MEPs bolster EU recycling and landfill targets

Waste in a recycling plant. MEPs have increased draft EU recycling targets. [World Bank/ Flickr]

Members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee yesterday (24 January) moved to increase draft EU recycling and landfill targets that had been lowered by the European Commission in its re-tabled Circular Economy Package.

Supporters of the circular economy argue that there needs to be a shift towards sustainability, where as little of the planet’s finite resources are wasted as possible as the world population booms

The suite of six bills of rules for waste, packaging, landfill end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment was put forward by the Commission in December last year.

It had previously withdrawn an earlier version of the package, prepared under the Barroso Commission, as part of its ‘better regulation’ strategy.

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans promised that the new Circular Economy Package would be “more ambitious” than its 2014 predecessor.

But although it included new legislation to encourage easy-to-recycle design of products, it had lower targets for recycling and landfill than the first version.

Timmermans defends ambition of new Circular Economy package

The European Commission today (2 December) defended the ambition of the waste and recycling laws which replaced the Circular Economy Package it axed in the drive to cut red tape.

MEPs in Brussels voted to restore the lowered targets to the level of the original proposal yesterday.

They backed a 2030 recycling target for municipal waste of 70%, the same as the 2014 package but 5% more than the new proposal.  They also called for a new 2030 reuse target of 5%. This sub-target aims to encourage the repair and fixing of products.

The 2030 target for packaging recycling was set at 80%, the same as in 2014, but higher than the 75% backed by the executive.

The file, led by Italian Socialists and Democrats MEP Simona Bonafè, must now be voted on in plenary. It is possible, although unlikely, that some of the amendments could be voted down in the full Parliament session, which is scheduled to take place in Strasbourg in March.

“The European Parliament voted today to restore the ambitious target of 70% of recycled waste by 2030, as well as a waste landfill target restricted to 5% by 2030, in line with what the Commission had originally proposed in  its more ambitious proposal in 2014,” Bonafè said.

The package will only be finalised once both the Parliament and Council of Ministers agree on an identical text. Malta, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, has said it will try to reach a deal with MEPs before 1 July, when its six month term ends.

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Ambition welcomed

Green campaigners welcomed the increased targets but called for them to be retained during negotiations with the Council. The two sides are not thought to be too far apart, with some observers expecting the Council to back either the 70% or 65% recycling target.

Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “The strong support shown for the recycling and repair sector by MEPs today can pave the way for over 800,000 jobs to be created across Europe by 2030. But for this boom to materialise, the Council must now put the economy and the planet first and support these ambitious targets.”

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Yesterday’s  vote gives a strong signal to the Commission that lost ambition on cutting European resource use needs to be restored. It is now up to the whole Parliament and the Council to step up to the plate and keep these raised recycling targets and better measures to prevent waste and incineration.”

Common method

MEPs also called for a common EU-wide method of at what point in the recycling process recycling rates can be calculated from. Differences in methodologies across EU member states mean that data is not comparable.

The MEPs’ preferred point for calculating recycling is at the point of the final recycling process. Some countries calculate the rate after, for example, the first sorting of waste.

Guy Thiran is director general of Eurometaux, which represents non-ferrous metal producers and recyclers in Europe.

He said, “Under current rules, EU recycling rates do not reflect exactly what happens to collected and sorted waste. MEPs have sent a strong signal that this situation needs to change.”

The old package had an aspirational target of reducing waste going to landfill by 25% by 2025 and a total ban on the landfill of recyclable and compostable waste in 2030.

That was replaced with a mandatory target of 10% by 2030.  MEPs voted to further reduce waste going to landfill by supporting a 5% goal.

This was accompanied by language to discourage incineration of waste as an alternative to it going to landfill.

MEPs also strengthened legislation to halve food waste by 2030 in the EU. Although the wording was toughened up, the target remains voluntary and non-binding.

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Michal Len, director of RREUSE, which represents social enterprises in re-use, repair and recycling,  said: “We are delighted to see the environment committee vote in favour of separate preparing for re-use targets away from recycling. Separate targets would help ensure that at least some of the re-useable goods discarded at municipal waste sites would be saved, repaired or resold rather than recycled, buried or burned. Preparing for re-use activities boost jobs, a major factor behind the decision of the Spanish government to set a national target last year”

“We welcome the improvements that the Environment Committee has made to the proposed Extended Producer Responsibility minimum requirements. We are particularly pleased to see efforts to demarcate the producer’s responsibility. We fully support this shared accountability with defined roles and responsibilities and more transparency and cost-efficiency under EPR,” said Virginia Janssens, managing director of the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN).

Riccardo Viaggi, secretary general of the European Builders Confederation, said, “We strongly criticise the decision of the Environment Committee to exclude our proposal that technical, economic, and environmental conditions have to be taken into account for the promotion of sorting of construction and demolition waste. If these conditions are not met, how do governments expect companies to recycle effectively?”

“There is another key aspect that worries us: the Extended Producer Responsibility. This requires several professional figures, from manufactures to possibly even installers, to manage the lifecycle of products even after the consumer state, on which the producer has no influence. We think this should be a shared responsibility between producers, consumers and municipalities, namely all the relevant parts of the lifecycle. Besides, the plan to oblige producers to collect all data on the products they place on the European market would result in further heavy administrative burden on SMEs.”

CECED represents the home appliance industry in Europe. Director general Paolo Falcioni said, “There are some aspects of the proposals that could cause distortions within the European Single Market, as well as negatively affect existing successful and efficient producer compliance operations”.

"Since the industrial revolution, waste has constantly grown in line with our prosperity. We have to turn the page now, to break the link between consumption and waste, to reduce our waste and when really unavoidable, to turn it into a resource. This offers major opportunities for our society and our companies", said the European People’s Party shadow rapporteur on the package Karl-Heinz Florenz.

GUE/NGL shadow rapporteur Josu Juaristi said, "I welcome the renewed ambition on recycling targets and landfill disposal targets, but the proposals should not mean a shift towards energy recovery and incineration."

"According to the approved text, waste operators and member states should avoid investments that are incompatible with the long-term targets set out in the Landfill and Waste Framework Directives. EU funds should therefore not be used to finance energy-inefficient infrastructure."

Simona Bonafè, Socialists & Democrats MEP, said, “We are committed to leading a transition towards an economic model that reduces waste and promotes re-use, efficiency, durability and recycling. We cannot continue with the existing paradigm.  Around 600 million tonnes of waste are just thrown away in Europe, when they could be reinvested in the economy. It is a matter of sustainability, efficiency and ethics."

“We managed to go back to the most ambitious targets made by the European Commission back in 2014:  70% of waste recycled by 2030, as well as a waste landfill target restricted to 5% by 2030."

“Separate waste collection systems for different kinds of waste will be set up. This is a pre-requisite for establishing a high-quality recycling market, and for reaching the targets set. The current rules which grant exemptions on technical, environmental and economic grounds have, in practice, led to this requirement not being fully applied by some member states."

Miriam Dalli, S&D MEP and spokesperson on environment, said, "The result obtained today ensures a strong, ambitious and pragmatic approach to the Circular Economy. The Socialists and Democrats have always been very positive about ensuring a new productive cycle that works and provides new opportunities for innovation."

“The reports provide the appropriate measures that can help a change in attitude by making sure that very little goes to waste whilst protecting our environment, reduce resource loss and providing new economic opportunities whilst creating new jobs."“If businesses, government and citizens all do their part, the European economy can really move to a path of sustainable growth. Using less of the Earth's resources more efficiently will help us create a new economic model."

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) said it welcomes the vote in the Environment Committee (ENVI), saying it strengthens the foundation of a truly circular economy in Europe.

“MEPs are now one step closer to building a truly circular economy” says Sylvain Lhôte, CEPI Director General. “The package needs to be kept on the right track in order to deliver the circular economy in and for Europe.

"CEPI welcomes ENVI’s call to measure real recycling rates at the input to the final recycling process. To truly drive circularity in Europe, it is essential that material is only considered recycled once it enters the final production process and is actually reprocessed.

"CEPI also supports ENVI’s call for quality standards and traceability in the paper recycling chain that will enhance targeted investments and serve the efficient functioning of the secondary raw material market in Europe.

"The reinforcement of separate collection will also drive quality recycling and boost circularity of Europe’s economy. In the past, authorities have used a loophole in the separate collection obligation to collect paper in co-mingled streams, undermining high quality recycling. CEPI is therefore concerned that the proposal to exempt scarcely populated areas from this obligation may unnecessarily open up a gap.

"CEPI will further assess the extremely high gap between recycling targets of competing packaging materials, envisioned by MEPs.

"Finally, CEPI is also encouraged by ENVI’s call on Member States to promote the use of bio-based recyclable packaging. 'Leveraging on nature’s cycles for the circular economy is a welcome complement to the ambition of the Commission’s proposal,' says Ulrich Leberle, CEPI Raw Materials Director.

The Circular Economy package was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill.

It consists of six bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment.

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans was been given a mandate from new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to cut red tape and deliver “better regulation”.

He told MEPs in December 2014 that he would consult with the Council of Ministers and the Parliament before withdrawing and re-tabling the package.

Waste laws will be binned, despite protests

The European Commission’s decision to ditch the Circular Economy package of waste, recycling and incineration laws, was confirmed yesterday (22 January), despite the objections of the EU Parliament and national environment ministers.

  • 13-16 March: Plenary vote in European Parliament in Strasbourg.
  • 1 July: End of Maltese presidency.

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