Packaging waste statistics - Statistics Explained
    

Packaging waste statistics

Data extracted in April 2018.

Planned article update: December 2018.

Highlights

In 2015, 166.3 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU (varying from 51.2 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 222.2 kg per inhabitant in Germany).

From 2006 to 2015, paper and cardboard was the main packaging waste material in the EU (34.8 million tonnes in 2015) followed by plastic and glass (15.9 and 15.8 million tonnes).

Development of all packaging waste generated, recovered and recycled, EU, 2006-2015

This article shows recent statistics on packaging waste in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States and some non-member countries. In particular it summarises the developments during the 2006–2015 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.

In 2015, 166.3 kg of packaging waste were generated per inhabitant in the EU-28. This quantity varied between 51.2 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 222.2 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 2015.

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Time series of packaging waste generation and treatment

Figure 2 shows the development of packaging waste generated from 2006 to 2015 in the EU. For reasons of comparison, EU-27 data are also shown for 2012 to 2015, although EU-28 data are available. (Data for Croatia are not available prior to 2012.) The total quantity of generated packaging materials rose from 80.5 million tonnes in 2006 to 81.5 million tonnes in 2008. In 2009 the volume dropped to 76.6 million tonnes 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 2006. 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.

Figure 1: Packaging waste generated by packaging material, EU-28, 2015
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)


Figure 2: Packaging waste generated, EU, 2006–2015 (million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

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 2015, all packaging waste materials experienced an increase compared to 2014 which resulted in a total volume of packaging waste of 84.5 million tonnes of generated waste – a rise of 2.3 % compared with 2014.

Over the 10-year period ‘paper and cardboard’ was the main packaging waste material generated, contributing with nearly 34.8 million tonnes to the total packaging waste generated in 2015. Plastic packaging material reached a total of 15.9 million tonnes in 2015 as the second most important material. ‘Glass’ had a volume of 15.8 million tonnes, wood packaging 13.3 million tonnes and metal packaging 4.5 million tonnes in 2015.

While all packaging materials experienced a clear decrease of in total 4.9  million tonnes (– 6.0 %) from 2008 to 2009, the decline was especially sharp for ‘metal’ and ‘wood’. The volume of ‘metal’ shrank by 0.3 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 2013 the generation of total packaging waste appeared to have recovered mainly due to the increase in generation of 'paper and cardboard' of 2.5 % compared to the previous year. Since 2013 total packaging waste increased by 6.5 % reaching the amount of 84.5 million tonnes in 2015. The increase was mainly due to increased generation of wood (+ 12.4 %), paper (+ 7.8 %) and plastic (+ 6.0 %) from 2013 to 2015.

The development in the EU-27 of total packaging waste generation and each of the main materials during the 2006-2015 period shows, albeit various fluctuations, an increase in the total packaging generation, paper and cardboard, plastic and wood(+4.9 %, +11.1 %, +7.4 %, +3.5 % respectively) whereas glass and metal show a decrease for the same period of 4.4 % and 6.6 % respectively.

Figure 3 depicts the development of the quantity of waste per inhabitant by main waste materials. The total waste generation of packaging materials per inhabitant in the EU-27 in 2006 was 163.4 kg. Before the economic crisis 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 of generated packaging waste per inhabitant in 2006, the total volume per inhabitant in 2015 increased by 3.9 kg per inhabitant. It peaked at the highest level for the entire period 2006 to 2015 at 167.3 kg per inhabitant.

Figure 3: Packaging generated per inhabitant, EU, 2006–2015 (kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 4 shows the evolution of the volume of all packaging waste per inhabitant generated, recovered and recycled. In comparison to the previous year the amount of packaging waste generated in 2015 rose by 2.0 %; packaging waste recycled and packaging recovered each increased by 2.3 % and 2.4 % respectively. While for the 2006–2015 period the amounts of packaging waste generated show fluctuations and only slight increases, both recycling and recovery volumes in 2015 were significantly higher than in 2006. However, both volumes experienced also a short reduction during the 2009 economic slump.

Figure 4: All packaging waste generated, recovered and recycled, EU, 2006–2015
(kg per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 5 shows the corresponding evolution of the recycling and recovery rates during the 2006–2015 timeframe. In the EU-27 the recycling rate of packaging waste went up from 56.9 % in 2006 to 65.8 % in 2015. The recycling rate and the recovery rate evolved in parallel. The recovery rate including incineration at waste incineration plants with energy recovery rose from 68.9 % in 2006 to 79.0 % in 2015.

Figure 5: Recycling and recovery rates for all packaging, EU, 2006–2015
(% by kg/inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Figure 6 shows the share of treatment options for all 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 utilize ‘Incineration with energy recovery’ as a standard method of waste disposal achieved a significantly higher recovery rate. This was the case for countries such as Finland, Belgium, Denmark,the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Liechtenstein. With the exception of Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands these countries all presented rates of incineration with energy recovery over 20 % in 2015.

Figure 6: Share of treatment for all packaging waste, 2015
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Generation and recycling per inhabitant

The total amounts of packaging waste generated and recycled are compiled from all packaging materials: ‘glass’, ‘paper and cardboard’, ‘metal’, ‘plastic’, ‘wood’ and ‘others’. Figure 7 gives an overview of the data reported by the EU Member States in 2015 on generation and recycling of packaging per inhabitant. Almost half of the Member States show amounts of packaging waste generated per inhabitant of more than 150 kg.Bulgaria and Croatia exhibited EU’s lowest amounts of generated and recycled packaging waste showing generation per inhabitant of 54.7 kg and 51.2 kg respectively. Germany (222.2 kg/inhabitant), Luxembourg (211.9 kg/inhabitant) and Ireland (209.1 kg/inhabitant) report the highest amounts of packaging waste generated. Germany, Ireland and Italy report the highest amounts of packaging material recycled (154.1 kg/inhabitant; 141.2 kg/inhabitant; 135.4 kg/inhabitant respectively).

Figure 7: All packaging waste generated and recycled per inhabitant, 2015
(kg per inhabitant)
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. The targets for 2008 had to be met in 2015 for the first time for all countries.

The recovery and recycling rates of the EU-28 Member States and EEA EFTA States for 2015 are shown in Table 1 according to which Belgium held both the highest recovery rate of 99.3 % and the highest recycling rate of 81.5  %.

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 2015 all EU Member States and EEA EFTA States have to comply with the targets set for 2008 for recycling and recovery.

Table 1: Recovery and recycling rates for packaging waste, 2015,(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Recycling and recovery rates

Figure 8 shows the recycling rates of packaging waste for the EU Member States and EEA EFTA States in 2015. The recycling covers: material recycling and other forms of recycling (e.g. organic recycling). The target of 55 % recycled packaging waste was met by all Member States except Latvia, Hungary and Malta.

Figure 8: Recycling rate for all packaging, 2015
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

The recovery rate for packaging waste of 60  % which should be achieved by all EU Member States and EEA EFTA States in 2015 is shown in Figure 9 together with the performance of each country. The recovery covers: energy recovery, other forms of recovery, incineration at waste incinerators with energy recovery and total recycling. The recovery rates in Cyprus, Hungary, Romania and Malta were below the target of 60 %.

Figure 9: Recovery rate for all packaging, 2015
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

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 2015 the volume of packaging waste reached the highest value since 2006.
  • Over the 2006–2015 period, the generation of ‘paper and cardboard’ and ‘plastic’ packaging increased while ‘glass’, and ‘metal’ packaging decreased. Although largely fluctuating in the entire period the amounts of wooden packaging also increased.
  • The absolute amount of recycling and recovery increased from 2006 to 2015.
  • The recycling and recovery rate has increased steadily over the ten-year period.


Data sources

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 20 months after the end of the reference year.

The analysis focuses on the EU-28 in 2015, as data on packaging waste are available for almost all EU Member States. The exceptions are Cyprus, Denmark, Malta and Romania, for which data are not available for 2015. For the calculation of the EU aggregate of 2015, estimated data were taken from the latest year available (2014) for these four countries. When looking into time series and comparing 2015 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. Data from previous reporting years for the EU-27 (2002–2004) are not sufficiently robust for many packaging materials as data for the entry year.

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

Context

As a first legal basis, Council Directive 85/339/EEC of June 1985 required the establishment of national programs 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.

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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)

Methodology