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.
The new legislation is under heightened scrutiny, because Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, in charge of “better regulation”, had promised the new package would be “more ambitious” than its predecessor.
But the new package has lower 2030 targets for recycling municipal and packaging waste. For municipal waste, the new target is 65%, rather than 70%, and for packaging it is 75% rather than 80%.
Today, Timmermans told reporters in Brussels, “We could have said 100% so it was even more ambitious. But what would that have meant in the real world? I prefer realistic ambitious steps forward to just pie in the sky.”
The old bill, put forward by the previous Barroso Commission, was binned despite the protests of many members of the European Parliament and EU environment ministers. MEPs and the Council of Ministers must eventually agree on an identical bill before it can become law.
Timmermans said that the targets could be revised upwards in the future. “If we see that we are on the way to easily reach that target, we will increase our ambition to 70% and beyond, if that is possible,” he said.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man pointed to aspects in the new package, outlined in an action plan, rather than a legislative proposal, that aim to encourage better design of products to facilitate easy recycling.
Referring to eco-design, he said, “This package is much more ambitious than the previous because it is the full circle. The previous was only about waste.”
The Commission is particularly keen to stress its mandatory target of reducing landfill to 10% by 2030. The old package had an “aspirational” target of 25% by 2025. But it also had a 2030 total ban on landfill of recyclable and compostable waste.
Commission officials confirmed the 10% goal would include those types of waste. But the new proposal banned landfilling waste which has already been separated and sorted for recycling, they said.
Timmermans said that landfill was one of the EU’s biggest waste challenges, and that the 10% target would be difficult for many member states to hit. He said it would be “very unfair” to describe the new package as less ambitious simply because the recycling targets were 5% lower.
The legally binding landfill target, eco-design and the fact there was a plan setting out a roadmap for progress and enforcement also needed to me taken it account, he added.
The new package also drops food waste targets, citing the precedence of internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, and targets for resource efficiency.
The action plan sets out specific strategies for sectors, such as plastics and construction and demolition waste, and to stamp out planned obsolescence of productions, which bolsters Timmerman’s argument.
But MEPs and environmental campaigners were not convinced, pointing to the lower targets in hard, binding legislation (see Positions for more reaction).
Timmermans had asked MEPs after ditching the package to give him a chance to prove them wrong. The European Greens today said Timmermans had broken his promise.
EPP lawmaker Sirpa Pietikäinen (Kansallinen Kokoomus), wrote a report calling for a total landfill ban, and said the new package “fell short”.
“The European Parliament asked for a clear 30% resource efficiency target by 2030,” the Finn wrote. “The problem with the lack of a clear target, or setting targets too low is that we risk locking ourselves in misguided and suboptimal investments and end up losing a lot of money.”
British Liberal Democrat Catherine Bearder said, “Timmermans promised us a more ambitious package, but the only ambition shown here has been for watering down targets.”
The European Conservatives and Reformists group’s Julie Girling, a lead MEP on the old bill, said, “It needs to be ambitious, but find balance, so we can tackle the transition to a more sustainable future, tackling climate change and energy needs whilst stimulating EU jobs and economic growth.
“It’s been quite a delay since the discussion a year ago on withdrawal; it’s now time to get to work on this.”
Stéphane Arditi, policy manager for products and waste at the European Environmental Bureau, said, “The addition of some nice initiatives does not offset the fact that the legally binding core of the package, notably the waste targets, is weaker than in last year’s proposal. We’ve ended up with a wasted year and a proposal that is less ambitious.”
The better regulation strategy has been dogged by accusations it masks a pro-business agenda that drives down environmental standards. Lobby organisation BusinessEurope welcomed the new package as a good step to good step to support business in this “long-term transition agenda”.
EURACTIV exclusively revealed that lobby organisation BusinessEurope had written to Timmermans, asking for the Circular Economy package to be killed off, before the decision to wield the axe was taken.
EURACTIV revealed earlier today that the weaker recycling targets would cost 110,000 jobs in the UK, Germany, Poland and Italy.