As much as 60 percent of municipal waste in the European Union still ends up in landfills or incinerators, a new report has claimed, highlighting the need for new measures to encourage the reuse of materials and reduce wasteful consumption.
In its new study "Less is More: Resource efficiency through waste collection, recycling and reuse" published on Feb. 14, environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe (FEE) examines waste practices in Europe, focusing on three widely-used commodities: aluminum, cotton and lithium.
The report claims that the ways these materials are extracted, manufactured, used and disposed of have major economic, social and environmental impacts and represent a missed opportunity for job creation and global resource security.
The study found that the reuse of textiles is a particularly troublesome area that needs significant improvement as only a quarter of the 5.8 million tons of textiles that are discarded across Europe every year is recycled and the remaining three-quarters are dumped or incinerated. In the UK, 31 percent, or 350,000 tons of used clothing, ends up in landfills each year and only 14 percent is recycled.
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The unnecessary dumping and incineration of textiles and clothing must be cut to the minimum and national laws should be put in place to encourage high collection rates and investment in recycling infrastructure, according to FEE. The improved recycling and reuse of textiles would bring significant employment and environmental benefits, the report says.
The recycling rates of aluminum currently stand at 50% but they could be raised further through setting higher targets such as curbing bauxite demand. Recycling rates of lithium could be raised to more sustainable levels through improvement in the design of electronic and electrical goods, the report states.
FEE argues that the EU's "Europe 2020" strategy, which has prioritized the creation of a "resource efficient Europe," comes into conflict with the desire to continue to meet high levels of consumer demand as the basis for economic growth. This conflict results in higher pollution and little desire on the part of politicians to enact meaningful change. Moreover, inefficient waste management continues to allow for valuable materials to be unnecessarily incinerated and sent to landfill, leading to higher demand for raw materials.
Europe, which is the biggest net importer of natural resources per capita, needs integrated solutions to cut consumption and sustainable resource efficiency measures to lower its dependency on raw materials. The economic approach is no substitute for real regulations and guidance on resource-friendly manufacturing and improved use and disposal of resources, the environmental organization said.
The move towards a zero waste Europe requires tighter waste management regulations and higher reuse and recycling targets. According to FEE the EU needs to fundamentally change its policies to put an end to its current wastefulness.
Reducing waste is an easy way to boost Europe's resource efficiency. It not only leads to lower carbon emissions, but also creates jobs and lowers Europe's dependency on imported raw materials, FEE's resource use campaigner Adriana Rodrigo said upon the release of the report.