Circular Economy targets: let’s measure what matters first

Written by Axel Eggert, Sylvain Lhôte & Guy Thiran on 9 March 2017 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

To reach a true circular economy, MEPs should make it their top priority to set a single method for measuring ‘real’ recycling rates, write Axel Eggert, Sylvain Lhôte and Guy Thiran.

Europe urgently needs a single calculation method for recycling rates, say industry leaders | Photo credit: Fotolia

The European Parliament is preparing to vote on a set of waste proposals to bring Europe closer to a Circular Economy.

Yes, the ENVI Committee’s newly proposed waste targets are ambitious. We commend ambition on the Circular Economy. But what’s more important is their bold proposal for EU Member States to start using a single calculation method for measuring more realistic recycling rates.

It doesn’t matter whether the EU’s headline target for municipal waste recycling is 65 per cent or 85 per cent if we don’t have a common method to measure exactly how much of this waste actually gets recycled. We applaud MEPs for looking beyond the numbers.


National recycling rates are incomparable as long as Member States calculate them in different ways. Today far too many Member States report only the amount of waste they’ve collected as if it was recycled, instead of the amount they actually recycle.

This is a huge gap in Europe’s Circular Economy policy. Before deciding on targets, we urge MEPs to prioritise an agreement on what exactly we’re all measuring. Europe urgently needs a single calculation method for recycling rates. Ultimately, that will mean no derogation nor alternative option.

With this common foundation firmly in place, recyclers of paper, steel and non-ferrous metals can make the Circular Economy really move and hit those targets. We stand ready and able to turn waste into resources for Europe, and share the enthusiasm of MEPs that it will boost jobs and growth.

For some waste streams, we’ve already set up voluntary systems that allow us to measure what actually reaches final recyclers. We want to work with EU policymakers to build on those initiatives and reach a true and effective Circular Economy.  

Perversely, by overestimating Europe’s actual circular performance, the current approach removes a critical incentive for Member States, municipalities and industry to invest in more effective collection schemes, sorting plants and quality recycling facilities. This is a classic case of good intentions gone wrong.

That’s why Europe needs this common measurement system. It helps to make sure our high-quality recyclers receive sorted waste of sufficient quality, while putting them on a level playing field with less efficient recyclers in and out of Europe.

MEPs have a key role to play in getting the calculation method right. Their long-term perspective will be essential in their negotiations with Member States and the European Commission.  We accept that the transition to just one new methodology cannot be achieved overnight. But it is necessary, and policymakers need to agree on a framework that aims for full traceability in the future.

Without standardised measures, the Circular Economy cannot reach its full potential. Europe will celebrate its ambitious waste targets, but watch as too much of that waste still isn’t recycled.  

We encourage MEPs to vote in favour of one strong calculation methodology next week and endorse the ENVI Committee’s vote. Let’s first make sure we measure what matters, before debating how to set ambitious and realistic recycling targets. 

About the author

Axel Eggert is Director General at EUROFER, the European Steel Association

Sylvain Lhôte is Director General at CEPI, the Confederation of European Paper Industries

Guy Thiran is Director General at Eurometaux, the European Non-ferrous Metals Association

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