By extension, the same should logically apply also to the end-of-life vehicles (ELV) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (Weee) directives. All three directives require higher rates of recovery than recycling (see separate article, this edition).
Industry groups expressed dismay at the development. Lobby group Europen warned that the change would have 'very serious economic consequences' for the packaging chain. Carmakers' group Acea said it added further uncertainties to an already unacceptable level of confusion over EU definitions of waste and of its recovery and recycling.
But environmental group EEB welcomed the confirmation as a 'strong message to those trying to undermine the separate collection of waste' by promoting incineration. The group continues to object, however, to the Commission's simultaneous confirmation that coincineration of waste as fuel is a recovery operation.
In its 'Luxembourg' judgement, the European court ruled that the principal objective of a municipal waste incinerator was to dispose of waste and that its EU classification should therefore be waste disposal whether or not it recovered energy.
European waste industry groups contested the principle's application to all dedicated waste incineration, arguing that the ruling applied only to the specific case being dealt with. But a Commission answer to a written question by MEP Cristopher Huhne has dashed their hopes.
In it, the EU executive states that, 'by applying the concept of the primary objective of the operation, [the court has] excluded dedicated incineration in municipal incinerators' from the EU waste framework directive's list of recovery operations. The packaging directive draws its own definitions from this framework law.
To meet the packaging directive's recovery target, member states must therefore increase recycling rates or coincinerate waste as fuel in industrial operations or power plants, the Commission states. For biodegradable wastes, it says, increased composting is an option.
Waste chain lobby group Assurre is accusing the Commission of an 'abdication of responsibility'. Earlier court judgements laying down simply that waste must be put to some useful purpose for the operation to be regarded as recovery still stood, in contradiction to the Luxembourg ruling, said Bill Duncan of Assurre.
'If there's not at least further clarification of this, then what we will see is member states failing to meet recovery targets because it is not realistic to close the gap with coincineration or recycling to meet existing legal requirements,' he said.
Demands for such clarification will now take centre stage, with the Commission preparing to host in early July a meeting on the issue involving EU governments and stakeholders.