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New research supports creating integrated waste collection systems

Transitioning to a waste-free economy requires cities and regions across Europe to properly collect, recycle and reuse waste. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many places. Thanks to the EU-funded COLLECTORS project, policymakers have access to the information they need to implement fully integrated waste collection systems, making life cleaner and greener for EU citizens.

©Irina Strelnikova #381606054, source: 2021

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Every year, the EU generates over 2.5 billion tonnes of waste – that’s 5 tonnes per person. The good news is that much of this waste can be recycled and reused. The bad news, however, is that doing so requires proper collection processes, which is often easier said than done.

“The challenge with waste collection is that it is a widely dispersed process,” says Tjerk Wardenaar, a consultant at EGEN, part of the PNO Group, the project’s lead partner. “Individual consumers discard small amounts of waste, local and regional authorities implement collection systems, waste management companies do the actual collecting, recycling companies recover materials, and so on.”

With the support of the EU-funded COLLECTORS project, Wardenaar aims to increase our understanding of how these various steps relate to one another. “Waste collection depends on a combination of social and technical factors,” he explains. “Our goal is to identify best practices that decision makers can use to implement an integrated waste collection system that supports Europe’s transition to a waste-free, circular economy.”

Guidelines for every level of decision-making

To start, the project collected information on 242 waste collection systems from across Europe. This data was then harmonised, analysed and compiled into an online database that can be searched by either a particular waste flow characteristic or by local/regional characteristics.

This data serves as the basis for 12 regional case studies. These studies cover several different types of waste collection systems and include a life-cycle assessment and cost-benefit analysis. They also take into consideration factors that motivate citizens to use the waste collection system and that ensure alignment with the broader recycling value chain. “These case studies present examples of best practices in waste collection within the framework of different regions,” remarks Wardenaar. The project also prepared guidelines and recommendations for creating better performing waste collection systems. Specific guidelines were created for various levels of decision-making, including for the EU, national, regional and local levels. For example, at the EU and national levels, the project recommends shifting away from traditional municipal waste management in favour of adopting a circular economy approach. At the local level, the project provides local decision makers with practical, easy-to-implement recommendations for improving waste collection performance.

“While European targets like the European Waste Framework Directive are important drivers for achieving better waste collection, these targets depend on successful implementation at the regional and local levels,” explains Wardenaar. “Our recommendations underline the challenges that local waste management actors face in implementing such targets.”

Recommendations are already having a big impact

The project’s recommendations are already having an impact. For example, several of the consortium partners are working with local and regional waste collection authorities to implement these recommendations. Furthermore, the European Commission is looking into the project’s results and recommendations as a way of supporting its ambition to harmonise Europe’s many different waste collection systems.

According to Wardenaar, these results are indicative of the significant interest in and support for creating better waste collection systems. “This interest comes not only from decision makers, but, perhaps more importantly, from citizens too,” concludes Wardenaar. “To leverage this interest, we need to expand our focus and work to ensure that our waste collection systems are actually contributing to more recycling and supporting the transition to a circular economy.”

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator
The Netherlands
Project participants:
Total cost
€ 1 498 400
EU Contribution
€ 1 498 400
Project duration

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