“The main problem with waste management today is that we’re still burning and burying recyclable waste.”
A number of EU governments are struggling to meet their recycling and waste prevention targets, according to a new communication from the European Commission.
The EC published a communication entitled ‘Environmental Implementation Review of 2019’ on 4 April to assess the EU’s environmental laws. Half of the EU countries are at risk of missing the municipal waste recycling target of 50% by 2020, according to the EC.
Despite an increase in recycling rates across the EU from 43.7% in 2014 to 46.4% in 2017, only nine countries are on track to reach the target, while five – Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovenia – have already achieved it.
The announcement comes as the EC published new country-by-country reports last week highlighting the level of implementation of environmental laws across the EU. Failure to implement EU laws that are meant to protect people and the environment may lead to infringement procedures against governments. So far, 173 cases have been brought to court, according to environmental campaign group European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for environment, fisheries and maritime affairs, warned member states that more work is needed to improve waste management. The reports urged the introduction of measures such as better separate collection of waste, schemes to make producers pay for waste collection and recycling, and landfill and incineration taxes.
The report also highlighted that member states including Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia should increase awareness and foster the uptake of voluntary instruments such as the EU Ecolabel and Eco-Management and audit schemes. They should also increase recycling and circular measures in the SME sector.
The EU estimates that a thorough implementation of waste laws, including those highlighted above, could lead to savings in the order of €72 billion a year by 2020, while creating more than 400,000 jobs and increasing annual turnover in the recycling sector by €42 billion.
Better waste management could also alleviate the EU’s reliance on resource imports from foreign countries, boosting security of supply of some of the critical resources.
Piotr Barczak, a waste expert with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), told the news channel of the EEB (META) that the implementation of EU waste laws is fundamental to boost the quality and quantity of recycling.
He said: “The main problem with waste management today is that we’re still burning and burying recyclable waste. This is clearly the case for Estonia, which has expanded incineration at the expense of recycling.”
The Commission has also said that 21 out of 28 countries need to boost the separate collection of waste – something that may also partially explain the poor recycling rates in the 14 countries that are behind.
Barczak said: “Things would be different if all municipalities improved the separate collection of all different waste streams like plastic, glass, paper and son on.
“This could be done by implementing door-to-door schemes, with trucks collecting different types of waste at designated times instead of unsorted rubbish every day, which is likely to end up in landfills and incinerators.”
Elsewhere, as part of the EC’s circular economy package, member states will have start preparing for new recycling targets, which were rubber stamped by EU institutions and national governments last year.
EU countries will be required to recycle at least 55% of their municipal waste by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035.
Barczak explained: “If all the right measures are put in place, it won’t be a problem to achieve those targets. Those five countries that have already achieved the 50% target can set a good example, including Slovenia which has made some impressive progress in a really short period of time.”
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