Despite EU action to reduce its generation, the amount of hazardous waste generated in the European Union has continued to increase since 2004 according to the findings of review published by the European Court of Auditors.
According to the findings, the EU faces a series of challenges in dealing with hazardous waste, which include the need to improve classification, ensure traceability, increase recycling, and combat illegal trafficking, which is still a lucrative business.
EU legislation defines hazardous waste as waste displaying one or more hazardous properties, for example explosive, irritant or toxic. Hazardous waste can harm human health and the environment.
Eva Lindström, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the review, said in a statement that “the most preferable ways to handle hazardous waste are recycling and energy recovery” and that disposal should only be used as a last resort.
“However, over 50 % of the EU’s hazardous waste is still simply disposed of. In this review, we show that preventing and treating hazardous waste remains challenging, but also presents opportunities,” she added.
The best way to deal with hazardous waste is to prevent it from being produced in the first place. This has been an EU priority since 1991. EU action has focused on influencing how economic operators design and manufacture products, on making polluters responsible for their waste, and on providing consumers with better information. Despite these initiatives, the amount of hazardous waste generated in the EU is not decreasing.
Hazardous waste should ideally be prepared for reuse or recycled. However, much hazardous waste is not suitable for reuse, and recycling is constrained by technical difficulties and the lack of market opportunities for recycled output.
In the review, the auditors point out that improving recycling technologies and capacity would offer opportunities: for example, recovering critical raw materials from electronic appliances and other waste would support the EU’s strategic autonomy, according to the European Court of Auditors.