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In Europe, we currently use 16 tonnes of material per person per year, of which 6 tonnes become waste. Although the management of that waste continues to improve in the EU, the European economy currently still loses a significant amount of potential 'secondary raw materials' such as metals, wood, glass, paper, plastics present waste streams. In 2010, total waste production in the EU amounted to 2,5 billion tons. From this total only a limited (albeit increasing) share (36%) was recycled, with the rest was landfilled or burned, of which some 600 million tons could be recycled or reused.

Just in terms of household waste alone, each person in Europe is currently producing, on average, half of tonne of such waste. Only 40 % of it is reused or recycled and in some countries more than 80% still goes to landfill (source: Environmental Data Centre on Waste, Eurostat).

Turning waste into a resource is one key to a circular economy. The objectives and targets set in European legislation have been key drivers to improve waste management, stimulate innovation in recycling, limit the use of landfilling, and create incentives to change consumer behaviour. If we re-manufacture, reuse and recycle, and if one industry's waste becomes another's raw material, we can move to a more circular economy where waste is eliminated and resources are used in an efficient and sustainable way.

Improved waste management also helps to reduce health and environmental problems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (directly by cutting emissions from landfills and indirectly by recycling materials which would otherwise be extracted and processed), and avoid negative impacts at local level such as landscape deterioration due to landfilling, local water and air pollution, as well as littering.

The European Union's approach to waste management is based on the "waste hierarchy" which sets the following priority order when shaping waste policy and managing waste at the operational level: prevention, (preparing for) reuse, recycling, recovery and, as the least preferred option, disposal (which includes landfilling and incineration without energy recovery).

In line with this the 7th Environment Action Programme sets the following priority objectives for waste policy in the EU:

  • To reduce the amount of waste generated; 
  • To maximise recycling and re-use;
  • To limit incineration to non-recyclable materials;
  • To phase out landfilling to non-recyclable and non-recoverable waste;
  • To ensure full implementation of the waste policy targets in all Member States.

The following webpages describe the main elements of EU waste legislation in more detail:

  • Waste framework legislation
  • Waste stream legislation
  • Landfilling and incineration
  • Shipment of waste
  • Implementation and reporting
  • Review of EU waste policy
  • Studies/publications/links

The development and implementation of EU waste policy and legislation takes place within the context of a number of wider EU policies and programmes including 7th Environment Action Programme, the Resource Efficiency Roadmap  and the Raw Materials Initiative.

Brochure: The EU’s approach to waste management



The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in the light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.