Planning for Europe's wasteful future

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    The commodity of waste

The commodity of waste 04:04

Story highlights

  • EU countries produce 3 billion tonnes of waste per year -- 6 tonnes per EU citizen
  • By 2020 the world could be generating 43% more waste than it did in 1995 (OECD)
  • Stena Recycling's head Lars Petersen says his company's future looks bright
  • But he wants the EU to streamline its process to deal with waste management

As European society gets wealthier, its piles of rubbish grow higher. Countries in the European Union are now producing three billion tonnes of waste a year, about six tonnes for every man, woman and child, according to figures from Eurostat.

One European country pitching to become cleaner is Denmark -- but one of its business leaders says the industry needs to be streamlined.

Lars Petersen is the chief executive of Stena Recycling, part of the Swedish Stena Metall Group. The company employs 3,200 people across Europe and handles 15 million tonnes of waste a year --- recycling metals, paper, electronics, hazardous waste and chemicals.

Stena Recycling can shred a car to create reusable resources in just one minute -- but getting through European Union red-tape is a far longer process.

It can take up to four months for the European Union to give the company notification it has reclassified waste as secondary resource, he said, a process which can impact on profits.

"Many of the products we have here, although some would say are waste, [are] actually a secondary product," Petersen said. "Many of them are listed on the London Metal Exchange, so it's a commodity and commodities go up and down."

Petersen believes the EU needs to increase its flexibility and speed in its dealings with the waste management industry, so his company can maintain its agility and protect its profits.

    Petersen also points to inconsistencies across EU member countries in how regulations are treated.

    "Sometimes competitive wise we are up against other competitors in Europe and if, you could say, some rules are bent a little bit extra although we are all under the same EU -- that is a challenge," he said. The company's focus, however, would be continuing to be innovative, he added.

    By 2020, the OECD estimates that the world could be generating 43% more waste than it did in 1995 -- good news for those in the waste management business.

    From a recycling and waste management point of view this is obviously good news and Petersen is optimistic about his company's future. "Our product, so to speak, is quite stable and will be quite stable for the years to come because we are all generating waste," he said.

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