Game on for 30% binding resource efficiency target by 2030

  
Mamak landfill waste management project, Ankara, Turkey. Credit: GSP

SPECIAL REPORT / The European Commission's environment directorate is pushing hard for a binding target to increase Europe’s resource efficiency 30% by 2030 as part of a waste review due to be published in May, EurActiv has learned.

The move, which would be accompanied by a policy paper about the circular economy, will be stoutly opposed by other Commission directorates and states such as the UK concerned about short-term costs to industry.

But the battle lines may be less clearly drawn than in the fracas over 2030 climate targets, due to the earlier economic gains that resource efficiency may bring.

“It is crazy that about 80% of what we produce is used once and then thrown away,” Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the environment commissioner, Janez Potočnik, told EurActiv. “If businesses use less resources and develop products that use less energy, water and raw materials, it is in their own interests as the prices for all those will only be rising in the years ahead.”

Hennon declined to comment on the headline 30% figure but said that the mandatory nature of any targets “will of course be discussed in the Commission, as well as in Parliament and Council.”

The EU currently has an aspirational goal to virtually eliminate landfilling by 2020, and binding objectives of recycling at least 50% of all household waste by 2020, and collecting 45% of all batteries by 2016.   

“There are already mandatory targets for waste and we would intend to introduce new ones based on the need for them,” Hennon said. “Expect something on marine litter and construction and demolition waste, food waste, hazardous waste, plastic waste and possibly recycling phosphorous.”

Other flagged measures could include green public procurement and a harmonisation of methodology used by EU states to calculate the percentage of waste they recycle and compost.

“The bottom line is that we need to do something about the way we produce goods and how we deal with waste,” Hennon said.

Waste overflow

A third of the EU’s annual three billion tonnes of waste is currently dumped in landfill sites, which can contaminate groundwater and aquifers and release large quantities of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, in decomposition. Another quarter of Europe’s waste is incinerated, in a process that environmentalists say can produce significant amounts of dioxins and furans that can be hazardous to public health.

The share of municipal waste composted or recycled has increased massively – from 18% in 1995 to 42% in 2012 - according to Eurostat figures. But these numbers mask huge regional variations between states in the continent’s North and West, and in its South and East. 

While Germany’s waste recycling and composting rate was an impressive 65%, Romania’s was just 1%. And where Austria reached 62% in the table, Serbia which is not an EU member, landfilled 100% of its trash.

French authorities though have complained that Eurostat’s reporting methodology is not harmonised across the continent. As a result, Germany can boast a ‘zero landfill’ record, while still landfilling incineration ashes and residual waste from recycling processes, they say.

The figures can also hide other anomalies. Even in countries such as the UK, which recycled or composted 46% of its waste, rubbish on beaches reached a two-decade high last year with 2,390 items of trash for every kilometer surveyed by the Marine Conservation Society. 

Industry: No waste ‘taxation’ without representation

The way municipalities charge for waste treatment is also attracting increased scrutiny.

The EU’s packaging directive requires producers to contribute to local waste collection and treatment schemes, a concept referred to as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). However, industry voices are demanding a say in how those schemes are managed, and financed, if they are going to pay for them. Average fees charged to producers ranged from €14 to €200 per ton for the same mix of packaging streams according to a study carried out for the Commission ahead of the May waste review.

Speaking at a EurActiv conference in Brussels on 18 March, Coca-Cola’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Hans van Bochove, raised the famous slogan of the American revolution: “No taxation without representation”.

“If it is decided that we as an industry are financially responsible for all of this, then obliged industry has to be at the helm when it comes to deciding how [it is regulated],” he said. “If I am responsible for paying for this, you can rely on me to drive costs down while trying to achieve maximum effectiveness.”

Coca-Cola is one of the world’s largest users of recyclable Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles and has cut its carbon footprint through the use of recycled aluminium cans, as well as developing recovery initiatives, such as “bring” systems. It also has an ambitious internal recovery target of eliminating 100% of waste in its production facilities, by intensified recycling. Such schemes are “critical from our reputational perspective,” van Bochove said.

“We can do more and we would want to do more,” said Martin Reynolds, the Chairman of Europen, an industry body working to address the environmental challenges of the packaging supply chain. “But in doing that, I think that gives us an entitlement to have some control over both the efficient running and the cost management of those schemes so that we can reach whatever the target is going to be.”

Environmentalists, for their part, fear that this could lead to the adoption of a lowest common denominator position. “I was worried by [van Bochove’s] impression that because they are paying, they should be given full control or power on how we should handle our waste,” said Stephane Arditi, the senior waste policy officer for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “It is a bit dangerous as waste is also a matter of public service, health and environment policy that cannot be delegated to private companies and businesses.”

Cherry-picking

Interestingly, a degree of consensus has emerged between NGOs and multinationals over principles such as the earmarking of municipal fee collections for recycling. The EEB wants to see around 20% of total waste management costs covered by local authorities.

The NGO community is also increasingly supportive of certified takeback schemes to ensure that private sector initiatives for recyclable products are not damaged by ‘cowboy collectors’ who cherry pick products with the highest short-term resale value, and then withdraw from the market when the commodity price drops. 

Van Bochove said: “When you set higher targets for us all to achieve, to protect obliged industry from being cherry picked on, it is critically important that EPR (extended producer responsibility) schemes be a transparent way of driving higher collection and recycling of packaging, and not a tool to make industry the paymaster of a range of diverse interests.”

“That’s a concern that we can share,” Arditi said. “We want to create incentives for reducing waste generation and moving towards a circular economy where our waste is reused as secondary raw materials as much as possible.”

“If you steal part of the valuable material from obliged industry, you don’t provide the right incentive for them to recover their investment and go for better designs,” he added.

The EEB will soon publish its own paper for new resource efficiency and waste targets, including a renewed call for the ‘zero landfill’ concept to be extended to incineration disposal, within the context of a fully circular economy.

As EU officials attempt to close the door on one battle over 2030 climate targets, another one appears to be in the process of opening.

Timeline: 
  • May 2014: European Commission expected to publish communication on the circular economy as part of waste review.
  • 26 Sept. 2016: Deadline for 45% collection rate for batteries
  • 2020: Deadline for at least 50% of all household waste to be recycled, and aspirational deadline for elimination of landfill
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Comments

Mike Parr's picture

1965 (could be any year plus or minus 20) - many/most people in Europe drank water from a tap (if they drank water at all) or used to it make tea, coffee etc. Fizzy drinks were something of a luxury. Plastic packaging was minimal. How did we all survive (speaks somebody from that era - QED).

"Coca-Cola is one of the world’s largest users of recyclable Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles and has cut its carbon footprint through the use of recycled aluminium cans".

If Coca-Cola and its clones did not exist and fizzy drinks did not exist would the world be a much worse place? Ditto the entire bottled water industry? Are we not being just a little bit precious here? Addressing symptoms - "oh! lets reduce packaging" - not the causes = do we need much of "the stuff" we package in the first place. Of course this places us in danger of entering "if ifs and ands were pots and pans etc" territory. None the less, perhaps it's time to get vastly tougher minded with what is sold and how it is packaged.

Much/most/all? of the proposals so far look some what like deck-chair re-arranging. We are in a very serious situation with respect to resource mis-use. Twiddling at the edges (oooh let's do a bit more recycling) will not solve either the problem of the use of resources or the CO2 generated by (one example - there are many others) transporting a fizzy drink or for that matter bottled water. Recycle waste? fine, eliminate the causes of waste? - much better.

Moving onwards and downwards I object to this phrase "an industry body working to address the environmental challenges of the packaging supply chain" . I object to the word "challenges" - they are NOT "challenges" they are PROBLEMS caused by the packaging industry - for whom the phrase "mealy mouthed" was clearly invented.

Excavating further downwards, the comments by Hans van Bochove, , "then obliged industry has to be at the helm when it comes to deciding how [it is regulated" shows a person very much in favour of foxes running hen houses.

The EC is heading on the right track - they should follow the "turn of the screw" principle - making life progressively harder and harder for companies, such as Coca Cola that cause problems with recycling which they then so.... generously offer to fix. You really could not make it up.

Mike Parr's picture

"reminded me how powerful a speaker Obama"

I can think of a number of "unfortunate" names that could be substituted for Obama's. For what it's worth, I think he is more full of bullshit than Ronnie Raygun and that takes some beating - although in fairness both Rompers & Manuel try hard (wooden spoons all round?)

Not only is Obama full of bullshit with respect to energy issues, his views are also irrelevant and so far out of date he might just as well talk about how to keep Wall Street clear of horseshit (... but Wall Street does not have a horseshit problem.... exactly).

A company in the Lone Star state (Socialists-R-Us?) is selling under a 25 year PPA 150MW worth of PV at a price of ...... just a bit below 5UScents/kWhr & they are making money. PPAs for wind are sub 4 US cents. To be clear, at those levels you CANNOT make money from CCGTS. & yes the RES guys get a modest tax break (ditto the fossils).

Another bunch of US socialists (Morgan Stanley) are forecasting (most pessimistic forecast) 240GW of PV within 5 years in the USA - with a BAU of perhaps 415GW. As you can see from the above, RES will have a big impact in the USA. Furthermore it will have zero to do with Obama or for that matter the so-called US political elite (let's be fair - they are glove puppets - anybody who saw "Being There" knows that).

Moving back to Europe - a recent Bank of England report had me sniggering in my seat about "making money" i.e. fractional reserve banking. Bottom line - money is created through loans. Hmm. Discount rates - this defines whether your RES project makes money - or not. Taking Gode Wind 1 & 2 (total 582MW), discount rate of 2.5% (lets just say the Scots get independence and have a bank that lends at those rates), capacity factor 50% (typical large off-shore), 25 years, Euro10m/year maintenance etc & an energy cost of Euro60/MWhr. NPV is Euro408m (not bad for a project with a cost of Euro2.2bn) and an IRR of 4.2%. Expressed another way, using discount rates close to "real" interest rates makes off-shore profitable now & delivers energy at a price very very close to wholesale rates & yes boys n girls you could then connect high discount rates (7.5%? 8%?) with the "need" for a "subsidy" for RES which in this context can be characterised as a transfer of money from end users of electricity to.... bankers & their bonuses.

Moving onwards & upwards, North sea, great place for wind, loads of gas pipelines as well. Build a synthetic nat gas plant next to your off-shore farms (finance through the governments banks @ 2.5%) and you would have a buffer/energy store that was also a carbon neutral gas supply - for ever.

None of the above is hard technically - most of the tech now exists. Lacking is finance at "sensible" prices to realise projects. I would not go so far as to say the above is a vision - but it certainly offers a more permanent solution to Euro power problems than the Sotty & Sweep show of Rompy & Manuel with Obama as Harry H.