Since 1999, the central policy driver for the biological treatment of biodegradable wastes has been the EU Directive 99/31/EC on the Landfill of Waste. The Directive places strict limits on the amount of biodegradable municipal waste (biowaste) that can be disposed of to landfill as well as introduces a requirement for pretreatment of all wastes prior to landfill. These increasingly restrictive targets require EU member states such as the UK to reduce the amount of biowaste going to landfill (based on 1995 levels) by 35 percent in 2006, 50 percent in 2009 and 65 percent in 2016. Due to its historic reliance (>80 percent) on landfill for waste disposal, the UK has received a four-year postponement for each of these targets.
The Landfill Directive itself does not stipulate how these targets should be reached, and for many years there have been calls for a separate directive on biowaste. Proponents of the “Biowaste Directive” have long argued that without a legal requirement for separate collection, and in the absence of any binding quality criteria for final products (composts and digestates), a huge opportunity to improve the quality of soil across the EU, whilst simultaneously addressing the landfill issue, is being lost.
Another key policy affecting the biowaste industry is the new European Waste Framework Directive (WFD), which sets the framework for waste management across the EU (compared to the Landfill Directive, which focuses on landfills). It was passed in November 2008 and contains some significant changes from its predecessor, including an article on biowaste. Specifically, Article 22 states: “Member States shall take measures, as appropriate, and in accordance with Articles 4 [the waste hierarchy] and 13 [protection of the environment], to encourage: (a) the separate collection of biowaste with a view to the composting and digestion of biowaste; (b) the treatment of biowaste in a way that fulfils a high level of environmental protection; (c) the use of environmentally safe materials produced from biowaste. The Commission shall carry out an assessment on the management of biowaste with a view to submitting a proposal if appropriate. The assessment shall examine the opportunity of setting minimum requirements for biowaste management and quality criteria for compost and digestate from biowaste, in order to guarantee a high level of protection for human health and the environment.”