Commission sees no need for separate biowaste law


Despite pressure from a number of EU countries to table a specific directive on biowaste, the European Commission argues that similar economic and environmental benefits can be achieved through better implementation of existing legislation.

There are no policy gaps at EU level that prevent member states from taking stronger action on biowaste now, the Commission said in a policy paper published yesterday (18 May), rejecting calls for a stand-alone directive on biodegradable waste.

"Progress achieved in several member states shows that existing waste legislation is an excellent basis for advanced bio-waste management," the EU executive notes in the paper. "For this, the available tools need to be used to their full potential and rigorously enforced where necessary in all member states."

The communication on future steps in bio-waste management in the EU, adopted on 18 May, encourages member states to choose the management options best suited to their national context.

A number of EU-level supporting initiatives, such as developing standards for compost, would be set up to accompany national action, it said.

Potential benefits

According to the EU executive, fully implementing existing policies and better aligning bio-waste management with the waste hierarchy and other provisions of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) could deliver environmental and economic benefits of around €1.5-7 billion, depending on how ambitious recycling and prevention policies are.

About a third of the EU's 2020 target for renewable energy in transport could be met by using biogas produced from bio-waste, it continues. At the same time, production of good quality compost and biogas would improve resource-efficiency by partially replacing non-renewable mineral fertilisers and maintaining the quality of EU soils, the Commission notes.

Prevention the priority

The new strategy paper suggests that the priority should be "rigorous enforcement of the targets on diverting bio-waste away from landfills, proper application of the waste hierarchy and other provisions of the Waste Framework Directive to introduce separate collection systems".

A draft report drawn up by Portuguese centre-right MEP José Manuel Fernandes (European People's Party), a member of the European Parliament's environment committee, argues that current EU laws (Landfill Directive and Waste Framework Directive) have not delivered on diverting bio-waste from landfill and encouraging separate collection.

"A specific directive for bio-waste management would offer greater clarity, simplification and legal certainty in this area, thus guaranteeing the long-term confidence of public and private investors," the report states.

A separate biowaste regulation is also one of the stated priorities of the current Spanish EU Presidency. Spain's views are supported by the upcoming Belgian and Hungarian EU Presidencies (EURACTIV 11/06/09).

Biowaste accounts for 30%-45 % of municipal solid waste in Europe.

The European Commission defines biowaste as biodegradable garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, catering and retail premises, and comparable waste from food processing plants. The definition does not include forestry or agricultural residues, manure, sewage sludge or other biodegradable waste, such as natural textiles, paper or processed wood. 

The main environmental threat from biowaste is methane production from landfill. Methane is said to be over 20 times more environmentally harmful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The EU's Landfill Directive obliges member states to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste in landfill by 65% by 2016 compared to 1995 levels. But it does not give countries binding specifications on what to do with it: a situation that has led most member states to opt for incineration.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), biowaste management in the EU 27 differs widely, with member states divided into three groups: those relying on incineration, those with high recovery rates and those with a lot of landfill.

In December 2008, the Commission published a Green Paper on biowaste management in the EU, and launched a consultation process to assess whether a specific, stand-alone EU Biowaste Directive is needed.

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