Ministers urged to hold onto recycling targets in face of German opposition

A group of environmental organisations has implored European Environment Ministers to adopt ambitious and binding 2030 recycling targets, after reports emerged that the German Government was opposed to setting any recycling targets in the Circular Economy Package (CEP).

European Environment Ministers have yet to agree a position on the legislative element of the CEP
The CEP, the raft of measures developed by the European Commission to move the EU towards a more sustainable way of managing products, materials and resources, has been in development for almost two years after its planning was restarted in 2014 to provide a more ambitious roadmap for Europe.

When the first draft of the package was published last December, it included a number of targets, including a 65 per cent recycling target for all member states by 2030.

However, despite calls from the European Parliament to raise the target to 70 per cent, it emerged that Germany was considering calling for all recycling targets to be scrapped from the package while an alternative way of calculating recycling rates was implemented.

Rather than the current method, which counts how much waste enters the recycling process and is favoured by the Commission, Germany would prefer a rate that deducts a ‘standard loss rate’ (which would vary from member state to member state) from the figure entering the recycling process to reflect the material that does not actually get recycling and create a more accurate picture of recycling in the EU.

While Germany, Europe’s top recycler with a rate of 63.8 per cent in 2014, has virtually reached the target already, the UK’s Waste Minister Therese Coffey has also suggested that the targets are unachievable.

Targets would bring ‘long-term certainty’

However, a group of organisations, including Friends of the Earth, the European Environmental Bureau, and the Aldersgate Group and Green Alliance think tanks, has this week (11 October) written to each of the 28 European Environmental Ministers, to urge member states to hold onto the ‘ambitious 2030 targets’.

Leah Davis, the Acting Director of Green Alliance, who wrote the letter, said: ‘Binding and ambitious targets on recycling will bring long-term certainty, creating the conditions that will encourage concerted action from municipalities, regional and national authorities, businesses, NGOs, and others to improve recycling rates across Europe.’

Recognising the need to create a ‘robust’ methodology to create a good evidence base on which to set targets, Davis wrote that this ‘must not be an excuse for deferring, or entirely avoiding, setting binding 2030 targets’.

She concluded: ‘There is no time to lose: the withdrawal of the original circular economy package by the European Commission has already cost time, and it is now crucial that member states demonstrate their commitment to unlocking the environmental and competitiveness benefits that greater levels of resource efficiency and a closed loop would bring.’

The Environment Council is next scheduled to meet next Monday (17 October) in Luxembourg. 

UK feels targets are ‘too high to be achievable’

When reports broke of Germany’s opposition to the targets, it was suggested that several other member states supported its position, with stating that as well as the supporters, the UK and Italy were among those who were open to the idea.

Therese Coffey at the EAC's inquiry into the post-Brexit future of the UK's environment
The UK’s position was clarified this week, with the release of a letter from Coffey to Mary Creagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), sent following her appearance at an inquiry into the future of the UK’s natural environment following the EU referendum, held by the EAC last month.

At the inquiry, Coffey said that certain elements of the package could have “perverse” results and that the government would prefer to ”focus on outcomes… rather than being prescriptive”.

The letter clarifies a number of points from Coffey’s evidence, including the government’s attitude towards the recycling targets in the CEP and the role the UK will continue to play in its development.

Updating the situation of the CEP, a final form of which must be approved by the Commission, European Parliament and European Council, Coffey wrote that the negotiations that began in the first half of this year are likely to take ‘somewhere around 18-24 months to complete’.

She wrote: ‘There have been no discussions yet on the level of targets proposed. At this stage, we believe they are too high to be achievable, especially when combined with proposals to amend the way in which recycling is measured.’

Considering the timeframe suggested for negotiations, and the two-year period that the UK will have to organise a Brexit when Theresa May starts the process early next year, it is unclear which will come to its conclusion first, but Coffey reiterated that ‘while we remain a member of the EU we will continue to play an active and positive part in helping to influence the on-going discussions.’

She finished: ‘ It is important that we continue to do this given that we do not know at this stage whether we will be affected by the requirements of the legislation or not.’

The signatories of the open letter to the Environment Council are:

  • Aldersgate Group,
  • Environmental Investigation Agency,
  • European Environmental Bureau,
  • Friends of the Earth Europe,
  • Green Alliance,
  • De Groene Zaak,
  • Health Care Without Harm,
  • Seas At Risk,
  • Surfrider Foundation Europe.
  • UnternehmensGrün, and
  • Zero Waste Europe

The open letter can be read here

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