Glass-recycling bins in Germany, one of Europe's best recyclers. Photo by maveric2003 via Flickr.
New statistics on waste and recycling show that there is still a major gap between east and west in Europe, where the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency reports that "poor legislation, insufficient infrastructure, lack of environmental awareness outside cities, and a shortage of political will" have left Eastern Europe "plagued with serious and potentially dangerous waste disposal problems."According to numbers released last month by the EU statistical agency Eurostat, Denmark generated the highest amount of per-capita municipal waste in the 27-nation bloc -- 802 kilograms per person in 2008. Cyprus, Ireland, and Luxembourg all topped 700 kilos/person as well.
Though Eastern European member states were relative lightweights in the waste-generation category -- Czechs, Poles, Latvians, Slovaks, and Romanians all created less than half the garbage the Danes did -- it's clear this stems from a lack of ability to consume at the same level rather than a greater environmental consciousness.
Bulgaria Landfills 100% of Its Trash
While countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium landfill 5 percent or less of their municipal waste, the Eurostat report revealed, 100 percent of the trash generated in Bulgaria, and nearly as much in Romania, Malta, and Lithuania, goes straight to the landfill -- or worse. As Lucian Ionescu, the director of the Bucharest branch of the nonprofit Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), told the IPS:
"In rural areas illegal dumping is a serious problem. People are not aware of recycling and waste management -- something which dates back to communist times. Illegal dumping poses serious health and environmental risks, while burying certain types of waste in landfill sites has its risks too."
Poorly equipped and maintained older landfill sites run the risk of contaminating nearby land and groundwater, environmental groups say. "In Bulgaria, residents near the controversial Suhodol landfill site in Sofia have previously picketed the site in a bid to get it closed down over safety fears," the IPS reported. "Apart from the smell which they said made it impossible to live close to the site, they claimed there was a serious risk from explosive methane gas -- which is also a potent greenhouse gas -- at the site as it was released from rotting waste."
69% of Garbage in Austria Gets Recycled or Composted
Other NGOs report that the idea of "producer responsibility" -- using fewer materials, and more easily recyclable ones, in manufacturing -- is a foreign concept throughout much of Eastern Europe, as is separation of organic waste such as kitchen scraps and garden clippings from the rest of the trash.
On average, 21 percent of municipal waste generated in the EU was recycled. Austria did the best of that score, recycling or composting 69 percent of its trash, closely followed by Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands -- all affluent countries whose success both financially and environmentally can hopefully point the way for their still-struggling neighbors.
"Eastern European governments argue that they must let economies grow and that they cannot just pass laws which might potentially slow that growth," Ivo Kropacek, the director of Friends of the Earth in the Czech Republic, told the IPS. "But economies can be grown in a green way, without having to harm the environment. We need politicians to give us better laws."
More about waste and recycling:
How to Start a Citywide Recycling Program All By Yourself
Ottawa's 'Green Bin' Municipal Composting Program is About to Take Off!
Waste Reduction and Recycling Can Cut CO2 by 345 Million Tons a Year
Footprints in Waste Management: Taking Steps toward Zero Waste
Discovering The True Power Of Your Trash
New Municipal Waste-to-Ethanol Facility Planned for Mississippi
WasteAway Services Converts Municipal Waste Into Structural Materials