Ministers battle over waste targets

Environment Ministers gave views on proposed legislation which aims to promote sustainable waste management.

By Dods EU monitoring

29 Oct 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On October 28 2014, EU Environment Ministers gave their views on proposed legislation which aims to promote sustainable ways of waste management. The debate was based on three questions posed by the Italian presidency:

  1. Do Ministers consider the proposal’s overall level of ambition appropriate, also in light of the objectives set out in the 7th EAP? In particular, do Ministers believe that the proposed approach strikes the right balance between setting a long-term vision for recycling and taking sufficiently into account national circumstances and current performance levels?
  2. Do Ministers see the need to further develop any of the proposed measures (e.g. early warning system, minimum requirements for EPR) and if so, which ones do ministers believe need further work and in what way?
  3. Do Ministers consider waste prevention and reuse issues to be adequately taken into consideration in the Commission proposal?

Please find a summary of the discussion below.

The Italian Presidency noted that this includes six directives together. He added that the main element is to revise the set of objectives in waste management and the harmonisation of calculation methods, as well as the simplification of reporting obligations, minimum requirements for producer liability and an early warning system to check that objectives are being respected. He wanted to move this work forward in this 6-month period and this debate aims to offer “political steer”.

Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik explained that the waste proposal is part of a broader package of initiatives to move to a circular economy and moves towards zero waste. He said that there is no economic sense in burying or burning waste when it has value. A Member State with the most waste in fact has the most to gain from realising the value of waste and creating jobs in this sector. In the proposal, there are measures and not just targets, which were agreed in the 7th EAP. These include reducing the amount of waste, maximum recycling and reuse, limiting the incineration to non-recyclables and phasing out landfill of recyclable waste.

The Commissioner then considered the question of legally binding targets and whether they are achievable. He answered that the targets for 2030 are technically realistic and achievable. Here Commissioner Potočnik also noted that six Member States have phased out the landfill of municipal waste and several regions are at the 70% recycle target for 2030. He explained that some Member States are concerned about the deadlines but reassured then that the Commission has taken the differences in progress into account and that the time needed matches the average.   

As for complying with existing obligations regarding plastic, cardboard and glass, this accounts for 40-60% of municipal waste, and Member States have already set actions in motion to meet the targets. He again noted concerns about the impacts of the combination of higher targets and more precise calculations for recycling (that is, the “2% rule”) but he emphasised that this proposal is to clarify rules, not change them. Moreover, some Member States are already doing this and the calculation method was formed on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis.

He then turned to the three questions from the Italian Presidency. For the first, the answer is yes: it is aligned with the 7th EAP, it will avoid over-investment, and it will focus on the top steps of the waste hierarchy. This is about striking a balance between the long-term vision of the 7th EAP and national circumstances.

For the second question, he said that accompanying measures are necessary for better implementation of targets. The minimum requirements will improve transparency, cost efficiency and the functioning of existing schemes and the Commission proposes only general principles so that Member States have the flexibility to adapt to their specific circumstances. Moreover, the early warning system will allow for the Commission to discuss what measures to take early on and provide assistance, and this will only be for a few Member States which are at risk of not meeting the targets. He added that it is necessary to not only have targets but tools to monitor the progress and disagreed that there is more administrative burden. In fact, they are repealing the 3-year implementing reports altogether and will rely on annual statistics. Following this, they will improve the quality of statistical measures. Additionally, the permit and registration obligations for SMEs are reduced and the impact assessment shows a reduction in the administrative burden with a saving of 280 mandates per year.

For the third question, he said that the Commission has not proposed targets for the top of the waste hierarchy, but focused on practical measures, including the impact of food waste and Member States’ success in reducing it. This is inspired by the non-binding objectives of a 30% reduction by 2025. There are minimum conditions for producer responsibility schemes and there is a clear link between the fees paid and the real cost of collecting and recycling products. There is also a focus on reduced costs at the end of a product’s life as well as reinforcement of provisions on eco design. The Commission would also like a specific target on re-use, but this data is not available.

Overall, Commissioner Potočnik acknowledged some concerns about targets and the costs of reaching them, but this proposal demonstrates three things: burning or burying waste is not cheaper than sustainable management; a boost in the competitiveness of this industry; and if it is successful, 600,000 additional jobs will be created. He did not feel that he needed to remind environment ministers that reaching targets would eliminate tonnes of GHG and emissions as well as marine litter.  

The representative from Spain focused on the first question and said that Spain likes the general thrust of the proposal as it is in line with the objectives of the roadmap for a resource efficient Europe and the 7th EAP as well as the move towards a circular economy. However, the percentage for recycling must ensure comparable data between Member States and so Spain feels the need for a single common calculation method.

On the second question, she noted the need to develop aspects of the directive: it is important to have a single calculation method and an early warning system in order to detect non-compliance in advance and to correct this. Regarding extended producer responsibility, Spain introduces harmonisation with the residues legislation, and with the minimum requirements at EU level, they need to ensure Member States have proposed controls to ensure compliance.

For the third question, she paid tribute to the advances in the directive, but said that more progress is needed for prevention and re-use, as well as guiding targets for waste in the top levels of the hierarchy.

The representative from Germany said that Germany welcomes the goal of resource efficiency and continuing the development of the circular economy in Europe, however the targets should not be removed from reality. Thus she proposed that recycling targets and calculation methods be examined in depth. She added that new targets are necessary in the shorter term to take account of Member States which have reached the target in the current 2020 directive, while also noting the need to achieve the target of reducing bureaucracy.

For the second question, she said that the revisions on extended product liability are too detailed and they should bear in mind the principle of subsidiarity. She added that monitoring of new registration requirements requires too much administration and landfill of possible recyclable material should be avoided as much as possible.

For the third question, the representative said that they need to look at the current legislation and support implementation on the waste prevention provision. Also, quantity targets for food waste are problematic as long as there are not reliable methods to assess the data. Overall, she advocated the need for information, awareness raising and research.

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