European Parliament

MEPs give green light for new EU waste legislation with binding 2020 targets


Source: European Parliament

The EU will have new waste legislation which includes targets for re-use and recycling of waste to be attained by 2020 after MEPs adopted amendments. The directive sets out rules on recycling and requires Member States to draw up binding national programmes for waste prevention. Waste prevention targets will be considered by the Commission in the future. Incineration of waste will be categorised as a recovery operation rather than disposal, provided it meets a certain energy efficiency standard.

The second-reading agreement with Council adopted by MEPs sets the definitions and ground rules for all the other pieces of EU legislation relative to waste - it therefore has a direct or indirect impact on them all.
In the debate on Monday 16 June, Parliament's rapporteur Caroline JACKSON (EPP-ED, South West, Conservative UK) said: 'It has been a long and tortuous road to this second reading. There was much resistance to what we wanted to do and the Council drove a very hard bargain... That is the best deal available. Anyone who thinks that we could get anything better by going to conciliation would be deceiving themselves.'
The compromise was supported by many speakers during yesterday's debate though several speakers would have liked to achieve more. Several MEPs were unhappy that the compromise was too weak and criticised that no binding waste prevention target is included or would have preferred to have even tougher targets for recycling and re-use.
Inclusion of targets for re-use and recycling
MEPs managed in including in the directive a new article on re-use and recycling targets, which was foreseen neither by the original Commissions' proposal nor by the Common Position. The compromise states that Member states 'shall take the necessary measures designed to achieve the following targets':
- by 2020 for re-use and recycling of waste materials such as paper, metal glass from households and similar waste streams: 50 %
- by 2020 for non hazardous construction and demolition waste: 70 %
In the debate Commissioner Dimas underlined that 'it was hard to persuade the Member States for objectives'. Answering several MEPs who criticised the targets for being too weak, he confirmed that: 'If these targets are not met in 2020, the Commission can take Member States to court for non-compliance with the requirements of the Directive.' 
A special target for manufacturing and industrial waste, as demanded by MEPs is not included in the compromise but the Commission has to examine the targets by 2020 and eventually reinforce them or consider setting targets for other waste streams.
Waste prevention is reinforced - targets to be considered in the future
The new directive will oblige Member States to establish waste management plans and waste prevention programmes with waste prevention objectives 5 years after entry into force of the directive.  Further to this duty the compromise includes a new article on waste prevention. The Commission shall propose - if appropriate - by end 2014 the setting of waste prevention and decoupling objectives for 2020.
For MEPs, a crucial aim is to reduce the amount of landfill and incineration, both of which cause pollution. Members were divided over whether incineration of municipal solid waste should be regarded as a 'disposal' or a 'recovery' operation, the latter one being a better option regarding the waste hierarchy. In the vote, MEPs backed the Commission and Council position that it should be categorised as recovery, provided it meets a certain energy efficiency standards (energy efficiency formula in annex II to the directive). According to the Commission this has the effect that only the most energy efficient existing municipal solid waste incinerators will be classified as recovery installations.
In the debate, Mrs Jackson said: 'This is a positive incentive to incinerator operators to reach high standards and we would do well to remember, in these fuel poor days, that waste can be a useful fuel. But it is important to recognise that the Parliament has now ensured, by writing in targets for recycling and emphasising waste prevention objectives, that incineration of residual waste will have to go hand in hand with recycling.'
MEPs also managed to include a revision after 6 years of the energy efficiency provisions into the compromise.
Member States to stick to binding five-stage hierarchy
The five-stage waste hierarchy, which is designed to prevent and reduce waste production, is made more certain and comprehensive and moved to a more prominent place. The hierarchy lays down an order of preference for waste operations: prevention, re-use, recycling, other recovery operations and, as a last resort, safe and environmentally sound disposal. Member States shall treat it 'as a priority order', in waste prevention and management legislation rather than as a 'guiding principle' as proposed by Council. Departing from the hierarchy may be possible where it is justified by 'life cycle' thinking on the overall impacts of the generation and management of such waste.
The directive includes furthermore a definition on by-products and of the 'end-of-waste' status. It introduces an extended producer responsibility and asks Member States to take measures to encourage the separate collection of bio-waste. 
Some figures
The 1.8 billion tonnes of waste generated each year in Europe works out at 3.5 tonnes per person. This consists mainly of waste from households, commercial activities (e.g., shops, restaurants, hospitals etc.), industry (e.g. pharmaceutical companies, clothes manufacturers etc.), agriculture (e.g. slurry), construction and demolition projects, mining and quarrying activities and from energy generation.
Municipal waste generation averages 530kg per person per year, an average that masks significant differences among Member States. For example, per capita waste generation is 300 to 350 kg per annum in the EU-10 Member States, but around 570 kg in the EU-15.
In 2005, 49% of EU municipal waste was disposed of through landfill, 18% was incinerated and 27% recycled or composted.

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