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Packaging waste statistics

Data extracted on 10 December 2020.

Planned article update: July 2021.

Highlights

In 2018, packaging waste generated was estimated at 174 kg per inhabitant in the EU (varying from 67.8 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 227.5 kg per inhabitant in Germany).

From 2008 to 2018, paper and cardboard was the main packaging waste material in the EU (31.8 million tonnes in 2018) followed by plastic and glass (14.8 million tonnes for plastic and 14.5 million tonnes for glass waste materials in 2018).

Packaging waste generated, recovered and recycled, EU-27, 2008-2018

This article shows recent statistics on packaging waste in the 27 European Union (EU) Member States and some non-member countries. In particular, it summarises the developments during the 2008–2018 period for which official reporting on packaging waste for all EU Member States was implemented. Information and data are based on the Directive 94/62/EC (consolidated text), which lays down the recycling and recovery targets. The Directive aims at providing a high level of environmental protection and harmonising national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste.

Full article

Waste generation by packaging material

In 2018, packaging waste generated was estimated at 174 kg per inhabitant in the EU. This quantity varied between 67.8 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 227.5 kg per inhabitant in Germany. Figure 1 shows that in 2018 ‘paper and cardboard’ (40.9 %), ‘plastic’ (19.0 % each) and ‘glass’ (18.7 %), ‘wood’ (16.1 %) and ‘metal’ (5.0 %) are the most common types of packaging waste in the EU. Other materials represent less than 0.3 % of the total volume of packaging waste generated in 2018.

Figure 1: Packaging waste generated by packaging material, EU-27, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Time series of packaging waste

Figure 2 shows the development of packaging waste generated from 2008 to 2018 in the EU. The total quantity of generated packaging materials rose by 6.7 million tonnes from 2008 to 2018 (+9.4 %).

Figure 2: Packaging waste generated by packaging material, EU-27, 2008–2018
(million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
In 2018, the total volume of packaging waste generated was estimated at 77.7 million tonnes – a slight increase of 0.3 % compared with 2017. This rise was mainly due to the increase of packaging made of glass (+3.1 % compared to 2017), but also plastic (+1.7 %) and ‘paper and cardboard’ (+1.0 %). These growths were partly compensated by the fall in the waste generated for wood packaging (-5.5 %) and metal packaging (-1.9 %). Over the 10-year period ‘paper and cardboard’ was the main packaging waste material generated, contributing with 31.8 million tonnes to the total packaging waste generated in 2018, since 2008 this waste stream grew by 15.5 %. Plastic packaging material reached a total of 14.8 million tonnes as the second most significant material (+15.3 %). Glass had a volume of 14.5 million tonnes (+2.7 %), wood packaging 12.5 million tonnes (+2.6 %) and metal packaging 3.9 million tonnes in 2018 (-5.2 %). Figure 3 depicts the development of the quantity of waste generated per inhabitant, by main waste materials. The total waste generation of packaging materials per inhabitant in the EU in 2008 was 161.6 kg. After the economic crisis in 2008 the total waste generation dropped to 149.9 kg per inhabitant in 2009. Compared with the total volume of generated packaging waste per inhabitant in 2008, the total volume per inhabitant in 2018 increased by 12.4 kg, reaching a peak at 174.0 kg per inhabitant.
Figure 3: Packaging waste generated by packaging material, EU-27, 2008–2018
(kg per capita)
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 2018 slightly increased by 0.1 %; packaging waste recycled and packaging waste recovered both decreased by 1.6 % and 0.8 % respectively. While for the 2008–2018 period the amount of packaging waste generated increased by 7.7 %, both recycling (+18.2 %) and recovery (+18.0 %) volumes in 2018 were significantly higher than in 2018. However, both volumes experienced also a short reduction during the 2008–2009 economic slump.
Figure 4: Packaging waste generated, recovered and recycled, EU-27, 2008-2018
(kg per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 5 shows the corresponding evolution of the recycling and recovery rates during 2008–2018. In the EU, the recycling rate of packaging waste went up from 60.4 % in 2008 to 66.3 % in 2018. The recycling rate and the recovery rate evolved in parallel. The recovery rate including incineration at waste incineration plants with energy recovery rose from 73.8 % in 2008 to 80.9 % in 2018.
Figure 5: Recycling and recovery rates of packaging waste, EU-27, 2008–2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac) and (env_waspacr)

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 6 gives an overview of the data reported by the EU Member States, the United Kingdom and the EEA/EFTA countries in 2018 on generation and recycling of packaging per inhabitant. There were 12 EU Member States with amounts of packaging waste generated per inhabitant of more than 150 kg in 2018. Croatia and Bulgaria reported the EU’s lowest amounts of generated and recycled packaging waste, showing generation per inhabitant of 67.8 kg and 70.8 kg and recycling per inhabitant of 39.6 kg and 43.0 kg respectively. On the other hand, Germany (227.5 kg/inhabitant), Luxembourg (224.0 kg/inhabitant), Italy (211.2 kg/inhabitant) and Ireland (208.1 kg/inhabitant) reported the highest amounts of packaging waste generated in 2018. Luxembourg, Germany and Italy also reported the highest amounts of packaging material recycled (159.0 kg/inhabitant; 155.8 kg/inhabitant and 140.1 kg/inhabitant respectively) in 2018.

Figure 6: Packaging waste generated and recycled, 2018
(kg per capita)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Recycling and recovery targets and rates

Article 6 of the Packaging Waste Directive sets out the recovery and recycling targets. The targets had to be met in 2008 for the first time for all countries.

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. Recycling rate of plastic packaging waste counts exclusively material that is recycled back into plastic.

The recovery and recycling rates of all packaging waste in 2018 of the EU Member States, the United Kingdom and the EEA/EFTA countries are shown in Table 1. According to these rates, Finland held the highest recovery rate of 114.6 %, the rate of more than 100 % can be explained by storage and following this treatment of waste generated in former years. Belgium has the highest recycling rate of 85.3 %.

Table 1: Recovery and recycling rate of packaging waste, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac) and (env_waspacr)
Figure 7 shows the share of recovery options for all packaging waste in 2018. The major form of recovery in all countries is recycling. In some countries 'Energy recovery from packaging waste’ contributed significantly to the overall recovery rate. In 2018, the countries with the highest energy recovery rates are: Finland (45.9 %), Austria (28.8 %), Germany (27.9 %), Ireland (27.4 %), Estonia (24.7 %), Luxembourg (23.2 %), Denmark (21.9 %), the Netherlands (17.4 %, 2017 data), Belgium (14.3 %), Italy (11.3 %) and France (11.0 %) and, as well as the EFTA countries Norway (42.8 %) and Liechtenstein (24.6 %). ‘Other forms of recovery’ contributed only a minor share.
Figure 7: Recovery of packaging waste, 2018
(% share in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)
Figure 8 shows the recycling rate of all packaging waste for the EU Member States, the United Kingdom and EEA/EFTA countries in 2018. 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 Hungary (46.1 %) and Malta (35.6 %, 2017 data).
Figure 8: Recycling rate of packaging waste, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspacr)
Figure 9 shows the recycling rate of plastic packaging waste for the EU Member States, the United Kingdom and EEA/EFTA countries in 2018. The recycling rate includes only material recycling and no other forms of recycling, i.e. exclusively material that is recycled back into plastics.
Figure 9: Recycling rate of plastic packaging waste, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspacr)

The target of 22.5 % recycled plastic packaging waste was met by all Member States, except Malta (19.2 %, 2017 data). Liechtenstein also did not reach the target with 21.4 %.
Recycling rate of plastic packaging waste 2018.png

Figure 10 shows the recovery rate of all packaging waste in 2018. All EU Member States and EEA/EFTA countries should achieved the target of 60 %. Recovery includes energy recovery from packaging waste, other forms of recovery and total recycling. The recovery rates in Croatia (58.4 %) Hungary (55.1 %) and Malta (35.6 %, 2017 data) were below the target of 60 %.
Figure 10: Recovery rate of packaging waste, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_waspac)

Conclusions

  • Due to the 2008 global financial and economic crisis, the amount of packaging generated decreased in 2009 but it continued increasing during the following years and in 2018, the volume of packaging waste reached the highest value since 2008.
  • Over the 2008–2018 period, the generation of all types of packaging waste material increased although to a different extend. The highest increase was observed for ’paper and cardboard’, ’plastic’ and ’wooden’ packaging waste.
  • The recycling and recovery rates have increased steadily over the ten-year period.


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

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 Eurostat database on waste approximately 20 months after the end of the reference year.

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 (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.

Latest legal acts: Directive 2018/852 amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste will apply for the reporting of data in future. Commission Implementing Decision 2019/665 amending Commission Decision 2005/270 applies from reference year 2018.

Definitions

Packaging is defined as any material that 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.

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’.

Recovery includes recycling, energy recovery and other forms of recovery. Annex II.b of the Waste Framework Directive 75/442/EEC (consolidated version) defines energy recovery and other forms of recovery.

The weight of recovered or recycled packaging waste shall be the input of packaging waste to an effective recovery or recycling process. If the output of a sorting plant is sent to effective recycling or recovery processes without significant losses, it is acceptable to consider this output to be the weight of recovered or recycled packaging waste. 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 recovery rates are the total quantity of recovered materials divided by the total quantity of generated packaging waste.

The recycling rates are usually the total quantity of recycled materials divided by the total quantity of generated packaging waste, except in some cases. The data set 'Recycling rates of packaging waste for monitoring compliance with policy targets, by type of packaging (env_waspacr)' includes, for two types of waste material (plastic and wood), 'Adjusted recycling rate'. That means the recycling rates adjusted for monitoring compliance with policy targets in accordance with Article 6 of Directive 94/62/EC and Article 6b(1) of Decision 2005/270. The relevant rates for those materials are:

  • Recycling rate of plastic packaging waste counts exclusively material that is recycled back into plastic (material recycling / generation).
  • Recycling rate of wooden packaging waste is calculated including repair (recycling + repair of wooden packaging waste / generation + repair of wooden packaging waste).


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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)

Methodology