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Understanding waste streams: Treatment of specific waste

Written by Didier Bourguignon
© airborne77 / Fotolia

Waste streams are flows of specific waste, from its source through to recovery, recycling or disposal. Together they make up the overall waste treated in the European Union (4.6 tonnes per capita in 2012). Waste streams can be divided into two broad types: streams made of materials (such as metals or plastics) or streams made of certain products (such as electronic waste or end-of-life vehicles) which require specific treatment and ultimately feed into materials-related streams.

Reports suggest that the new legislative proposal on waste to be tabled by the European Commission by the end of 2015, as part of the new ‘circular economy’ package, is likely to focus on individual materials. Each waste stream has its specific characteristics and applicable legislation, including in terms of treatment method, hazardousness, practical recovery and recycling possibilities.

Broadly, a set of general principles apply across waste streams. Waste streams can be divided into two main categories: material-related streams (including metals; glass; paper and cardboard; plastics; wood; rubber; textiles; bio-waste) and product-related streams (including packaging; electronic waste; batteries and accumulators; end-of-life vehicles; mining, construction and demolition waste).

A number of aspects need to be considered in assessing different waste streams: sources of waste to be treated and uses of treated waste; applicable recycling and recovery methods; specific opportunities and challenges, in particular related to recycling; and applicable European Union legislation and its implementation.

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