By 2030, in almost all EU countries, 65 per cent of municipal waste and 75 per cent of packaging waste is expected to be recycled, and no more than 10 per cent of total waste should be sent to landfilling. Such are the provisions of a package of measures currently under discussion in the EU Environment Council. The implementation won’t be easy. In 13 EU countries, more than half of the household waste is still simply tossed out, and there are only seven countries in which less than 10 per cent of total waste is discarded.

Germany is Europe’s frontrunner, with a recycling rate of 64 per cent. But in Germany, all waste that arrives at the recycling plants is classified as recycled – even waste that might end up being incinerated. The European Commission wants to ensure that only waste, which goes on to be recycled, is classified as such. This will likely reduce Germany’s recycling rate for urban waste to 40 or 50 per cent, according to estimates of DGAW, the German association for waste management. To meet the 65 per cent target set by the European Commission, Germany’s recycling rate would have to increase by 0.9 to 1.6 per cent annually between now and 2030, according to calculations by IW Köln. Over the past ten years, however, Germany only managed an increase of 0.3 per cent per year.

Still, IW environmental expert Adriana Neligan remains optimistic: "Thanks to Germany’s expertise and recycling technologies, the country’s circular economy is at a great starting point; now it just needs to pick up the pace." According to IW Köln, eight of the world's ten most innovative companies for the construction of recycling facilities come from Germany. Germany’s circular economy could also help other countries to considerably improve their recycling rate – and would benefit from the resulting environmental awareness in Europe.