Here's some figures for you; as the EU grows it has, as expected, created more rubbish. Each year, the EU throws away 1.3 billion tonnes of waste - some 40 million tonnes of it hazardous. This amounts to about 3.5 tonnes of solid waste for every man, woman and child, according to European Environment Agency statistics. This is not even including agricultural waste, rumoured to be another 700 million tonnes...
With such large figures it is not surprising that the European Union Landfill Directive has been set up to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill.
Recently The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced they would be working with the European Union Landfill Directive to "assess changes to the definition of municipal waste, UK targets, impacts on reporting and monitoring obligations, and the implications for domestic policies to divert BMW from landfill."
However despite local and regional efforts, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released figures stating that by 2020, we could be generating 45 percent more waste than we did in 1995.
Currently, most of what we throw away (67 percent) is either burnt in incinerators, or dumped into landfill sites. However both of these methods cause wanton environmental damage. Land-filling in particular also takes up more and more land space that can be used for agricultural or housing purposes.
On top of that, land-filling causes air, water and soil pollution, discharging carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) into the atmosphere and chemicals and pesticides into the earth and groundwater.
According to the European Commission's waste management site, the EU's approach to waste management is based on three principles:
Waste prevention: This is a key factor in any waste management strategy. If we can reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place and reduce its hazardousness by reducing the presence of dangerous substances in products, then disposing of it will automatically become simpler. Waste prevention is closely linked with improving manufacturing methods and influencing consumers to demand greener products and less packaging.
Recycling and reuse: If waste cannot be prevented, as many of the materials as possible should be recovered, preferably by recycling. The European Commission has defined several specific 'waste streams' for priority attention, the aim being to reduce their overall environmental impact. This includes packaging waste, end-of-life vehicles, batteries, electrical and electronic waste. EU directives now require Member States to introduce legislation on waste collection, reuse, recycling and disposal of these waste streams. Several EU countries are already managing to recycle over 50% of packaging waste.
Improving final disposal and monitoring: Where possible, waste that cannot be recycled or reused should be safely incinerated, with landfill only used as a last resort. Both these methods need close monitoring because of their potential for causing severe environmental damage. The EU has recently approved a directive setting strict guidelines for landfill management. It bans certain types of waste, such as used tyres, and sets targets for reducing quantities of biodegradable rubbish. Another recent directive lays down tough limits on emission levels from incinerators. The Union also wants to reduce emissions of dioxins and acid gases such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxides (SO2), and hydrogen chlorides (HCL), which can be harmful to human health.
Whether individual countries and companies can do their part to cut down their waste is another matter though...
Like this article? Get the RSS feed: