Members of the Parliament (MEPs) have unanimously rejected ”watered down” ambitions for resource efficiency across the continent by 2030. The plenary vote has advocated to reinstate the 70% target for municipal waste recycling, strengthening current proposals by 5%.

Meanwhile, a 2030 target for packaging recycling was voted to be 80% – higher than the 75% previously backed by the Commission. And the waste-to-landfill target has been restricted to 5%, replacing a mandatory target of 10% by 2030. MEPs have also voted for a European Union (EU) food waste reduction target of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, compared to 2014. 

Commenting on the vote, Socialists and Democrats (S&D) MEP Simona Bonafè said: “Today, Parliament by a very large majority has showed that it believes in the transition towards a circular economy. We decided to restore the ambitious recycling and landfill targets in line with what the Commission had originally proposed in 2014.

“Demand for raw materials by the world economy could increase by a further 50% in the next 15 years. In order to reverse this trend, we must adopt a circular development model which keeps materials and their value in circulation, the only solution able to keep together sustainability with economic growth.”

Today’s proposals also strengthen EU provisions on waste prevention and extended producer responsibility (EPR), increase the use of economic instruments such as incineration taxes and deposit-return schemes, and provide more clarity on the decontamination of hazardous components in waste.

The Circular Economy Package will only be finalised once both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers agree on an identical text. Malta, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, has said it will try to reach a deal with MEPs before 1 July, when its six-month Presidential term ends.

Important milestone

Green groups and industry bodies have welcomed today’s revised targets as a “clear signal” that re-use and recycling remain of paramount priority in the pursuit of an EU circular economy. Trade association European Bioplastics (EUBP) insists that the amendments encourage Member States to support bio-based materials for the production of packaging and improve market conditions for such materials.

“This vote is an important milestone in strengthening the link between the circular economy and the bioeconomy in Europe,” said EUBP chairman François de Bie. “Bio-based and recycled materials are starting to be equally recognised as a viable solution to make packaging more sustainable and reduce our dependency on finite fossil resources.”

The plenary also voted for amendments of the Waste Framework Directive which support a definition of recycling that includes organic recycling. If the plans are legislated, a separate collection of bio-waste will be ensured across Europe, facilitated by certified collection tools such as compostable bio-waste bags. In addition, the MEPs have voted to exclude mechanically or organically recyclable waste from landfill.

“This will provide an important boost to the secondary resource market within the EU,” added de Bie. “Bio-based, mechanically or organically recyclable plastics support circular thinking by lowering carbon emissions, helping to reach recycling quotas and keep valuable secondary raw materials and renewable carbon in the loop”.

Step in right direction

Today’s vote has also been praised by food waste campaigners, which are now calling for the 50% reduction target to become legally-binding at Member State level rather than a voluntary aim. Campaigners point to UN figures which show that approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted in the EU each year, equating to around a third of all food produced for human consumption.

“We’re celebrating this landmark vote to halve EU food waste by 2030, which is a great victory for our campaign and the food waste movement,” This is Rubbish activist Martin Bowman said.

“It’s a massive step in the right direction to see the European Parliament call on the Commission to review whether binding targets are possible by 2020. Now we need to see the Council and Commission match the ambition of the Parliament. We invite people to join our fight by signing our petition, to put pressure on the Council who’ll soon be deciding their position.”

Bowman’s views were echoed by Kierra Box, a food campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE), who said: “Yet again, public pressure from across Europe has persuaded MEPs to strengthen action on food waste. We welcome the clear signal given by today’s vote that Europe is committed to halving waste from farm-to-fork by 2030. 

“But it is new plans to make this target binding by 2020 that are the real victory here. The time for voluntary action has passed. The pressure is still on to ensure that this vital target is given the teeth it needs to make a real difference to this needless waste.’

British resistance

Supporters of the Circular Economy Package highlight the potential for reduced landfill rates, increased recycling numbers and the growth of the circular economy as key benefits of the legislation.

But, according to one recent report from UK-based organisation Policy Exchange, British businesses could lose as much as £2bn over the next 20 years as a result of the Package, of which some non-legally binding aspects would not apply to the UK after the UK exits the bloc.

The UK should instead seek to adopt a stronger national waste and resource management framework post-Brexit, Policy Exchange has said. The report author Richard Howard told edie that the UK Government can maximise the resource productivity of the British economy through more UK-specific policies focused on energy-from-waste technologies, re-use innovation and a standardised recycling system.

The think tank’s report followed on from separate research from the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) which claimed that the UK should consult on its own recycling targets for 2025 to boost investor confidence in the waste sector.

Defra is said to be reluctant to commit to more ambitious recycling targets. Resource Minister Therese Coffey recently said that, of all the elements of the EU’s Circular Economy Package, the UK Government is “less keen on” weight-based recycling targets, which she said can lead to material being recycled when it could rather be re-used.

George Ogleby

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