02 Jul 2014

Making waste a thing of the past

Life Cycle Thinking
Circular economy: re-use, repair and recycle for a different economic model.
© EU

The European Commission today proposed actions to make Europe's economy more circular and boost recycling. With its research on the environmental footprint of products and life-cycle assessment, the JRC contributes to reach the proposal's objectives, which foresee to recycle 70 % of municipal waste and 80 % of packaging waste by 2030 and ban burying recyclable waste in landfill as of 2025.

In support of a single market for green products, the environmental footprint method developed by the JRC is a multi-criteria measure of the environmental performance of a gproduct or service throughout its life-cycle. Currently the JRC is leading two pilot projects, on intermediate paper products and on sector rules related to copper-producing companies, which aim to develop harmonised product- and sector-specific rules through a multi-stakeholder process.

Together with the Commission's Directorate General Environment (DG ENV), the JRC has launched a European Platform on Life-Cycle Assessment, which would facilitate the availability and quality-assurance of data, methods, and studies for the environmental assessment of products. Two platform tools – the Life-Cycle Data Network and the European Reference Life-Cycle Database – will facilitate the feasibility and efficient use of resources in the EU for potential policy options for environmental information, more comprehensive macro-scale environmental analyses, and study dissemination. They support also macro scale environmental assessments of supply chains and end-of-life waste management options if improvement potential and associated targets are to be assessed.

Other JRC research has led to the development of a methodology for calculating "end-of-waste" status, allowing waste materials to become products again, subject to the same market rules as their primary raw material counterparts, and a method to assess the material efficiency of energy-related products.

In addition, life-cycle based indicators quantifying the environmental performance of European waste management have been designed and provide a powerful tool for the identification of opportunities for environmental improvements. Indicators are developed for the most relevant municipal waste streams from an environmental perspective. The JRC also provides science-based policy support to facilitate analyses to identify how critical materials could be better addressed through ecodesign and waste management measures.


Although waste management continues to improve in the EU, the economy currently loses potential secondary raw materials which are found in the waste stream. In 2010, total waste production in the EU amounted to 2.5 billion tonnes. Only a limited (albeit increasing) share (36 %) was recycled, with the rest being landfilled or burned. Around 4 to 500 million tonnes of it could be recycled or reused. Better waste management will reduce the demand for costly scarce resources and will contribute to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving the new waste targets would create 580 000 new jobs compared to today's performance, while making Europe more competitive.

JRC Institutes