Europeans Invited to Shape New Waste Strategy

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 27, 2003 (ENS) - The trash is mounting up in Europe, and today the European Commission issued a policy statement that sets the stage for new laws which attempt to diminish the ever-growing piles. The formal statement launches a broad consultation exercise on how to avoid generating waste, how to reduce the use of resources, and which wastes to recycle.

Each EU citizen currently produces an average of 550 kilograms (kg) (1,212.5 pounds) of municipal waste every year. This is far beyond the target of 330 kg (727.5 pounds) established in the EU's 1993 Fifth Environment Action Programme.

This amount of waste "constitutes a major waste management problem and has significant environmental impact," the Commission said today.

Market based approaches would be the most efficient way of starting a "waste production diet" and moving towards a recycling economy, the Commission proposed. Contrary to what most people think, the Commission said, the cost of recycling is often well above that of incineration or landfill.

trash

Rubbish bins are overflowing across Europe. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said, "When we throw a product away, it represents much more than just a piece of waste. It also embodies all the resources used to produce it. If you add them all in, the real weight of a toothbrush becomes 1.5 kg, and that of a mobile phone 75 kg!"

"To save resources and avoid pollution," Wallstrom said, "the Commission is determined to put new focus on waste prevention and recycling. We obviously need new targets and measures, but I want to be sure that we base them on the best available knowledge. That is why we are launching a broad consultation process. I hope stakeholders will provide us with their comments and ideas."

On the basis of comments received from the public over the next six months in reaction to the formal policy, "Towards a Thematic Strategy on Waste Prevention and Recycling," the Commission will determine its final objectives and decide what measures to propose for final adoption by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

The Commission confesses it has little idea how to proceed on the waste prevention front. Existing waste prevention targets have generally failed, it notes. A lack of reliable EU statistics means current trends will not be clear until 2008. Neither is it clear what measures should be used to influence trends, said the Commission, calling for a "fuller scientific analysis."

To gather more substantial information, the Commission is seeking input on quantitative waste prevention targets and measures that will ensure that these targets are met.

Possible measures include waste prevention plans developed through the involvement of industry sectors and individual companies.

Low waste production techniques in European industries could be mandated or encouraged by the Commission. The most effective national strategies amongst the EU member states could be identified and broadened to the EU level.

Targets are to be set only in next year's strategy, based on studies currently underway. Material recycling targets should be set at the EU level, not country by country, the Commission says, providing flexibility for a pan-European recycling industry.

Targets that are indicative-only could be set for some waste streams, such as household waste. As well as a recycling target, there may also be a source separation target and a dismantling target established for each material.

EU recycling policy could be improved in several ways, the policy statement proposes. Comments are invited on potential measures such as setting recycling targets for materials. Currently, EU law requires the recycling of materials from certain wastes - packaging, cars, electronics - but does not require the recycling of these same materials when they are used in other products.

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Newspapers put out for recycling are contained in plastic bags, and must be separated before they can be recycled.
For example, packaging cardboard has to be recycled, but office paper or newsprint does not, and the same goes for aluminium, plastics and other materials. A more coherent approach to recycling could result in greater environmental benefits, the Commission says.

Getting the prices of the different waste treatment options right is an important step, says the Commission. Despite strict EU legislation, disposing of waste in landfills and incinerators is often still cheaper than recycling.

The policy paper proposes to correct this imbalance through tradable certificates, the coordination of national landfill taxes, promoting pay as you throw schemes and making producers responsible for recycling.

The Commission is attempting to ensure that recycling is both easy and clean. In some cases, implementation of EU waste law may have led to unnecessary burdens on the recycling industry that "need to be identified and solved."

Where recycling in the EU is still undertaken with poor technology, common approaches should be developed to ensure that recycling businesses apply the best available technology.

Finally, the Commission says it will try to resolve long standing disputes over EU definitions of waste, recycling, recovery and disposal. Preparatory studies are already underway.

All stakeholders are invited to provide comments before November 30. These will be taken into account when the Thematic Strategy is drafted. It is expected to be presented in 2004. This Thematic Strategy will be one of the seven Thematic Strategies mentioned in the Sixth Environment Action Programme.

Further information is available at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/waste/strategy.htm

{ENDS Daily contributed to this report.}