Since the European Commission announced the withdrawal of the Waste Package in 2015, to be replaced with a more comprehensive strategy towards a Circular Economy, there has been a familiar level of debate and disagreement over its content and approach.
However, the acceptance in January by the European Parliament of challenging targets towards recyclable waste was heralded as a milestone on the path towards a more resource- and waste-efficient Circular Economy in the EU.
The new "Waste Package" is, in legislative terms, designed to synchronise various Directives relating to waste, recycling and the related topics of packaging and disposal. The new targets relate primarily to the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.
The targets, when initially mooted in early 2016, were greeted by the waste sector with some concern. The complexity of introducing targets to an area of the economy characterised by rapid but uneven innovation and technological development meant that the Commission's approach had to be to impose relatively long-term targets: to prohibit landfill of recyclable waste by 2025 and to recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030.
The achievement of these targets across the EU will be no mean feat. While many local and city-regional authorities who have invested in recycling innovation will have little difficulty reaching such targets, currently only 44% of municipal waste across the EU is recycled or composted.
The interpretation of the targets in member states might also present difficulty. The decision over which method should be used to calculate recycling and recovery rates was hotly contested in the drafting process throughout 2016, with industry and municipalities lobbying for the method laid out in the Waste Framework Directive, while environmentalists pushed for the more challenging WEEE Directive to be used. Looking at a process of implementation which extends over 8 years, the definition of "recycled" waste will come in for scrutiny in the application of these targets.
The European Commission has been keen to demonstrate the potential value of waste targets to the private sector, which has greeted the European Parliament's vote with enthusiasm for the project job creation and market opportunities the targets create in various member states.
However there has been criticism of the targets from proponents of a Circular Economy for being uni-dimensional, and not challenging enough. The focus of the targets on waste output rather than on product manufacture, plastic-sourcing and reduction of e.g. packaging has led some actors in the waste sector to conclude that the Waste Package represents a non-binding, transitional legislative intervention. But proponents of a more product-oriented, differentiated policy had some success in influencing the outcomes - for example, a target of a 30% reduction in food waste is considered likely to have some impact on the food and drink sector. Overall there will be some concern that an opportunity had been missed, through a focus on residual waste, to regulate further on packaging and inefficient manufacture.
Sector Watch will follow developments on the targets through the EU Council and the formal decision-making process in the coming months.
More information on the vote in the European Parliament's Environment Committee on 24 January 2017 can be found at europarl.europa.eu/news