According to new research from the European Organization for Packaging and Environment (EUROPEN), the amount of used packaging that ends up in landfills or being burned without any energy recovery is decreasing thanks to improved recycling and higher recovery rates.

EUROPEN announced in a statement that over the past 12 years packaging waste has rapidly declined, despite the larger amount of packaging put on the EU market. The EUROPEN report is based on data collected by Eurostat and includes figures provided by member states to the European Commission between 1998 and 2010.

According to Virginia Janssens, acting managing director of EUROPEN, approximately 18.7 million tons of used packaging were sent for disposal in the 27 EU member states in 2010. In comparison, some 89 million tons of food were wasted in the same countries in 2006.

The analysis of the results indicates that overall glass packaging consumption dropped by 7 percent, while demand for metal packaging declined by 12 percent. On the other hand, demand for plastic packaging increased by 31.3 percent and board packaging consumption rose by 12.5 percent. There are several factors that have contributed to the growth in demand for plastic packaging: an average increase in spending on food and non-alcoholic drinks between 2000 and 2010 of 17.5 percent per person, the aging population and the tendency towards smaller households across Europe are some of them, EUROPEN stated.

Overall, the amount of packaging put on the market in the 12 new member states increased from 79 kg per person in 2005 to 84 kg in 2010. By contrast, in the original 15 member states, the amount was reduced from 183 kg to 176 kg, meaning that the net effect across all 29 member states was a reduction from 160 kg to 157 kg over this period.

Figures also show that more than three-quarters of the amount of packaging in circulation in the EU was recovered in 2010, compared to two-thirds in 2005. Over the same period, recycling increased from 55 percent to 63 percent. The amount of packaging disposed of in landfills or burned without energy recovery dipped from 33 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2010. In the original 15 EU member states, recovery rose from 70 percent to 79 percent and recycling rates went up from 57 percent to 65 percent. The amount sent for final disposal fell from 30 percent to 21 percent, EUROPEN reported.

Under an EU directive, 12 member states were required to meet a recycling target of 55 percent in 2008. The remaining member states, including the newer members, will have to reach the same recycling rates by different deadlines, ranging from 2011 to 2015. All 12 countries achieved their target by the 2008 deadline and by 2010 only five of all 27 member states were still to meet the 55 percent recycling rate. The European Commission aims to make sure that by 2020 the total amount of waste generated per capita is "in absolute decline," the statement noted.