Resource Use

Government rejects proposals for new EU waste targets


The UK government has said it would not support the introduction of new EU waste targets, or extending current targets, as they ‘would be unlikely to improve the current system and could result in perverse or unintended outcomes’.

Although responses to the European Commission’s ‘Consultation on the Review of the European Waste Management Targets’ (which opened in June) have not been officially released, a copy of the UK government’s response is circulating around stakeholders.

Writing in its response to the consultation, the UK government said the following changes proposed in the consultation could ‘result in perverse or unintended outcomes’:

  • changing the targets or definitions for 2020 set out in the Waste Framework Directive;
  • implementing new environmental targets;
  • extending landfill bans or restrictions for specific materials at an EU level, ‘unless there is a clear economic and environmental case to do so’.

‘Better evidence base needed’

Referring to the implementation of new environmental targets, the government response reads: ‘[T]he EU environmental policy framework is largely complete and new environmental targets, including targets on waste prevention and reuse, are unlikely to be needed unless new evidence becomes available that the benefits of new targets would outweigh the costs.

‘Any new environmental targets would require clear and robust justification supported by full impact assessments, including evidence that they would not adversely impact economic growth and that voluntary action would not deliver the required outcomes. This evidence base is not currently in place.’

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) added that the development of new indicators ‘should be the focus ahead of any proposals for new targets, so that these would be demonstrably economically-efficient, cost-effective, realistic and achievable’.

Higher targets could affect recyclate quality

The government department added that other concerns about introducing higher EU-wide recycling targets in isolation include risking  ‘waste being managed further down the hierarchy, or recyclates being of poor quality’.

The response continued: ‘Waste Management policy and delivery requires stability and a long-term direction of travel.Infrastructure associated with new waste management systems requires a significant lead-in time. Too frequent changes to EU level goals increase instability for the waste management sector, leading to uncertainty for investment opportunities. As a consequence the sector could suffer from a lack of financial investment due to the level of risk. There is also the risk of disengaging consumers and businesses from pro-environmental behaviour.

‘Changing key definitions, such as household or municipal waste, or extending targets to additional waste streams prior to 2020 would effectively change the Waste Framework Directive targets… Therefore, targets and definitions should be left alone for 2020 and any targets or definitions beyond 2020 should be made as early as is reasonable to provide local authorities and business with a stable legislative framework.’

Industry position on targets

This position mirrors that of some in the resources industry, including the Environmental Services Association (ESA), whose Europe Policy Advisor, Roy Hathaway, said: “[G]iven the huge variation [in recycling rates] across Europe, we don’t see a way, at the moment, to set new EU targets that are high enough to challenge member states with good recycling rates but would still be credible in the poorer performing EU countries.”

The Resource Association, however, called for more ambition, noting that creating a ‘multi-layered approach to target setting and improvement from baseline’ could potentially be ‘more realistic and give all member states a full and fair stake in [the EU’s] overall resource efficiency objective’.

The government response added that ‘clarity on what should be included within the recycling targets would be helpful; alongside greater clarity on when a material qualifies as ‘recycled’ – specifically biowaste – would be of benefit to all member states’. According to Defra, this is as there are ‘different interpretations across the EU and… concerns among small companies and community groups that the costs of demonstrating recycling may be disproportionate’.

Consultation background

The ‘Consultation on the Review of the European Waste Management Targets’, was commissioned by DG Environment at the European Commission in the hopes of ‘identifying the issues and proposing possible solutions to the targets in the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’.

Organised by waste consultancy Eunomia, the review aims to reassess clauses in the directives and bring these in line with the EC’s ambition of promoting resource efficiency as detailed in the Roadmap on Resource Efficiencyand the 7th Environmental Action Programme.

Topics under discussion include:

  • introducing a target for the prevention of packaging waste;
  • potentially extending targets to include materials other than dry recyclables (for example, food waste);
  • introducing targets for the ‘progressive reduction in the quantity of residual waste irrespective of how it is subsequently managed’;
  • establishing a single target and calculation method based only on the quantity of both household and municipal waste collected (to allow consistent reporting across member states);
  • standardising the methodology for calculating recycling rates (to allow consistent reporting across member states);
  • incorporating ‘weightings’ for recycled materials based on environmental benefits derived from the recycling process; and
  • introducing a target for the prevention of packaging waste. 

Read the government response to the ‘Consultation on the Review of the European Waste Management Targets’.