19th Mar 2018

Brussels names EU waste management villains

  • A number of member states have yet to implement EU waste management legislation (Photo: United Nations Photo)

A report released by the European Commission on Tuesday (7 August) ranked southern European and newer member states as the worst offenders of poor municipal waste management in the EU.

"Many member states are still landfilling huge amounts of municipal waste – the worst waste management option – despite better alternatives, and despite structural funds being available to finance better options," said EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik in a statement.

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Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are failing to implement EU waste legislation.

The 12 member states are highly reliant on landfilling, with other treatment options rarely in place.

Biodegradable waste such as food and kitchen waste from households is commonly disposed of in landfills and recycling is rare.

Biodegradable waste found in landfills in Malta, Cyprus and Greece is now higher than figures produced in 1995. Methane (a greenhouse gas), as a result, is generated and then released into the environment.

Bulgaria does not recycle any of its municipal waste and Romania only recycles 1.3 percent.

The EU landfill directive, which aims to prevent damage to the environment using a set of strict guidelines, requires member states to set up national targets to prevent biodegradable waste from ever reaching landfills.

But 10 member states, including the UK, neither have a ban nor any restrictions for the disposal of municipal waste in landfills.

The worst overall offender is Greece, with deficits noted in all areas of waste management. Only one of its total 71 landfills for non-hazardous waste complies with the EU landfill directive.

The commission noted that valuable resources are instead being buried along with toxins that could adversely affect human health and the environment.

It also estimated the poorly managed sites cost the EU some €72 billion a year.

It said full implementation of EU waste legislation would increase the annual turnover of waste management and the recycling sector by €42 billion and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020.

"Potential economic benefits are being lost, jobs in the waste management sector are not being created, and human health and the environment suffer. This is hard to defend in our present economic circumstances," said Potocnik.

On the other end of the spectrum, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden have waste collection systems that ensures less than 5 percent of all waste ends up in the ground.

Brussels is now looking into linking EU structural funds with better waste management practices.

Waste management projects will only receive EU funds if the member states can demonstrate that their current systems favour prevention, reuse and recycling.

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