The majority of EU Member States are at risk of missing the recycling of waste and packaging waste targets. That writes the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency EEA in an analysis published on Thursday. According to this, 18 of the 27 countries are at risk of falling short of at least one of the EU targets for 2025. Germany, on the other hand, is doing well: According to the EEA, the Federal Republic is one of the nine countries that are on the way to fulfilling the main objectives.

Reducing waste and recycling it are seen as some of the key cornerstones of Europe’s efforts to build a circular economy. EU-wide recycling targets have been set for the years 2025, 2030 and 2035. Among other things, from 2025 at least 55 percent of so-called municipal waste, i.e. garbage from private households, must be recycled and prepared for reuse. Likewise, 65 percent of all packaging waste must be recycled. In addition, the maximum landfill quota for municipal waste from 2035 may only be 10 percent.

The EEA called for many EU countries to step up their efforts significantly. Their analysis serves as the basis for an early warning report presented by the EU Commission in Brussels on Thursday.

530 kilos of municipal waste per capita

According to the Commission, an average of 530 kilograms of municipal waste per capita is generated in Europe every year. Despite increasing recycling and less landfilling, the treatment of this waste remains one of the most complex. In the EU, around 50 percent of municipal waste is recycled or composted and 23 percent is landfilled.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said implementing measures to reduce waste and recycle locally is key to the transition to a circular economy. “The conversion of waste into resources helps us on the way to climate neutrality, increases the security of supply with energy and raw materials and creates local jobs and innovation opportunities.” The early warning report makes it possible to uncover deficits in individual countries and to take action.

According to the information, there are considerable differences in waste management in the EU, especially when it comes to dealing with organic waste, which accounts for around a third of private waste. Some countries also have a long way to go when it comes to waste separation. In addition, the corona pandemic and the increase in energy prices have had a negative impact on recycling activities. However, waste reforms in most countries should produce results in the coming years.

In order to achieve the recycling targets, the EU Commission presented country-specific recommendations – such as expanding sorting and recycling capacities – for all states that are at risk of not achieving the main targets for 2025. These include the Nordic countries Sweden and Finland, which are otherwise often regarded as model students in an EU comparison.

More incentives to avoid waste

Germany, on the other hand, is in a good position: in 2020, 67 percent of municipal waste was recycled, as was 68.1 percent of packaging waste – the respective targets of at least 55 percent by 2025 have already been exceeded. Only the specific recycling target for plastic packaging (50 percent by 2025) has not yet been reached at 46.2 percent in 2020. The landfill rate of municipal waste was less than one percent in 2020. The commission praised the deposit system in Germany in particular.

According to the EU Commission, Germany should continue to pursue a policy that maintains and further improves the level of performance in waste avoidance, preparation for reuse and recycling. “Taxes on incineration could act as an incentive to send more waste to recycling.” The Commission is also bringing into play a user-related waste fee system for residual waste – a so-called pay-as-you-throw system – for more incentives to avoid waste.