Waste production / generation / recycling
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700 million tonnes of agricultural waste as well as 1.3 billion tonnes of other waste are produced in the EU every year - some 40 million tonnes of it are estimated to be hazardous. Treating and disposing of all this material - without harming the environment - is a major challenge to EU Environmental Policy. Furthermore, waste generation is coupled with GDP-growth, leading to even rising volumes of waste. The OECD has estimated, that from 1995 until 2020, waste volumes could increase about 45 percent, if nothing changes.
Waste treatment by now does mostly mean burning or dumping waste into landfill sites (67%), both of which create environmental damage. Discharging of CO2 and Methane, but also of pesticides and chemicals into air, water and soils remain major problems of waste treatment. Another problem is the increasing land-use for landfilling. The reduction of waste volumes thus is a major concern. However, priority attention needs to be paid to the cleaning of waste streams, i.e. a removal of dangerous and harmful substances, before starting to reduce the overall volumes. Even small amounts of certain toxic substances in waste streams can impact seriously on human health and the environment.
The EU's Sixth Environment Action Programme identifies waste prevention and management as one of its four top priorities. Its primary objective is to decouple waste generation from economic activity and cut back overall waste volumes. The European Commission is currently developing a thematic strategy on waste. Priorities of European waste policies name waste prevention as the most important goal and waste recycling as the second priority while the third priority is optimising the final disposal of waste, including its transport. Thereby the goal to reduce quantity of waste going to 'final disposal' by 20% from 2000 to 2010, and by 50% by 2050 (with special emphasis on cutting hazardous waste production) was formulated.
The EU has adopted a broad legislative framework for waste reduction. This includes the Directives on landfilling of waste and waste incineration, but also Directives that adress specific waste.streams such as packaging and packaging waste, disposal of PCBs and PBTs, batteries, end-of-life vehicles or waste made up of electrical equipment.
Recently, a more holistic view on waste management has been set up, that includes manufacturing, use and disposal of products. This Integrated Product Policy approach seeks to minimize harmful environmental impacts at all stages of the products life-cycle. In 2003, the Commission has tabled a Communication on IPP and has established pilot projects.
According to the Impact Assessment Guidelines of the European Commission, the following key question is of particular importance when examining the impacts of policy initiatives on waste production, generation, recycling:
- JRC: IA TOOLS. Supporting inpact assessment in the European Commission. 
This text is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace any reference documents.