Recycling is big business on the one hand, but on the other hand it also forms an important step towards the transition to a circular economy. The European Union generates 2.5 billion metric tonnes of waste per year, equivalent to five metric tonnes per person! This waste is collected, sorted and processed via various types of systems, which are often locally based.

COLLECTORS (a Horizon2020 project) is collating information about selective waste collection systems across the whole of Europe, before analysing it in order to identify good practices. This will ultimately make it possible to communicate and promote best practices.

COLLECTORS is running at cruising speed. The project consists of three phases, and the second is well under way. The first phase involved mapping out existing collection systems within Europe, and a list was compiled of systems for various waste streams in 242 European cities and municipalities. The data collection focused on three waste streams: paper and other packaging waste (135 systems), scrap electrical and electronic equipment (73 systems), and construction and demolition waste (34 systems).


Paper and packaging material alone account for 87 million metric tonnes, of which 28 million metric tonnes is currently not recycled. Flanders performs especially well in this regard: as much as 90% of its packaging is recycled.
Of the 10 million metric tonnes of scrap electrical and electronic equipment, barely 45% of it was collected and processed by accredited organisations in Europe in 2016. This equipment contains very valuable raw materials such as gold, copper, and steel. By recycling effectively, we could recover 2 to 3 billion euros’ worth in 2020.
Construction and demolition waste accounts for 30% of all waste in the EU. Recycling and reuse are already well established in this sector. The target for 2020 is to achieve a recycling rate of 70%, but there is significant regional variation.

In the second stage, which is now well under way, the results are being analysed. The emphasis for VITO is on analysing the potential for waste valorisation in Europe. This is being carried out using a selection of 12 examples of good practice from among the 242 systems. We are analysing how each of those 12 cities or municipalities deal with technical, economic, environmental, and social preconditions in waste collection, in order to extract the greatest possible value from the waste. The acquired insights form a good basis for other European cities where similar preconditions exist.

The third phase of the project will consist of supporting the implementation of good practices, and this will take the form of guidelines and tailor-made recommendations for each type of site.