Government

MEPs vote through 70 per cent recycling target for Europe

MEPs have voted in favour of a 70 per cent recycling and reuse target for 2030, upping the goal proposed by the European Commission (EC) in its Circular Economy Package.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) voted this morning (24 January) on a raft of amendments tabled by MEP Simona Bonafè, after a two-day discussion on the legislative aspects of the package.

MEPs vote through 70 per cent recycling target for Europe
MEPs voted this morning on the raft of amendments
Although a draft package drawn up in July 2014 included a proposal for a 70 per cent recycling and reuse target, the figure was reduced to 65 per cent by the EC when it released its reconfigured package in December 2015.

The European Parliament has always backed the original target, however, having passed a resolution on the target prior to the package’s release and then reiterating its greater ambition with the draft amendments presented last summer.

This morning’s vote confirms the position of the ENVI committee, which will be taken forwards to the wider European Parliament in March. If the text is approved by MEPs, it will be adopted by the Parliament ahead of negotiations, known as a trilogues, with the European Commission and Council. These will take place later this year, and are expected to lead to a finalised package in the second half of 2017.

As well as increasing the package’s headline recycling target, the amendments agreed by the ENVI committee set a 50 per cent food waste reduction target, and state that at least five per cent of the 70 per cent should be prepared for reuse and that compulsory separate collection should be extended to biowaste, textiles and waste oils. Separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass is already mandatory where technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP).

The committee has also called on member states to make better use of economic instruments to improve resource performance, including taxes on landfill and incineration, as well as pay-as-you-throw schemes.

Member states are currently working towards a recycling target of 50 per cent by 2020 (a goal that the UK is virtually certain to miss, given England’s falling recycling rate), and in 2014, around 44 per cent of all municipal waste in the EU was recycled or composted.

Responding to the vote, Ferran Rosa, Policy Officer for campaign network Zero Waste Europe, said: “Achieving high recycling and low waste generation is not rocket science, but a matter of setting objectives, ensuring proper separate collection, getting citizens involved and making use of economic incentives and the vote of today allows for all of this to happen.”

Non-binding food waste target proposed

In the Commission's initial proposals it was stated that the package would support the UN's goal of halving food waste per capita by 50 per cent by 2030, but with no target set  for Europe itself. Following action by a number of groups across Europe, the ENVI committee agreed to include a 50 per cent target reduction from primary production stage to the consumer in its amendments, but the target will not be legally binding.

Martin Bowman, Campaigner for This Is Rubbish, one of the group's involved, said: "This landmark vote... is a huge victory for our campaign and the food waste movement. We particularly welcome that supply chain food waste, on farms and in manufacturing, is included in the target, which is a vital step forward to ensure not just consumers but businesses pull their weight in reducing food waste. We also welcome the adoption of the food waste hierarchy, which prioritises food waste reduction and redistribution to those in need, and was vitally needed."

“But it is disappointing to see only an aspirational target adopted, rather than a more binding commitment at member state level. Some forms of food losses on farms are also excluded from the targeted reduction. We are calling on the European Parliament and Council to support a truly binding food waste reduction target. Binding targets are vitally needed to face the urgent challenges of climate change, land and water depletion, and food poverty."

"We see time and again that voluntary codes have uneven rates of uptake and often deliver lacklustre results, whereas binding regulation like the Landfill Directive delivers a level playing field and leads to swift and dramatic improvements. If the concern is a lack of data, states which currently know how much they are wasting should be bound to reduce their food waste from 2014 baselines, and there should be a clear action plan for member states currently without this data to measure their food waste accurately by 2020, with binding targets to halve their waste from this 2020 baseline."

Commenting on the food waste amendments, Bonafe said: "Food waste is not only a prevention measure but also an ethical measure. We cannot tolerate anymore that we throw away millions of tons of food when there are countries in which populations are starving. So prevention measures are accompanied by the obligation for companies to do a differentiated collection of waste and I have seen great convergence in this I would say political and ethical point."

Defra negotiating ‘in good faith’ on package

For the Circular Economy Package to pass into law, it must be agreed between all three main institutions of the EU, including the European Council, made up of ministers from member states.

MEPs vote through 70 per cent recycling target for Europe
MEP Simona Bonafè brought the amendments to the European Parliament
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is working under the assumption that the government will be taking on the legislative measures passed when the Circular Economy Package is adopted across the EU, and Resources Minister Therese Coffey yesterday said in a Parliamentary debate: “While we are members of the European Union we will negotiate in good faith… In terms of the actual timing I think it’s likely that we will still be in the European Union, that will require us to take it into law.”

She continued: “We are negotiating quite hard on behalf of the UK in regards to what we think is achievable and realistic.”

Speaking to the Environmental Audit Committee last year, Coffey was circumspect about the Circular Economy Package and its targets, refusing to agree that a 60 per cent target for 2030 would be achievable and stating: “We need to be careful in our approach to this: we don’t want, just because of some specific rules and regulations, to end up with a perverse outcome.”

Reuse targets welcome

While the proposed Circular Economy Package did encourage action on reuse, it did not contain a specific and separate target for increasing rates of reuse. The ENVI amendments, however, propose the separate reporting of reuse figures nationally, with a set target that by 2025, three per cent of municipal waste shall be prepared for reuse, rising to five per cent by 2030.

Reuse targets are accompanied in the report by provisions of greater access for reuse operators to waste collection points to divert goods and materials from being directly shredded, burned or buried.

Michal Len, director of European reuse organisation RREUSE, said: “We are delighted to see the environment committee vote in favour of separate preparing for reuse targets away from recycling. Separate targets would help ensure that at least some of the reuseable goods discarded at municipal waste sites would be saved, repaired or resold rather than recycled, buried or burned. Preparing for reuse activities boost jobs, a major factor behind the decision of the Spanish government to set a national target last year.”

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