EU waste rules could create half million jobs, says EU environment head

Kurt Vandenberghe.jpg

This article is part of our special report European Business Summit.

If European Union countries implemented existing waste-management regulations, they could create some 400,000 jobs and save diminishing resources, a senior European Commission environment official has said.

Speaking at the European Business Summit, Kurt Vandenberghe, the head of cabinet for Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik, said it was the job of the Commission to make clear the links between waste management and macroeconomics, calling for a phasing out of environmental subsidies.

The call from Vandenberghe is one of a number by European Commission chiefs who have claimed that carrying out existing environmental legislation will help Europe exit its economic doldrums by cutting down on energy or natural resource use.

“Business is saying we’re in crisis because of too much green tape [environmental regulation] will not help. If we’re in a crisis it is not because there was too much but too little, not in environmental legislation but in the financial markets,” he said.

“What we don’t need in Europe is new environmental regulation but we need to implement the existing [waste regulation],” he said, citing its potential to create an estimated 400,000 new jobs by 2020.

Responding to business concerns, Vandenberghe stressed that greener practices were not necessarily at odds with industrialisation.

“We don’t want de-industrialisation. We want re-industrialisation but on a new model with de-materialisation. There are studies showing this is possible and profitable.”

A number of EU businesses had already begun cutting waste and implementing recycling rules along their production chain in a drive to lower costs and go green, he said.


Vandenberghe called on European cities to “break out of their silos” and to march towards a circular economy.

“Cities play a very fundamental role in this. Soon 80% of EU citizens will be in cities. The rising population offers business opportunities but poses a problem for sustainability,” he said.

The Commission’s environment directorate is exploring the EU-wide potential for good waste-management practices. In March the European Parliament Greens held a conference with Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik to explore the potential for zero-waste cities, inviting the mayor of Europe’s first such success story, the Italian municipality of Capannori.

The mayor, Giorgio DelGhingaro, said: “We do normal and concrete things, for example, the elimination of plastic bottles in school canteens, no plastic cutlery, self-composting, incentives for use of cloth diapers, distributors of milk/water on tap, and we have a Research Centre of Zero Waste for the analysis of the residual waste.”

Capannori councillors estimate that the measures have cut waste disposal costs by one-fifth compared to other municipalities.

In recent weeks the European institutions have pushed for greater awareness on waste management, holding a conference on zero-waste communities in the European Parliament and inviting the British actor Jeremy Irons to present his documentary ‘Trashed’ at the launch of a Commission green paper on waste.

Struggling to cope economically with the energy-rich United States and the rising industrial powerhouses of China and India, EU heads see resource efficiency a key driver of growth. On 29 May the EU executive will release recommendations to member states on how to cut waste and reduce the resulting tax burden.

Jean Félix, vice-president of the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations, said: "Cities are the ideal framework for EU policies on resource efficiency. We need integration at EU level and political consensus for smart, sustainable cities."

The EU's 2005 Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste sets a long-term goal for the EU to become a recycling society that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource. 

The bloc's revised Waste Framework Directive, which should have been transposed into national law by 12 December 2010, introduces a binding 'waste hierarchy' defining the order of priority for treating waste. The waste hierarchy favours prevention of waste, followed by reuse, recycling, and recovery, with waste disposal only a last resort.

To comply with the directive, EU member states are obliged to draw up specific waste management plans after analysing their current waste management situations.

Countries are also required to establish special waste prevention programmes by the end of 2013, in a drive to break the link between economic growth and the environmental impacts associated with the generation of waste.

  • 29 May: European Commission to release recommendations to member states on cutting waste

European Commission

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