Reduce, reuse, recyle, dispose

29th of November 2012
Reduce, reuse, recyle, dispose

Governments throughout Europe are setting ambitious targets for waste reduction and recycling. Now, however, it’s not just about disposing of waste wisely, there is a new mantra – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Dispose. Ceris Burns, managing director of cleaning, FM and resource management public relations agency, Ceris Burns International, reviews European waste management practices.

The Waste Framework Directive (Directive 2008/98/EC) provides the overarching legislative framework for European Union waste policy, with the long-term goal for the EU to become a recycling society that avoids waste and uses waste as a resource. It marked a decisive shift from landfill towards the EU's new waste hierarchy, with the highest priority given to waste prevention, followed by reuse, recycling and recovery. Disposal of waste through landfill should be avoided wherever possible.

A report published by Eurostat in 2003, ‘Waste Generated and Treated in Europe’ indicates about 2.25 billion tonnes of waste was generated in Western Europe between 1998-2001 and 550 million in Eastern Europe Candidate Countries. This represents an enormous loss of resources in the form of both materials and energy. Although waste recycling in the European Union is on the increase, there is still a way to go in order for targets to be met.

In addition to the financial effect, the management and disposal of waste can have serious environmental impacts. Landfill, for example, takes up valuable land and may cause air, water and soil pollution, while incineration may result in emissions of dangerous air pollutants, unless properly regulated. Significant cost savings can be achieved by organisations, as well as environmental benefits, by reviewing waste management policies and procedures.

According to a European Commission (DG Env) report ‘Use of Economic Instruments and Waste Management Performances’ published in April 2012, full implementation of EU waste legislation would save 72 billion euros a year and increase the annual turnover of the waste management sector by 42 billion euros by 2020.

Waste targets
Waste comes in many different forms including catering waste, agricultural waste, plastics, batteries, paper, glass, light bulbs, metal and wood. Recycling rates vary from one waste stream to another and by different countries.

The Waste Framework Directive requires that all member states adopt waste management programmes by December 2013. The European Commission provides a guidance note for how to prepare waste management plans. Regulatory strategies include enforcing limits on waste generation and may include extending producer responsibility policies and taxing of excessive waste generation. Waste treatment methods differ substantially across Europe. The European Commission, alongside the European Environment Agency, will assess each member state’s strategy in 2014.

Under the Directive, a 50 per cent target is set for the preparing for reuse and recycling waste materials comprising at least paper, metal, plastic and glass from households and possibly from other origins as far as these waste streams are similar to waste from households. There is also a 70 per cent target for preparing for reuse, recycling and other recovery of construction and demolition waste. Other targets include 85 per cent reuse, recycling and recovery target on end-of-life vehicles and the Batteries Directive in 2006 outlined the collection and recycling targets for all batteries.

Electrical and electronic equipment

Stringent new EU targets have been agreed under the new waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) Directive 2012/19/EU. This restricts the use of hazardous substances in equipment and promotes more rigid recycling, overhauling how technology companies, retailers, recycling firms, and consumers handle waste electronic equipment and devices.

New targets will require member states to collect 85 per cent of electronic waste generated from 2019 onwards. The existing binding EU collection target is four kg of WEEE per capita, representing about two million tonnes per year, out of around 10 million tonnes of WEEE generated per year in the EU. By 2020, it is estimated that the volume of WEEE will increase to 12 million tonnes.

The new WEEE Directive will also give EU member states the tools to fight illegal export of waste more effectively. The new Directive will force exporters to test and provide documents on the nature of their shipments when the shipments run the risk of being waste. Illegal shipments of WEEE disguised as legal shipments of used equipment, in order to circumvent EU waste treatment rules, are a serious problem.

Separation of waste

From January 1 2015, waste collectors must take practical measures to ensure separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass prior to it leaving site and waste producers should consider measures they might need to take to ensure their waste can be collected separately, such as the installation of the right recycling products.

Are the targets being met?

A European Commission report published in April 2012 indicates that the top performing nations for reducing waste sent to landfill include Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands who all sent less than three per cent of waste to landfill in 2010. This compares to 48 per cent in the UK, which although it has taken significant steps in reducing landfill, still falls behind.

In its recent report, ‘Rubbish to Resource: Financing New Waste Infrastructure,’ the UK based Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group states that, "to meet European landfill targets, the UK needs to build 8.8 million tonnes of new residual waste treatment capacity by 2020; a challenge acknowledged by the Government in its recent Review of Waste Policy".*

The report outlines significant barriers that must be overcome so that the necessary infrastructure can be built, stating: “Restrictions placed on public sector spending mean that the majority of finance must come from the private sector. But this has been made difficult by a fall in bank lending and the inherent perceived risk in waste infrastructure projects, unable as they are to generate a predictable and constant revenue stream. In addition, policy and regulatory uncertainty further undermine the confidence of potential investors.”

Making the regulations work

There are many potential and existing waste prevention measures for various waste streams, some of which are outlined below:

Manufacturers can review how their products are packaged, labelled and distributed to minimise waste. The amount of packaging used for products can be decreased, whilst the use of recyclable content should be increased.

Businesses should encourage suppliers to provide ingredients in re-usable plastic crates or tote boxes and to avoid unnecessary packaging.  Packaging that cannot be re-used should be separated for baling and recycling.

A third of the world’s food is wasted and we all have a part to play in solving this problem. Measures to reduce food waste include better portion control and alternative methods to landfill disposal such as anaerobic digestion, whereby microorganisms break down biodegradable material. Composting is another option.

When food is manufactured, there are a number of by-products that are created and a proportion of the finished product can’t be placed on the market for consumption by humans. This can be for a variety of reasons such as packaging defects or for technological reasons such as the wrong size or weight biscuits, trial runs, or over ordering and out of date stock.

Many of these former foodstuffs, including bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals, crisps and confectionery have a very high nutritional value – being a source of high quality fats, sugar and carbohydrates. One company that is working to reduce the waste of this surplus food on behalf of international food manufacturers, supermarkets and distributors is SugaRich. After checking its safety and traceability and therefore suitability, it converts surplus food into high quality ingredients for use in animal feed, avoiding waste from food that is unfit for human consumption.

Paper is an easily recyclable material with well-developed systems available for removal and reuse. Actions to reduce paper wastage include reducing unwanted, unsolicited direct mail and calculating the carbon impact of what is being sent.

Sorting of materials

There is a continuing debate about the merits of co-mingled and source-separated recycling collections. What is essential is that the material is ultimately sorted to a high quality. Peter Vernon, managing director of Alpha Waste Solutions, one of the leading suppliers of waste recycling products in the UK says: “Segregating your waste at source will make it easier to recover value through the waste hierarchy. Auditing of your whole business and processes to identify all waste streams can help show where cost savings can be made and how waste can be turned into revenue. Likewise, consideration should be given to your current waste practices.

Could some of your waste that currently gets sent to landfill actually be recovered and/or recycled? If the answer is ‘possibly’ then the regulations place a responsibility on organisations to do just that.”

Energy efficiency

Taking steps to improve energy efficiency will reduce overall running costs as well as having a positive environmental impact. There are many practical measures you could take such as using energy efficient lighting and boilers; using machinery with variable speed drives and high efficiency motors and checking refrigerant systems, air compressors and other equipment for leaks. Ensure that non-essential heating, lighting and equipment is turned off when not required and improve building insulation.


Chris James, ceo of Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board says: “The waste management industry has evolved considerably in recent years and continues to develop to meet technological, environmental and legislative challenges. Skills and knowledge development must keep pace to ensure that EU employers are delivering efficient and effective services. WAMITAB also believes that working closely with other EU states to develop common themes of competence and skills will benefit not just the UK economy, but the wider EU. Pan-European companies would greatly benefit from having a workforce with the ability to work throughout their operations with ease.”

Best practice examples

The 2012, European Commission report, ‘Preparing a Waste Prevention Programme,’  cites a range of country and regional measures that have been successfully employed to reduce waste. For example, in Germany the regional waste management plan of Schleswig-Holstein covers four waste streams, namely municipal waste, industrial waste, construction and demolition waste and sewage sludge, each in a separate document.

Aggregated waste management data (generation, treatment) and data on regional treatment facilities and their permitted throughput capacity are presented in comprehensive and illustrative statistical figures demonstrating the temporal and in some cases the regional variances and tendencies of waste generation.

The international context

Waste management must be implemented with the international context in mind. Increased globalisation has led to increased imports of raw materials and semi-manufactured materials. At the same time, exports of waste, which can be transformed into valuable secondary raw materials, has increased.


Overall recycling rates have improved and the amount of waste going to landfill has decreased. With effective waste policies and investment in the right services and products at all levels in the chain – from manufacture, distribution, recovery and recycling – a larger reduction will be made in the amount of waste sent to landfill every year, costs will be reduced, waste turned into revenue and environmental damage lessened.


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