EU survey shows many Europeans don’t know how much they throw away

March 31st, 2011 by European Commission

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Almost 60% of EU citizens do not think their household produces too much waste, according to a Eurobarometer survey published on 28 March 2011. This is in stark contrast to statistics that show Europeans throw away on average more than half a tonne of rubbish each every year. The survey also reveals a lack of awareness of the amount of food waste generated.

Most citizens agreed that better waste collection services were needed and 8 in 10 said environmental aspects of a product, such as whether it was reusable or recyclable, were important factors in purchasing decisions.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “This survey shows that most of us do not realise how much we are really throwing away. Where waste cannot be prevented we must use it as a valuable resource. Much of our waste can be re-used or recycled – from food and garden waste to old mobile phones. And being resource-efficient can even save us money – reducing food waste, for example, could save EU households around €500 a year.”

New research on citizens’ attitudes towards resource efficiency

The “Attitudes of Europeans towards resource efficiency” survey gauges perceptions, attitudes and practices of EU citizens concerning resource efficiency, waste management and recycling.

One of the main findings is an overall lack of awareness about just how much waste individual households generate. In 21 of the 27 EU countries, most citizens said their households did not produce too much waste. The number of citizens holding this opinion was highest in Latvia (73%), Bulgaria (74%) and Romania (75%). Overall, only 41% of Europeans surveyed thought the opposite. According to the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, citizens generate 513 kg of municipal waste each a year.

Europeans surveyed also made low estimates about the amount of food they throw away. About a tenth said they did not waste any of the food they purchased, while around 7 in 10 estimated that 15% or less of the food that they bought went to waste. According to a UK study by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 25% of food bought by households is thrown away, of which 60% is avoidable.

More than 60% of citizens said better estimates of portion sizes to avoid cooking too much and better information on food product labels – such as how to interpret ‘best before’ dates and more information on storage and preparation – would help them waste less food. Citizens also favoured smaller portion sizes in shops and better planning before shopping.

Better waste collection services needed

In almost all EU countries a majority of citizens (70%) agreed that better waste collection services were needed to improve waste management in their community. Some 63% of those surveyed supported the idea of making producers pay for the collection and recycling of waste as a way to achieve this.

However, only 38% favoured making households pay for the waste they produced. Support for this approach varied across the Members States, gaining most favour among Italians (65%) and finding least support among the Maltese (14%).

Nonetheless, 75% of EU citizens would prefer to pay an amount related to the quantity of waste generated by their household rather than pay through their taxes. Similarly, roughly 60% of those surveyed would prefer to include the cost of waste management in product prices rather than via taxes. Lithuania was the most notable exception with just over one third (34%) supporting the idea of including waste costs in product prices, compared to 43% preferring to pay through taxes.

Support for recycled and re-used products

An overwhelming majority (86%) of EU citizens said they would buy products made of recycled materials. Willingness to buy such products ranged from 51% in Lithuania to 96% in Sweden and Denmark. Overall, almost 7 in 10 EU citizens said they were willing to buy certain products second-hand, such as furniture, electronic equipment or textiles. The proportion of those willing to buy second-hand products ranged from 40% in Slovakia to more than 80% in Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

For more information visit the European Commission Environment’s webpage on EU waste policy.

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