Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Tackling Europe's waste problem

Its been a bit of a week this week in the European Parliament with committees and a mini plenary session in Brussels. Of particular interest was the adoption yesterday of the Environment Committee’s recommendations for the Parliament's second reading on the Commission’s proposals for a new EU waste framework directive. This is essentially about overhauling the 1975 Waste framework Directive, to lay down rules on recycling and to require Member States to draw up binding national programmes for cutting waste production.

The problem remains that Europe generates over 1.8 billion tonnes of waste each year. This amount is growing faster than GDP and less than a third of it is recycled. There are huge discrepancies among Member States when it comes to recycling. Some Member States landfill 90% of their municipal waste, others only 10%.

MEPs want tougher waste recycling targets and incinerators subjected to efficiency criteria when burning waste for energy 'recovery' purposes. Other recommendations include:

MEPs call for total binding targets for waste stabilisation, re-use and recycling - waste production to be stabilized by 2012, compared to the 2009 position. Member States are asked to establish waste prevention programmes not later than five years after the revised directive's entry into force and to determine appropriate specific targets to achieve the 2012 target and further significant reductions in waste generation by 2020;

MEPs also call for targets for reuse and recycling. By 2020, re-use and recycling rates should be increased to a minimum of 50% by weight for household waste and a minimum of 70% by weight for construction and demolition waste and manufacturing and industrial waste. Member States with less than 5% recycling in either category or no official figures would be given an additional 5 years to reach the targets. By 2015 the Member States would have to set up separate waste collection schemes for at least the following: paper, metal, plastic, glass, textiles, other biodegradable wastes, oils and hazardous wastes;

Incineration - For MEPs, a crucial aim is to reduce the amount of landfill and incineration, both of which cause pollution. Incineration is to be regarded as recovery, provided it meets a certain energy efficiency standard;

MEPs want Member States to stick to binding five-stage waste hierarchy - which is designed to prevent and reduce waste production. The hierarchy also lays down an order of preference for waste operations: prevention, re-use, recycling, other recovery operations and, as a last resort, safe and environmentally sound disposal.

It is now for the EU Member States to discuss the Parliament’s second reading, and decide whether they agree with it. If not, there will need to be further dialogue and negotiation in order to reach agreement. MEPs are set to vote on the Parliament's second reading in June. Once agreed it will then have to be implemented and transposed into national law in all 27 EU Member States.

The Waste Framework Directive will have huge implications for Scotland, particularly our local authorities which remain very much at the sharp end of European policy, not least in terms of budgetary impacts and its implementation.

How Scotland compares.

Scotland has increased the amount of waste that it recycles and composts from 4.5% in 2000/01 to 29.8% in 2006/07. The latest recycling/composting rate for municipal waste in Scotland is 29.8%. Back in January the Scottish Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead announced the Government's new direction on waste with its plan for a "Zero - waste" strategy and is presently consulting on new targets, including new targets aimed at increasing recycling and cutting down on waste sent to landfill and limiting incineration. The amount of Municipal Waste (MSW) being recycled or composted is to be increased to 60% by 2020 and a new target of 70% by 2025. Landfill from MSW is to be reduced to 5% by 2025. No more than 25% of MSW is to be used to generate energy by 2025 and large, inefficient incinerators are to be rejected.

In March 2008 the new SNP administration in Fife Council announced that it planned to exceed government requirements by ensuring all household waste was either recycled, composted or sent to waste treatment. In 2002 only 2% of waste avoided landfill. That has already increased to about 38% and the first target is to increase that rate to 47% by 2010/11. That figure will then need to increase to 64% by 2012/13.

In any event let’s see what the outcome is between the Parliament and Council over the coming months.

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