The Circular Economy Package of waste and recycling laws will be backed by tougher European Commission enforcement than seen under previous administrations, an official yesterday (5 April) told plastic industry delegates.
Fulvia Raffaelli, deputy head of unit at DG Grow, the lead department on the Package, said the current Juncker Commission was “more committed” to policing its rules than its predecessor, the Barroso administration.
But the Circular Economy Package would not be allowed to harm the international competitiveness of European industry, warned Giovanni La Via, chairman of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee.
The rules, subject to approval by the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, are a first step to adapting the economy to a future of finite resources and a booming population by ensuring as little is wasted as possible.
“Enforcement is crucial. In DG Grow, and the whole Commission, we are all working very hard on different infringement cases,” Raffaelli said at The European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association (TEPPFA) Forum in Brussels.
“Pragmatism, enforcement and implementation are much more present than before in the discussion,” Raffaelli said.
Infringement cases are legal actions launched by the Commission against EU member states that fail to observe EU law. Ultimately they can lead to large fines.
Despite the threat of infringement cases, some EU countries have continuously ignored EU legislation.
In March 2015, every single member state with the sole exception of Malta was hit by legal action over failures to put the Energy Efficiency Directive into place.
“We need to discuss this with different member states and we are working on that,” said Raffaelli, who stressed the need for industries to help police the new framework by providing, detailed technical information.
The Circular Economy Package was controversially withdrawn and re-tabled by the Juncker Commission as part of its drive for ‘better regulation’.
Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans promised MEPs the new package would be “more ambitious” than the one forward by the previous Barroso Commission.
But the new Circular Economy Package has lower 2030 targets for recycling municipal and packaging waste. For municipal waste, the new target is 65%, rather than 70%, and for packaging it is 75% rather than 80%.
The Commission argues that additional measures, such as initiatives focusing on designing products to make them easier to recycle, made the new rules more ambitious.
Raffaelli said the lower targets were pragmatic but, combined with this broader “vision” were still ambitious.
Because the targets were more realistic, she implied, strong enforcement would be justified.
Pragmatism, enforcement and implementation “were really the basis of the new proposal”, she said, along with the business opportunities the package would create.
Concerns have been raised that higher environmental standards in the EU have left industries vulnerable to being undercut by competitors from countries such as China, which can make products cheaper.
But La Via, an Italian member of the European People’s Party, said that would not be allowed to happen.
“We don’t want to reduce European competitiveness,” he said, “we can lead the world [in environmental legislation] but we cannot strongly reduce the competitiveness of our industry.
“We well consider the environment but we have to combine the environment and competitiveness and find a good solution,” he added.
But he warned that the Parliament and the Environment Committee would carefully assess the ambition of the package, which includes four waste bills, to evaluate if Timmermans had kept his promise.
The Parliament would set out its position in November. If the Council was ready to begin negotiations over the final text, the package could be approved soon after, he said.
But MEPs wanted binding and ambitious targets that were the same for all member states, he said. The current Commission proposal has tailored targets depending on the country.
“The new proposal should not create double-standards and further deepen the differences across the EU leading to two-tier circular economy and undermining the single market,” he said.
He added it was a shame that a year had been lost in the withdrawal and redrawing of the new rules.
Karl-H Foerster, executive director of PlasticsEurope, said that the guidelines and framework of the package was strong enough to change industry behaviour and investment patterns.
He said the plastics industry had begun using innovative ways to use waste as feedstock in production.
That would only increase as such innovations became more commercially viable once they had been proved.
But Ferran Rosa of Zero Waste Europe said the package could not be pragmatic and ambitious at the same time.
“It’s impossible to reach a systemic change relying on low-hanging, easily implemented low-hanging fruits,” he said.