UPDATED: MEPs back recycling calculation consistency and 70 per cent target

The European Parliament's Environment Committee voted to increase ambition, which has now been backed by the full European Parliament
The European Parliament has voted to take on proposals to raise the European recycling target to 70 per cent by 2030 and to determine a single calculation method for recycling rates ahead of negotiations for the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP). MEPs also called on the European Commission to consider making food waste reduction targets mandatory instead of voluntary.

The amendments to four legislative documents were agreed by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) in January and taken to the full Parliament today (14 March). All four were adopted at the plenary session this morning, meaning the amendments will be taken through to trilogues between the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council later this year.

Among the changes made by MEPs to the European Commission’s 2015 proposals are calls to raise the proposed 2030 recycling target from 65 per cent to 70 per cent, with at least five per cent prepared for reuse, and a separate packaging recycling rate of 80 per cent for packaging waste.

The measures also include mandatory separate collection of biowaste, textiles and waste oils, and the possibility for binding targets on reducing food waste to be introduced by 2020 as opposed to the non-binding targets that are currently part of the package. MEPs also indicated that food waste targets should cover the whole of the supply chain, in contrast to the European Commission’s suggested target, which only cover the retail and consumer stages.

The upper reaches of the waste hierarchy are also served by proposals for an EU-wide waste prevention target in kilogrammes per capita along with new legislation and targets for construction, commercial and industrial waste.

Despite the Brexit process picking up speed this month, the UK is expected to take on any legislative changes brought in by the package, as Resources Minister Therese Coffey confirmed in January. The UK government, however, has often opposed the idea of increased ambition for the CEP – indeed, at a previous vote, British MEPs were reportedly encouraged to vote against an increased target.

Common recycling rate definition essential first step to improving recycling

Initial reactions to the ambitious amendments agreed by the European Parliament today have generally been positive.

Eurometaux, a European trade association representing non-ferrous metals producers and recyclers, has welcomed the amendments, but warns that member states that it has talked to feels the ‘double ambition of ambitious recycling targets and agreed definitions are ‘unworkable’, as targets will be harder to achieve with a new method.

Nevertheless, it suggests that a consistent calculation method is the cornerstone to improved performance across Europe. Guy Thiran, Eurometaux’s Director General, stated: “We applaud MEPs for looking beyond just the numbers in today’s vote. Until we have a common method to measure exactly how much of our waste gets recycled, it doesn’t matter whether the EU’s headline recycling targets are 65 per cent or 70 per cent. 

“The European Parliament now needs to make a strong calculation method its top priority for talks with other EU institutions. We can only gauge the realism and ambition of recycling targets once we know what member states will be measuring.”

The discrepancy in the reporting of recycling rates, with different materials counted as recycling by different countries and rates calculated at different stages of the process, means that comparison of performances is currently difficult. Indeed, a report released this week by Resource and Eunomia Research & Consulting sought to consider these differences and find a real worldwide top 25 recycling nations.

Thiran added: “Current recycling rates overestimate Europe’s actual circular performance. This removes a critical incentive for member states and industry to invest in more effective sorting plants and quality recycling facilities. MEPs have today voted to fix that distortion and measure what really matters.

“We now call on member states to deliver a similar level of ambition and aim towards a single measurement. Europe will only achieve a true circular economy once all parties commit to tracking exactly what they recycle, even if that transition can’t be made overnight.”

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) echoed appreciation for the backing of a singular recycling definition, with Director General Sylvain Lhôte commenting: “Today, the European Parliament has fully grasped the opportunity to make the circular economy work for Europe by enabling industry and local authorities to better target where investment needs to take place.”

The European Parliament vote also includes measures to encourage the use of bio-based packaging, which CEPI says ‘demonstrates the importance of a circular economy that builds upon Europe’s wealth of renewable resources while accelerating the transition towards a low-carbon economy’.

Regarding the increased ambition on food waste reduction, Martin Bowman, Campaigner for This Is Rubbish, said: “We’re celebrating this landmark vote to halve EU food waste by 2030, which is a great victory for our campaign and the food waste movement. Our huge movement of 51 organisations from 17 countries and over 64,000 people has been calling for EU food waste reduction targets that are legally binding so that they’re taken seriously by member states. It’s a massive step in the right direction to see the European Parliament call on the Commission to review whether binding targets are possible by 2020.... 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 delivers a level playing field and leads to swift and dramatic improvements.”

‘The less ambitious we are, the higher the cost to Europe’

Reacting to the debate and vote on Twitter, the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans welcomed the outcome, writing: ‘Thanks to MEPs for this inspiring #circulareconomy debate. The longer we wait and the less ambitious we are, the higher the cost to Europe…. I’m very happy with the cooperative spirit in @Europarl_EN around these #circulareconomy reports.’

With negotiations between the three main EU institutions to follow, Friends of the Earth Europe has called on the European Council to follow the ambition set out by the parliament.

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “This is a welcome boost for recycling and waste reduction in Europe. The European Council needs to step up to the plate to ensure these more ambitious proposals become European law, and improve measures to prevent waste going to landfill and incineration.

“Promoting the substitution of packaging such as conventional plastics, with bio-based materials is a false solution. These materials do have a role to play, but reducing consumption and preventing waste generation should be the priority, rather than lip-service to green principles.”

More information about the package can be found in Resource’s previous article.