Data extracted in April 2021.
Planned article update: September 2022.
Waste generation, 2018
This article gives an overview on waste generation and treatment in the European Union (EU) and several non-member countries. It draws exclusively on data collected in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 2150/2002 of the European Parliament and Council on waste statistics.
Waste, defined by Directive 2008/98/EC Article 3(1) as ‘any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard‘, potentially represents an enormous loss of resources in the form of both materials and energy. In addition, the management and disposal of waste can have serious environmental impacts. Landfill, for example, takes up land space and may cause air, water and soil pollution, while incineration may result in emissions of air pollutants.
EU waste management policies therefore aim to reduce the environmental and health impacts of waste and to improve the EU’s resource efficiency. The long-term aim of these policies is to reduce the amount of waste generated and when waste generation is unavoidable to promote it as a resource and achieve higher levels of recycling and the safe disposal of waste.
Total waste generation
In 2018, the total waste generated in the EU by all economic activities and households amounted to 2 337 million tonnes.
The share of different economic activities and of households in total waste generation in 2018 is presented in Figure 1. In the EU, construction contributed 35.9 % of the total in 2018 and was followed by mining and quarrying (26.6 %), manufacturing (10.6 %), waste and water services (9.8 %) and households (8.2 %); the remaining 9.1 % was waste generated from other economic activities, mainly services (4.2 %) and energy (3.4 %).
Figure 2 shows an analysis of the amount of waste generated in a standardised form, in relation to population size. The high levels of total waste generated in some of the smaller EU Member States can be clearly seen, with particularly high values recorded for Estonia and Finland where on average more than 25 tonnes of waste were generated per inhabitant in 2018, nearly four times the EU average of 7 tonnes per inhabitant. Several of the Member States with particularly high levels of waste generated per inhabitant reported very high shares of waste from mining and quarrying, while elsewhere construction and demolition often contributed to the high shares.
A lot of the waste from mining and quarrying and from construction and demolition is classified as major mineral waste: the analysis presented in Figure 2 distinguishes major mineral waste from all other wastes. Almost three quarter (74 % or 5.2 tonnes per inhabitant) of the total waste generated in the EU in 2018 was major mineral waste. The relative share of major mineral waste in the total waste generated varied considerably between EU Member States, which may reflect, at least to some degree, different economic structures. In general, those EU Member States that had higher shares of major mineral waste were those that were characterised as having relatively sizeable mining and quarrying activities, such as Romania, Finland, Sweden and Bulgaria, and/or construction and demolition activities, such as Luxembourg; in these Member States, major mineral waste accounted for between 86 % - 90 % of all waste generated; in Liechtenstein (91 %) this share was even higher.
Waste generation excluding major mineral waste
In the EU, 812 million tonnes of waste excluding major mineral waste were generated in 2018, equivalent to 35 % of the total waste generated. When expressed in relation to population size, the EU generated, on average, 1.8 tonnes per inhabitant of waste excluding major mineral waste in 2018 (Figure 3).
Across the EU Member States, waste generation excluding major mineral waste ranged from an average of 9.7 tonnes per inhabitant in Estonia to to less than one tonne per inhabitant in Latvia, Croatia and Cyprus in 2018. The large quantity of waste generated in Estonia is related to energy production based on oil shale.
Table 2 shows the development of EU waste generation excluding major mineral waste analysed by economic activity. In 2018, the highest levels of waste generation were recorded for waste and water services (208 million tonnes), for households (186 million tonnes) and for manufacturing activities (180 million tonnes). Their developments followed different patterns over time: between 2004 and 2018, waste generation (excluding major mineral waste) by waste and water services and by households increased by 175.9 % and 6,7 %, respectively, while generation by manufacturing activities diminished quite considerably, down by 24.9 %.
Hazardous waste generation
Hazardous waste may pose an elevated risk to human health and to the environment if not managed and disposed of safely. Among the waste generated in the EU in 2018, 101.7 million tonnes (4.4 % of the total) were classified as hazardous waste.
Compared with 2010, 11.9 % more hazardous waste was generated in 2018 in the EU which is an increase in quantity terms from 90.8 to 101.7 million tonnes. In 2018, the share of hazardous waste in total waste generation was below 10.0 % in all of the EU Member States except for Estonia and Bulgaria, where it made up, respectively, a 46.9 % and a 10.4 % share of the total (see Figure 4). The very high share for Estonia was principally due to energy production from oil shale. Among the non-member countries shown in Figure 4, Serbia recorded the highest share of hazardous waste in total waste generation (30.0 %) due to intensive activity in mining and quarrying, and was followed by Montenegro (27.8 %), Turkey (15.3 %) and Norway (11.6 %).
In 2018, some 2 169 million tonnes of waste were treated in the EU. This does not include exported waste but includes the treatment of waste imported into the EU. The reported amounts are therefore not directly comparable with those on waste generation.
Figure 5 shows the development of total waste treatment in the EU, as well as for the two main treatment categories – recovery and disposal – during the period 2004-2018. The quantity of waste recovered, in other words recycled, used for backfilling (the use of waste in excavated areas for the purpose of slope reclamation or safety or for engineering purposes in landscaping) or incinerated with energy recovery grew by 33.9 % from 870 million tonnes in 2004 to 1 184 million tonnes in 2018; as a result, the share of such recovery in total waste treatment rose from 45.9 % in 2004 to 54.6 % in 2018. The quantity of waste subject to disposal decreased from 1 027 million tonnes in 2004 to 984 million tonnes in 2018, which was a decrease of 4.2 %. The share of disposal in total waste treatment decreased from 54.1 % in 2004 to 45.4 % in 2018.
As stated above, in the EU in 2018, more than a half (54.6 %) of the waste was treated in recovery operations: recycling (37.9 % of the total treated waste), backfilling (10.7 %) or energy recovery (6.0 %). The remaining 45.4 % was either landfilled (38.4 %), incinerated without energy recovery (0.7 %) or disposed of otherwise (6.3 %). Significant differences could be observed among the EU Member States regarding the use they made of these various treatment methods. For instance, some Member States had very high recycling rates (Italy and Belgium), while others favoured landfill (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Finland and Sweden), see Figure 6.
Hazardous waste treatment
In total, 82.3 million tonnes of hazardous waste were treated in the EU in 2018, with more than two thirds of this treated in just four EU Member States, Germany (22.4 million tonnes or 27.3 % of EU total), Bulgaria (13.6 mill. tonnes or 16.5 %), Estonia (10.7 mill. tonnes or 13.0 %) and France (9.5 mill. tonnes or 11.6 %), see Figure 7
In 2018, 45.1 % of the hazardous waste treated in the EU was recovered: 37.5 % by recycling or backfilling (equivalent to 69 kg per inhabitant) and 7.6 % by energy recovery (14 kg per inhabitant), see Figure 8. The remaining 54.9 % were incinerated without energy recovery (5.7 % or 10 kg per inhabitant), landfilled, in other words deposited into or onto land or through land treatment and release into water bodies (32.8 % or 60 kg per inhabitant) or disposed of by other way (16.2 % or 30 kg per inhabitant).
Source data for tables and graphs
In order to monitor the implementation of waste policy, in particular compliance with the principles of recovery and safe disposal, reliable statistics on the production and management of waste from businesses and private households are required. In 2002, Regulation (EC) No 2150/2002 on waste statistics was adopted, creating a framework for harmonised Community statistics in this field.
Starting with reference year 2004, the Regulation requires EU Member States to provide data on the generation, recovery and disposal of waste every two years. Data on waste generation and treatment are currently available for even reference years from 2004 to 2018.
EU waste management policies aim to reduce the environmental and health impacts of waste and improve Europe’s resource efficiency by extracting high-quality resources from waste as much as possible. The European Green Deal aims to promote growth by transitioning to a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. As part of this transition, several EU waste laws will be reviewed. For more information see "Waste and recycling".
The Waste Framework Directive (Directive 98/2008/EC article 4) introduced a five-step waste hierarchy where prevention is the best option, followed by re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery, with disposal such as landfill as the last resort:
- reduce the amount of waste generated;
- maximise recycling and re-use;
- limit incineration to non-recyclable materials;
- phase out landfilling to non-recyclable and non-recoverable waste;
- ensure full implementation of the waste policy targets in all EU Member States.
- Waste (t_env_was), see:
- Waste generation and treatment (t_env_wasgt)
- Waste (env_was), see:
- Waste generation and treatment (env_wasgt)