European sewage sludge on the up
The European Environment Agency’s Topic Centre on Waste has published a review of selected waste streams in the EU.
The report presents data on five priority waste streams, statistics on quantities collected and data on collection and treatment techniques Seventeen countries and three regions were asked to submit information.
“This should by no means be understood as a mirror of good or bad country performance,” the report notes. “It simply highlights the existing differences in waste classification and various approaches adopted for waste reduction.”
The waste streams under review are: construction and demolition waste; sewage sludge; biodegradable municipal waste; waste oil and waste from coal-fired power stations. The report has been hampered by the fact that several countries do not report their data and other countries, the report notes, provide scarce or insufficient information.
Figures on sewage sludge show that increasing quantities were being generated in the EU throughout the 1990s as a result of the Urban Wastewater Directive, an increase that is likely to continue. Germany produces the greatest total amount, nearly twice as much as its closest rival, the UK, and third highest producer France. Per capita, the highest producers are Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg and Finland, all producing over 30kg per person in 1998, with Ireland and Portugal
predicted to join the ‘over 30kg’ club by 2005.
Sludge recycling is shown to have grown considerably, with the UK, Denmark, Luxembourg and Norway reporting large increases in this disposal method and corresponding reductions in landfilling. The UK and Spain are the only two remaining countries still disposing of sewage sludge to surface waters.
Although the UK, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein did not report on
construction waste, of the countries that did Germany produces by far the
highest amount, 219.9million tonnes, more than eight times the next highest producer, Austria. These two countries have unusually high figures because they include excavated soil and stones in their calculations, the report notes. It notes that the high percentage of construction waste going to landfill in Luxembourg is “surprising” because the cost of landfilling in that country is very high. Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands recycle over 80% of their construction waste, with Finland, Ireland and Italy recycling between 30% and 50%.
Spain has the highest amount of wood waste per capita, which the report suggests needs further study, since it is surpassing countries like Finland and Sweden, where wood is a common construction material.
The figures on waste oils show that while 75% of what is generated is collected, 25% is probably disposed of illegally by burning or dumping with sewage or into the general environment. Nearly all waste oil is incinerated, with little regeneration apart from in Germany, Italy and Luxembourg, which regenerate most of their collected waste oil.
Waste from coal-fired power plants is one of the largest waste sources in the EU, with Germany, which relies heavily on coal-fired plants, heading the table. Greece, another heavy coal user, comes second and the UK is third. Greece produces by far the most waste per capita.
Biodegradable municipal waste total tonnage reflects country sizes, with
Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Spain heading the list. Germany again heads the per capita production at 570kg per person per year, with Italy producing just 160kg per person at the bottom of the league. The UK and Ireland are most reliant on landfilling, at 80%, compared to 5% for Denmark, which relies on incineration and composting.
The report concludes by warning that it is difficult to make comparisons given the existing data, and that further research is needed to explain some of the huge variations found in the current work. The authors recommend that countries continue to provide data on separate waste streams, but that greater emphasis should be placed on harmonising the data sets and making them comparable.
SEPA has just published its first Waste Data Digest, which gives an overview of waste management in Scotland for 1997 and 1998. Data was gathered from waste management facilities, local authorities and industry.
The Digest is part of SEPA’s Waste Data Strategy (WDS), which aims to collate and publish data on waste generated and waste management (disposal, recycling and recovery) activities. This will be used to inform decision making on waste management issues throughout Scotland.
“It’s essential that SEPA gathers good reliable data to enable sound decision-making for sustainable management of waste in the future,” said SEPA Waste Data Strategy project manager Claire McDonald. “SEPA’s publication of the Digest demonstrates its commitment to working in partnership with others to achieve this.”