Published by the European Environment Agency (EEA), the report looks at the management of municipal solid waste, mainly consisting of household waste, in 27 EU Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Overall 35% of municipal waste was recycled in Europe in 2010, a significant improvement on 23% in 2001.

However, according to the EEA many countries will find it extremely difficult to meet EU-mandated targets to recycle 50% of household and similar waste by 2020.

Although some countries have rapidly increased recycling rates, Europe is still wasting vast quantities of valuable resources by sending them to landfill, and many countries risk falling short of legally binding recycling targets.

Despite five countries already achieving the target, most others will need to make extraordinary efforts to achieve this before the deadline, says the EEA.

“For example; at present, Bulgaria and Romania seem to recycle small proportions of municipal waste, so in order to meet the target by 2020 they must increase recycling by more than 4 percentage points per year during this decade – something which no country managed to do between 2001 and 2010,” the report states.

Along with the UK, Ireland significantly raised its recycling rates over the same period, from 11% to 36%. Slovenia, Poland and Hungary have also dramatically improved recycling rates since joining the EU.

Recycling rates are highest in Austria, with 63%, followed by Germany with 62%, Belgium with 58%, the Netherlands with 51% and Switzerland with 51%.

EEA executive director, Jacqueline McGlade, said: “In a relatively short time, some countries have successfully encouraged a culture of recycling, with infrastructure, incentives and public awareness campaigns.

“But others are still lagging behind, wasting huge volumes of resources. The current intense demand for some materials should alert countries to the clear economic opportunities in recycling,” she added.

Leigh Stringer

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