EU eyes higher recycling rates and landfill ban with new circular economy framework

"There is no place for waste," proclaimed Janez Potocnik as the Commissioner for Environment yesterday announced details of a revised package of measures to accelerate Europe's transition to a circular economy.

Speaking at a press debriefing on the final day of European Green Week in Brussels, Potočnik said that the new policy package will include higher recycling rates and the elimination of landfill from waste legislation, with a particular focus on food and construction waste. (Scroll down for audio).

“European waste legislation has proven that it’s working very well,” the Slovenian said. “The situation from year to year in each of the member states is changing for the better, but the difference between each member state is still huge and that’s why it is really important that we work together to have the same vision.

“The package will be based on lifecycle approaches and will set out the instruments needed to introduce changes in design, investments, business models and markets. It will specifically devote attention to sustainable buildings and sustainable food to areas that have been identified from the outset as having the highest impact on resource use.

“It will be wide-ranging and comprehensive and will look carefully and specifically at green jobs and skills and green entrepreneurship and SMEs.”

The circular economy package is expected to be officially announced later this month. When it comes to measuring ‘resource efficiency’, Potočnik added that raw material consumption related to GDP is the ‘best available proxy’ to give a clear political direction. “This metric is not perfect, but neither is GDP itself,” he said.

Now or never

Under the current policy framework, member states can choose from four options: –


  • Measuring the preparation for reuse of recyclables 
  • Preparation for reuse and the recycling of recyclables 
  • Preparation for reuse and the recycling of household waste 
  • Preparation for reuse and the recycling of municipal waste 

But Potočnik wants to set stricter targets, particularly with regards to municipal waste collection.

“We are not ready to finance and support the things which are going in the counter direction to the waste hierarchy anymore. We want to contribute to the change.

“There will be a lot of people and businesses saying ‘not now, not yet, wait until we have more data’. But I have listened to those calls for many years and it just comes down to, either you start or you don’t start – but if we don’t start, we will constantly use excuses.

AUDIO: Janez Potočnik announcement at European Green Week 2014

Zero-waste ambitions 

Speaking of his vision for the future, based on this new circular economy policy and other Environmental strategies from European institutions, Potočnik – who reaches the end of his four-year term at the Commission this year – believes every business in every member state must ‘address short-term interests with long-term interests in mind’.

“We have to limit the amount of waste we are generating. We should recycle everything that can be recycled. You can incinerate anything only which cannot be recycled. And landfilling should be systematically phased out.

“For 2020, we have a target for 50% of municipal waste to be recycled. We will obviously propose something higher with this new package and we will look to the best performers for that revised target.

“When we look further forward and talk about 2030, we have to understand that this is not tomorrow – it is the course in which we want to go and there are still whole investment cycles ahead of us. But we just need to keep the message consistent – we want to live in a society without waste.”

European Green Week took place from 3-5 June at The Egg conference centre in Brussels. Yesterday, edie reported from one of the sessions that the EU Commission is pledging to ‘think small first’ with all environmental legislation in the future.

Luke Nicholls

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