EU roadmap signals resource-efficiency drive

14th October 2011

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Eliminating landfill and halting biodiversity loss by 2020 are the primary goals of the new roadmap from the European Commission to a resource-efficient Europe.

The new roadmap outlines measures that will safeguard the use of key resources such as water, clean air and other ecosystem services, and ultimately ensure that the EU economy is functioning sustainably and competitively.

“Green growth is the only sustainable future – for Europe and the world,” said environment commissioner Janez Potocnik. “Industry and environment need to work hand in hand – in the long term our interests are the same.”

The roadmap aims to ensure that by 2020 ecosystem services are properly valued by governments and businesses and that waste has become a managed resource.

The commission says that member states must do more to encourage consumers to move towards more resource-efficient products, shifting tax burdens towards polluters, ensuring product prices better reflect the costs of resources, and promoting eco-design and eco-labelling.

The scale of the task facing member states to improve resource efficiency is revealed by a report from the Green Alliance.

The document, Reinventing the wheel: A circular economy for resource security, looks at three key resources: metals; phosphorous; and water; and argues that our profligate use of them is both economically and environmentally unsustainable.

On metals, for example, the Green Alliance notes that out of 60 metals analysed by the United Nations Environment Programme, only 18 had end-of-life recycling rates of more than 50%, and over half, including 14 rare earth metals, had recycling rates of less than 1%. It also highlights the growing problem of diminishing returns from mining metal ore, saying that copper ore mined at the beginning of the 20th century contained about 3% copper, but typical ore now contains only 0.3%.

The environment think-tank wants improved recovery rates and claims the existing producer responsibility regimes, such as for waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, end-of-life vehicles and packaging, are failing, with many valuable metals not being recovered.

Only 3% of people return mobile phones for recycling or reuse, says the report. It advocates a range of rewards and incentives to boost recycling and recovery.

The manufacturing body EEF also wants to see better recycling and recovery of valuable materials, but says that will only happen if the UK invests in establishing appropriate waste management facilities.

Its new report, Ascending the waste hierarchy, says the UK currently lacks facilities to manage some wastes, making recycling and recovery expensive.

The EEF gives the recovery of valuable metals contained in the dust from flue gas cleaning filters as an example, explaining that recovery facilities exist on the Continent, but not in the UK, forcing domestic manufacturers to ship their waste overseas, which adds to the cost and regulatory burden.

The Green Alliance and EEF reports follow one from the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group, which concludes that the UK’s waste management infrastructure needs £8 billion of investment by 2020 to meet EU Directives and cut the amount of waste going to landfill.


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