Resource Use

EC sets 70 per cent recycling target to boost economy

The European Commission has today announced a raft of proposals to drive a ‘transition to the circular economy’.

The draft directive published today (2 July) recognises the need to connect sustainability with economic growth, through resource efficiency and circular economy systems. This features a proposed headline recycling and reuse target for EC member states of 70 per cent by 2030.

The commission states that adopting the new targets would create 580,000 new jobs, while making ‘Europe more competitive and reducing demand for costly scarce resources’.

A key aspect of this is the requirement to increase the recycling rate for packaging waste to 80 per cent by 2030, with interim targets of 60 per cent by 2020 and 70 per cent by 2025, including targets for specific materials. This is set alongside a ban on the landfilling of recyclable plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard, and biodegradable waste by 2025.

Although the EC said ‘Member States should endeavour to virtually eliminate landfill by 2030’, it has stopped short of introducing a total ban on landfill, instead recommending a 25 per cent cap.

The legislative proposals refer mainly to the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. In addition to the targets review, waste legislation will be simplified, and co-operation between the commission and member states will be stepped up to ensure better implementation. Minimum operating conditions for extended producer responsibility schemes will be laid down. Tailor-made approaches will be implemented for specific waste streams, such as marine litter, phosphorus, construction and demolition, food, hazardous and plastic wastes.

‘If we want to compete, we have to get the most out of our resources’

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "We are living with linear economic systems inherited from the 19th century in the 21st-century world of emerging economies, millions of new middle class consumers, and inter-connected markets. If we want to compete we have to get the most out of our resources, and that means recycling them back into productive use, not burying them in landfills as waste.

“Moving to a circular economy is not only possible, it is profitable, but that does not mean it will happen without the right policies. The 2030 targets that we propose are about taking action today to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and exploiting the business and job opportunities it offers."

The proposals target greater efficiency through supporting ‘innovative design, better performing and more durable products and production processes, forward-looking business models and technical advances to turn waste into a resource’. At the heart of the plan is to work towards a goal of improving the efficiency of raw material consumption by 30 per cent by 2030.

Ensuring high-quality recycling

Another area of legislation, which is likely to have major impact on the recycling industry are proposals to clarify the calculation method for recycled materials in order to ensure a high recycling quality level.

At today’s press conference, Potočnik further commented: “It’s a big package [of measures], so I expect to find resistance from those believing it is not possible to make this shift in such a short space of time. It all depends on whether you look at it as a major opportunity. I try to explain it is unavoidable, but it is also a major opportunity. It is time to realise that to go in this direction is necessary… Either there will be green growth or no economic growth.”

The directive also proposes amendments to the revised Waste Framework Directive to increase the targeting of food waste. This includes the proposal to ensure that food waste in the manufacturing, retail/distribution, food service/hospitality and household sectors is reduced by at least 30 per cent between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2025.

Commentators welcome ‘heightened ambition’

Immediate response to the proposals from UK stakeholders has been broadly positive. Responding to the announcement, Iain Gulland, Director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “I’d like to welcome this heightened ambition to advance a resource-efficient economy across Europe. Scotland is already leading the way through its Zero Waste Plan, which in effect offers a ‘blueprint’ for many of these new proposals.”

The Resource Association, which represents the reprocessing and recycling industries, also welcomed the Green Growth Package. Chief Executive Ray Georgeson commented: “There is considerable merit in the commission’s proposals for a 70 per cent municipal recycling target and higher targets for packaging materials. Together with the focus on separate collection of food waste, the use of an overall indicator and target for resource efficiency, a strong focus on eliminating recyclable wastes from landfill and the emphasis on building a recycling society with greater employment opportunities, this is a package that should fire up the ambition of Europe for a more circular economy and provide a step change in the way we think about and treat resources formerly regarded as waste.

“We applaud the linking of the Green Employment Initiative with the package of targets on recycling and the circular economy and very much welcome the emphasis on the positive economic and employment benefits of this ambitious package.

“Now is the time for the UK to engage with Europe and share in this ambition. No doubt elements of the proposals will be seen by some as too ambitious, but we do not share this view. Stretching targets and clear policy signals send the right message to the resources management industries. A European recycling society that prizes the quality and value in its discarded resources and maximises their economic and environmental value is well worth striving for, and I applaud Commissioner Potočnik for his leadership on this important issue.”

The Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) has cautiously welcomed the legislative proposals. Steve Lee, chief executive of CIWM, responded: “The increased recycling proposals for EU Member States catch the eye, but there is much more to this package.

“The current 50 per cent municipal waste recycling target by 2020 could already be hard for England to hit, and CIWM emphasised this point to the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee last month. We should be able to do it – Wales is already on course and Scotland and Northern Ireland have strong plans to do so. England should be no different but much clearer and co-ordinated policy and communications from the Government, plus support for local authorities who are vital to this task, will be needed.

“The same goes for the 70 per cent recycling target by 2030 proposed today, but even more so. Alongside this challenge, the package also has clear and strong messages about cutting waste to landfill, tougher recycling targets for packaging, and the development of national plans to reduce food waste by 30% by 2025. None of us should pretend these will be easy to meet and CIWM has already highlighted a number of these issues in recent months. Many will be of the opinion that it will require a fundamental shift in government policy and focus, and creating the right conditions for investment in the necessary infrastructure will be one of the priorities.

“In moving forwards, it will also be important  that performance  and progress is measured not only in a consistent way across the EU, which is not the case at the moment, but also in a smarter way, reflecting environmental impacts rather than crude tonnage-based targets. CIWM therefore welcomes the proposals for clearer and more standardised measurement and reporting, and improved statistics.

“There is still a long way to go; what we have seen today is only a set of draft proposals and legislative changes to go to the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for negotiation.”

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) added its support for the new measures. Speaking on behalf of ESA, David Palmer-Jones: ESA’s Chairman, David Palmer-Jones said: “The UK waste and resource management industry welcomes the Commission’s package of proposals designed to promote a more circular economy and improve the efficiency with which resources including waste are managed in Europe. The direction of travel and the level of ambition set out in these proposals can only be applauded.

“The proposals present a considerable challenge, not only to the newer Member States but even to those countries which have already made good progress with managing their waste and resources."

However, he added a note of caution that the industry will no be able to deliver on the new targets without financial commitment: “The key question will be how these aspirational targets can be turned into reality on the ground. That will require considerable investment, most of which will come from the private sector. ESA and its members look forward to the discussions ahead on how this can be secured.”

In response to the EC proposals, UKWIN's National Coordinator Shlomo Dowen commented: "The proposal for a 70 per cent recycling target should be seen as a wake-up call for those who think we should be burning valuable resources. The UK already has more incineration capacity, existing and under construction, than we will have genuinely residual waste to burn. The UK Government should embrace the closed-loop circular economy, recognising that this implies the need for an incineration exit strategy to avoid the worst effects of overcapacity."

Read the proposal for the new EC Directive.