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Transition from waste management to circular economy: the European Union roadmap

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In the last twenty years, the European Union (EU) has enhanced Waste Management (WM) strategies toward Circular Economy (CE). Starting from the previous analysis carried out by Fabrizi and Sospiro (Waste Management in Europe: A Comparative Study of the main EU countries: Methodology and Evaluation of Local Waste Management System, Lambert Publisher, Saarbücken, Germany, 2017), this article analyses firstly EU Member States (MSs) Roadmap toward Sustainable Waste Management (SWM) and secondly to CE. The research relied on Kirchherr et al. (Kirchherr in Ecological Economics 150:264–272, 2018) study which identified four barriers to CE (cultural, regulatory, market failure, and technological). The regulatory framework has been analysed. Four case studies (France, FR, Germany, DE, Italy, IT, the Netherlands, NL) have been selected to investigate: criteria, methodologies, policies, implementation and outcomes on SWM at national level. In addition, given MSs coordination at EU level the research aimed at analysing whether is there any convergence in terms of policies and achievements. The study considered recent findings on CE, Eurostat data, and Eurostat Circular Material Use (CMU) indicator. The analysis revealed SWM positive results, which seem to confirm a certain degree of convergence between EU-MSs that consists in a positive cascade mechanism from advanced toward less advanced MSs. In spite of this, EU countries need a further step in order to close materials’ loops. Larger quantity of Secondary Raw Materials (SRMs) should return to manufacture, and this requires stronger intervention that goes beyond the waste sector. In light of this, the EU Commission recently entrusted the Joint Research Centre (JRC) to assess and compare the environmental impacts of alternative feedstock for plastic products. This reveals EU attempt to re-balance the intervention on CE, by striving new products’ design approaches.

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Fig. 1

Source: Fabrizi and Sospiro, 2017

Fig. 2

Source: Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2017

Fig. 3

Source: Author’s elaboration from Eurostat, 2019

Fig. 4

Source: Author’s elaboration from Eurostat, 2019

Fig. 5

Source: Author’s elaboration from Eurostat, 2019

Fig. 6

Source: Author’s elaboration from Eurostat, 2019


  1. According to Dir 2018/851 corresponds to “mixed waste and separately collected waste from households, and other sources that are similar to it, for nature and composition, such as “retail, administration, education, health services, accommodation and food services.”.

  2. This derives from its heterogeneous nature, the potential impact on the environment and human health, the influential political profile of the topic, and its connection to consumption patterns.

  3. 1) Paper, metal, plastic and glass household waste; (2) Paper, metal, plastic, glass household waste and other single types of household waste or of similar waste from other origins; (3) Household waste; (4) Municipal waste.

  4. According to (EEA, 2016b), French MSW is defined as: street sweeping; sewage sludge (not included in Eurostat data); garden and park waste from municipal sources; household waste (included waste delivered to recycling centres, bulky items, household hazardous waste and mixed and separately collected household waste); trade waste similar in nature to household waste.

  5. French collection services rely on three financing systems, depending on municipalities’ decisions. The TEOM, Taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères, is paid by households but not strictly related to the use of WM services. It depends on councils’ discretion the decision to fund the service by using this tax. The REOM, Redevance d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères, is related to the use of WM services, and it is calculated on families composition, residential space or waste volumes. Finally, the municipal budget covers certain WM costs.

  6. The Triman Logo is a pictogram represented on products’ packaging or directly on products that indicates how to sort them correctly.

  7. MSW is defined as «waste from private households and similar institutions, as well as domestic-type waste produced by trade and industry». It includes «household waste, separately collected recoverable materials (glass and paper, packaging waste, organic waste and bulky waste)» (Dornack, 2017).

  8. The collection system is financed by citizens’ fees (household residual and bio-waste) while EPR schemes provide funds for the DTD and collection point of packaging waste (EEA, 2016c).

  9. It measures the relation between GDP growth and net waste volume increase.

  10. The Environmental Code has established that MWM shall be organized in regional plans and implemented by ATOs. They are, indeed, the managerial units which implement the plan designed by regions, and which ensure the attainment of separate collection targets. As a consequence, in cases in which the minimum percentages of waste collection are not achieved, ATOs will be fined. Specifically, «the payment has to be divided among the municipalities whose bad performances did not allow the ATO to meet the goal» (EEA, 2016c).

  11. The DL152/2006 Article 184 (c 2) also contains the definition of MSW as household waste included bulky waste, non-hazardous waste from similar institutions, waste from gardens, public parks and streets.

  12. The Landfill Dir was incorporated into Italian law in 2003 with 18 months of delay.

  13. 173 kg/person for 2008; 115 kg/person for 2011; 81 kg/person for 2018.

  14. The definition of MSW in the Netherlands mainly corresponds to household waste, which is separated in different categories, such as: vegetable, fruits, food, garden waste, small chemical residues (batteries), paper, bottles and glass, textile, furniture, wood, and metal (EEA, 2016a).

  15. On the one side, the collection of MSW is funded by local taxation. Municipal charging schemes has been a key measure to favour separate collection among citizens. For example, since 2015 the 40% of municipalities have introduced the PAYT system (Bilitewsky 2017). Other cities have instituted reverse-collection schemes, according to which the DTD collection of recyclable is intensified and, by contrast, the collection of residual waste is reduced or handled only through amenity services (Bilitewsky 2017). On the other side, the collection of municipal packaging waste is financed by fees deriving from EPR schemes. In 2005, indeed, the Dutch Packaging Decree conferred to producers the responsibility of the separate collection and recycling of end-of-life products’ packages. In this concern, in 2013 was introduced an EPR scheme for the management of separate collection of packaging waste (Bilitewsky 2017).

  16. Recyclable waste, which is collected through comingled systems, is subsequently sorted by recycling facilities.

  17. For example, in 2005 the German introduction of a landfill ban for untreated waste, mostly prevented the exportation of Dutch waste, which ended into incinerators. Then, in 2010, the EU defined a distinction between incineration for disposal and energy recovery. This allowed Dutch incineration plants, which produced heat and electricity, to be recognized as recovery installations. Finally, EU introduction of renewable energy targets enhanced the value of thermal recycling with energy recovery for the achievement of the national objectives (OECD, 2016).

  18. Eurostat calculated CMU referring to official statistics reported by MSs under legal commitment. There are comprised, waste statistics (data extracted from: env_wastrt), economy-wide material flow accounts (EW-MFA, data extracted from: environmental-economic accounts), and trade statistics (data extracted from: COMEXT website (Eurostat, 2018b).

  19. Exclusion of energy recovery and backfilling.

  20. Further details on the project are available on



Biodegradable municipal waste


Circular economy


Circular material us




Extended producer responsibility


European Union


Gross domestic product


Greenhouse gases


Green public procurement


Joint research centre




Ministero dell’ambiente e della tutela del territorio e del mare


Ministero dello sviluppo economico




Municipal solid waste


Municipal solid waste management


Municipal waste


Municipal waste management


National waste management plans


Pay-as-you throw


Resource efficiency


Secondary raw materials


Sustainable waste management


Waste management


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Chioatto, E., Sospiro, P. Transition from waste management to circular economy: the European Union roadmap. Environ Dev Sustain 25, 249–276 (2023).

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