As members of the European Parliament endorsed strong targets on cutting EU waste yesterday (14 January), including phasing out the thinnest plastic bags, coherent communication campaigns will help the move gain traction across the continent, says Vanya Veras.
Vanya Veras is the secretary-general of Municipal Waste Europe, an association which promotes public responsibility for waste management. This written interview was conducted by EurActiv's Marc Hall.
Some regions and municipalities around Europe are much better at waste collection than others. How can those with the worst record improve collection?
Material resources in the municipal waste stream are disparate, as they are generated in every household and local business. In order to improve collection rates, a coherent, widespread and sustained communication effort is needed, which reaches all citizens and informs them of what, how, when and where to recycle (sort) their waste materials and what is done with these collected materials.
In addition to communication efforts, there must be appropriate collection infrastructure, sorting and treatment facilities to finalise the extraction of the recovered raw materials.
Member States not reaching recycling targets today must implement a coherent waste management system and support it with the analogous communication campaign in order to improve.
What can the EU do to increase re-use, recycling, and perhaps incineration, rates in countries that rely disproportionately on landfilling, such as Romania or Bulgaria?
The EU, as it is planning to in the waste targets review, can set higher recycling targets, re-use targets or better, key performance indicators for re-use and prevention as it is difficult to set precise measurements on both of these aspects. In addition to this, the EU can set minimum quality requirements for sorted waste in order to increase the quality of recovered materials and hence increase their market value. The EU level cannot set taxes and charges, however it can set reduction targets for landfilling as well as landfill bans on certain wastes, such as organic waste, plastics and other materials.
In line with the EU’s direction on resource-efficiency, the waste hierarchy and efforts to create a circular economy in Europe, Municipal Waste Europe supports the prioritisation of material recovery from the waste stream before energy recovery. That being said, in an intervening period, in which for example Bulgaria is progressively closing unmanaged tips and improving its collection and recycling performance, it could be envisaged that the part of the waste stream for which there is no treatment method or capacity in Bulgaria yet, could go to energy from waste plants in other European countries, which have some spare capacity. This is a situation which could exist for perhaps three to five years, and during this time, progressively increasing recycling targets would have to be met.
During this period, the residual waste remaining after re-use and recycling can be identified and local waste to energy capacity planned, as appropriate.
You want increased producer responsibility for what happens to a product after it has reached the consumer. What does this mean and how can it help the EU achieve better rates of re-use and recycling?
I would not say that we want increased producer responsibility, but that we want the existing principle to be clarified in the Waste Framework Directive and all other relevant Directives, and properly implemented. By doing this, producers, who are paying for the collection and re-use or recovery of all of the packaging/WEEE/batteries that they put on the market, will get better value for money, municipalities will be paid for the use of their infrastructure and greater quantities and a better quality of recovered products and materials will be made available for further use in the economic cycle.
You want the Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), that organise the recycling of many products, to be more transparent in their methods and finances. What would this achieve?
Transparency in the functioning of PROs, in particular in their finances and statistics on material flows, will achieve better and a greater quantity of recycled materials. This achievement will be possible through:
- producers knowing what they are paying for (how their producer responsibility is being carried out and what they are paying for in practice)
- the regulator being able to verify that use of the public infrastructure is being paid for,
- coherent, sustained communication campaigns
What are you calling for in next year's revision of EU waste rules?
In general terms, Municipal Waste Europe is calling for coherence between the texts of the various pieces of waste legislation, beginning with a full set of definitions in the Waste Framework Directive (WFD). A poignant example is the lack of a definition of Municipal Waste in the WFD. Municipalities propose that at EU level, this definition should include household and similar waste from commerce and industry.
For statistical coherence, municipalities also propose that a reporting obligation is included for materials recycled from commerce and industry. The reason behind this is that some EU Member States define municipal waste as only household waste, whereas others define it as household and similar. When these different statistics are compared at EU level, without the additional information from commerce and industry, it can easily be understood that the figures being compared bear no relation to each other and therefore the outcome cannot be reliable.
In addition to promoting coherence between the legal texts, Municipal Waste Europe also promotes a more practical approach in the Directives, aimed at making the implementation phase easier. This aspect is most important to the Eastern and Southern Member States, which do not have the flexibility or experience to be able to interpret the European texts. The latter then delays or inhibits implementation. One example of this is the current existence of four different methods for calculating recycled quantities, where there should be only one.
The full set of proposals can be found in Municipal Waste Europe’s paper on the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, on its website.
- European Parliament: Plastic waste: Parliament sounds the alarm
- European Commission: Waste
- European Commission: Proposal to reduce plastic bag consumption
- Municipal Waste Europe: Website
- Municipal Waste Europe: Revising the Waste Directives - Waste Framework Directive
- Municipal Waste Europe: Position Paper on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)