Down to earth and back to business

Written by: Lydia Heida | Published:

The storm around Brexit is calming down, but the ongoing regrouping of political forces in the UK is leading to an impasse in its relations with the EU. However, some shifts are taking place and major improvements to EU waste and recycling legislation are on their way. Lydia Heida reports

First of all, Julian King has been nominated as the new British member of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. The European Parliament and the European Council still need to give approval, but this is expected to happen at the end of August.

As for King’s portfolio, there are rumours that this could include space, audit, multilingualism or African relations. King, the former British ambassador to France, is well acquainted with Brussels political circles.

He was head of office of the British commissioner in 2008-2009 and is married to a Danish senior official at the EU’s diplomatic service.

The summer break will create the much-needed time for emotions to cool down, since these are still clouding judgements. For example, when it comes to the role British MEPs will have in the future. Some MEPs have a problem with European laws being adopted or rejected thanks to votes from a country that is leaving the EU.

But as long as the official divorce papers are not handed in, and even during the two-year exit negotiation period, the UK will stay an EU member with all its rights and plights, including the right to vote.

This subject will be dealt with at the September Conference of the Presidents of Parliament, which consists of the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and the chairmen of the political groups.

Update on recycling targets

In the meantime, the European Parliament rapporteur for the Circular Economy Package, Simona Bonafè, has published a report about the current status of recycling regarding various waste streams and recommendations for new targets. Unfortunately, the report fails to indicate whether some existing targets have been met.

By 2020, 70% of construction and demolition waste, one of the largest waste streams in the EU, should be prepared for reuse, recycling or recovery. But there is no mention in the report as to whether any progress has been made on C&D waste.

As for other waste streams, the report paints a well-known picture, namely that results between member states differ a lot. For example, seven member states landfill less than 10% of their municipal waste, while eight landfill over 70%.

Data on the implementation of the directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is not yet available. Major problems, such as the illegal shipment of end-of-life vehicles and the lack of quality of waste statistics, need to be solved.

However, the recycling of packaging is going really well.

In 2013, 65% of this waste stream was already recycled in the EU-28. In all, progress is being made and hopefully this report will lead to an increased effort to meet the 2020 targets.

Further more, the report recommends stricter targets than currently proposed in the Circular Economy Package and introduces new targets. For example, 65% biowaste recycling by 2025; a 50% reduction in food waste and marine litter by 2030; and 5% packaging re-use by 2030. This report will first go through the two involved committees – environment and industry – and thus voting in the European Parliament is postponed to early 2017.

Challenges to surmount

Another important aim is to create a smoothly functioning EU waste market, but there are still many obstacles to overcome.

Around 250 organisations that are involved in recycling, such as Eurometaux and the European Battery Recycling Association, have been interviewed to draw up a list with key problems and solutions for the EC’s Environment Directorate-General.

On the hot list is a plan to create a Schengen area for waste so this can be sent to member states for recycling without filling in all sorts of documents. It is also deemed important to harmonise and strengthen the system of pre-consented facilities and to ensure that member states have the same definition of waste, hazardous waste and by-products.

Also, an electronic system will be set up for the notification of waste shipments, since this still involves paperwork. This year, a list with requirements for the implementation of electronic data exchange will be drafted.

All this is motivated by trying to realise the alluring future that a 2012 European Commission study predicted: namely, full implementation of EU waste legislation that would increase the annual turnover of the EU waste and recycling sector by €42 billion and create more than 400,000 jobs by 2020.

Lydia Heida is an independent journalist specialising in the recycling, renewable energy and resource sectors. She is based in the Netherlands

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