The EU shows it is not all talk and no action

Written by: Lydia Heida | Published:

While negotiations on the Circular Economy Package may be finalised soon, the EU has set its claws into a cartel, including UK-based Eco-Bat Technologies, that allegedly conspired to reduce the price of used car batteries. It also took Romania to court for failing to close 68 illegal landfills. Lydia Heida reports

There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, as the current holder of the EU Council presidency, Malta, wants to round up negotiations between Members of the Parliament (MEPs) and the EU Council on the Circular Economy Package before 1 July.

In the coming months, MEPs will keep fighting to restore the targets of the original 2014 Package, as MEP Simona Bonafè, the author of four directives on waste reduction and recycling, ensured after one of the last votes in the European Parliament.

Bonafè also stated that “demand for raw materials by the world economy could increase by a further 50% in the next 15 years”. Such a steep increase is a gruesome foresight for a world in which our present consumer culture has already led to such environmental degradation that, for example, thousands of species have become endangered.

According to Bonafè, a circular economy will be “the only solution to keep together sustainability with economic growth”.

Seen from this perspective, every effort to develop a blueprint with high recycling targets seems worthwhile, despite the loss in time.

New consumer and production model

Creating a circular economy will mean that a whole new consumer and production model needs to be crafted. And not only in Europe; this needs to be done on a worldwide scale to create a level playing field and to have sufficient impact.

At present, the European way is still very much defined by wasting resources. Recycling is a minor force, while landfilling, incineration and exporting waste to countries with little environmental legislation have
the upper hand.

On 9 April, 10 days after experts had racked their brains on how to hit a 55% reuse and recycling target for plastic packaging waste during the Plastics Recycling Show Europe in Amsterdam, Greenpeace activists blocked the entrance to Coca-Cola’s UK headquarters in London with a 2.5 ton plastic sculpture.

Coca-Cola sells more than 100 billion plastic bottles worldwide every year that contain “a miserable 7% recycled content on average”, according to Greenpeace. The charity urged the soft drinks giant to increase the use of recycled plastic to 100%.

Romania gets a slap on the hand

Recently, the European Commission took Romania to court for its failure to close and rehabilitate 68 illegal landfills, including 27 industrial landfills with hazardous waste. Similar measures have been taken against Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Slovakia.

In the meantime, Central and Eastern European countries are planning to use around €2.7bn from the EU’s Cohesion and European Regional Development Fund for the construction of more than 80 waste incinerators with a combined capacity of 5.42 million tonnes.

More than 15 NGOs, such as Friends of the Earth Europe, Zero Waste Europe and the European Environmental Bureau, are calling on the European Investment Bank and other European institutions not to allow that money to be allocated to these projects.

Apart from these issues, a lot of fine-tuning of existing EU legislation on waste and recycling needs to be done. The review of the EU environment standards for waste treatment is almost finished, after three years of debate.

The Joint Research Centre and other European Commission services, together with stakeholders – 16 Member States, Norway, 19 industrial organisations and one environmental NGO – have defined the best available techniques for waste treatment, and associated emission levels.

For the first time, emission levels have been set for pollutants such as cyanide, and chlorofluorocarbons for mechanical treatment of e-waste containing refrigerant. Emission levels have become stricter for dust emissions to air and for emission to water of mercury, cadmium and chromium VI, among others.

EU authorities can use both lists to set operational permit requirements for around 4,000 of the largest waste treatment facilities in the EU.

Paying the price

On top of this, the EU has been busy with upholding the law where it comes to the waste and recycling market. The Commission has fined Campine (Belgium), Eco-Bat Technologies (UK), Johnson Controls (US) and Recylex (France) a total of €68m for colluding to lower the price paid to scrap dealers for used car batteries.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Well-functioning markets can help us reduce
waste and support the circular economy. Therefore, we do not tolerate behaviour that undermines competition.”


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