Waste is past: the situation in Europe

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The 6th edition of the European week for waste reduction closed on November 30, but promotions and actions have still to go on, since the Commission needs to boost recycling in the Member States. During the week 22-30 November, around 12.000 initiatives across 28 countries have been proposed, aiming to foster the implementation of awareness and raising actions about sustainable resource and waste management all around Europe and beyond its borders. Why is important to reduce waste? Not recycled residues are an environment's threat. Moreover, nowadays waste is increasingly recognized as being a useful resource. In Europe, 492 kg of municipal waste was generated per person in 2012 (Source Eurostat).

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Some Member States still send more than 80-90 percent of treated waste to landfill, which accounted for 34 percent of waste treatment in 2012, and the target to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50 percent has not been reached by all Member States. To date, only 42 percent of our municipal treated waste is recycled or composted; the rest goes to landfill or incineration.
Moreover, many packaging materials are sold and then used by citizens as recyclable, but then delivered to landfill or incineration. Packaging producers have to estimate local recycling capabilities when new materials are introduced into the market.

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In July 2014, Brussels has asked Europeans to recycle 70 percent of municipal waste and 80 percent of packaging residues by 2030, and ban burying recyclable waste in landfill as of 2025, along with food waste reduction objectives.
The European proposals include the vision of a new economic model, based on re-use, repair and recycling (namely the 3-R model). The new paradigm, also named Circular Economy, may be able to introduce new business, since the global waste market, from collection to recycling, has an estimated value of EUR 400 billion per annum, and to hold significant potential for job creation (580.000 positions).
However, this improvement in waste production and management will not happen without the right policies, and "research and innovation are the keys to success for the Circular Economy”, said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

European actions against waste

Beyond the European week waste reduction initiative, funded by the Life+ programme, there have been other projects dedicated to waste prevention. ZeroWastePro  will focus on the three main pillars of waste management (3-R) in the Circular Economy, with particular attention to minimal financial and environmental costs. The outputs will concern enhanced competences on waste prevention, educational tools and eco-innovative technologies and solutions for SMEs.

Concerning food waste reduction, Europe has funded the project FoRWaRd, to develop a free online training plan, with the aim to prevent the estimated rising of annually wasted food in Europe to about 126 million tons by 2020. A shared vision and strategy to forestall food loss and waste across the whole supply chain through social innovation have also been developed by FUSIONS, a 21 partners' project that began in 2012 and will expire on 2016.

Agriculture could be another source of waste production and resources consumption, because of high environmental impact of intensive farm systems. WasteReuse aims to develop technologies for the sustainable recycling of waste, nutrients and water in agriculture. Since citizens are directly involved in waste production, prevention and management, the VOICES  is a participative project designed to involve citizens in addition to science, technology, civil society organisations and policy experts. The results of the VOICES consultation directly influenced the European Commission's Horizon 2020 calls.

Horizon 2020 and the waste reduction loyalty

Under Horizon 2020, funding opportunities have been already launched within Societal challenge pillar. This call addresses the whole production and consumption cycle with the investment of 20 million of euros, and the final target is the near-zero waste society. The goal concerns the introduction of innovative processes and services, including organisational and management systems and business models that increase product lifespans. The creation of a buyers' group of public procure could be the opportunity to overcome the fragmentation of demand for eco-innovative solutions for waste management.

The applications will be developing solutions for a better recovery of raw materials and for a more sustainable agriculture or in managing the urban dimension, and finally in food waste and packaging materials reduction.
Policy, education, communication and economic instruments will be important tools to spread a more sustainable use of resources and residues. The research outputs will be freely available at GEOSS and Copernicus websites, underlining once again that waste threat needs the global commitment.

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