Klaus Koegler, head of unit of sustainable production and consumption at the European Commission, said waste management oculd contribute to reducing environmental pressure. "That can be done by making less waste and by using the waste that we are creating in a more efficient way. A main step in doing that is of course to improve the way and to improve the efficiency with which we are re-using waste in the sense of recycling and energy recovery."
Jos Delbeke, deputy director general at the Commission's environment deparment, said biowaste recycling was not happening "after two decades of intensive legislating". "We have to admit that implementation records of our environmental directives are not good and in this sense better implementation on existing legislation is part of the answer," he said.
Delbeke added that the barriers to this must be identified, while considering industry's contribution, the role of technology and the role of specific incentives for households and businesses.
Astrid Klug, state secretary at the German Federal Environment Ministry, said there are only a handful of countries with modern systems and most have a lot of "catching up to do" on waste management. "Around 30-40% of household waste is biowaste and remains unused, dumped into landfills," she said, calling for mandatory separate collection of biowaste.
Managing biowaste can considerably contribute to member states' climate goals and "we should not be blind to using biowaste for other environmental benefits like soil quality, biodiversity and binding carbon in soil. Energy should not be the sole requirement," she argued.
Luc Vancker from the Flanders Public Waste Agency (OVAM) noted that "biowaste that is not landfilled is not necessarily well-handled," describing failure to use biowaste as "a missed opportunity".
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation "requires producers to change their design, production and marketing activities". Consumers will also need to ponder environmental and social concerns - in addition to price, convenience and quality - when making consumption decisions, UNEP added.
In response to the economic slowdown and climate and environmental crises, UNEP launched the Global Green New Deal (GGND), which aims to create a post-recession economy that is sustainable in the medium and long term, while stimulating growth, creating jobs and tackling poverty.
While the New Deal considers materials efficiency and waste management as important areas of the 'green' economy, it states that "they are either not able to deliver 'quick wins'," or that "they have not reached a state of widespread dissemination of process knowledge and technology so that governance and risks are easily managed".
The initiative encourages governments "to legislate towards internalising the costs of externalities in this arena" to help turn the waste management and recycling sector into a "highly-profitable and labour-intensive business sector" covering the safe and clean handling, transfer, storage and disposal of waste and promoting the 3 'r's – reduction, re-use, and recycling.
The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an NGO, observed: "Despite decades of harmonisation efforts, there is scarcely any environmental policy field where national differences in waste policy could be greater than the waste sector. This is due to strong cultural differences on how to deal with waste. Waste issues are strongly associated with everyday practices, consumption behaviour and lifestyles."
The NGO believes that Individual Producer Responsibility is "a powerful tool" for achieving EU objectives on better resource efficiency and waste management. It is a "key tool for product innovation" and creates upstream incentives for ecological product design, improving corporate credibility and reputation, enhancing business development opportunities and facilitating dialogue and partnership with key stakeholders, the EEB argues.
The NGO strongly recommends that the concept be applied when developing further legislation on waste and when revising existing laws.
Regarding leadership on the matter, the EEB suggests strengthening the use of national innovations for waste prevention, such as "ecological tax reform, producer responsibility, ecological product policy, chemicals control policy, strict requirements for collection, recycling and treatment and safe final depositing, and information instruments" to reconcile ecological and internal-market objectives in the long run.
"Member states should use the opportunity for national leadership in waste prevention policy more systematically and the Commission should not be too restrictive in containing such initiatives by giving the internal market objective superiority over environmental objectives," EEB further argues, adding that the "Commission tends to shift the responsibility for waste prevention to member states, which themselves have little scope for action because this would contradict internal market principles".
The EEB also suggests that there is strong pressure to undermine producer responsibility systems with the easier and cheaper way out that is incineration.
The Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Resource management (ACR+) notes that the revised EU Waste Framework Directive merely states that member states should encourage separate collection. "There are no economic incentives for recycling today. We need legal obligations for selective collection in order to create a true recycling market and society," it argues.
According to ACR+, the main paths towards a recycling society include selective collection obligations, recycling rates with 100% financial producer responsibility, incineration and landfill taxes or bans, green public procurement criteria, pay-as-you-throw schemes, differentiated VAT, exchange of good practices and promotion of eco-consumption by local and regional authorities.
ACR+ President Jean-Pierre Hannequart said that it is important to establish a relationship between the money or taxes paid and the amount of waste recycled in order to define the exact cost of waste management. The revised EU Waste Framework Directive's extended producer responsibility covers a lot of different issues, he said, but does not establish any clear financial responsibility. It also allows member states to choose between different obligations, Hannequart said, noting that "nothing is mandatory" in the directive.
Existing EU legislation on recycling sets some recycling targets for packaging waste, electrical and electronic waste, batteries and cars, "but this is clearly not enough," Hannequart continued, calling for clear economic instruments to increase recycling. "The most efficient one is to increase the cost of waste by increasing taxes on incineration and landfilling. This would create an immediate incentive for the recycling market industry to develop. Public authorities should also establish 'pay-as-you-throw' schemes to encourage households themselves to recycle, as it is more practical to have separate collection at source rather than separating the waste afterwards. Separate collection at source also leads to better quality waste," Hannequart summarised.
Gunnel Klingberg, secretary-general of Municipal Waste Europe, which represents national public waste associations, said the EU waste hierarchy and waste management system should take into account local conditions. "There is no need for European legislation on this issue," she said.
Member states and municipalities already take responsibility for the recycling society, she said, adding that a complete waste management system requires many different treatment operations and needs to take into account both collection and use of the end-product. "It can never rely on just one waste management operation," she said.
The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) also notes that local and regional authorities are responsible for a significant part of the implementation of EU waste legislation, and therefore "need certainty as for the costly medium to long-term investments to ensure quality waste management".
CEMR is in favour of a strong internal market for quality recovered and recycled products and thus favours strict standards on the quality of such products.
The Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) stresses that it respects the waste hierarchy, giving waste prevention, reuse and recycling priority over energy recovery (waste incineration). However, it notes that there is always some remaining waste which cannot be reused or recycled in a technically, hygienically or economically viable way and that this waste, which would otherwise be consigned to landfills, should be turned into energy via incineration (Waste-to-Energy). "This replaces fossil fuels which would have otherwise been used to produce this energy. At the same time Waste-to-Energy avoids methane emissions from landfills, which are much more significant to global warming than CO2."
CEWEP argues that "EU member states who have most successfully reduced dependence on landfill have done this by a combination of both high recycling rates and Waste-to-Energy (incineration)."
European consumer organisation BEUC expressed concerns over recycling mercury contained in energy-saving lamps. "As the eco-design measure for domestic lighting will lead to an increase in mercury-containing lamps in our homes, we consider it necessary to set legal requirements at the level of best-available technology with regard to mercury in lamps. Moreover, free of charge take-back systems for mercury-containing lamps should be set up in shops."
Increased need for the collection and recycling rate of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) also requires offering consumers easy solutions to do so, BEUC said, calling for the establishment of a collection system in shops, similar to the take-back system for batteries, to increase the CFL collection rates.
William R. Duncan from the recycling lobby Assure (Association for the Sustainable Use and Recovery of Resources in Europe) said: "I think we are reaching the time where we could apply the cost of the environmental impact to the price of the product. Let's take the example of two cars. This car consumes less, has fewer emissions, and therefore has no surcharges. This is a larger, heavier car, then there's an added €100 reflecting the environmental cost that comes with that cost being made in society."
Kees Wielenga from FFACT Management Consultants said: "For industrial waste, a large majority can be recycled. For construction and demolition waste, it is easy to recycle up to 90-95% of the construction and demolition waste. The most complicated waste stream is actually the waste from households, because there are so many different materials, different products, that you have to set up a quite elaborate system to continue to improve recycling. "