The Parliamentary Yearbook has reported over the years on industrial and domestic waste management and recycling and is currently gathering news items for a major feature in the next edition
A new report on how Member States manage their municipal waste shows startling differences across the EU. The report grades the 27 Member States against 18 criteria, using green, orange and red flags in areas such as total waste recycled, pricing of waste disposal, and infringements of European legislation. The resulting scoreboard forms part of an on-going study that will help Member States improve their waste management performance. Top of the table are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, none of which have more than 2 red flags. But the pattern is reversed at the other end of the scale, where green flags are scarce.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said:
“The picture that emerges from this exercise confirms my strong concerns. Many Member States are still landfilling huge amounts of municipal waste – the worst waste management option – despite better alternatives, and despite structural funds being available to finance better options. Valuable resources are being buried, potential economic benefits are being lost, jobs in the waste management sector are not being created, and human health and the environment suffer. This is hard to defend in our present economic circumstances.”
The Member States with the largest implementation gaps are Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Failings include poor or non-existent waste prevention policies, a lack of incentives to divert waste from landfills, and inadequate waste infrastructure. Heavy reliance on landfilling means that better waste management options such as re-use and recycling are consistently underexploited. The outlook is accordingly poor.
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden by contrast have comprehensive waste collection systems and landfill less than 5% of their waste. They have well developed recycling systems, sufficient treatment capacity, and they perform well with biodegradable waste. Typically, they blend legal, administrative and economic instruments to good effect in their waste management policies.
A number of Member States have made rapid progress from reliance on landfill to its virtual elimination. But even the best performers face a number of challenges such as stepping up waste prevention and addressing overcapacity in the incineration sector, which may hamper recycling and require imports of waste to feed incinerators.
In January this year Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik announced that, according to a European Commission study, full implementation of EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year, increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020. Illegal waste operations in Member States are causing missed opportunities for economic growth, but stronger national inspections and better knowledge about waste management would bring major improvements.
Mr Potočnik said at the time:
“We need to see waste as a resource – and to bury that resource in the ground is worse than short-sighted. This report shows that waste management and recycling can make a big contribution to economic growth and job creation. If the existing legislation was implemented properly, we could avoid costly clean-up operations, pollution and health problems. And let’s not forget that recycled materials are cheaper than virgin ones – and that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on imports.”
The study gave an in-depth analysis of the effects of better implementation and enforcement and shows that benefits would be significant. It analysed a number of case studies in Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands to demonstrate economic, financial and social benefits to Member States.
The EU’s waste management and recycling sector is very dynamic, but still offers economic opportunities with vast potential for expansion. In 2008, its €145 billion turnover represented around 1% of the EU’s GDP and 2 million jobs. Compliance with EU policy would help create a sector with 2.4 million jobs and a total annual turnover of €187 billion.
The underlying problem is that too many prices do not reflect the true cost of disposal of goods – if they did, this would help prevent waste in the first place. In addition, many Member States still lack adequate infrastructure for separate collection, recycling and recovery. An absence of systematic control and enforcement mechanisms is another hindrance, coupled with a lack of reliable data on waste management.
The EU’s economy uses 16 tonnes of materials per person per year, of which 6 tonnes becomes waste, half of it going to landfill. Many Member States rely mainly on landfill as the preferred waste management option. This situation persists in spite of existing EU waste legislation and is unsustainable.
The Commission’s Roadmap for Resource Efficiency sets out milestones for ensuring that waste is managed as a resource by 2020 including through the revision of prevention, re-use, recycling, recovery and landfill-diversion targets, and through the development of markets for secondary and recycled materials.
The Commission is using the medal table report to prepare Roadmaps for the ten worst performing Member States. These will be discussed with national authorities at bilateral seminars this autumn, starting in Prague on 19 September. The Roadmaps will help spread best practices and will contain tailor-made recommendations on how to improve waste management using economic, legal and administrative tools, and EU structural funds.
The Commission is looking to use EU structural funds with a greater focus on the objectives of EU waste policy. The proposed Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 will ensure that EU money is only invested in waste management projects if certain conditions are met beforehand, including the development of Waste Management Plans in accordance with the Waste Framework Directive and with the waste hierarchy, favouring prevention, reuse and recycling over incineration with energy recovery, with landfilling or incineration without energy recovery as a last resort.
The Parliamentary Year book will continue to report on environmental issues and their impact on the UK and our European partners as we go through the months ahead.