Waste is an issue that aff ects us all. We all produce waste: on average, each of the 500 million people living in the EU throws away around half a tonne of household rubbish every year. This is on top of huge amounts of waste generated from activities such as manufacturing (360 million tonnes) and construction (900 million tonnes), while water supply and energy production generate another 95 million tonnes. Altogether, the European Union produces up to 3 billion tonnes of waste every year.
All this waste has a huge impact on the environment, causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, as well as significant losses of materials – a particular problem for the EU which is highly dependent on imported raw materials.
The amount of waste we are creating is increasing and the nature of waste itself is changing, partly due to the dramatic rise in the use of hi-tech products. This means waste now contains an increasingly complex mix of materials, including plastics, precious metals and hazardous materials that are diffi cult to deal with safely.
EU waste management policies aim to reduce the environmental and health impacts of waste and improve Europe’s resource effi ciency. The long-term goal is to turn Europe into a recycling society, avoiding waste and using unavoidable waste as a resource wherever possible. The aim is to achieve much higher levels of recycling and to minimise the extraction of additional natural resources. Proper waste management is a key element in ensuring resource effi ciency and the sustainable growth of European economies.
This brochure explains how the European Union is working to minimise the negative impacts of waste while maximising the benefi ts of good waste management, and the role individuals, households, businesses and local and national governments have to play.