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Environmental indicators

This indicator shows the quantity of waste, including non-hazardous and hazardous waste, generated in a year in millions of tons.

The generation of waste is largely dependent on the situation of the economy, progress in trade and consumption. For example, more waste is generated during economic growth, whereas recession results in a decrease in waste. Measures are being searched for all over the EU that would break the connection between the generation of waste and economic growth. The key phrases here are increasing awareness, sustainable production and consumption, comprehensive product development, producer responsibly, and monitoring a product’s environmental impact during its entire life cycle.

As of 2003, waste generation in Estonia has been showing an upwards trend, amounting to 21.2 million tons in 2007. A noticeable decrease in waste generation occurred in 2009 during the recession, when it nearly dropped to the level of 2002. As of 2011, annual waste generation has again been over 20 million tons.

An average of 88% of waste is generated by the processing industry, energy companies and purification of wastewater, the majority of which is made up of waste related to the oil shale industry and energy. In the past five years, their proportion from the total generated waste has been 80%. A little over 8% of construction waste, 6% of timber industry waste (the majority of which is recycled), an average of 3% of municipal waste and less than 1% of agricultural and food industry waste is generated per year. The proportion of hazardous waste from the total generated waste is large – an average of 8 million tons per year, amounting to 42% of the total generated waste. The main reason is the intensity of shale oil and energy production. An average of 97% of hazardous waste generated in Estonia is related to the oil shale chemistry and energy industry. 87% of the electricity produced in the past five years is based on oil shale. Despite reducing the generation of waste per unit, the output itself has increased greatly in the oil shale industry. Oil shale-based energy production is and will be the branch of industry that generates the most waste in Estonia, unless the production volumes and technology change significantly. In addition to the oil shale industry and energy, large quantities of hazardous waste are also generated in fields related to transportation: maritime, railway and land transport – mainly waste from fuel oil and liquid fuel. Another industry that generates large quantities of waste is cement production, which creates alkaline clinker dust that is partially used for liming acid soils.

Pursuant to the goal of the Estonian Environmental Strategy, generation of waste shall be avoided, and quantities and hazardous nature of waste shall be reduced. The generation of hazardous waste shall be reduced by 7.029 million tons per year compared to the base level (2005).


This indicator shows the quantity of recovered and landfilled waste in millions of tons and the proportion of recovered and tipped waste from all generated waste.

Recovery of waste is a waste handling activity which mainly results in the use of waste for a useful purpose in a way that it replaces other materials that would have otherwise been used for that purpose. If reusing waste is not possible, the recycling of waste as material or raw material shall be preferred to the energy recovery of waste. This order of preference presumes collecting and sorting waste by type to be able to recycle the majority and bring the amount of waste released into the environment to a minimum.

The main method of waste disposal in 2001–2018 was still deposition of waste in landfills. This will not change as long as oil shale is mined and used in producing electricity and shale oil. Waste related to oil shale mining and energy amounted to an average of 96% of all waste landfilled in 2004–2018. These were mainly waste generated in thermal processes, including bottom ash and fly ash of oil shale, and solid waste, containing alkaline or hazardous substances, generated by gas cleaning. During that period, nearly 3% of municipal waste was landfilled.

While the quantities of deposited landfilled waste remained more or less the same in 2001–2015 (10 million tonnes on average), the share of landfilled waste in total waste generated. In 2001, this was 74% and in 2010–2015, the average share of landfilled waste was 50% of generated waste. Therefore, the general goal of reducing waste landfilling has been achieved.

Recovering waste as much as possible is one of the first priorities of waste handling. Pursuant to the goal of the Estonian Environmental Strategy, landfilling of waste generated in 2030 will have been reduced by 30% and recycling increased.


This indicator shows the annual quantity of collected municipal waste in kilogrammes per inhabitant and relative change in GDP and its relation to municipal waste.

Municipal waste is waste generated by households, trade or service industry or elsewhere with a similar content and characteristics.

On average, municipal waste makes up 3% of all generated waste. In 2000–2015, an average of 346 kg of municipal waste was collected per inhabitant and the trend indicates a decline. One reason for this is the more modest economic growth of the previous years. The relative change in GDP compared to the collection of municipal waste indicates that the growth in waste generation has been smaller than economic growth, therefore, Estonians have been reasonable consumers. At the same time, the decrease in municipal waste is somewhat deceptive and dependant on advancements in collecting municipal packaging waste by type. Packaging waste collected by type is classified as a separate group of waste in the calculation of waste and is therefore not considered in this indicator, although it is mainly produced in municipal environments.

Pursuant to the waste prevention programme, the goal of reducing the generation of municipal waste is to stabilise the generation of municipal waste by 2020, thereby not depending on the forecast economic growth. Thereat, the growth rate of municipal waste generation must remain below the growth rate of the gross domestic product (GDP) until 2020. Pursuant to the goal of the Estonian Environmental Strategy, the proportion of municipal waste collected by type in total collected municipal waste must be increased.

The year 2000 has been selected as the base year, based on which the index has been presented (index in 2000 = 100%).


This indicator shows the quantity of packaging waste generated and recovered in a year in thousands of tonnes.

Packaging is a product made of any material which is used to contain, protect, handle, deliver or present goods during the life cycle of such goods: from raw material to finished products and from the manufacturer until delivery to the consumer. After a product is removed from the packaging, the packaging becomes packaging waste and from that point, this waste must be collected, recovered or disposed of.

Estonia implements the producer responsibility principle in collecting and recovering packaging waste, according to which packaging undertakings (pursuant to the Packaging Act, a packaging undertaking means any inhabitant who packages, imports or sells packaged goods within their economic or professional activities) must collect and recover packaging placed on the market and incur all costs related to waste handling.

In 2001–2008, the generation rate of packaging waste increased on average by 11% per year, reaching 214 thousand tons in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, the amount of packaging waste decreased somewhat due to the recession and decline in consumption. However, as of 2011, consumption started to gain momentum once again, increasing the generation of packaging waste. In 2005–2015, an average of 140 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant per year.

Starting from 2008, the calculation of packaging waste generation (in addition to packaging waste collected by type) also included sorting studies of municipal waste which give an estimation for calculating the quantities of packaging waste among mixed municipal waste. Based on these studies, the proportion of packaging waste in collected mixed municipal waste and in mixed municipal waste deposited in landfills is 29% on average.

Over the past years, the proportion of plastic waste has increased among packaging waste. This indicates that plastic materials are preferred increasingly more when packaging goods, which may also refer to over-packaging of goods in addition to catering to the needs of the consumers. By type, the most packaging waste generated are paper and cardboard packaging and plastic packaging, followed by glass, metal and wood packaging waste.

As of 2009, an average of 71% of the total weight of packaging is recovered in Estonia. Paper and cardboard packaging were recovered the most. Recovery of glass decreased in 2010 due to the decline in the construction sector where glass is used as a raw material in producing concrete blocks. In the following years, recovery of glass started to gradually increase again. The proportion of wood and metal in waste recovery increased in 2010 when wood packaging included in waste fuel and metal packaging recovered among ferrous metal were also first taken into consideration. One of the reasons for the increase in the quantities of wood packaging over the past years is also the improved presentation of wood packaging waste in waste reports. In 2013–2014, there was a sudden increase in recovering packaging waste, especially plastic packaging. This was due to the waste unit of Eesti Energia AS Iru power station which started operating in the summer of 2013. The quantity of packaging waste included in the burnt mixed municipal waste was also considered among the recovery of packaging waste. Pursuant to the sorting study, ca 29% of mixed municipal waste is packaging waste. The proportion of plastic packaging waste in this was large, which is why the recovery of plastic packaging increased the most (an average of 60% was burnt, 40% was recycled). In the previous years, deposited municipal waste, including packaging waste included in this was tipped in landfills.

Pursuant to the Packaging Act, at least 60% of the total mass of packaging waste per calendar year shall be recovered as of 1 January 2009. Pursuant to the goal of the Estonian Environmental Strategy, the ratio of packaging waste placed on the market, collected and recovered must be reduced.


This indicator shows the quantity of collected waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) from private households per inhabitant per year in kilograms until year 2015 in Estonia. Starting from 2016 it shows the share of the three-year average weight of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) placed on the market per year.

Electrical and electronic equipment is a product of concern because waste from it can pose a risk to the environment and health. Products of concern are subject to extended producer responsibility, which obliges the producer to collect and ensure the recovery, recycling or disposal of waste from products placed on the market by producer. Until year 2013 producers had to collect at least 4 kg of household WEEE per inhabitant, and 5 kg from year 2014.

In 2007–2012 slightly over 4 kg of WEEE were collected from private households. Exceptional was only year 2009 when 3.6 kg per inhabitant was collected which was related to the economic depression taken place. As of year 2013 the official collection rate has not been achieved. One of the reasons may be lower consumption levels or the fact that old electrical and electronic equipment has been replaced and the new ones are still working. A certain amount of consumer electronics of households may also end up among municipal waste. An additional problem is that equipment which is more valuable as metal might end up among metal waste and is thus not reflected in the calculation of waste electrical and electronic equipment. Pursuant to the Waste Act, for complete electronic equipment to be returned to the waste handlers and collection points no waste handler is allowed to receive parts of electronic equipment classified as hazardous waste or incomplete equipment.

From year 2016 the calculating methodology of the collection rate was changed. The minimum collection rate was 45% calculated on the basis of the total weight of WEEE collected in a given year, expressed as a percentage of the average weight of EEE placed on the market in the three preceding years. This shall take into account both WEEE from private households and non-household WEEE.

The collection rate will increase over the years - if in 2016 at least 45% of the EEE placed on the market had to be collected, then from 2019 at least 65% of the devices had to be collected. In Estonia the new collection rate targets were met. In 2016 the collection rate was 59.8%, in 2017 59.1% and in 2018 62.6%. (All data can be downloaded via the link at the bottom of the page).




Last updated: 19 November 2020

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