Prevention and recycling of waste: EU ministers confirm life-cycle approach

The Commission’s proposed life-cycle approach on prevention and recycling of waste has been given “clear recognition” by the informal environment Council. Decoupling and targets are still a long way off.

The ministers have confirmed the Commission’s general
approach to treat waste issues throughout the whole life-cycle of a
product, especially in terms of production processes. The
discussions focused on the following issues:

  • Decoupling: To prevent waste from accumulating, it had been
    proposed that waste growth be decoupled from economic growth. But
    it emerged from the meeting that the road to such a prevention
    policy was “still a long one”. The issue of targets has remained
    undecided with the ministers saying that it will require “further
  • Materials-based approach: Ministers discussed the co-existence
    with existing EU recycling legislation (WEEE, Packaging and
    End-of-Life Vehicle directives). Their main concern there is to
    “maintain a balanced co-existence” with those existing policies and
    to avoid additional complexities.
  • Standards for recycling: All ministers agreed that common
    standards were desirable in that they help to establish a level
    playing field between the 25 EU Member States. But they said that
    further studies on how they can be applied will be needed before
    they can be adopted.
  • Economic instruments: Competence in this field, especially
    since they are related to taxes, “should rest with the Member
    States”. However, they decided that if so-called ‘pay-as-you-throw’
    schemes were to be adopted, they would have to be developed at
    local level.


In a press statement after the meeting, the Irish Environment
Minister, Martin Cullen said: "It was evident today that there is
clear recognition of the life cycle approach and the need to
minimise environmental impacts, especially in terms of production
processes and products".

Speaking to EURACTIV, the European Environmental Bureau (
EEB) said it was disappointed that the biowaste
issue was not mentioned at all during the meeting. On prevention,
it is also disappointed that there was no clear support for targets
on recycling and that ministers instead backed the principle of
energy recovery and residual disposal. The agreement to set common
standards for recycling was seen by the EEB as a positive

The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (
CEMR) thinks that waste should be treated as close
as possible to where it arises. It says "local solutions are often
more effective and (...) vital to ensuring participation and
acceptance on the local level". The CEMR is favourable both to
clear recycling targets and extended producer responsibility so
that the burden of dealing with waste does not fall upon the tax
payer alone.

In a non-binding March 2004 resolution, the
European Parliament asked the Commission to give
priority to waste prevention. Parliament called for future
legislation to give preference to waste disposal over re-use and
recycling only when there is clear evidence that it is more
environmentally friendly. Recycling, it stated, should not become
"an end in itself". Parliament also rejected compulsory waste
reduction plans on the basis that it would impact too heavily on
manufacturer's production processes. Instead, it favoured voluntary
agreements at regional, local or sectoral level.


EU environment ministers held an informal meeting on 14-16
May in Waterford, Ireland. The main topic on the ministers' agenda
was the Commission's proposed Thematic Strategy for the prevention
and recycling of waste (see


EU ministers will adopt formal conclusions on the proposed EU
waste strategy at their next meeting on 28-29 June 2004.


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