Commission outlines plans to tackle EU's 'throw-away society'

The European commission has issued a proposal calling on member states to reduce landfill waste and increase recycling. Reports Gerald Callaghan

By Gerald Callaghan

03 Jul 2014

The European commission has issued new targets in a proposal aimed at increasing recycling and reducing the amount of landfill waste.

The new plan adopted by the EU executive on 2 July, called on the EU-28 to increase recycling quotas for municipal waste to 70 per cent and packaging waste to 80 per cent by 2030. Also, a dumping ban for landfill materials by 2025 will be imposed on plastics, metals, glass, paper, cardboard and biodegradable waste.

The EU strategy is part of a larger economic model aimed at producing virtually no waste. The 'circular economy' initiative will ensure products, instead of being thrown away, are re-used, repaired and recycled continually within a closed loop.

In addition to the targets review, waste legislation will be simplified, and cooperation between the commission and member states will be stepped up to ensure better implementation.

EU environment commissioner Janez Potočnik told reporters in Brussels, "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".

"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" - Janez Potočnik

"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 Slovenian official said that the proposal "marked recognition that the growth path" the EU is pursuing is "not the right one for Europe in the 21st century".

Previously, Potočnik was critical of the EU's "throw-away society", in which products are discarded without regard for the ecological cost of producing them.

The package aims to encourage businesses to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices, such as improving the longevity and reparability of their products, arguing that this will benefit them in the long-run.

The commission says that by implementing such measures, EU companies could save nearly €600bn, or eight per cent of annual turnover.

"The shift towards a green economy is a tremendous opportunity for generating new, environmentally friendly jobs, while securing the sustainable wellbeing of future generations and contributing to recovery from the economic crisis," said László Andor, EU employment and social affairs commissioner.

However, Virginia Janssens, managing director of the European organisation for packaging and the environment (EUROPEN) stresses that "producer responsibility should be clearly defined and limited to cover the net cost of collection and sorting for recycling and recovery of used packaging".

"The current proposal fails to properly assess financial impacts, imposing potentially unlimited costs on producers without defining the roles and responsibilities of all actors in the packaging value chain".

Greens MEP Margrete Auken was cautiously optimistic, saying, "The proposal to prohibit recyclable waste from being sent to landfills from 2025 is an important step forward but major uncertainty remains.

"Any landfill ban needs to be accompanied by legal provisions to also prevent the incineration of recyclable waste at the same time if we are to avoid setting fire to a coherent approach on recycling" - Margrete Auken MEP

"Any landfill ban needs to be accompanied by legal provisions to also prevent the incineration of recyclable waste at the same time if we are to avoid setting fire to a coherent approach on recycling.

"The proposal for a resource efficiency target is welcome. It represents a concrete measure to deliver the acknowledgement that reducing resource use offers an enormous potential to create new jobs, decrease Europe's dependency on imported resources and help build crisis-resilient economies."

However, the Danish deputy warned, "A non-binding target based on resource productivity is too weak and fails to address the need to reduce overall resource consumption in Europe in absolute terms".

Expanding on Auken's concerns, Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe believes the proposals "do not give a full picture of the resources Europe consumes".

"The plans fail to address resources, like land and water, contained in the products we consume" - Ariadna Rodrigo FoEE

"The plans fail to address resources, like land and water, contained in the products we consume. If Europe is going to take resource overconsumption seriously then it needs to start measuring all the land, carbon, water and material it's responsible for consuming - and making plans to reduce these in absolute terms", she added.

The commission's proposal will now be submitted to the newly elected European parliament and national ministers in the council for approval before becoming law.

Read the most recent articles written by Gerald Callaghan - EU approves €1.75bn state aid to 'stabilise' Bulgarian banking system

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