After three years of intense discussion, the EU Parliament has agreed to new recycling targets – including 65% municipal by 2035, 70% packaging by 2030 and mandatory separate food waste collections by 2023.
Back in 2014, the European Commission drew up plans for a 70% municipal recycling rate. This was rejected after the incoming EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella withdrew the circular economy (CE) package.
Some member states, including the UK, were unhappy with the 70% proposal, and a revised CE package was issued in 2015.
The EU Parliament said the revised targets “generally preserves the ambition level of the Commission’s initial proposal and reconciles long-term targets with realities on the ground”.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA) said the legislation set a clear direction, but questioned whether it would be effective given that “economics for recycling are weak”.
There is now only one hurdle left, when the targets are voted on by EU ministers in the next few months. Environment secretary Michael Gove has indicated that the UK will take the targets into UK law.
Roy Hathaway, outgoing ESA Europe policy adviser, said: “EU environment ministers are not expected to vote on it until May or June, but these are seen as formalities.
“Even the UK Government – which throughout the negotiations has been critical of the proposed higher recycling targets – has said that it will support the deal.
“On the positive side, the new legislation sets a clear direction of travel to 2035. There are also higher targets for packaging recycling and new provisions on the way extended producer responsibility is operated and funded.
“But there are question marks over whether the legislation will have the desired effect. The biggest caveat is whether there are, or eventually will be, viable markets for the vastly increased supply of recyclable material implied by the 65% target.
“At a time when the average EU28 recycling rate is only 40-45%, the economics of recycling are weak, and the recent issues around exports to China underline this. Without significant action to boost demand for recycled materials – or to prevent waste altogether – the higher EU recycling targets beyond 2020 will lack credibility.”
EU Parliament rapporteur Simona Bonafe said: “Europe has been able to show its positive side, to bring together national interests… For this reason I do not deny satisfaction with the result we managed to bring home.
“I cannot fail to mention the inclusion, also here for the first time in European legislation, of compulsory measures to reduce the odious phenomenon of food waste, an environmental and ethical problem, as well as actions aimed at combating pollution of the seas from waste.”