EU drops food waste and marine litter reduction targets, leak reveals
The EU has dropped a plan to pressure countries into cutting food waste and marine litter by nearly a third, documents seen by the Guardian show.
The law would have obliged countries to reduce food waste by 30% by 2025, with national strategies for their retail, distribution, manufacturing and hospitality and household sectors.
By 2030, under an aspirational target, countries would also have had to cut common pieces of rubbish found on their beaches by 30%, as well as fishing gear found at sea.
But in the new draft of the EU “circular economy” legislative proposal, which could change, references to marine litter have been removed and countries are merely asked to take unspecified “measures” to curb food waste, with no timeframes or targets.
A third of the world’s annual food production is wasted every year by some estimates, while the potential costs of marine litter in Europe have beenestimated at about €700m (£490m) a year.
Last year, the UK government ignored a recommendation from the environmental audit committee of MPs to end the “throwaway society”. The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was subsequently criticised forworking closely with industry groups on the issue.
“Corporate lobbying appears to have watered down the best ambitions for the circular economy concept,” said Eve Mitchell of Food and Water Europe.
One similarly named trade association, Food Drink Europe, welcomed news that the attempt to set an EU target for 2025 had been batted back.
“We agree with setting a target but it has to have some credibility before you put it out there,” Tove Larsson, the group’s sustainability director, told the Guardian. “First we need to set a definition and develop a methodology to assess the problem. Then we need to report back. But we need to have frameworks in place first.”
Food Drink Europe is currently working with the commission to develop these. But it takes no position on what the end target should be or when it should be met by.
An EU action plan to be presented with the new proposal will recognise UN sustainable development goals for curbing food waste and marine litter. But campaigners view these as weaker commitments, because they do not require the commission to take any action if states fail to meet them.
Meadhbh Bolger, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said there was a danger of a “light touch” regulation that did not do enough to address food waste or marine litter.
“So far, European countries are only implementing very weak measures to tackle the flow of waste to the oceans, and an EU reduction target was essential in driving stronger action,” she said. “The commission developed this target, and now it seems it will not be included. This new proposal shows a severe lack of concern for the health of the oceans.”
The original directive was seen by campaigners as a breakthrough for resource efficiency. By 2025, it would have phased out landfill dumping and imposed a 90% recycling rate for paper.
By 2030, EU states would have had to recycle 70% of their municipal waste, 80% of product packaging, 60% of plastic packaging, 60% of plastics, 80% of wood and 90% of ferrous metals, aluminium and glass.
But the package was withdrawn by the incoming EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker, after industry protests. The backlash that provoked from environmentalists led Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, to promise a revised proposal that would be “broader, more ambitious [and] more effective”.
“If the commission is to deliver on its promise of more ambition, it has to propose at least the same recycling targets that were part of the 2014 proposal,” said Pieter de Pous, the policy director for the European Environmental Bureau. “It then has to introduce waste prevention measures and a set of targets and indicators that will slash Europe’s overconsumption of resources.”
The revised draft has put all resource use targets in square brackets, indicating continuing negotiations with EU states. But the headline 70% target for municipal waste is now described as the most ambitious scenario, and a five-year extension to the deadline is suggested for countries that have difficulties meeting the target. The EU would also allow 10% of materials not previously considered as being recycled – such as residues that are burned or buried – to be counted as such.
“Citizens need our governments to regulate business, but too often we see good ideas diluted until industry agrees with them,” Mitchell said. “It will be a real shame if that happens here.”
The Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said: “We need to set ambitious targets, including for marine litter and food waste, if we are to create a stronger and more sustainable economy. MEPs will not be giving in without a fight.”
The final proposal is expected to be unveiled in early December.