Talking at the House of Lords yesterday, the European Commission DG Environment deputy director-general Dr Alan Seatter, painted a picture of an EU with an unsustainable pattern of consumption.

“The amount of raw materials that we need to keep our economy going in Europe every year comes to 16 tonnes of per person per year.

“Of that six tonnes goes to waste every year and of that waste three tonnes is going to landfill – that is clearly something that is quite an unsustainable pattern of production in the economy,” he said.

In addition, Seatter pointed out that the EU was vulnerable in terms of resource security because it was importing six times as much materials as it exports.

He also explained that the EU was wasting about 80kg per person per year of food – half of which is edible.

However, Seatter said there was plenty the EU could do to catch up with its more sustainable competitors.

“It is possible to do better because the Japanese economy operates at double the resource productivity than our economy and there are some countries in Europe that are recycling 70-80% of their entire production and have practically no landfill at all.”

Seatter claimed that it was “understandable” that governments were reluctant to adopt rules and regulations on resources due to the current economic climate and the rising figure of the 25 million unemployed across Europe.

However, he pointed out that waste was the fastest growing concern on the environment for public opinion throughout Europe, notwithstanding the economic downturn.

He claimed that no more legislation was needed because if existing policy was implemented Europe could create up to half a million jobs in the waste and recycling sector in the next few years.

Economic incentives were crucial he said. Countries that were more successful in diverting waste from landfill, he argued, had much higher rates of landfill tax than in the UK.

He added: “There is now between €45bn and €60bn of loans earmarked for resource efficiency projects in the next few years which could attract quite a big volume of funding, so this is not an expensive activity in terms of public expenditure.”

Green Alliance’s Julie Hill pointed out that according to WRAP, only 19% of the British economy was circular but noted that these figures might be unreliable as Japan’s relative figures were lower than the UK’s.

“It shows that we don’t have yet such a concerted idea of what being circular means,” she said.

Conor McGlone

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