Worrying numbers put CEP into perspective

With the new Circular Economy Package being branded as ‘more realistic’, it is interesting to see what is actually going on in Europe – most alarming is that 50% of Slovenian municipal waste is missing, while 26% of hazardous waste in the EU has apparently disappeared without trace.

By Lydia Heida

In the past months, there has been complaints about the new CEP being not ambitious at all, as was promised when the old package was axed. It is now sold as being more realistic, as vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, likes to re-label it.

One has to say that Dutch politicians, now they have got hold of the EU Council presidency, are really doing their best to get the circular economy higher on the political agenda in Brussels.

Apart from kicking off their presidency with two circular economy conferences, held in Rotterdam and Brussels at the end of January, and publishing a book on this theme in Dutch and French, the circular economy will be discussed at the environmental council meeting of March and in the upcoming competitive and agricultural councils.

Not realistic

At the same time, the EU is producing one report after the other that clearly shows that two of the three targets which are part of the new Circular Economy Package are not realistic at all. For example, a target is set for 65% recycling of municipal waste by 2030.

But a recent report showed that in the 28 EU capitals, currently around 25% of municipal waste is recycled. That is far removed from the 2030 target.

Also, the EU is keeping a close eye on eight member states that are way off track when it comes to municipal waste recycling. Portugal recycles 26%, neighbouring Spain manages to bring it up to 30%, while Croatia (16%) and Malta (12%) end at the bottom. Almost 50% of municipal waste collected in Slovenia has disappeared into thin air as nobody can explain what happened to it.

Latest figures

Let’s move on to the next target of the CEP that orders a 75% recycling rate of packaging waste by 2030. This appears to be more realistic, as the overall recycling rate in the EU was 65% in 2013, according to the latest figures from European statistical office Eurostat. However, Greece and Romania were not able to deliver data, which could influence the overall rate.

But both targets, even if they were met, reflect only on a minor part of the total amount of EU waste, as two-thirds of it consists of construction, mining and quarrying waste. Hence, the remaining target in the CEP, to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030, can only be achieved when mincemeat is made from these types of waste.

At the Rotterdam circular economy conference, the Fédération Internationale du Recyclage (FIR), which represents the European recycling industry for construction and demolition waste, pointed out some of the obstacles that prevent proper recycling of this type of waste. For example, filling holes in the countryside with construction waste is still considered to be recycling in the EU.

Chaotic situation

When it comes to the current state of hazardous waste, another recently published report reads more like an example of chaos theory. Although hazardous waste with its 99 million tonnes forms only a small portion of the 2.5 billion tonnes of EU waste, its very nature means proper treatment is vital.

In an EU directive from 1978, this was already acknowledged and a strict control regime was laid down that addresses labelling, record keeping, monitoring and control obligations from waste producers to the final disposal or recovery.

So in 2016, almost 40 years later, this report makes it painfully clear that, despite old and new regulation, a rather chaotic situation has developed in different member states when it comes to hazardous waste.

In the EU, 26% of the total amount of hazardous waste could not be traced back in 2012, with the greatest amounts lost in the UK, Italy, Latvia, Ireland and Luxembourg. This gap might be caused by reporting errors or missing information on import or export.

The report lists many things that are needed to improve the treatment of hazardous waste. It also clearly illustrates how slow things are actually progressing in reality when it comes to waste and recycling.

Published: March 2016 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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