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EC puts recycling at heart of latest Circular Economy package

Europe – Recycling stands front and centre of the European Commission’€™s revised Circular Economy package, launched yesterday. According to the Commission, the proposals contained in the new document will ‘€˜contribute to ‘€œclosing the loop’€ of product lifecycles through greater recycling and reuse’€™ and ‘€˜will extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste’€™.

In the next fifteen years, 65% of all Europe’s household waste and 75% of the packaging must be recycled, Timmermans has announced. Before revision, goals were set at 70% and 80% – before acknowledgement that such high objectives were ‘not feasible’ for member states like Romania.

The proposal seeks to introduce an ‘early warning system’ for monitoring compliance with recycling targets; and simplify and improve waste definitions and harmonise calculation methods. The commission agreed that only 10% of the waste should end up in landfills.

‘As long as landfill is cheap it will not be an option that will be given up on. We need to respond to this in a step by step, long-term basis,’ Timmermans explained. He admitted that this ‘strict target’ represents a ‘huge effort’ for some Member States and he added: ‘We have to make sure that incineration doesn’t become the easier way out to combat landfill.’

Focus on design

The package acknowledges that better design can help recyclers to disassemble products in order to recover valuable materials and components. ‘Current market signals appear insufficient to make this happen, in particular because the interests of producers, users and recyclers are not aligned,’ it explains. ‘It is therefore essential to provide incentives for improved product design, while preserving the single market and competition, and enabling innovation.’

Electrical and electronic products ‘are particularly significant in this context’, it adds. The Commission proposes to promote the ‘repairability, upgradability, durability and recyclability’ of products by developing requirements relevant to the Circular Economy in its future work under the Ecodesign Directive – ‘as appropriate and taking into account the specificities of different product groups’. The Ecodesign working plan for 2015-17 will elaborate on how this will be implemented, it is added.

The end-of-waste label…

On the specific issue of ‘end-of-waste’, the Commission says it will modify legislation ‘to enable recycled materials to be reclassified as non-waste whenever they meet a set of general conditions, which are the same across the whole EU’; this amendment ‘is meant to simplify the legislative framework for operators in the recycling business and ensure a level-playing field’. Existing EU-wide, end-of-waste criteria – covering, for example, glass and copper scrap – will remain in force.

Citing ‘uncertainty’ over quality as a barrier faced by operators wanting to use secondary raw materials, the Commission proposes to ‘launch work on EU-wide quality standards for secondary raw materials where needed, in consultation with the industries concerned’.

Need to act quickly

However, Dutch waste management specialist Van Gansewinkel is ‘moderately enthusiastic’, says its ceo Marc Zwaaneveld. The appraoch is based on ‘good intentions’ but lacks urgency and momentum, he finds. ‘Climate change and resource scarcity are developments are shaping the world faster than the plans of the EU,’ Zwaaneveld declares.

While Timmermans is dedicated to reducing the amount of waste that is incinerated and landfilled, he is said to have little eye for the root of the problem; decoupling material consumption from economic growth. Driving back waste dumping and waste-to-energy operations is a ‘step in the right direction’ but Zwaaneveld cautions this is not the core of a sustainable economy.

He cites a report by Dutch research firm TNO saying that a fully circular economy stands to benefit Dutch businesses some EUR 7.3 billion each year – also creating 54 000 new jobs. ‘Obviously, recycling is still in at infancy stage in the Eastern European countries,’ Zwaaneveld laments.

‘Still, we must remember that Europe must not descend to a sub-par average in an attempt to encourage the countries who are far behind. Instead, the Western European countries should act as leaders.’ The businessman urges that most companies do not want to sit still, they want to do something. And he adds: ‘The Dutch industry sees the necessity for change and wants to act sooner rather than later’.

A detailed review of the new circular economy strategy will appear in Recycling International’s Jan/Feb 2016 issue.

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