Where does your rubbish go?

A garbage bin in Zurich, Switzerland.
A garbage bin in Zurich, Switzerland. Copyright REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
By Euronews
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The EU exported more than 41 million tonnes of waste outside its borders last year — where did most of it go?


Turkey and China are the biggest recipients of European Union waste outside the bloc, the latest figures have revealed.

Exports of waste to non-EU countries reached 41.4 million tonnes last year, a 69% increase on 2004, according to the EU's statistical agency, Eurostat. Meanwhile, imports of waste from non-EU countries remained stable over the past 14 years at 13.1 million tonnes.

Where does the EU export waste to?

Turkey was the main recipient state of EU waste in 2018, importing around 13 million tonnes. This represented a 5% decrease on the previous year but a threefold rise since 2004.

China came in second despite curbing imports of EU waste by 46% since a 2009 peak. Last year, it received 5.2 million tonnes.

It was closely followed by India, which boosted imports by 67% year-on-year to 4.7 million tonnes.

Which countries export waste to the EU?

Over a quarter — 3 million tonnes — of the waste the EU imported from outside its borders last year came from Norway. Since 2014, imports from the Scandinavian country have surged by 183%.

Landlocked Switzerland came a close second with 2.5 million tonnes and the US completed the podium, exporting 2.1 million tonnes of its waste to the EU.

The data indicates that imports from Russia decreased by 73% since 2004 to 1.2 million tonnes last year.

What about the other EU waste?

The exports represent just a fraction of the waste the EU produces. According to 2016 figures, the total waste generated by all economic activities and households in the bloc's 28 member states in 2016 amounted to 2,533 million tonnes.

This works out as around 16 tonnes of material per person per year in Europe, the European Commission explained.

Household waste accounted for 6 tonnes, with solid waste such as bottles, compost, food packaging, etc, discarded in private homes making up half a tonne of this.

The majority of EU waste — 45.5% — were landfilled and 37.8% were recycled in the EU.

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