Gone to waste: The valuable resources that European countries bury and burn

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2009
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Despite progress in recent years countries across the European Union (EU), including the United Kingdom (UK), are continuing to dispose of significant amounts of valuable recyclable materials to landfill or incineration. This analysis examines this disposal in more depth, in an attempt to provide a reasonable estimate of the amount of different recyclable materials that is lost through landfilling or incineration. The study then estimates the value of these lost materials, and the climate change benefits that could have been gained by recycling these materials. We used a study by Prognosi, which was published in 2008 (using the best available 2004 data), to provide the figures on materials disposed of in the twenty seven EU countries (EU27). This report, Gone to waste, argues that around half of all the key recyclables available in the municipal, commercial and industrial (C&I) waste streams were being sent for disposal. On a European level, if this material had been recycled then: We would have saved CO2eq emissions of 148 million tonnes, equivalent to taking approximately 47 million cars off the road per year. The material would have had a minimum potential monetary value of €5.25 billion. For the UK, taking the same data and making an adjustment for the increase in recycling since 2004: Approximately 24 million tonnes of key recyclables are still being sent for disposal every year. If this had instead been recycled we would have saved an estimated 19 million tonnes CO2eq, the same as taking 6 million cars off the road per year. This is in addition to the existing 18 million tonnes of CO2eq saved by recycling. The material would have had a minimum potential monetary value of £650 million. These findings are derived from the best available published data within the EU, using conservative estimates of the market prices of recyclables (excluding the costs of recycling) and some simplifying assumptions about the available data. They provide an initial estimate and an order of magnitude assessment of the waste of valuable resources that is happening within the EU. This analysis does not include rarer metals that are found in materials such as waste electronic and electrical equipment. Some European countries and regions already ban the landfilling, and sometimes incineration, of recyclables. In Flanders such a ban has led to diversion of material from landfill to recycling, without increasing incineration. This study demonstrates the massive benefits, both environmental and financial, that could be gained by diverting recyclables from landfill and incineration. In its 2008 „Raw Materials Initiative‟, the European Commission stressed that Europe needs raw materials in order to have a competitive economy. Given this context, it is surprising that the Commission – and many Member State governments – have done so little to make sure that valuable secondary raw materials aren‟t dumped in the ground or burned.

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