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EU report praises UK for cutting use of landfill but UK remains well behind the EU’s waste management leaders

A European Commission report published today (full press release and onward links here) singles out the UK for its success in drastically reducing since 2002 the amount of municipal waste going to landfill, but warns that the UK still remains well behind Europe’s best performers.

Between 2002 and 2009 the UK cut the amount of waste going to landfill from 464 kg per capita to 259 kg. This has been achieved mostly through waste prevention, reuse, and separate collection for recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion.

The landfill tax introduced in 1996 and the recycling targets and landfill allowance schemes introduced for local authorities have been important factors in encouraging the above approaches and discouraging the use of landfill in the UK. The UK more than doubled between 2002 and 2009 the amount of waste per capita recycled and tripled the amount composted, bringing it into line with EU averages for these activities.

Despite the significant progress made, the UK remains well behind Europe’s best performers in avoiding the use of landfill: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands all landfilled less than 3 % of their municipal waste in 2010, while the UK remained at around 48%. It aims to reduce this to 10% by 2020 and 5% by 2025. Nine Member States – Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece and Malta – still send more than 75% of waste to landfill. France sends 31%, Italy 51% and Spain 58%.

Waste management and recycling industries in the EU had a turnover of € 145 billion in 2008, representing around 2 million jobs. A study published earlier this year concluded that full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year across the EU, increase the annual turnover of the European waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020.

In 2014, the Commission will publish a review of progress towards EU waste targets and an assessment of whether further EU initiatives in this area are necessary.

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