19th Mar 2018

EU proposes new waste and recycling targets

  • EU wants to ban dumping recycle materials into landfills (Photo: United Nations Photo)

The European Commission on Wednesday (2 July) laid out new targets to boost recycling and curb waste throughout the Union.

The plans are part of a larger ‘circular economy’ initiative where products, instead of being thrown away, are re-used, repaired and recycled.

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“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,” EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik told reporters in Brussels.

The idea is to get Europeans to recycle 70 percent of municipal waste and 80 percent of packaging waste by 2030.

A dumping ban in landfills by 2025 would be imposed on plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard, and biodegradable waste.

The EU went through 90 billion single-use plastic bags in 2010 alone, according to NGOs. The Brussels-based Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE), for its part, notes 42 percent of beverage cartons were recycled in the EU last year.

Overall, the EU produced 2.5 billion tonnes of waste in 2010. Around 36 percent was recycled while the rest was either buried or burned.

Up to 600 million tonnes of materials in discarded waste each year could be recycled, notes the commission.

The commission has also set a political target to increase resource productivity by 30 percent by 2030.

The non-binding target is measured on the basis of gross domestic productivity (GDP) relative to raw material consumption.

Meeting the higher targets, it says, could create almost 600,000 new jobs.

At the EU-decision making level, it means revising the three directives on waste, landfills, and packaging.

While largely welcomed by pro-green groups, the plans have been criticised for not including more concrete measures to limit the resource footprints inherent in the production of goods consumed within the EU.

Brussels-based Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) notes the target for improving resource use only takes into account the weight of materials used.

“The plans fail to address resources, like land and water, contained in the products we consume,” said FoEE's Ariadna Rodrigo in a statement.

The NGO also says creating a resource productivity indicator by linking it to GDP will distort results.

It points out member states with high GDP will “appear more resource efficient than they really are”.

The leading business lobby group in Europe, BusinessEurope also takes a critical line on linking GDP to the resource efficiency target. It argues the commission should be focusing on efficiency instead of quantity in terms of resources used.

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