Why do Scandinavians generate more waste than other Europeans?

Why do Scandinavians generate more waste than other Europeans?
Copyright REUTERS/Vincent West
By Marta Rodriguez MartinezCristina Abellan-Matamoros
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Denmark is the European country that generates the most municipal waste — while Romania generates the least, according to data from Eurostat.


While Denmark is known as a European leader in green energy — almost 15% of its total electricity comes from biodegradable waste — the Scandinavian country has slipped under the radar as also being Europe’s biggest producer of municipal waste per person.

According to data published by Eurostat, Danes produced the most kilos of waste per capita in 2016, with 777 kilos per person, while Romanians produced the least amount of municipal waste with 261 kilos per person.

After Denmark, Norway is the second country that produces the most municipal waste with 754 kilos per person, then Switzerland (720 kilos per person), followed by Iceland (656 kilos per person).

On the other end, after Romania, Poland is the second country to produce the least waste with 307 kilos per person, the Czech Republic follows in third place (339 kilos per person) and Slovakia in fourth place (348 kilos per person).

The European average generates 480 kilos of waste, an amount best met by Greece (497 kilos per person), Italy (495 kilos per person), and the United Kingdom (495 kilos per person). The Spanish are slightly below the average with 443 kilos per capita.

Municipal waste consists of trash collected by the municipality generated by households, office buildings, stores, and public institutions.

Is there a correlation between trash and wealth?

Denmark, which has a population of 5.7 million people, has been a top generator of waste for years. In general, the people who generate the most waste live in the richest countries of western Europe, such as the Nordic states. The countries that create the least waste have a smaller gross domestic product (GDP) than their northern neighbours.

With an average salary of €36,000 per year, Denmark is one of the European countries with the highest GDP per capita adjusted to purchasing power. The European average salary is of €29,100 per year.

In Romania, the GDP per capita in purchasing power is €16,900 per year.

Additionally, Romania has one of the biggest rural populations in Europe (51.7%), only surpassed by Bulgaria according to the latest data by Eurostat. 

While Denmark only had 15% of its total population living in rural areas in 2015. 

The World Bank has said urban residents produce about twice as much municipal solid waste as rural areas — and that there's a strong correlation between high income levels and urbanization to the waste produced because of stronger purchasing power.

Shopping habits can also play a key role in waste generation since southern Europeans tend to do their food shopping in open air markets where produce is not always sold in plastic bags, generating less waste.

In Europe, municipal waste is treated differently according to type of trash. In 2016, 30%of waste was recycled, 27%was incinerated, 25% was deposited in rubbish dumps and 17% was composted.

The percentage of recycled municipal waste has increased at the same frequency during the last decade, from 17% in 1995 to 46% in 2016, according to Eurostat.  

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