On the path to more resource conservation and less waste? EU data provides the answers

In order to analyse whether EU countries are complying with the regulations on environmental protection and meeting the set environmental protection targets, data is needed. Data indicate progress, development, gaps and the scope for improvement in the different fields in the EU Member States. Under EU legislation, the competent authorities in EU Member States (national statistical offices, environmental agencies and environmental ministries) are required to submit data within set time frames to the European Commission.

EUROSTAT, located in Luxembourg, is the office responsible for European statistics, which also includes two environmental data centers. The Environmental Data Center on Waste makes it possible to analyse whether the different waste streams are collected with sufficient differentiation and are appropriately handled in the Member States; whether the requirements relating to producer responsibility are actually being met; and whether the political measures in the waste sector are effective. The Environmental Data Centre on Natural Resources makes statistical data and indicators available, on the basis of which the implementation of policy guidelines in accordance with the “A resource-efficient Europe” – one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy – can be examined. The concept of this strategy is smart, sustainable and integrated growth.

Goal: To harmonize data

A key challenge in the collection and comparison of data is harmonizing the definition and calculation methods across the EU. One example of this challenge is municipal waste:

The European Union has laid down that all EU Member States – along with Norway and Iceland – should be meeting a 50 % recycling target for municipal waste by 2020. Since this 50 % target is, in accordance with the EU Directive, based on different basic quantities (definitions of municipal waste), the data of the countries are difficult to compare. Preparations are currently underway for corresponding changes to be made to enable improved comparability of this data in future.

Landfilling still widespread in many countries

Since 2008 Oeko-Institut has been supporting Eurostat in the collection and validation of data in the waste sector. The institute contributes to clarification of the national differences in the implementation of European waste legislation and of the necessary improvements, above all in the field of waste recycling. In its work for Eurostat Oeko-Institut is cooperating with Argus GmbH and the Copenhagen Resource Institute (CRI).

If the EU Member States are compared, it is clear that landfilling is still the predominant method for dealing with municipal waste in many countries, meaning valuable resources are being wasted. Germany has the highest recycling rate for municipal waste at 47 %, followed by Belgium with 36 % and Sweden with 32 %. Analysis of the data shows that a time frame of approx. 20 years was needed to bring about the largest possible transformation of waste management away from landfilling.

30 indicators for greater resource efficiency in Europe

The institute’s researchers also make a substantial contribution to maintaining the data for the natural resources environmental data center. The goal of this European flagship initiative is to conserve and use more efficiently natural resources such as raw materials, clean air, water and agricultural areas that are essential for human life, thereby increasing sustainability and minimizing negative environmental impacts.

Since April 2014, 30 easy-to-understand indicators, along with other relevant specific data, provide information on the use of natural resources in the EU. These indicators can be found in the Environmental Data Centre on Natural Resources. Since 2013 Oeko-Institut has been collecting, analysing and editing data underlying these indicators. Ifeu (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg), Eunomia Research and Consulting Ltd in Bristol, UK, are the institute’s partners in this project.

Success of landfill ban and landfill tax

In both the waste and natural resource sectors, these data constitute a key basis for legislation on EU and national levels. In terms of European legislation in the waste sector, it will be particularly important in future – from the perspective of the experts at Oeko-Institut – to enforce the EU-wide implementation of the definition of recycling.

The data analysis shows which political measures led to improvements. In 2005 Germany issued a landfill ban on untreated municipal waste, as a result of which the share of landfilled municipal waste shrank to nearly zero in the subsequent years. In 1996 the UK introduced a landfill tax, which reduced the landfill share in that country from approx. 80 % in 1996 to approx. 40 % on 2011.

The new “Data Centre for Natural Resources”, which went online in April of this year, is at an early stage of development and is geared to supporting the flagship initiative of a resource-efficient Europe.