Policy context

EU waste policy has evolved through a series of environmental action plans and a framework of legislation that aims to reduce negative environmental and health impacts and create an energy and resource-efficient economy.

Within this context a number of recent EU policies and programmes are relevant including 7th Environment Action Programme, the Resource Efficiency Roadmap , the Raw Materials Initiative and the Circular Economy Package.

High-quality statistics and indicators on waste generation and management provided by Eurostat support the monitoring these policies.

An important user of the data on waste provided by Eurostat is the Directorate General for the Environment, as well as other departments of the European Commission services.

  • EU Waste hierarchy

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).

Waste prevention: The key factor in any waste management strategy: If the amount of waste can be reduced in the first place, and its hazardousness by reducing the use of dangerous substances in products, then disposing of it will automatically become simpler. Waste prevention is closely linked with improving manufacturing methods and influencing consumers to demand greener products and less packaging.

Recycling and reuse: If waste cannot be prevented, as many of the materials as possible should be recovered, preferably by recycling. The European Commission has defined several specific 'waste streams' for priority attention, the aim being to reduce their overall environmental impact. This includes packaging waste, end-of-life vehicles, batteries, electrical and electronic waste. EU directives require Member States to introduce legislation on waste collection, reuse, recycling and disposal of these waste streams.

Improving final disposal and monitoring: Where possible, waste that cannot be recycled or reused should be safely incinerated, with landfill only used as a last resort. Both these methods need close monitoring because of their potential for causing severe environmental damage.