Sustainable waste management: what the EU is doing

Find out how Europeans manage their waste and what measures the EU is taking to ensure environmentally-friendly practices.

Every year 2.1 billion tonnes of waste are generated in the EU. The amount of waste and the way it is managed varies a lot across EU countries, but there has been a shift to more recycling and less landfilling.

To reduce waste and its impact on the environment, the EU has adopted ambitious targets on recycling and landfill and is working on packaging waste. The goal is to promote the shift towards a more sustainable model known as the circular economy.

Read more about EU measures to become a circular economy by 2050

Waste management practices across the EU


Waste management practices vary between EU countries. The EU wants to promote the prevention of waste and the re-use of products as much as possible. If this is not possible, it prefers recycling (including composting), followed by using waste to generate energy. The most harmful option for the environment and people's health is simply disposing of waste, for example in a landfill, although it is also one of the cheapest possibilities. Even though the waste generated per capita has increased, the way we manage waste has improved - with more recycling and composting and a decrease in landfill.

 

60%

of everyday waste collected and treated by municipalities must be reused or recycled by 2030 according to EU targets

In line with the EU Landfill Directive, EU countries must also reduce the amount of municipal waste sent to landfill to 10% or less of the total municipal waste generated by 2035.

Export of waste outside the EU

Infographic showing the principal waste destinations from the European Union. Türkiye is the top destination with 12.4 million tonnes of EU waste shipped to the country in 2022.
Infographic showing the export of waste from the EU

The EU also exports part of its waste. In 2022, EU exports of waste to non-EU countries amounted to 32.1 million tonnes. This was a slight decrease of 3% compared to 2021.


The majority of waste exported outside the EU (55%) consists of ferrous metals waste (iron and steel), which mostly goes to Türkiye. EU exported a lot of paper waste as well (15%), with India being the main destination.


In 2022, 39% of EU waste went to Türkiye (12.4 million tonnes), followed by India (3.5 million tonnes), UK (2.0 million tonnes), Switzerland (1.6 million tonnes) and Norway (1.6 million tonnes).


The EU wants to counter illegal exports and ensure waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner in the destination countries. In February 2024, Parliament approved stricter rules for waste shipments to non-EU countries. The rules will prohibit plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries and introduce stricter conditions for exports to OECD countries. Shipping waste to another EU country will be possible only in exceptional circumstances.


Parliament’s work to achieve a circular economy


In October 2022, Parliament approved a revision of the rules on persistent organic pollutants to reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals in waste and production processes. The new rules will introduce stricter limits, ban certain chemicals and keep pollutants away from recycling.

In February 2021, the Parliament adopted a resolution on the new circular economy action plan demanding additional measures to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050, including tighter recycling rules and binding targets for materials use and consumption by 2030.

In November 2023, the Parliament adopted its negotiating position on the revision of the EU rules on packaging and packaging waste. MEPs want to ban the sale of very light weight plastic carrier bags, set specific waste reduction targets for plastic packaging, encourage reuse and refill options and ban persistent pollutants used in food packaging.

More facts and figures and infographics on waste


More on the circular economy and municipal waste