Calculation of the additional recycling potential in the European Union by implementing the circular economy package

Thomas Weißenbach, Jürgen Graf, Roland Pomberger, Renato Sarc

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As part of the Circular Economy Package, the European Union has amended three waste directives to increase the recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste and to limit the landfill rate for municipal waste in a stepwise approach. The initiative has the aim to redirect waste streams, which are going to landfills at the moment, towards recycling in the future. Usually, scenarios for the impact of policy instruments on the waste management system work with complex models. This work uses the differences between existing recycling rates and future target values as a proxy indicator to calculate the additional recycling potentials of municipal and packaging waste.
According to data reported by the Member States, the European Union as a whole generated 250,642 kt of municipal waste in 2018, 117,844 kt (i.e. 47%) of which are recycled. The calculation of the additional recycling potential results in a quantity of 46.3 million tonnes of municipal waste until 2040. The biggest effort to increase municipal waste recycling (17.6 million tonnes) has to take place between the latest reporting year 2018 and the target year 2020. Regarding packaging waste, the Member States report a generated quantity of 89,005 kt and a recycling rate of 67%, which equals a recycled waste quantity of 59,643 kt. For packaging waste an additional recycling potential of 3.2 Million tonnes was calculated, the majority of which (2.1 Million tonnes) is due between 2025 and 2030. The packaging materials, which contribute most to the recycling potential, are plastic packaging (50%) and paper/cardboard packaging (29%).
Although the generated municipal waste exceeds the packaging waste only by a factor of three, the recycling potential of municipal waste is almost 15 times higher than the one of packaging waste. The higher potential of municipal waste can be explained by the historical development. The first obligation to achieve a recycling rate for packaging waste came into force in 1999, while for municipal waste it was the year 2020.
The applied calculation method works with waste data reported by the Member States. Although the quality of reported data on municipal waste has improved over the last 10 years, the harmonisation of definitions and calculation methods is not yet completed. Uncertainties exist especially regarding the revised rules, which waste fractions belong to municipal waste and which part of the material can actually be accounted as recycled. That means that an accurate application of the latest calculation rules will lead to a remarkable decrease in the reported recycling rates and therefore increased recycling potentials for several Member States. On the other hand, it has to be taken into consideration, that not all Member States will be able to comply with future target values, given the existing status of reported data, which will lead to a small decrease of the calculated recycling potential.
Translated title of the contributionBerechnung des zusätzlichen Recyclingpotenzals in der Europäischen Union durch Umsetzung des Kreislaufwirtschaftspaketes
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Waste Management and Recycling
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2020

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