Traditionally, the European waste management sector collects waste from consumers and disposes of it to landfill or incineration. However, Europe is moving away from a dependency on virgin materials and fossil-powered energy, and using the Circular Economy to retain both the biological and technical ‘nutrients’ within the economy for as long as possible, by extending the working life of products or reusing the products and the materials that they are made of.  There is still a long way to go and, in 2012, the 28 Member States of the EU consumed over 5 billion tonnes of material, generating 2.5 billion tonnes of solid waste, of which 1.6 billion tonnes were disposed of through the traditional landfill route.

The switch to a waste management system that treats ‘waste’ as ‘resources’ does not come without its challenges. For example, collection systems need to be more sophisticated to maximise the quality and value of the secondary materials produced to be able to compete against virgin materials.  This means treatment technologies need to be developed to ensure the material can be processed to the right quality and end-customer specifications; and the skillset of the people working in the sector needs to change to include more technical process engineers, quality engineers and customer-facing staff (sales and marketing).

In many cases, the waste technologies and policy mechanisms the EU needs are well established, but food waste prevention, valorisation of bio-waste and recovery of critical raw materials are all relatively new topics for European waste legislation, and more research is required here into the best method of quantifying waste arisings, identifying best practice waste technologies and the best forms of legislative intervention at European, national and local level.

In general, performance across the EU-28 varies considerably, there is a lack of harmonisation of definitions and methodologies used to calculate performance, and dissemination of best practice is poor.

 

Oakdene Hollins’s report on Towards a circular economy – waste management in the EU commissioned by STOA for the European Parliamentary Research Service will be presented to the MEPs in Strasbourg on Thursday 15th September by Dr Peter Lee and Edward Sims.

 

For further details of our findings, please contact edward.sims@oakdenehollins.co.uk