Europe still has East-West divide in waste generation

Europe still has East-West divide in waste generation
By bne IntelliNews August 26, 2019

Despite the recent consumer boom, all but one of the eastern EU members produces less waste than any western member, a new study from Eurostat shows. 

Across the bloc, the average amount of municipal waste generated per person in the EU in 2017 is estimated at 486kg. This is the same level as in 2016 and 7% below the peak of 525kg per person in 2002, showing the result of efforts in waste reduction across the bloc. 

Every one of the new EU members produces less waste than the EU average, with only two countries from the western half of the bloc — Spain and the UK — producing less than average. 

The smallest amount of waste per person, just 272kg, was produced in Romania. Similarly small amounts were also produced in Croatia (344kg) and Poland (315kg). Among the eastern members of the bloc, Slovenia produced the most waste per person, 471kg. But this was still low compared to the 781kg per person produced in Denmark, the bloc’s largest producer of waste per person. 

However, the EU’s statistics office points out: “The variations reflect differences in consumption patterns and economic wealth, but also depend on how municipal waste is collected and managed. There are differences between countries regarding the degree to which waste from commerce, trade and administration is collected and managed together with waste from households."

Overall in the EU28, waste generation increased by 3.4% between 2017 and 1995. However, Eurostat noted, "Even though more waste is being generated in the EU28, the total amount of municipal waste landfilled has diminished.” During this period, the total municipal waste landfilled in the EU28 fell by 88mn tonnes, or by 60%, from 145mn tonnes (302kg per capita) in 1995 to 58mn tonnes (113kg per capita) in 2017. Between 2005 and 2017 landfilling fell by 5.6% per year on average.

There are also differences in how waste is handled, separate 2016 data from Eurostat shows. 

Landfilling is “almost non-existent” in West European countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Austria and Finland.

On the other hand, “The practice of landfilling remains popular in the eastern and southern parts of Europe. Twelve countries landfill almost half or more of their municipal waste.” This figure was over 80% in Malta, Greece, Cyprus and Romania as of 2016, and more than 60% in Croatia, Latvia, Slovakia and Bulgaria. 

Waste management is even less advanced in countries further east, where governments in states such as Russia and Armenia are under heavy pressure from increasingly politically active populations to improve collection and reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal.