2002 in review: waste management market boosted by EU waste directives

Last year saw waste industry sales booming from EU waste directives, with composting, recycling and biological treatment services doing particularly well. Recycling rates for plastic and steel soared, with countries claiming to have saved money and reduced carbon dioxide emissions through the recycling of packaging. But industry continued to clash with legislators over whether paper should be burnt or recycled, and one report warned of increased birth defects around landfill sites.

Denmark began the year by lifting the ban on one-use-only drinks cans, while a European recycling group called for the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) to focus more on sustainable practices such as re-use centres. More worrying news from a European report published in The Lancet showed a 40% increase in birth defects within three kilometres of a landfill site.

February reported European sewage sludge to be on the rise, while a European electric industry body appealed for less emotive debate on nuclear waste, with more information available to the public on the issue of ‘radwastes’. Market research found the urban wastewater directive to be boosting sales in wastewater treatment equipment.

March saw the European Environment Agency issuing advice on how to divert biodegradable waste away from landfills, to enable countries to meet 2016 targets for organic waste going to landfill of 35% of 1995 levels. The Irish government announced its intention to spend €127 million to fend off its waste crisis, but warned that Irish glass might have to be sent abroad for recycling.

In April the European Parliament voted to tighten legislation set out in the WEEE directive, with a compulsory collection target of 6kg of electro-scrap per person per year from private households by 2005. Austria revealed that its practice of recycling packaging materials was saving the country €270 million a year. A separate report showed that growth in European plastics recycling was outstripping growth in plastics consumption.

May received calls from the European Commission to increase coordination of national waste management, while a European survey showed that EU citizens wanted nuclear power generators to be directly responsible for their nuclear waste, rather than leaving the problem for future generations to solve. The Helsinki Commission reported that the Baltic region continued to suffer from pollution hot spots, UNEP released guidelines for environmentally sound battery disposal , and a German study showed that the recycling of 2.3 million tonnes of packaging had reduced the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes.

A report by the UK Waste and Resources Action Programme released in June found that countries with composting legislation and statutory standards in place were the most successful at composting, with Austria, Germany and the Netherlands among best . The European Court of Justice condemned France for failing to comply with legislation designed to reduce dangerous emissions from waste incinerators, following a complaint that the incinerator at Maubeuge did not comply with EU combustion guidelines.

A July report revealed Irish waste had grown by 60% over the past five years, while a green audit of the European Commission by a group of charities criticised the Commission’s “lack of international leadership on sustainable development” in the run-up to the Johannesburg Summit. The Commission meanwhile launched a €110 million fund to tackle environmental and nuclear pollution in Northern Europe.

August welcomed a report predicting a market boom for the waste management industry, particularly for services offering biological waste treatment, with total revenue expected to reach €38.5 billion by 2009 . But a UK parliamentary committee criticised the European Commission for its lack of preparedness regarding waste directives, which was causing “a great deal of uncertainty for waste producers and the waste management industry”.

A recycling lobby group rejected EU proposals released in September to tighten legislation on waste shipment, while the steel packaging industry announced it had exceeded recycling targets by nearly four times, reaching 55%, up from 15% the previous year.

October saw a new study showing that switching from landfill and incineration to composting, separating waste and collecting more hazardous household waste will all be cost-effective. The European Council and Parliament reached an agreement on WEEE and its sister legislation, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) , while European industry groups argued over the correct method of calculating recycling rates for batteries.

A new international council to campaign on waste was set up in November , and the paper industry lobbied against a EU mandate that would promote the burning of paper that would otherwise be recycled .

The year rounded off with reports on reducing hazardous emissions to the Baltic Sea, boosting the Danish economy through paper incineration  and reducing dioxin emissions in Ireland generated primarily from domestic fires. A fourth December report suggested snails were increasing the metal toxicity of soils.

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