The Contribution of Urban Domestic Waste Management to the Circular Economy: The Perspective of Six European Countries

The Contribution of Urban Domestic Waste Management to the Circular Economy: The Perspective of Six European Countries

Maria de Fátima Nunes Serralha, Alexandra Anderluh, Beatriz Sara Santos, Dalma Radványi, Maira Leščevica, Zahra Mesbahi, Nelson Carriço, Pamela Nolz, Sarah De Coninck, Sergiu Valentin Galatanu
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-6123-5.ch009
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In line with the European community's goal, each EU Member State should recycle at least 60% of municipal waste or prepare them for reuse. In this chapter, the authors intend to show the waste management strategies implemented in six European countries, namely, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, and Romania. The methodology used was to analyse reports and publications on the management of urban waste and dialogue with some technicians of the municipalities. This knowledge of what is done in each country allows others to learn from the best and most innovative solutions and reflect on the various waste management forms implemented, according to environmental, economic, and social perspectives. The analysis identifies several challenges to bring up in further research and projects, with the contribution of the different countries and the synergies that might be obtained. The authors intend to promote a decrease in consumption and an increase in reuse, separately collected waste and recycling, contributing to circular economic growth and the sustainability of the planet.
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The increase in the world population has caused a growing demand for raw materials, many of them scarce. The extraction and processing of natural resources have negative environmental impacts (e.g., loss of biodiversity and increase in water stress) but also contribute to total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). In the current economy, we take materials from the earth, make products, and finally throw them away as waste in a linear process. As the urbanisation and industrialization of modern societies increase, so does the amount of municipal waste. If waste is not managed correctly, it negatively impacts our health and the environment and causes economic losses.

The European Union (EU) has adopted strategies to develop a sustainable, low carbon, resource-efficient, and competitive economy. Decoupling economic growth from environmental harm is a critical component of the European Green Deal (European Commission, 2020). Circular economy (CE) is a concept of decoupling economic growth from resource consumption (The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2022). CE policies aim to improve waste management and encourage a responsible production and consumption culture. CE has been a recurring theme on the international, European and national agendas, which aims to extend the life cycle of products so that they fit into the R’s of circular economy: rethink, refuse, reduce, regift, recycle, repair and recover. Also reducing waste to a minimum is a key element to promote the decoupling of economic growth and the increase in resource consumption (Kaza et al., 2018).

In addition, one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal is the new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) (European Commission, 2020). The European Commission adopted the CEAP in March 2020. Some of the measures introduced under the new action plan include ensuring less waste and making the circular economy work for people, regions, and cities.

According to the World Bank, the world is expected to generate 2.59 billion tonnes of waste per year by 2030 (Kaza et al., 2018). However, global waste generation is expected to reach 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050 (Kaza et al., 2018). Therefore, waste management is a global issue. It also affects the three dimensions of sustainable development: social, environmental, and economic.

Almost every human activity generates waste. The amount of municipal waste generated per person in the EU is around 500 kg annually. About 48% of this amount is recycled yearly (European Environment Agency, 2022b). Although the percentage of waste recycled has increased, the amount of waste generated is also growing.

Considering waste as a resource is the first step toward sustainable waste management. Waste not only can be a health or environmental problem but also an economic loss. However, whether the waste is a problem, or a resource depends on how we manage it. Therefore, the EU Waste Framework Directive has created a five-step waste hierarchy for managing waste. According to this hierarchy, waste prevention and reuse are the preferred options, followed by recycling and energy recovery, and landfill disposal is the least preferable option and should be limited to the minimum (European Commission, 2022).

A key principle of EU waste policy is to advance waste management further and follow circular economy principles. Recycling is one of the most important ways to reduce the consumption of primary resources. Therefore, the EU has set two targets to achieve by 2030. First, each EU Member State should recycle at least 60% of municipal waste or prepare them for reuse. Second, to halve residual municipal waste that is landfilled or incinerated (European Environment Agency, 2022a). However, it is unlikely to achieve this goal by 2030 without reducing waste generation. Therefore, waste prevention is of the highest importance.

Waste prevention is actions taken before a substance, material, or product has become waste. The goal is to reduce the amount of waste, the waste-related harmful substances, and the undesirable effects on the environment and human health (European Environment Agency, 2022a). Waste prevention is challenging because it depends on behavioural changes and requires a whole new infrastructure to enable those changes.

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