A relatively policy-rich start to the month for the industry domestically was more than matched on the continent as the European Commission’s circular economy (CE) proposals continued to progress.
While the Commission published a progress report on its implementation of the CE action plan, the European Parliament’s environment committee agreed a more ambitious position on the package.
The Commission also put out a communication on energy-from-waste (EfW), a roadmap on plastics and a generally favourable assessment of the UK’s implementation of EU environmental legislation.
But all of this comes amid a continued uncertainty about how much future EU environment laws will affect the UK after it leaves the union in the next few years. It is a close call between the CE package’s implementation into UK laws, expected to take about two years, and the completion of the nation’s EU exit, also expected to take a couple of years.
Defra ministers and civil servants have repeatedly said they continue to participate in discussion regarding the CE proposals “in good faith”. In a Westminster Hall debate in January, resources minister Therese Coffey said the department expected to introduce the CE package into law.
But this plan could be uprooted if prime minister Theresa May fails to agree a deal with the other 27 member states on the nature of the UK’s exit and might also be threatened by a potential deregulatory trade deal with the US.
For the moment, though, the industry is taking a similar approach to Defra and continuing to engage in policy discussions in Brussels.
Speaking to MRW, European policy adviser for the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Roy Hathaway, said: “Until you are told that something is of no relevance to the UK, you have to assume that it might be and therefore you have to stay in the discussion.”
The current uncertainty is bad for investment but unavoidable until the nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU is settled, he added.
“Until you are told that something is of no relevance to the UK, you have to assume that it might be and therefore you have to stay in the discussion.”
Roy Hathaway, ESA
But one thing that has been confirmed is the ability of UK businesses to apply for the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding. Both the Commission and the Government told them to continue seeking funding until the UK has left the EU, with the latter pledging to ensure that funds will be awarded even if projects run past the exit date.
EU Parliament environment committee’s CE proposals
On 24 January, the Parliament’s environment committee backed more stringent amendments to the Commission’s original CE package. The headline figures were mandatory requirements for member states to recycle or prepare for reuse 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030, 5% higher than in the Commission’s original proposals.
Within the municipal target, a requirement for 5% of this waste to be prepared for reuse or repaired was added.
Other amendments included:
- Tightening the Commission’s limit on municipal waste to landfill by 2030 from 10% to 5%
- Mandatory separate collection of food, textiles and wood
- Limiting the application of the technically, economically or environmentally practicable (TEEP) criterion for separate collections to sparsely populated or rural areas
- A single measurement point for recycling at the input to the final reprocessing phase
- A voluntary food waste reduction target of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030
Rapporteur Simona Bonafe, who led the amendments, also secured agreement from the committee on tougher rules for member states struggling to raise their recycling rates who apply for an extension to target deadlines. “They will be able to request a derogation, but it will be subject to specific conditions,” she said.
The European Federation of Environment committee: backs more demanding amendments to the CE package Waste Management and Environmental Services (Fead) welcomed the MEPs’ adoption of higher targets and the clarification on the definition of a final recycling process.
Fead also welcomed the committee’s inclusion of some TEEP derogation, which was not in Bonafe’s initial amended proposals, but it preferred the Commission’s more flexible application of the regulation, which is not limited to sparsely populated areas. It regretted that a ‘quantity’ criterion for waste type was not retained, which it said would have drawn a clear distinction between municipal and trade waste.
Fead’s statement reads: “There is a huge risk for municipal waste to be broadened, thereby including the collection and treatment of larger quantities of commercial and industrial waste to be financed by taxpayers’ money.
“Fead members are confident that this mistake can and will be rectified during the plenary vote.”
“If the Government is going to want us to help meet these future targets, we are going to have to get access to the waste stream.”
Craig Anderson, FRN
The ESA is part of Fead, and Hathaway said the European umbrella organisation would also lobby to get the Parliament to change its position on a recycling measurement point ahead of the crucial plenary vote on 13-16 March.
He said: “The recycling measurement is critical because, until there is agreement on what the calculation method is, nobody really knows what an ambitious but realistic target level looks like. For certain types of material that are collected in one country but recycled in a different country, it is very difficult to measure a recycling rate back to the country of origin.”
The Commission’s original proposals were already a “big step towards harmonised reporting”, he said, and suggested that a different measurement point could be allowed for each material.
Hathaway conceded that the full Parliament usually agrees to at least 90% of what the leading committee presents to it, but said he hoped it would listen to Commission experts who backed having two measurement points.
Michal Len, director of European trade body Rreuse, was “delighted” the committee had voted for separate reuse targets, which also include a 3% goal for 2025.
He said: “Separate targets would help to ensure that at least some of the re- usable goods discarded at municipal waste sites would be saved, repaired or resold rather than recycled, buried or burned. Preparing for reuse activities boost jobs – a major factor behind the decision of the Spanish government to set a national target last year.”
In the UK, Craig Anderson, chief executive of the Furniture Reuse Network, welcomed Parliamentary amendments to part of the Commission’s original directive which deemed as waste all donated products, such as clothes given to charities. Under the proposed changes, recycling and reuse targets will apply only to materials that have been disposed of as waste.
Speaking to MRW, Anderson backed the “ambitious” 5% target, but said the majority of the materials his organisation currently deals with would not contribute to the goals because it is non-waste.
“If the Government is going to want us and other reuse organisations to help meet these future targets, we are going to have to get access to the waste stream,” he said. “In our opinion, the foundation of all this new support could be the inclusion of social clauses within producer responsibility legislation.”
Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, said the Parliament’s amendments could pave the way for more than 800,000 jobs to be created across Europe by 2030 if implemented. But he regretted that the food waste targets were only voluntary.
He said: “Halving the amount of food wasted within the EU by 2030 would cut greenhouse gas emissions, save households money and reduce the pressure on land exerted by Europe’s insatiable demand for food.
“Unfortunately, MEPs missed an opportunity to guarantee these rewards by not making them legally binding, potentially letting countries that waste large amounts of food off the hook.”
The European Committee of the Regions, representing local authorities, strongly backed the Parliament’s amendments and called for separate targets for furniture, fabrics and waste electrical and electronic equipment.
European Commission progress report
On 26 January, the Commission considered progress of its CE action plan as well as the EfW communication and plastic waste roadmap. Its report listed measures already underway in areas such as ecodesign, food waste, organic fertilisers, guarantees for consumer goods, and innovation and investment.
In April last year, Fead raised concerns about the pace of the Commission’s implementation of the action plan, urging it at the time to speed up its work on ecodesign. The ecodesign communication was published in November, but Hathaway said it lacked any “game-changing developments” in relation to design for durability, reparability or recyclability.
He said: “The missing part in all of this is measures to incentivise the use of secondary raw materials. That gap has not been plugged.”
For 2017, the Commission committed to delivering a full strategy on plastics, a monitoring framework for the CE and a proposal for promoting water reuse. It is also creating an initiative with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to bring together investors and innovators.
At the launch of the reports in Brussels, first vice-president Frans Timmermans said: “I hope the present proposals can be dealt with in the coming year. There is a sense of urgency in the environment council [ministers from member states]. What is on the table now can be decided this year, hopefully.”
He made a dig at incoming US president Donald Trump, who has already made headlines for his attempt to stop the country’s Environmental Protection Agency sharing research directly with the public. Timmermans said he believed that EU regulation such as the CE package would be followed by the rest of the world, “even if they believe in alternative facts”.
Discussing the EfW communication, Timmermans said: “The last thing I want is to stimulate incineration and create a market for incineration in the sense that people would be demanding incineration. We need to avoid that as much as possible. It is unavoidable for a small part but only at the stage when recycling is no longer possible.”
Member states are advised to “gradually phase out public support for the recovery of energy from mixed waste”. This raised concerns with industry bodies such as the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants, which said this failed to recognise a potential EfW capacity shortfall across the continent.
President Ferdinand Kleppmann said: “It has to be kept in mind that almost half of the member states still landfill more than 50% of their municipal waste and have no or little EfW incineration capacity. EU28 landfills more than 67 million tonnes of municipal waste every year. Some of the recommendations of the communication are even in conflict with landfill diversion targets.”
In contrast, the Commission’s communication promotes anaerobic digestion (AD), entrenching it as recycling in the waste hierarchy because it produces a digestate to be used as fertiliser and a biogas. But critics say the technology is not suitable for all waste streams and support for EfW is still needed.
The brief plastics roadmap trails a full strategy expected later in the year, and included an aim to boost the recyclability of more types of plastic.
With leadership being shown on the continent, UK operators will be hoping that Defra’s 25-year environment plan follows suit.
The view from Brussels
Progress in the UK
In early February, European Commission’s lead on the environment Karmenu Vella presented a report on how the UK was implementing environmental measures. It picked out recycling where there was already a good knowledge base and good practices. “The WRAP programme (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland), which aims at showing how businesses, organisations and consumers can be part of a resource revolution, can be a basis for making further progress on waste and resource efficiency,” it said.
Points of excellence
It quoted examples where the UK is a leader on environmental implementation, with innovative approaches that could be shared more widely:
- The Green Investment Bank, attracting private investments in the green economy
- National infrastructure pipeline, which gives an overall picture of planned investment and provides a sound basis for governmental decisions
- Green public procurement
- An advanced approach on natural capital accounting
- Phase out the landfilling of recyclable and recoverable waste
- Use revenues from economic instruments to support separate collections and alternative infrastructure
- Introduce new economic instruments (such as pay-as-you-throw) to implement further the waste hierarchy and promote prevention, make reuse and recycling more economically attractive, and shift reusable and recyclable waste away from incineration
- Improve the performance of extended producer responsibility to cover the main waste streams, ensuring appropriate and sustainable funding of separate collection, sorting/recycling