Estonians continue to generate less waste than most other EU countries
According to Eurostat, each person in the EU generated an average of 481 kilograms of municipal waste in 2013. With 293 kilograms of garbage per person, Estonia continues to stand out for low waste production.
The amount of municipal waste generated varied significantly across the EU Member States. With 747 kilograms of waste, Denmark tops the list of Europe's biggest waste producers. However, nearly half of the waste produced there was recycled or composted in 2013, and only 2 percent was landfilled.
On average, 28 percent of all municipal waste in EU was recycled, 15 percent composted, 26 percent incinerated and 31 percent landfilled. In Estonia, the numbers were 20 percent recycled or composted, 64 percent was incinerated and 16 percent put in landfills.
The best recyclers in Europe are the Slovenians, while the Austrians composted 35 percent of their waste in 2013 and Estonia had by far the largest percentage of waste incinerated.
However, Peeter Eek, director general of the Ministry of Environment's Waste Department, warns that although Estonians indeed produce relatively less waste than many other Europeans, the numbers must be taken with a pinch of salt.*
"In case of Estonia (and probably a few other countries), the Eurostat report is based on the waste belonging to 'group 20' of the European List of Waste (EWL), that is household waste in its narrower sense. This does not take into account the packaging waste that is collected separately. These would increase the total amount by roughly 50 kilograms per person," Eek told ERR News.
"According to the estimations of the Estonian Environmental Protection Agency (KAUR), the total amount of municipal waste produced in Estonia in 2013 was 444 thousand tons, or around 341 kilograms per person," Eek said.
He added that if the packaging waste would be included in the statistics, the share of recycled waste would also go up. According to KAUR's statistics, the recycling rate would then be 31 percent.
Moreover, Eurostat's numbers for Estonia also fail to take into account the total amount of waste composted or incinerated at homes, as this is hard to determine. Much of the gardening waste that is handled outside of homes is not reflected in the statistics either, although it is part of EWL group 20.
But even with all that added into the equation, Estonia's per person average is still much lower than the EU average. How so?
Margit Rüütelmann, managing director of the Estonian Waste Management Association, said that the reasons are twofold. First, economically worse off Estonians simply consume much less than the inhabitants of wealthier EU countries. The trend is evident in all eastern European countries, although as Eek points out, the newer EU members also often fail to account for all the household and similar commercial, industrial and institutional waste they produce.
The second reason is historical and more connected to the Estonian psychology - people just don't throw stuff out. "Even if they buy something new, the old is put aside, not thrown away, with the reasoning that you might need it again some day," Rüütelmann explained.
*The ministry points out that the problem with waste statistics has been brought up before. France, for instance, has made a special announcement, highlighting the fact that Eurostat's data is not suitable for country comparisons. Apart from the disparities pointed out in the article, some countries include waste recycled abroad, while others don't. However, Eurostat has yet to change its regulations.