Member states need to agree on a strong Circular Economy Package

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The EU badly needs a roadmap that will cut back on the amount of waste that is sent to landfill. [Shutterstock]

Following the European Parliament’s adoption of the proposed amendments on 14 March, the negotiations on the EU Circular Economy Package have now entered their final phase. NABU urges Europe to set strong targets, not watered-down goals.

NABU is the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union.

Once the member states have formulated their joint position on the proposed amendments, agreement will be sought in a trialogue procedure.

NABU welcomes the Parliament’s proposals calling on member states to adopt stricter environmental targets. However, first reports from the Council meetings have raised concerns that these proposals could be watered down.

In this phase it is important that the frontrunners in the field of recycling technologies like Germany and Austria adopt a clear position to abandon linear waste management on our resource-poor continent.

The EU has to decide how, in the future, it intends to deal with the hundreds of millions of tonnes of municipal and packaging waste, e-waste, and end-of-life vehicles that we generate year after year.

We need a roadmap for the Union, in which many states still landfill some 70% of their solid municipal waste – Romania even sends 97% of its waste to landfills.

An ambitious Circular Economy Package would develop substantial environmental and economic benefits: the Commission expects annual net savings for EU businesses to reach €600 billion if waste minimisation, ecodesign, reuse and similar measures are implemented. At the same time, we would be able to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 4%.

First and foremost, the package will have to improve the comparability, availability and reliability of waste statistics, and standardise how recycling quotas are calculated.

Both steps are necessary if we want to measure the quantitative success of reduction targets. In order to boost investment in recycling technologies and raise consumer awareness, we need honest quotas to build on.

Recycling quotas have to be based on the amount of resources entering the final recycling process. This will allow us to avoid large amounts of non-recyclable waste from being calculated as recycled after it has been sorted even if it is then incinerated or landfilled.

In the long run, member states will have to agree on a recycling quota that reflects the output of recycling plants. For statisticians this isn’t an easy task, as experts of the field will know. But it definitely isn’t impossible.

Therefore the member states need to back these important considerations with constructive proposals. The European Environmental Bureau suggested a well-conceived two-step strategy.

In a first step pretreatment and sorting processes should be excluded in order to only account for the output of sorting. On a later stage the calculation should only be based on the output of the recycling processes.

We need a self-confident and credible actor to support such an ambitious package. With over 64%, Germany is already now meeting the recycling targets for solid municipal waste set down in the Circular Economy Package.

The waste management industry has access to both infrastructure and sophisticated technologies, and clear targets will act as incentives for their further development.

Other member states, above all in Eastern Europe, therefore don’t have to start from scratch. They can benefit from the experiences that other states have gained. For this to happen, and in order to establish reliable collection, separation, and recovery processes throughout the EU, we need to transfer knowledge and technologies.

In our daily lives, too, we will have to put more effort into minimising waste and reusing products and packaging than we have in the past.

This requires clear provisions regarding Extended Producer Responsibility in the EU: producers ought to bear the full costs for the disposal of their products, and be urged to increase their use of secondary resources, and design products in such a way that they are easily recyclable.

A mandatory reuse quota for instance on textiles, electrical appliances, and bulky waste would shift producer priorities. They would have to give much more thought to how their products are handled once they reach their end-of-life phase.

Now it’s up to the member states to set a good example and support a Circular Economy Package that will:

  • Introduce a binding cap on residual waste (150 kg by 2025) and packaging waste (120 kg by 2025) per capita;
  • Raise the mandatory recycling target for solid municipal waste to 60% by 2025 and 70% by 2030, and the target for packaging waste to 80% by 2030;
  • Include criteria regarding material efficiency, product lifetime, repairability, and recycling in the Ecodesign Directive as well as widen the product groups covered by this Directive;
  • Establish and enforce the separate collection of organic waste by 2020 and a separate recycling target for organic waste of at least 65% by 2025.

The stakes are high and the EU must take this chance to set strong targets.