Proper functioning solid waste management is essential for health. Waste management, and in particular upgrading and construction of landfills; closure of illegal dumps; and improvements in waste recycling, reuse and prevention efforts have been priority areas for the Structural Funds: they received EUR 6.1 billion in funding allocations for 2007-2013.

Understanding the policy context

Poorly managed, illegal or abandoned landfills can lead to a range of adverse health outcomes including reproductive health outcomes. Improper waste incineration can lead to air pollution. The illegal waste trade can exacerbate these impacts – for example, when hazardous waste is sent to landfills or incinerators for municipal waste. If waste is exported from the EU illegally, health impacts can occur in developing countries.


The EU has a comprehensive legislative framework in the waste sector, with many provisions that aim to ensure that waste management leads to health gains.


  • The Waste Framework Directive requires that waste be managed without endangering human health and harming the environment.

    • The focus is on prenevtion, reuse and recycling of waste over incineration and disposal.

    • The Articles 17 to 20 are particularly relevant for human health; they deal with the treatment of hazardous waste.

  • The Waste Incineration Directive sets emission limit values for air pollutants and controls releases to water from the incineration process.

  • The Landfill Directive ensures the treatment of waste before it is landfilled; requires special treatment of hazardous waste; and regulates the risk of explosion from landfill gas accumulation. A permitting system requires Member States to ensure that non-compliant waste dumps do not continue to operate.

  • The Waste Shipment Regulation regulates the transport of waste across borders, including hazardous waste.

Developing Operational Programmes

To receive funding for the 2014-2020 period, Member States have to establish at least one waste management plan, at least one waste prevention programme, and take the necessary measures to achieve the 2020 target in re-use and recycling. These plans and programmes should consider how waste management impacts health, and should be used as a basis for developing Operational Programmes.


The table below highlights some examples where the links between the waste sector and health have been recognized by Member States and regions in the development of their 2007-2013 programmes.


Where to find it

The Czech Republic based its waste infrastructure programme on the waste management plan, which includes minimizing the negative effects on human health in waste management as one of its three strategic objectives. This is now also the primary objective of the “improvement of waste management and rehabilitation of old ecological burdens” priority axis for the Environmental OP.

Czech Republic Environment OP, Section 1.2, page 33, and Priority Axis 4, page 116

Hungary has prioritized the protection of public health in waste management as part of the priority axis “Healthy and clean settlements”.

Hungary Environment and Energy OP, Priority Axis “Healthy and Clean Settlements”, Section 3.1.1, Page 61

Romania has prioritized the closure and rehabilitation of non-compliant municipal waste landfills in its Environment OP, with an emphasis on reducing the negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Romania Environment OP, Priority Axis 2, Section 3.2.2, page 72

Developing Projects

Many waste infrastructure projects funded by Structural Funds have positive impacts on health. The following are a few examples that show how health gains were specifically targeted and promoted around the EU.

The Acid waste lagoons cleanup project near Riga, Latvia was launched to clean up hazardous waste endangering human health and the environment. It involved a series of operations to deal safely with a mix of chemicals that had been unloaded over four decades.

The project “Yesterday’s waste is today’s energy” near Tallinn, Estonia started as a landfill site cleanup in 2003. The site underwent significant work to tackle various environmental and health hazards. The clean-up led to major improvements locally, among them an odor-free area and better water quality.

In the town of Ramnicu Valcea in Romania, the absence of an efficient system of household waste management had led to an increase in the number of dumps near inhabited areas, and to the pollution of the nearby river. In 2001, with improvements to public health as its priority, an integrated waste management project was started.

Guadeloupe’s latest solution to safe disposal of waste is a state-of-the-art recycling unit for plastics and tyres. Completed in 2009, the project is protecting the local population’s health and has created much-needed waste collection and processing facilities for the archipelago.