Recycling municipal waste: many European countries are lagging behind

Waste recycling is a key component of Europe’s efforts to create a circular economy and meet the European Green Deal’s sustainability goals. EU member countries committed to recycling at least 55% of municipal waste and 65% of total packaging waste by 2025, with additional material-specific targets (75% for paper and cardboard recycling, 50% for plastic recycling, etc.).

While some countries including Italy, Germany, Czechia, and Denmark are well on track to meet those goals, a recent assessment by the European Environment Agency highlighted that 18 member states out of 27 are at risk of missing one or more of them.

According to the Agency, improving recycling rates requires a consistent combination of several measures, from landfill taxes or landfill bans to convenient separation systems accompanied with good information to citizens. Municipal waste collection is also mentioned as a key area to be improved.

But how can cities and local authorities take action, if they don’t have up-to-date data on the waste their inhabitants are producing? Understanding how much waste is generated — especially during times of rapid urbanization and population growth — as well as the types of waste being generated, is an essential step for any effective waste management and recycling policy.

Waste data allow cities to define more efficient routes for municipal waste collection, set targets for trash separation, track progress and adapt as waste generation patterns change. In the mid- and long-term, local governments can adjust budget and resource allocation, select technologies and partners, integrate waste policies in wider sustainability programs.

In the global effort to better manage municipal waste and tackle plastic waste, the United Nations is also favoring a data-driven approach. In India, UN Habitat supported two coastal cities – Mangaluru and Thiruvananthapuram – in undertaking a comprehensive diagnostic of their municipal waste and consequently define policies and priority intervention areas. As a result, Mangaluru calculated that plastic accounts for about 17% of its total waste and designed a dedicated program to prevent dispersion in the sea and the water system. Thiruvananthapuram, where about 78% of plastic waste is collected by informal facilities, the city decided to strengthen recovery systems to improve the management of uncollected and residual waste.

Smart Waste solutions stand out as easy and effective systems for any city willing to enhance municipal waste collection and waste recycling. By equipping existing or new bins with smart sensors, it becomes possible to monitor the level of filling, date and time of latest collection, and predict when the bin will need emptying.

Waste data enable a better route-planning and scheduling for trucks, reducing the number of truck rolls and the mileage associated with them, which in turn reduces the fleet carbon footprint and urban congestion. City manages can also better plan their resources by assessing the appropriate truck fleet and equipment for handling the expected waste volumes and analyze filling patterns to take informed decisions about the quantity, capacity and location of containers.

Waste-related information makes the difference in improving the quality of collection service, but also contributes to the achievement of waste recycling targets and the creation of more attractive and livable cities.


Photo credit: Nareeta Martin from Unsplash

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