Plastic waste in Europe – statistics & facts

Published by Ian Tiseo, Feb 8, 2023


  • OECD EU’s share of global plastics use
  • Total plastic waste generation in the EU in 2019 is
    53.1 million tons
  • Main plastic waste treatment method worldwide

Plastic is a hugely versatile material that is found in almost everything used today. But the sheer amount produced each year has seen plastic waste generation soar, especially as many products are used only once before being thrown away. This waste is often mismanaged and ends up polluting the environment. As one of the largest consumers of plastics, Europe is a major contributor to the urgent and global problem of plastic waste pollution. In fact, several European countries, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy, rank among the world’s largest producers of plastic waste.

How much plastic waste is generated in Europe?

The total amount of plastic waste generated in the EU was estimated at 53 million metric tons in 2019. With plastics use in the EU set to double over the next two decades, plastic waste generation in the region is projected to grow to more than 100 million metric tons a year by 2060.

Packaging and containers make up a considerable amount of the plastic waste accumulated in Europe, with EU Member States generating more than 14 million metric tons of plastic packaging waste a year. While Germany is the largest overall producer of plastic packaging waste in the EU, Ireland produces the most plastic packaging waste per person, at roughly 65 kilograms a year.

Plastic waste treatment in Europe

Although the average recycling rate of plastic packaging waste in the EU has increased in recent decades, it remains below 50 percent. Recycling rates vary greatly across the EU, with only ten Member States recycling more than half of their plastic packaging waste. Nevertheless, recycling rates in most countries have increased over the past decade, though there is still a risk that the EU will not reach its 2030 plastic packaging recycling target.

Additionally, the EU exports large quantities of plastic waste to countries outside the block for treatment. These shipments count towards recycling rates, but they are often mismanaged and illegally dumped due to a lack of proper waste management infrastructure in importing countries.

Tackling plastic pollution in Europe

Plastic pollution is an urgent and growing problem that many Europeans are concerned about. In a 2022 survey, more than 80 percent of adults in Europe believed it was important to have an internationally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution. The bloc has already introduced the Single-use plastic directive which includes a ban on several throwaway plastic products commonly found on European beaches. There is now considerable support in Europe for a ban on single-use plastics as soon as possible.