Parliament calls for EU biowaste directive

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The European Commission should draft specific EU legislation to introduce compulsory recycling of biowaste, including garden residue and food waste from restaurants and food processing units, the European Parliament said yesterday (6 July). 

"The rules on the management of biowaste are fragmented and the current legislative instruments are not sufficient to achieve the stated objectives of the effective management of bio-waste," the Parliament said in a resolution regarding the European Commission's 2008 Green Paper on the issue.

The resolution, which is not legally binding, was drawn up by Portuguese centre-right MEP José Manuel Fernandes (European People's Party) in the Parliament's environment committee.

In the resolution, the House argues that a specific directive would offer greater clarity, better monitoring and enforcement as well as legal certainty, which in turn would inspire long-term confidence in public and private investors.

MEPs therefore urge the Commission to review existing legislation and put forward a draft directive by the end of 2010.

According to the Parliament, the directive should establish a mandatory separate collection system to help member states reach their recycling and renewable energy targets and achieve the resource efficiency goals of the 'Europe 2020' strategy.

The House also asks for quality-based classification of compost types derived from biowaste and urges the Commission and member states to raise public awareness of waste prevention and recycling.

Commission sees no need for separate directive

Earlier this year, the Commission rejected calls for a stand-alone directive on biowaste, arguing that that there are no policy gaps at EU level that prevent member states from taking stronger action at present (EURACTIV 19/05/10).

"Progress achieved in several member states shows that existing waste legislation is an excellent basis for advanced bio-waste management," the EU executive said in a communication.

It said the available tools simply need to be used more effectively and encouraged member states to choose the management options best suited to their national context.

However, a number of EU-level support initiatives, such as developing standards for compost, could be set up to accompany national action, the Commission added.

EU presidency trio priority

Biowaste is one of the stated priorities of the 'trio' of EU presidencies from 2010 to 2011 – Spain, Belgium and Hungary (EURACTIV 11/06/09).

While the trio has been piling pressure on the Commission to table a separate directive, sources say the topic is considered "genuinely controversial" in the EU Council of Ministers, as local and regional differences are so great that it will be very difficult to legislate on the matter at EU level.

Meanwhile, sources believe that the Commission might propose a "loose" directive next year to at least reach agreement on compost quality in view of fostering an internal market for it.

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, caterers 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 in 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 varies 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 gather opinions on whether a specific stand-alone EU Biowaste Directive is needed.

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