Europe could save billions by being more waste-compliant

The European economy could save €72bn a year if member states implemented EU waste legislation in full, according to a European Commission (EC) study.

Such a move would also increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42bn and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020.

The report warns that illegal waste operations in member states are causing missed opportunities for economic growth, but says that stronger national inspections and better knowledge about waste management would bring major improvements.

The study gives an in-depth analysis of the effects of better implementation and enforcement and shows that benefits would be significant. It analysed a number of case studies in Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands to demonstrate economic, financial and social benefits.

The EU's waste management and recycling sector is very dynamic, but still offers economic opportunities with vast potential for expansion. In 2008, its €145bn turnover represented around 1% of the EU's GDP and two million jobs.

The underlying problem is that prices often do not reflect the true cost of disposal of goods. In addition, many member states still lack adequate infrastructure for separate collection, recycling and recovery.

An absence of systematic control and enforcement mechanisms is another hindrance, coupled with a lack of reliable data on waste management. 

The report recommends better use of the polluter pays principle, and wider use of economic instruments like raising the costs of disposal. This would help ensure compliance and provide the necessary financial resources for waste management.

In addition, inspection and monitoring capabilities need to be strengthened - this could mean establishing an auditing capacity at EU level and, possibly, common inspection standards.

One relatively cost-effective option to strengthen implementation monitoring at EU level, the study suggests, is to draw on the expertise and capabilities of the European Environment Agency (EEA).This option would carry lower administrative costs than creating a new agency dedicated to waste.

Commenting on the findings, Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said: "We need to see waste as a resource - and to bury that resource in the ground is worse than short-sighted. If the existing legislation was implemented properly, we could avoid costly clean-up operations, pollution and health problems."

Maxine Perella


| resource security | duty of care


Waste & resource management
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