Overall 35% of municipal waste was recycled in Europe in 2010, a significant improvement on 23% in 2001. But many countries will find it extremely difficult to meet EU-mandated targets to recycle 50% of household and similar waste by 2020. The information comes from a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) which looks at the management of municipal solid waste, mainly consisting of household waste, in 27 EU Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Although five countries have already achieved the target, most others will need to make extraordinary efforts to achieve this before the deadline. For example; at present, Bulgaria and Romania seem to recycle small proportions of municipal waste, so in order to meet the target by 2020 they must increase recycling by more than 4 percentage points per year during this decade - something which no country managed to do between 2001 and 2010.
The United Kingdom increased the share of municipal waste recycling from 12 to 39 % between 2001 and 2010, while Ireland raised recycling rates from 11 to 36% over the same period. Slovenia, Poland and Hungary have also dramatically improved recycling rates since joining the EU.
Recycling rates are highest in Austria, with 63%, followed by Germany (62%), Belgium (58%), the Netherlands (51%) and Switzerland (51%). Alongside the main report, the EEA has also published individual country reports.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: "In a relatively short time, some countries have successfully encouraged a culture of recycling, with infrastructure, incentives and public awareness campaigns. But others are still lagging behind, wasting huge volumes of resources. The current intense demand for some materials should alert countries to the clear economic opportunities in recycling."
The EEA report is particularly relevant, given that municipal waste is primarily a public sector responsibility and the current economic situation in many EU Member States demands an added focus on how to achieve policy goals most cost-effectively.