Back to basics: first we need the facts

A shortage of data is hindering the development of new targets to reach a resource-efficient Europe, while little is still known about the funding of recycling by the European Investment Fund. On top of this, the EU has been slow in taking measures to combat illegal waste shipments, says independent journalist Lydia Heida.

By Lydia Heida

After discovering that two major EU banks, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, are putting almost zero of their budget (proportionally) into recycling, there is a new surprise in store.

Next in line for investigation is the European Investment Fund (EIF), a leading venture capital arm that is focused on small and mediumsized enterprises in the EU. In 2014, the EIF had a budget of €3.3 billion, which went to intermediaries – banks, funds and guarantee institutions – that in turn made finance available to a whole range of enterprises.

Which enterprises? For the most part, this is unknown to the EIF. “The investment decision is up to the fund manager. Additionally our data structure does not allow for the precise identification of companies with regards to this or other specific sub sectors,” explains EIF’s communications officer Raphaël Dresse.

But a bright future awaits us. “For the 2014-2020 period, we will be publishing a detailed list of supported enterprises once per year,” Dresse says. This starts in 2016, when finally it will be possible to check whether any money is being allocated to recycling companies.

Strong enough driver

Sourcing more reliable data is also the theme that defines the rather dreary, 136-page Study on WEEE recovery targets, preparation for re-use targets and on the method for calculation of the recovery targets. Luckily, the new WEEE targets to be applied from 2018 onwards maintain a similar level of ambition to those introduced from 2015 onwards.

However, these weight-based targets are not triggering recovery of material, contained in small quantities when the economic value is not a strong enough driver. Furthermore, the study concludes that no separate preparation for re-use targets should be proposed.

There is simply not enough data on the quantities of WEEE that could potentially be prepared for re-use in the EU. Also the costs of changing the current logistics and the difficulties expected in reporting flows and distinguishing waste from nonwaste are a major ‘no go’.

Last but not least, the study examines the possibility of setting output-based recovery targets. This refers to the amount of products and/or materials resulting from recovery, recycling or preparation for reuse. Here, it almost screams out from the pages: don’t go there.

Hardly any data on output-based fractions are available. And a strict implementation, enforcement and monitoring of current WEEE collection targets could already create a much higher amount of recovered or recycled material.

Pirate parley

10 September was a busy day for the EU’s waste shipment correspondents, as it was the day their annual meeting was held. This gathering is as secretive as a proper pirate parley, but with the opposite focus of combating illegal waste shipments.

For example, two Defra policy advisers gave a presentation on the impact of non-EU countries’ policies on waste shipments, but “papers are not shared”, according to Defra’s communications officer David Lawrence. As a matter of fact, 10 out of 15 points that were discussed have a ‘member only’ status.

After a bit of digging, it has become clear that the EU has been slacking. The establishment of an Electronic Data Interchange for Waste Shipments is delayed. A follow-up study on how to create such a database will not be ready this year but, hopefully, in 2016.

There were also plans to develop guidance on risk assessment for inspection plans, which might have started in 2015, but this is still in the preparatory stages.

Illegal shipment

Last year, Germany proposed exchanging experience on implementing the EU article on protecting the environment through criminal law. This requires member states to make the illegal shipment of waste in a non-negligible quantity a criminal offence.

The European Commission was requested to circulate an empty table where member states could provide information on their national provisions on criminal and administrative law regarding illegal shipments.

As this table would not include confidential information, the Commission was asked to publish it on its website. The plan was that member states should provide their input by the end of 2014. But, alas, the Commission has not published any such table. Sisyphus, condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill and watching it roll down again, would be delighted with such a futile battle.

Published: October 2015 in Recycling & Waste World.

From April 2015 to September 2017, I wrote a monthly column about Europe’s waste and recycling sectors for Recycling & Waste World (UK). I discovered, among others, that the EU is spending only a sliver of their multi-billion euro budget on recycling projects. This stands in sharp contrast to ambitious plans of creating a circular economy in the EU, which requires much more funding.


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