EU official: ‘Actual recycling could be lower’ with new methodology

The European Commission is working on new calculation rules to account for recycling, which may have an influence on how well countries will be reaching their targets in the future. [Mary Anne Enriquez / Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Recycling metal packaging.

When it comes to meeting the EU’s new recycling targets, metals will have a big head start. But EU member states could find it harder to reach future objectives under a new methodology being considered by the European Commission, says Maja Desgrées du Loû.

Maja Desgrées du Loû is policy officer for packaging waste at the European Commission. She spoke to EURACTIV about how metal is going to be evaluated under the recently revised targets.

We know that metal has a higher recycling rate than other types of packaging materials. Does the EU’s circular economy strategy seek to prioritise the use of metal as packaging over other forms?

No, the Circular Economy Action Plan is material neutral. We’ve established a monitoring framework, which was published in early 2018 and represents a framework of indicators to measure the circular economy’s impact.

These indicators can be used by industry when they are deciding their options for material use.

Of course, when we say it’s material neutral, this is not entirely true – because the job is still in progress. We’re working on essential requirements for packaging, and we will be looking at what is good or bad packaging in terms of circular economy, among other things.

The recyclability and the quality of this recyclability is one of the key criteria that we will be looking at, as well as the re-usability. And metal packaging will generally outperform plastic when it comes to these aspects.

That being said, we would like to take the whole life-cycle perspective into account, not just recyclability. This is just one of the criteria. We would like to take into account, for example, what happens in the production phase.

From that point of view, maybe metal is not doing so well, because we know there are impacts from metal on biodiversity and landscapes. We also know metal recycling consumes a lot of energy and produces harmful emissions which will have to be dealt with.

So all of these are issues we will be looking at, and I don’t think there is any material which is perfect.

The EU’s new recycling targets will be more ambitious than before. How essential will metal’s role be in meeting these targets?

Metal is doing very well, most Member States are achieving the recycling targets already now.

That being said, the targets have be raised and set separately now for aluminium and ferrous metals. These new targets will have to be met in 2025. But according to our information, it should not be a big challenge for most member states to meet these targets.

We are working on new calculation rules to account for recycling, which may have an influence on how well countries will reach these figures in the future. Actual recycling could be lower than what has been reported until now.

The new methodology, which we are designing, will need to be used for reporting on the new targets, so at the latest in 2025. The first results will therefore become available in mid-2027.

There has been a lot of discussion about how to change consumer behaviour with recycling. Do you think financial incentives are necessary to change consumer behaviour? Are radical behaviour changes needed to meet the new targets?

Well incentives, if you’re serious about them, usually produce an effect. I think it is important to provide sufficient information from local authorities to consumers about how to correctly sort waste. This is quite well done in Belgium, but not yet throughout the EU.

I think with all the information campaigns surrounding the plastic strategy this year and the circular economy in general, consumers are starting to get it. I think what they’re asking for now is that they are provided with clear instructions.

It’s still not clear to consumers how to throw away a paper cup – do you put it in the paper bin or the plastic bin? People are asking me these questions every day, they just don’t know.

Waste collection is of course handled by municipalities and regions. What’s the EU’s role in this area, given that it is a local process?

We are currently running a study on the minimum requirements for separate collection, and we will issue guidelines for that. Ultimately, organisation of the collection systems is a national competence. But we advise member states to use tools such as peer-to-peer tools to connect experts not just from one member state to another, but also from one municipality to another.

Also, when we go for various meetings in member states, such as the meetings on the Environmental Implementation Review and the ‘virtuous tour’ happening now for the countries that are at risk of not meeting the 2020 targets, we are always trying to involve the local authorities as well.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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