New study scrutinises costs and approaches of EU waste disposal

Increased coordination of national waste management approaches is necessary if the European Union doesn’t want to be submerged by rising levels of municipal waste. According to the European Commission, the EU generates around 2,000 millions tonnes of waste each year with an increase in waste production of 10% over the last six years.

The European Commission recently requested a consultancy study to focus on waste collection and treatment throughout the EU, which has revealed a great deal of variation in both the cost and approaches made to waste management across member states.

The report is an update on a 1997 study, which estimated the average costs for the main waste management options around Europe. This new report does not provide overall averages but instead presents a wealth of detailed information on particular techniques and options carried out in each country. It is hoped that this will serve as a baseline for future European Commission decision-making on waste management policies.

The cost of residual waste collection and treatment per tonne varies substantially across EU member states, although the costs per household have a smaller range. Countries with particularly high costs per tonne include Denmark (around €126 per tonne) and The Netherlands (around €100 per tonne). The cost of collection in the UK is relatively low, ranging from €42 to €60 per tonne for urban or rural areas, while urban collection costs in Greece are as low as €30 per tonne. The cost for collection per household is around €40 to €70. These differences reflect the fact that some countries are more successful than others in terms of rates of source separation.

The frequency of collection of household wastes varies from every two weeks in countries such as Luxemburg, and as frequent as five times a week in parts of France.

Not all counties have widespread door-to-door or curbside collections of source-separated fractions such as recyclables and compostables. Within the countries that do, such as Belgium and Ireland there is a range of approaches adopted for collection, leading to different requirements and costs for post-collection sorting. Of the countries reported on, Spain was the only one to have only road container collections of recyclable wastes and no door-to-door schemes.

It is reported that collection of compostables is likely to lead to more fundamental changes in collection systems. Data presented shows that those countries where biowaste was being collected separately were moving towards less frequent collections of residual waste. In Italy kitchen wastes are collected once or twice weekly and in France both kitchen and garden wastes are collected either weekly in rural areas or twice weekly in urban areas.

The report highlights that the information collected tells us a great deal about waste management in the EU, but it does not tell us the whole story. There remain gaps in the information obtained, and the report calls for more thorough studies to be carried out. Such studies include the analysis of the issues, including the costs of implementing EU directives such as the landfill directive with its recent modifications for the handling of hazardous wastes (see related story).

The report also calls for the development of detailed “road maps” of material flows within collection and sorting systems. This could lead to investigation into the potential for cost-optimisation in collecting systems for particular materials around Europe.

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