for Croatia are not available prior to 2012.

Croatia has reported 198 570 tonnes of packaging waste in 2013, which corresponds to 0.25 % of the EU-28 total generated packaging waste. The indicator per inhabitant calculated for Croatia is 46.7 kg of waste per inhabitant and is the lowest in the EU. Data for the EU-15 is also available from 1997 onwards except per inhabitant. Data from previous reporting years for the EU-27 (2002–04) is not included because data for the entry year are not sufficiently robust for many packaging materials.

Context

Packaging legislation is driven by 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) and is concerned with minimising the creation of packaging waste material. It promotes reuse, recycling and energy recovery of packaging.

However, as a first legal basis, Council Directive 85/339/EEC of June 1985 required the establishment of national programmes for the reduction of the volume of beverage containers disposed as waste in order to raise consumer awareness on the advantage of using refillable containers. These programmes began on 1 January 1987 and have been updated every four years since then. Great emphasis was put on the recycling of such containers.

The directive was repealed by the introduction of the Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC in 1994. This directive aims at harmonising national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste in order, on the one hand, to prevent any impact thereof on the environment of all EU Member States and third countries, or to reduce such an impact, thus providing a high level of environmental protection, and, on the other hand, to ensure the functioning of the internal market. Obstacles to trade and distortion and restriction of competition within the Community shall be avoided. To this end, this directive 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.

The Packaging Waste Directive sets out the following targets (by no later than 31 December 2008): a minimum of 60 % recovery rate (including waste incineration); between 55 % and 80 % by weight of packaging waste to be recycled; with minimum rates of 60 % by weight for glass, paper and cardboard; 50 % by weight for metals; 22.5 % by weight for plastics; and 15 % by weight for wood. Not all EU Member States received the same deadline to attain these targets. The deadlines were in fact laid down in Commission Directive (2004/12/EC) — see also Table 2.

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 and 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.

The classification of packaging waste and ordinary waste is defined according to the three criteria in Article 3 of the Packaging Waste Directive and highlighted in Annex I.

In contrast to other waste statistics, the term ‘packaging waste generated’ means not the amount of ‘packaging collected’, but rather all ‘packaging placed on the market’.

The main packaging materials are glass, paper and board, 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 in ‘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 waste incineration 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 their 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.

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