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Waste generated in Europe translates into serious pressures on the local and global environment and on human health. Wastes
range from hazardous chemicals and obsolete pesticides, to municipal waste water and sludge, packaging, electronic and nuclear waste, greenhouse gas emissions and oil spills. On average each EU citizen is currently responsible, directly or indirectly, for the
generation of some 172 kg of packaging waste a year. Waste loads have generally increased in line with private consumption,
as reflected in GDP (EEA 2005a). In Southern-Central and Eastern Europe waste generation has also increased, but more slowly, in line with slower economic growth (UNDP and others 2004, OECD 2004).

Governments across the region have drawn up waste management plans and legislation to improve the situation (OECD 2004, EEA 2005a). A 2005 review of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive of 1994 (Box 2) showed that in most countries
consumers and suppliers made good progress in recycling and recovering packaging waste. The EU target of recycling 25 per cent of packaging waste in 2001 was significantly exceeded in 2002: 54 per cent was recycled in the 15 countries that were then members of the EU (EU-15). But producers are much slower in reducing their generation of packaging waste in the first place. Only the United Kingdom managed to actually reduce (and Austria to stabilize) the generation of packaging waste since 1997
(EEFast-growing amounts of plastics waste are of particular concern (Table 1).

One reason is that recycling of plastics waste is more difficult than glass or paper, because plastics usually require labelling and careful sorting before they can be recycled. However, innovative technologies are being developed to use mixed plastics waste (Box 3). The greatest challenge remains to reduce waste volumes in the first place by reducing materials intensity (EEA 2005a). Savings in materials would be greater if fiscal rules were changed and prices reflected their full environmental costs (EEA 2005a).

Materials are usually less taxed and regulated than labour, and so improvement in materials productivity has lagged behind labour productivity. In Eastern Europe materials intensity has increased as labour-, materialand waste-intensive industry relocates from Western Europe where these factors are more costly. In Central and especially Eastern Europe, funds for investments in ecoefficient technologyA 2005b). are scarce (OECD 2004). For waste greenhouse gases, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is expected to improve the situation by allowing emitting industries to fulfil their obligations by joint implementation with other countries. The ETS came into force in January 2005 to help the European region meet its Kyoto targets.

Box 2: The EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive
The first priority of the 1994 Directive was the prevention of packaging waste. However, specific targets were set only for recycling and recovery. To achieve these targets member countries introduced producer responsibility, established packaging recycling companies, and improved collection and recycling systems. These measures have promoted a market for recycled products, and led to the pricing of packaging waste and strong increases in recycling. New recycling targets for 2008 have been almost doubled. However, only a few countries are on track to achieve them. With no overall cap in place, packaging waste generation increased by ten per cent in the EU-15 between 1997 and 2002, in close line with the 12.6 per cent growth in GDP. Thus, while the Directive more than met its recycling and recovery targets, it failed to achieve its first priority, namely waste prevention. Economic instruments, where used, do seem to affect behaviour. For example, landfill taxes in Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom, and charging people for plastic bags in supermarkets in Denmark and Ireland (and in France, from late 2005 onwards) are cost-effective ways of changing behaviour.
Sources: CEC 1994, EEA 2005a, EEA 2005b
Table 1: Plastics waste in the EU-15, Norway and Switzerland
Consumption: Per capita consumption of plastics increased by almost 50 per cent from 64 kg per year in
1990 to 95 kg in 2002.

Recycling of plastics waste more than doubled, from seven per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 2002, but this remains much lower than the 54 per cent average in 2002 for total
packaging waste.

Disposal*: In 2002, disposal still accounted for 62 per cent of the treatment of plastics waste, compared to 40 per cent for total packaging waste.
* Note: Disposal is considered “the least ideal” way to get rid of plastics waste, and includes open dumps, sanitary landfills and deep-well geological disposal. It does not include composting or incineration.
Sources: ETCW 2004, EEA 2005a
Box 3: Ukraine’s roof-tile revolution
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, many heavy industries in Ukraine closed down, increasing unemployment and poverty. Housing was a particular problem, with many existing houses roofed with crumbling sheets of asbestos. Since then the transition to a market economy has increased incomes and fuelled demand for new and better housing. A joint venture company, Britanica JV, responded to this demand by making roof tiles from recycled plastic. To avoid the costs of sorting plastic waste, researchers in Ukraine developed a process for large-scale manufacture of good quality plastic from mixed plastics waste. The new product is strong, light, durable and fully waterproof – ideal for roof tiles. At the same time the venture is helping to ease pressure on landfills. The tiles are already in use throughout Ukraine. The UK is expected to start imports as soon as building regulation approval is obtained.
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