Europe needs a strong waste policy, with greater regulation

According to the Brussels-based federation for environmental citizens groups, the European Environment Bureau, Europe needs to develop a strong waste policy with greater regulation, and to defend the policy from calls for decentralisation.

In its new strategy paper, Towards a Low Waste Europe, the Bureau claims that industry’s call for integrated waste management will ultimately lead to the easiest or cheapest solutions, rather than to those that are the most environmentally appropriate. The losers in such a recycling market would be operators that are strictly regulated, and recycling industries within countries with proactive waste prevention policies. “At the end of the day, waste will be burned and not prevented or recycled,” says the paper.

One solution to the problem, says the Bureau, is to redefine the waste hierarchy, which is intended to give priority to waste prevention over recovery, and to ensure that it is the guiding principle for European waste policy. Although this hierarchy has never been put into practice, the Bureau sees too much flexibility, with quantitative waste prevention in reality being subject to scientific review, and rarely reaching beyond the stage of programmatic declarations, and subject to generous implementation delays. Where they exist, recycling targets are moderate and allow for other recovery options, says the Bureau. Exemptions from the hierarchy should only be permitted in cases where an option performs better environmentally.

There should also be a clear distinction between qualitative and quantitative waste prevention, according to the report, with qualitative prevention referring to the minimisation of the use and release of hazardous substances in waste. Reuse should also be acknowledged as a method of waste prevention, and a clear distinction should be maintained between recycling and energy recovery, with a new category for ‘post-disposal’ activities for the products of incineration which would require careful policy attention.

“In summary, the EU needs a strong waste policy and we are concerned about calls for more decentralisation,” said Christian Hey, EU Policy Director at the EEB. “The problem is the lack of incentives and driving forces to create prosperity with less waste. The problem is not over-regulation.”

The report puts forward a total of 10 key points which require attention, advocating, among other things, a broadening of producer responsibility beyond only cars and electronics, to include products such as packaging, furniture, and construction materials.

The report’s 10 key points also include:

  • driving towards a resource efficient Europe;
  • a requirement for further waste definition;
  • harmonisation of pollution prevention control for disposal and recover operations; and
  • the European Commission leading the process rather than merely facilitating it.

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