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European Commission defends 65% recycling target

European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans has defended the lowering of the proposed binding recycling targets as he unveiled the circular economy package.

The long-awaited proposals published on 2 December included recycling targets of 65% for household waste and 75% for packaging waste.

Both of these are 5% lower than targets in the proposals scrapped last year, with struggling member states allowed to apply for a five-year extension, leading some to question Timmermans’ claim that the new package is “more ambitious”.

But Timmermans, pictured left, rejected this criticism at the launch saying: “Member states turned their back on the 70% target, this way we can get everyone on board.

“This package is more ambitious because it’s the full circle. It’s not just about waste. We could have set a 100%, even more ‘ambitious’, but what would that have meant in the real world?”

Timmermans said that if countries perform better than expected, the Commission would look at raising the target to 70%.

He also said that the “completely new” legally binding cap of 10% waste to landfill by 2030 is more ambitious than the scrapped proposals, although these did include a target of 5% of municipal waste to landfill.

Other measures announced included:

  • Mandatory separate collection of food and other biowaste where technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP)
  • A ban on landfilling separately collected waste
  • Simplified definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates

All these were unchanged from the leak MRW reported on 26 November.

There was no binding food waste reduction target, instead a push for member states to “take measures” to halve food waste by 2030, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September.

There was also no binding resource efficiency target, as lobbied by MEPs in the summer, but Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen, who launched the package with Timmermans, said these principals would be incorporated in part of the eco-design directive.

Katainen (pictured right), who is responsible for business, said: “We will remove barriers that make it difficult for businesses to optimise their resource use and we will boost the internal market for secondary raw materials.”

But FEAD president David Palmer-Jones criticised the proposals for a weak measures to support a market for secondary raw materials.

He said: “If Europe truly believes in the wider economic, environmental and social advantages of a circular economy, it must recognise that market forces and supply-side measures alone will not deliver it.”

“Europe’s economy can only be truly circular if strong markets are available for the secondary raw materials the recycling and reprocessing sectors produce. The current markets are unstable and disincentivise secondary raw material production and uptake by Europe’s industry”.

“While secondary materials are in direct competition with lower-price virgin materials, we will not deliver a more circular economy in Europe, even when overall demand for raw material is strong, unless the environmental cost of using primary raw materials is better reflected in their price.”

Liberal Democrat Catherine Bearder MEP said:”We were promised a more ambitious package, but the only ambition shown here has been for watering down targets.”

“Robust targets, including for marine litter and food waste, must be reinstated.”

The Commission has called on the European Parliament and Council to prioritise adoption and implementation of the proposals, expected to be 18 months from now.

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