According to a report published by Friends of the Earth, Europe is failing to manage its resources sustainably by unnecessarily sending valuable materials to incineration and landfill.
The study published by the Friends of the Earth also claims that Europeans are particularly wasteful when it comes to textiles with 75% of the 5.8 million tonnes being disposed of yearly alongside 60% of municipal waste also being sent to landfill or incineration.
The report titled; Less is More: Resource efficiency through waste collection, recycling and reuse, was published in February of 2013. The report explores the environmental and social impacts of the extraction, use and disposal of three widely-used commodities, these are; lithium, aluminium and cotton.
The study also covers the latest European recycling rates, and concludes that in order to reach a zero-waste Europe; higher recycling targets need to be accompanied by the targets for reuse and waste prevention.
The revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) requires member stated to achieve a recycling rate of 50% by 2020.
Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said:
“Europe is still stuck in a system where valuable materials, many of which come at a high environmental and social cost, end up in landfill or incineration. Recycling targets are a good start, but reusing products and materials and preventing waste in the first place won’t be the norm until we have EU targets for these too.
“There is an urgent need to fundamentally change EU policies and end our current wastefulness. Reducing waste is an easy way to increase Europe’s resource efficiency. It not only contributes to cutting carbon emissions, it also creates jobs in Europe and reduces dependency on imported raw materials.”
Looking at textiles
The report noted that 30%, or 350,000 tonnes of used clothing is landfilled within the UK annually, in addition to this it states that 14% of post-consumer clothing is reused within the UK, 34% is exported for reuse overseas and 14% recycled. The remaining 7% is sent to incineration.
After the campaign suggests that the disposal of textiles needs to be reduced that also suggested several ways which could help achieve this.
The report says:
“Unnecessary landfill and incineration of clothing and other textiles must be minimised, so legally binding national regulations for high collection rates and investment in recycling infrastructure need to be implemented. The creation of jobs in the recycling and reuse of textiles in Europe would benefit the environment and provide much-needed employment.”
The report added that extended producer responsibility should also be applied whereby the associated life-cycle environmental costs of clothing are integrated into the price.
Looking at metals
Friends of the earth also discussed the strong example that aluminium sets on how a material can be endlessly recycled and reused, as long as appropriate infrastructure is put in place.
At the time of the reports publishing around 50% of aluminium packaging across the continent was being recycled.
In the case of lithium however, Friends of the Earth noted a much improved scope for an increase in collection and recycling of lithium as very little is being collected at present, despite the growing number of its use within batteries.
The report concluded:
“Any delay in drastically improving the continent’s waste management is a missed opportunity. Reducing waste should be the first step. After that, reuse, repair, and recycling activities need to be prioritised, instead of the continuous extraction of material resources.”
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