Huge opportunity in climate protection

Europe needs to stop landfilling waste to cut greenhouse gas emissions

A new study shows that vast savings in greenhouse gas emissions are possible if Europe would implement smarter waste management, and stop landfilling calorific waste. By 2020, introducing more recycling and recovery across the EU alone could save emissions of up to 234 Mt CO2 equivalents, compared to 2004 levels. This figure amounts to 27% of the EU’s Kyoto target, according to the report by the Prognos research institute. These possible savings even exceed the energy efficiency that could be achieved in the transport sector, as set out in the EU Energy Efficiency Action Plan.

The study Resource savings and CO2 reduction potentials in waste management in Europe and the possible contribution to the CO2 reduction target in 2020 demonstrates the great benefits of recycling and energy recovery from waste by sparing primary resources and diminishing climate-harming emissions from landfills, where decomposing waste generates the potent greenhouse gas methane. Across the EU, recycling and energy recovery saved emissions of 92 Mt CO2 equivalents in 2004 alone.

But these savings could be vastly increased if smarter waste management solutions were implemented across the whole of Europe. The study analysed the impact of different waste management regimes on greenhouse gas emissions until 2020. Implementing existing European waste legislation alone would cut 2020 emissions by a further 146 Mt CO2 equivalents over 2004 levels. But more can be achieved, in the best case a reduction of up to 234 Mt CO2 equivalents across Europe by 2020. This is conditional on an ambitious political agenda for waste management, aiming at diverting biodegradable waste and calorific waste from landfills; a high level of recycling and recovery for municipal waste and construction waste and flexibility between recycling and recovery as waste treatment options.

Jan-Erik Johansson, Advocacy Director at PlasticsEurope, commented: "This study shows the huge climate protection benefits enabled by a reduction in landfill and an improved waste management system. Plastics waste is a valuable and energy-rich resource that needs to be recycled or recovered at the end of its useful life. Policy-makers across Europe need to unleash the enormous potential of such smart waste management and do it fast.”

The study was done by Prognos AG, in co-operation with the Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Dortmund and the IFEU – Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung Heidelberg GmbH. It was sponsored by ten European companies and associations committed to eco-efficient waste management, including tecpol – Technologieentwicklungs GmbH für ökoeffiziente Polymerverwertung, Dutch Waste Management Association (VA), working together with European Composting Network on biowaste and IVAM/University of Amsterdam, Dutch Steel Recycling Association (MRF), Dutch Construction and Demolition Waste Association (BRBS), European Recovered Fuel Association (ERFO), European Construction and Demolition Association (FIR), European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers' Association (ETRMA), Confederation of WtE plants in Europe (CEWEP), Bundesverband Sekundärrohstoffe und Entsorgung e.V (BVSE), Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Stahlrecycling- und Entsorgungsunternehmen e.V. (BDSV).

Click here to read the study.