The European Court of Auditors has criticised the EU’s waste management infrastructure, which has received €10.8 billion in structural funding since 2000, for its "limited" effectiveness.
The EU's 2005 Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste sets a long-term goal for the EU to become a recycling society that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource.
The bloc's revised Waste Framework Directive, introduced a binding 'waste hierarchy' defining the order of priority for treating waste. The waste hierarchy favours prevention of waste, followed by reuse, recycling, and recovery, with waste disposal only a last resort.
To comply with the directive, EU member states are obliged to draw up specific waste management plans after analysing their current waste management situations.
Countries are also required to establish special waste prevention programmes by the end of 2013, in a drive to break the link between economic growth and the environmental impacts associated with the generation of waste.
The average European citizen generates around 500kg of municipal waste per year, a source of environmental degradation unless properly collected, treated and disposed.
Refuse can contain important raw materials and resources, and the EU has introduced directives to enforce common waste management standards and targets. It has also co-financed waste management infrastructures in specific regions.
But “the effectiveness of EU funding for municipal waste management infrastructures was limited due to the poor implementation of supporting measures,” according to the EU auditors report.
Refuse was deposited in landfill sites “without adequate treatment,” the report found, and “insufficient financial amounts” were put aside for the closing of landfill sites, and their after-care costs.
Reliable measurement of progress towards meeting the EU’s targets was hampered by the poor quality of data provided by member states. Nonetheless, in six of the eight regions receiving EU funding, per capita waste generation increased last year.
“Europeans are consuming more, and producing more waste,” said Ovidiu Ispir, the report’s author. “The EU Waste Directive requires that member states treat and dispose of waste without risk to water, air and soil and without causing noise or odour problems.”
“As you can see from our report, this is just not being done,” he added.
Only a quarter of regions surveyed by the auditors significantly increased their separate waste collection rates. But waste objectives were achieved by regions that implemented support measures such as information campaigns, redesigning administrative procedures, and using financial incentives and penalties, the report says.
The problem identified by the report is that EU grants are not conditioned on the use of such measures.
In future, “the Commission should request the implementation of these recommendations from the member states before granting EU financial support,” the report says.
It also calls for better member state monitoring, more Commission testing of member states’ waste management data, reduced rates of assistance where the ‘polluter pays’ principle is not applied, and new EU-wide waste prevention targets.
- End of 2013: Member states required to establish special waste prevention programmes
- 2020: Deadline for member states to recycle at least 50% of household waste under the Waste Framework Directive