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MEPs vote for recycling targets - but have they done enough?

Last Tuesday, MEPs backed a range of EU legislation including recycling targets and the reclassification of efficient incineration as recovery (see box for more). The final vote/rubber stamp for these rules to become law was expected as MRW went to press.

Rapporteur Caroline Jackson said it was a significant achievement to have added recycling targets to EU legislation for the first time. She also celebrated the waste hierarchy's new priority position in the Directive and the addition of provision for the prevention of waste.

However, Jill Evans MEP was  concerned that the final compromise did not have a legally binding target for waste reduction. She said: "Although recycling and reuse targets have been set at 50% and 70% and the member states are legally obliged to put measures in place to achieve these targets, the targets themselves are not binding. "Evans added that certain waste streams such as manufacturing and industrial had been "left out altogether".

Commenting on waste prevention in the Directive Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee
(LARAC) policy officer Andrew Craig said: "I think that the UK rightly resisted a statutory waste prevention target for all waste streams because of inconsistencies between the quality of information and the actual need for economic development. But I think it is important that the nations, including the UK, do set waste prevention targets for all waste streams even if they haven't been dictated by the EU."

He said that LARAC endorsed the 50% target by 2020 for municipal waste. However, he expressed concerns about the differences of definition of municipal waste between countries.

Concerns that the targets were not high enough came from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) deputy chief executive Chris Murphy. He said he was disappointed that the levels set for household recycling were "undemanding to most of the member states" and called the construction and demolition targets "unadventurous".

Friends of the Earth spokesman Michael Warhurst agreed saying: "[The EU recycling targets] are too low to address the urgency of resource and climate threats.
"They exclude too many significant waste streams and will be difficult to enforce. The Commission must now work hard to gather information, so when targets are reviewed in 2014 they are made stronger, matching best practice around Europe."

However, the recycling targets were welcomed by the Local Government Association. A spokesman commented: "We think it's a good thing, ultimately though the [recycling targets] were an aspiration of the Government anyway. But it wasn't sanctioned by Brussels before this point. But he said: "As the percentage of material recycled gets higher, every percentage point higher is harder to get."

To help local authorities achieve higher targets they need the money raised through the landfill tax escalator to be returned to them, he explained.

Craig also acknowledged the financial implications for local authorities of reaching high recycling rates. He said: "To achieve an average of 50% recycling we will either have to have a lot of funding from the Government or a general power for local authorities to charge variably for waste."

But it was the controversial decision to allow some incinerators to be "rebranded" as recovery which prompted the most passionate debate. Warhurst said: "[This] is a decision which ignored evidence that incineration contributes to climate change. Incineration is inflexible and expensive and can limit recycling."

Murphy commented that more work was needed to define efficiency standards for energy-from-waste to be reclassified as recovery. He also welcomed the obligation to establish waste management plans and waste prevention programmes but asked why it has taken so long to implement this.

Debate over the interpretation and definitions of the Directive are set to continue as the Council votes to make the requirements law. Then the questions will begin about how the UK Government will transpose it into UK legislation.

 A target of 50% reuse or recycling by 2020 of waste materials such as paper, metal or glass from households
 A target of 70% reuse or recycling for non-hazardous construction and demolition waste, also by 2020
 An obligation on EU member states to set up waste management plans and waste prevention programmes
 A five-category legal hierarchy for dealing with waste - prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery, safe and environmentally-sound disposal
 A majority of MEPs backed a definition of incineration as a 'recovery' operation, provided it meets energy efficiency standards

Image: The Hemicycle chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg

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