EU waste minimisation initiatives surveyed

Report for European Commission recommends greater role for product-oriented policies

A wide variety of local and national initiatives across the EU are showing that waste can be effectively prevented, leading to both environmental and economic benefits, according to a consultancy study prepared for the European Commission. The report concludes that product-oriented environmental policies are the "proper answer" to the waste minimisation challenge in the long term.

Requested by the Commission to identify best practice examples in industrial and household waste prevention as well as the minimisation of hazardous substances, the report covers initiatives by governments, local authorities and industrial companies in France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Some of the examples show dramatic benefits from waste prevention measures.

In household waste management, for example, a number of EU municipalities have replaced flat-rate charges for waste collection and disposal with systems that incentivise recycling and waste minimisation. When the Belgian town of Dilbeek did this in 1996, the study reports, it reduced its quantity of household wastes by over 60% in just six months. As a result the municipality made "impressive" financial gains, cutting its expenditure on waste management from euros 1.77m in 1995 to euros 1.25m in 1997.

Early this year, the town of La Sorinières became a pioneer in France by introducing "subscription fees" for household waste disposal based on the volume of waste produced and the number of collections required for each household. Despite its recent introduction, the report concludes, the new system has already shown positive results. Costs have been cut and the annual amount of household waste generated has been cut from a projected 1,872 tonnes, or 288 kilograms per inhabitant, to 1,144 tonnes, or 176 kg per capita.

Reviewing industrial case studies, the reports finds "remarkable" evidence that companies in many different sectors have voluntarily initiated various measures to reduce hazardous substances or total waste generation. Case studies reviewed include solvents reduction by Italian tanneries, a successful industrial waste exchange programme in Catalonia, Spain, and sand reclamation at a UK foundry.

The study also reviews horizontal measures taken by governments to reduce the levels of hazardous substances arising in waste. Success stories include France's move in March to ban clinical mercury thermometers, which were estimated to contain 20% of the 60 tonnes of mercury consumed annually, and between 1.5m and 5m of which were broken each year. The results have been "very successful," the report concludes, and the initiative "can and is being applied in other European countries".

Follow Up:
Institute for Applied Ecology, tel: +49 761 45 29 50. References: Waste Prevention and Minimisation: {Final Report}.

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