Campaigner: Commission ‘too passive’ on waste, recycling

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The European Commission needs to take the implementation of recycling laws more seriously, says green campaigner and waste policy expert Stéphane Arditi in an interview with EURACTIV.

Stéphane Arditi is a senior policy officer specialised on waste and products at the European Environmental Bureau, a green campaign group. He spoke to EURACTIV's Ana-Maria Tolbaru.

Mr Gebrandy, the MEP in charge of the resource efficiency roadmap in Parliament, suggested selecting specific products and have pilot schemes to achieve 100% recycling for them. Do you support this approach?

There are products for which it is easy to have 100% recycling, provided you have a good collection. The last meeting with Mr Gebrandy, when I met him, was on metal packaging. Clearly, with steel or aluminium, you have the potential for 100% recycling, because you can use this as a material and you’ve got no waste in a way. It’s pure resource.

I think unfortunately for some other products, it’s a bit more complicated. But as long as we focus on purely metal products, and use homogeneous content, I think 100% recycling is realistic. If you collect them properly, and if you do not mix them with other materials, then you’ve got the potential for 100% recycling.

If we look at the European Union and the 27 countries, the collection rates vary considerably…

Sure, but first they also have some obligations. And according to my knowledge, if you look at the packaging collection and recycling legal obligations, for example, Greece for example is not in line with EU law. Of course I do not wish to blame Greece.

Is collection monitored sufficiently?

There is a lack of monitoring. And there is clearly a lack of enforcement of waste policy, and also of product policy because the market for ecodesign is also very, very flawed.

For waste, there is always a margin for manoeuvre that is left to the member states – this is not a single market issue. This is clearly a directive, not a regulation. And when we speak about waste policy this means that we allow some flexibility for the member states to interpret the legislation.

We did not, for example, identify mandatory separate collection for different materials. This means that some member states have an easy job. Countries like Belgium, which are willing to do it, will do it. Countries which do not want to do it, will not.

Should the Commission be stricter on implementation?

I’m really happy that the European Commission, I think, tries now to really take this implementation of environmental policy seriously. But it’s going too slow compared to the potential.

Let’s be frank. The European Commission is still too subordinated to what the member states want to do. Which means it doesn't play the role of guardian of the treaty that it should play. It does not balance the member states' power properly, that’s clear.

When the Commission realises something is wrong with implementation of EU law, they just write a letter to the member state saying 'this is wrong', and then the member states say 'oh yes' a few weeks after… it’s not a reactive process.

So you believe the institutions are not efficient enough?

I would say they are not transparent enough, and they do not have a habit of preventing the problem. I also think they are a bit too passive.

Here is a concrete example. The Commission is supposed to notify member states when a waste management plan is compliant with EU legislation or not. We are now more than one year after the transposition deadline of the Waste Framework Directive. These notifications are not made available to civil society, to the citizens, even to the decision-makers.

Member states have to implement stuff. They’ve got to be controlled. They cannot decide alone how they are going to be controlled and on what.

MEP Gebrandy said he would seek to get lower VAT rates for secondary raw materials. Is that something you believe has any chance of being accepted?

I think it’s a very good idea, but to believe that we will go for a harmonised VAT rate for recycled products is kind of wishful thinking. It’s very important to state it as a possibility. But unfortunately, I don’t think it will really happen at European level.

If a common VAT rate is not possible at EU level, what other instruments could be used?

We’ve got different types of economic instruments, for example design incentives. There is the Ecodesign Directive, but there are other types of product policy to complement it. For example we’ve got the green public procurement policy or the eco-label scheme. With a mandatory green public procurement objective, you can de facto increase market penetration.

And then you’ve got clearly an economic instrument because you do not tell the manufacturer, 'You need to design like this'. You say, 'If you design like this, you will pay less for your producer responsibility'.

Another scheme we could investigate, and which has taken place at [the] local level, is to create incentives for consumers. For example, in Belgium there is the 'Eco-cheques' scheme, so that when you buy a green product you can have a kind of voucher to buy other green products. In this way, you can create a kind of chain.

In Scotland I have recently heard about a boiler scrapping scheme to encourage households to buy an efficient boiler for their homes.

So these are clearly economic instruments and incentives that will be beneficial and we know that insulating buildings and recycling more waste will be beneficial for the economy and job creation.

Read a related news article here.

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