Friday, November 6, 2009

Increasing income, increasing waste

The generation of waste does not (yet) seem to follow the richer is greener, or Environmental Kuznets Curve theory. Even in the relatively rich EU25, rising incomes still mean rising amounts of municipal waste in landfills, but there is some good news, according to a new paper "Municipal Waste Kuznets Curves: Evidence of Socio-Economic Drivers and Policy Effectiveness from the EU": "elasticity to income drivers appears lower than in the past".

The full abstract:

Abstract Waste generation and waste disposal are becoming increasingly prominent in the environmental arena, from a policy perspective and in the context of delinking analysis. In general, waste generation is still increasing proportionally with income, and economic and environmental costs associated to landfilling are also increasing. This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of waste generation, incineration and landfill dynamics based on panel data for the EU25, to assess the effects of different drivers (economic, structural, policy) and the eventual differences between Western and Eastern EU countries. We show that for waste generation there is still no Waste Kuznets Curve (WKC) trend, although elasticity to income drivers appears lower than in the past. Landfill and other policy effects do not seem to provide backward incentives for waste prevention, and in terms of landfill and incineration, as expected, they are respectively decreasing and increasing, with policy acting as a strong driver. Eastern countries appear to be performing generally quite well, thus benefiting from EU membership and related policies in terms of environmental performance. We can conclude that although absolute delinking is far from being achieved for waste generation, there are some first positive signs of an increasing relative delinking for waste generation and robust landfill diversion, and varying evidence of a significant role of the EU waste policies implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Our evidence suggests that if while landfill diversion is currently associated to a delinking partly explained by EU policies, waste prevention must be the next objective of waste regulation efforts.

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