Waste targets too low, say MEPs

18th January 2016

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Victoria Gibson

Recycling and landfill targets proposed by the European commission have been slammed as too low by MEPs.

The commission wants 65% of municipal waste to be recycled by 2030 as well as 75% of packaging waste. It also wants to limit the amount of all waste sent to landfill to a maximum of 10%.

The figures are central to its circular economy package, unveiled in December, to boost EU competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and create jobs. “It sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle,” said commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans.

The package replaces proposals put forward in July 2014 by the previous administration but which were scrapped when the new commission took office. It included an 80% recycling target for packaging and a ban on sending waste to landfill by 2030. Confirming in December 2014 the withdrawal of the earlier package, Timmermans promised a “broader and more ambitious” set of measures.

However, many MEPs claim the revised package fails to deliver on that pledge. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) described the new plans as much less ambitious. ALDE’s shadow rapporteur for the circular economy, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, said: “Weakening most binding EU waste targets is not progress.” Bas Eickhout, vice-president and environment spokesperson of the Greens/EFA bloc in the European parliament, said the package was undermined by lowered ambition.

“This is contrary to the commitment by the commission to come forward with a more ambitious proposal. A year on from the initial decision to withdraw the original proposals, we have lost both time and ambition in the push to stimulate the circular economy at EU level.”

Meanwhile, the UK waste management industry cautiously welcomed the package. “The overall direction of travel seems right: better product design, more reuse and recycling, and less landfill. And there is a welcome emphasis on implementation,” said Peter Gerstrom, chair of trade body Environmental Services Association. “However, the proposals must also address the demand side and that should be a key focus for the discussions that will now follow – markets for secondary raw materials are currently weak, with little or no sign of recovery.”

Liz Goodwin, chief executive at waste body Wrap, said she was reasonably optismistic, singling out for praise the commission’s commitment to support the reparability, durability and recyclability of products through the Ecodesign Directive. But she warned that, although the package was an important framework, it was not a panacea. “If we want to maximise opportunities for a circular economy then we all have a role to play: governments, industry and businesses,” she said.

Ian McAulay, chief executive at waste firm Viridor, described the commission’s package as balanced. “Importantly, it provides a practical framework for boosting British recycling, designing in recyclability and designing out waste, promoting sustainable sourcing and green public procurement,” he said.

Capital gain from circularity

A big expansion in circular economy activities could generate thousands of new jobs in London, a report by the waste body Wrap has found.

According to Employment and the circular economy the capital already supports 46,700 jobs in this sector, most of which are in waste collection and recovery, and reuse, mainly in repairing goods. However, more extensive circular economy activity could create more than 40,000 new jobs by 2030 and reduce unemployment in the capital by around 12.5%.

The report says the jobs would be generated by higher levels of recycling, more repair and reuse of products, advances in remanufacture and greater “servitisation”, such as renting goods.

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