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ESA says increased demand vital to circular economy

Higher recycling targets will not be achieved without credible measures to increase demand for secondary raw materials (SRM).

That was the message from the Environmental Services Association (ESA) at a meeting on the proposed EU circular economy (CE) package.

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group, ESA European policy adviser Roy Hathaway (pictured) said that achieving a CE would also depend on producer responsibility rules being strengthened to encourage eco-design.

Hathaway said: “ESA members support the concept of the CE, and are looking for a long-term policy framework as a basis for future investment in better waste and resource management.”

The EU proposals could provide such a framework for industry investment after 2020, he said, when waste targets in England expire, so far without replacement.

Hathaway noted that the European Commission’s proposals were for 65% recycling of municipal waste, 75% recycling of packaging waste and a 10% ceiling on landfill of municipal waste, all by 2030.

“A crucial question is whether there would be enough demand for the increased supply of recyclable materials which these targets imply,” he said.

“The ESA is also not convinced that a 10% ceiling on landfill is needed on top of a 65% recycling target. Non-recyclable residual waste has to go somewhere, either energy recovery or landfill, so why create an arbitrary boundary?”

Hathaway said that stronger rules on producer responsibility were needed to reform the current position where local authorities paid to collect waste packaging and the waste management industry took the price risk for materials collected, while producers bore neither cost.

Achieving higher recycling targets required sufficient demand for the SRM collected, at a price that covered collection and sorting costs.

Hathaway said: “Currently, demand for SRM is low and prices are weak. Primary raw materials are cheap and readily available. So credible measures are needed on the demand side to sustain markets for recycled materials – for example, green public procurement, rules on recycled content and economic instruments which favour SRM over primary materials.

“Otherwise, there will be no CE. This is the main weakness of the Commission proposals.”

He said that producers should design-out waste materials, design-in durability, reparability, reusability and recyclability, and take more responsibility for what happens to their products at the end of their useful lives.

“This is just not happening at the moment,” Hathaway said. “In a CE, we need to make producer responsibility a reality, and the Commission’s proposals are a step in that direction. But this will require changes to product legislation, not just waste legislation.”

Shadow environment spokesperson Baroness Jones of Whitchurch criticised the Government for lobbying to remove targets in the CE package.

She said: “I am concerned by this Government’s obsession with less regulation.

“We need joined-up leadership on the CE across different departments and I don’t really see any ambition from the Government.”

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