EU would ‘regret’ any weakening of recycling targets

The European Commission “would regret” any weakening of recycling targets caused by dissension voiced by a number of member states, says European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

Speaking after a meeting of the Environment Council this week (19 December), Vella told journalists that the recycling targets of 65 per cent by 2030 set out in the European Commission’s (EC) Circular Economy Package last December were ‘necessary and justified’, and warned against attempts to lower them.

EU would ‘regret’ any weakening of recycling targets
Karmenu Vella
The legislative changes proposed in the package are still being deliberated by the European Parliament and Council, but in September reports emerged that the German government wanted all targets to be scrapped while an alternative way of calculating rates was adopted.

The reports suggested that a number of member states, including Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, supported the stance of Germany, which with a recycling rate of over 63 per cent (but a calculation method that differs from the one proposed by the EC), has virtually met the targets 14 years ahead of schedule.

The EC’s intention in moving to a harmonised method of calculation is to get a better estimate of how much material is actually recycled, rather than just what enters the recycling process (of which some can be lost/never actually recycled). Vella said that “with the proposed rules on calculation we [will] move to a more harmonised system that ensures better reliability and comparability of data”. He added that any attempts to weaken the recycling targets would be a source of regret within the commission.

The commissioner explained that the targets were “ambitious yet realistic” and that some extra time would be allowed to take “all member states on board”. He also said that “we should avoid introducing many types of reuse definitions into the recycling target”.

Thanking the Dutch and Slovak presidencies that have overseen debate on the waste legislation proposals this year, Vella predicted that 2017 will be a busy year for the circular economy, announcing that a series of proposals outlined in the 2015 action plan that accompanied the package would be tabled by the EC, beginning on 25 January with a ‘mini package’ of 20 of the 54 action points.

EU weaving Sustainable Development Goals into long-term strategy

During his press conference, Vella also provided an update on the European Commission’s work on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – 17 intertwining areas aiming to tackle systemic barriers to sustainable development.

Last month, the EC set out its priorities for achieving this sustainable development both in Europe and around the world, with a communication explaining how the EU’s 10 political priorities contribute to meeting the UN’s goals, as well as notices on cooperation within the EU and with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Among the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in September 2015, are targets surrounding food loss and security, sanitation systems, sustainable cities and communities and responsible consumption and production.

The EC’s communications pledged that it would use ‘all the instruments at its disposal’, including its better regulation tools to ensure that existing and new policies take into account the three pillars of sustainable development: social, environmental and economic.

Speaking on Monday, Vella explained that “First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who has led the preparatory work of the communication, will continue to coordinate the commission's work to actively implement the 2030 agenda.

“Our response has two elements: the first will bring the SDGs into the European policy framework and commission priorities. The second part of our response will develop our longer term vision on how to implement the SDGs, and define the focus of sectoral policies after 2020.”

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