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EU-wide landfill ban suggested by top official

Discussions in Brussels over the new package of Circular Economy (CE) measures could mean an outright ban of landfill in preference to EU-wide recycling targets, a top official has suggested.

The original CE proposals, dropped at the end of 2014, included an umbrella EU figure of 70% recycling for households by 2030. But this is being seen as impracticable with such a wide range of recycling performance levels currently across Europe.

No specific proposals are expected for months, with the latest suggested date for the new “more ambitious” CE package and a greater emphasis on economic measures being early autumn.

Karl Falkenberg

Karl Falkenberg, director-general for environment at the European Commission, left, speaking at a conference in Brussels organised by the new Euric recyclers’ association and the European Bureau for Conservation and Development, pointed out that the current target of 50% recycling by 2020 is unlikely to be achieved in at least half of the member states. No names were mentioned but the UK could well be in that group.

He said: “One of the things beginning to emerge is that the Commission is making a distinction between targets of 70% by 2030 that may be easy to decide whereas the reality in the 28 member states is that the [chances of] implementation are questionable.”

Falkenberg used the phrase “effective ambition” to indicate a principle behind current thinking.

“Should we have [widespread] targets or can we push recycling by closing landfills?” he asked. “The materials will go up the hierarchy and they will be recycled.”

He acknowledged that this might encourage even greater emphasis on energy recovery, but added: “We have to ensure we do not make the mistake of some of the early movers and go too far towards incineration.”

But he conceded that there would have to be some incineration “even in a perfect CE”.

“Incineration and recovery are part of the European energy proposals so we have to find the right balance, and that is a challenge in the next three to four months. There will be extensive stakeholder participation to provide us with your views.”

Falkenberg stressed that keeping material out of landfill generated additional economic activity: “As long as we put them in landfill, we are not going to benefit in any [way] from growth or job creation.

“Europe has understood this. We have legislation that says member states by 2015 have to have separate collections in place for the major waste streams. Unless that is effectively implemented, I don’t understand how we are going to explain to citizens that they separately collect all this material only for the waste companies to throw it in a landfill.

“[Landfill bans] would be a first, reasonable, rational way of translating existing legislation.”

After his speech, Falkenberg told MRW he was not offering Commission policy at this stage, but the views were his analysis of the current situation in terms of waste and recycling.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Selective bans already in place or pending in many member states including Scotland (not quite a member state!). Landfills starting to close in any case due to falling gate receipts. Push on with selective material bans (biogenic materials, thermally recoverable materials, metals etc) and of course intro or maintain landfill taxes. I think the main problem is our recycling ambitions need a new suite of support tools such as deposit refund, more local enforcement of behaviour and improved re-use and remanufacturing schemes. Some member states need to make progress on national policy/strategy frameworks. There is no one solution to fix this. And of course you have to deal with the reality of commodity price risk which we are seeing right now which impedes recycling. Taxes on virgin materials one possible solution.

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