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Turning waste into a resource

Written by Lieve Van Woensel,

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Around 476 kilograms per person of municipal waste (1 300 grams per person per day) were generated in the EU in 2015, with a significant portion — around one-third of all municipal waste in 2012 — still being disposed of in landfills. Although significant progress is being made across Member States and in municipalities, great challenges still exist for reducing waste and for generating high-quality waste streams for reuse and recovery. These challenges go along with a great employment potential.

To turn waste into a resource, waste management objectives must be aligned with the goals of a circular economy transition. A newly published STOA study focuses on the current policy landscape and technologies for the five waste streams identified in the European Commission’s circular economy action plan (see below). Employment opportunities at the different steps of the waste hierarchy (from prevention to disposal), as well as future policy options are identified and discussed.

To manage waste as a resource, instead of as a problem, the waste industry will have to become a key partner of businesses operating in the circular economy. This means a transition from the ‘collect and dispose’ method of waste management to reducing waste and generating high-quality waste streams for reuse and recovery. This maximises both the value and the volume of resources within the economy.

This new study assesses the role of the five waste streams – municipal waste, packaging waste, food waste, bio-waste, and critical raw materials – in the transition toward a circular economy in the municipalities and Member States of the EU. Some of the key findings include:


The STOA study ‘Towards a circular economy – Waste management‘ (PE 581.913) was published in September 2017. It was carried out by Oakdene Hollins (UK) and revised by the Circular Economy Research Unit of Wuppertal Institute (DE) at the request of the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Option Assessment (STOA) Panel. The study was managed by the Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA), within the Directorate-General for Parliamentary Research Services (DG EPRS) of the European Parliament. Authors: P. Lee, E. Sims, O. Bertham, H. Symington, N. Bell, L. Pfaltzgraff and P. Sjögren.

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