A package of measures which will have a big impact on the future of waste management and recycling in the UK is to be published next month, Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik has confirmed.
Precise details of the proposals are still to be released but they are expected to include a resource efficiency target, new recycling and waste incineration targets as well as a plan to almost end the use of landfill.
At present a 50% recycling target is set for Member States to reach for household waste by 2020 and the Commissioner would not be drawn on whether a 70-80% target might now be proposed. However, speaking in Brussels, Commissioner Potočnik said his Directorate was “in full swing of preparation for the package”.
The measures, in a Circular Economy package, will impact on both industry and local authorities although their rolling-out will have to be through Member State governments and environment departments.
Observers say the package is likely to heavily influence future local authority waste management policies which would eventually have to take on board the higher municipal waste recycling targets proposed by the Commission.
Commissioner Potočnik explained that DG Environment was bound to do a review of the waste targets under the terms of the Waste Framework Directive. And, he explained that the proposals in the Road Map to a Resource Efficient Europe and the Seventh Environment Action Programme which were adopted by Member States were also important in the shaping of the new waste and recycling package of measures.
He said: “There is clearly a philosophy binding the Commission in which direction we should go when we talk about waste management. In the first place, the Seventh EAP is saying waste generated by inhabitants should be in decline, energy recovery by incineration should be limited to non-recyclable materials, so recyclability should be raised as high as possible. Landfilling should be phased out as a waste management option, meaning it is limited to residues of other waste treatments which are higher in the waste hierarchy. These are clear things which are in this mid-term programme which Member States have adopted and where we have an obligation to deliver it.”
The commissioner said this meant the proposed package will be developed with these factors in mind.
He stressed that the new recycling target had to be agreed “on the basis of good data, on the basis of clear predictability which we want to introduce into the business,” and “answering the challenge we have in waste management” had to be done on a collective basis.
“The Commission can only propose and at the end is in the hands of the Member States what they adopt, and in the hands of the European Parliament.”
Commissioner Potočnik would not be drawn on whether a recycling rate of 70% or 80% might be set as a target but confirmed recycling rates should be “more demanding” and that targets will be part of the package.
He reasoned: “Normally if we want to deliver the requirements from the 7th Environment Action Programme this could be, according to me, done this way – if somebody has another possibility, then I am happy to listen. But if we really want to turn the philosophy to a circular economy, then it’s much better to use and again use the very same materials, than to dig deeper and import costly materials. By that [the circular economy] we basically create an opportunity for European industry to stay in Europe, by that I think we create that kind of vision and predictability in the business sector.”
The Environment Commissioner also reflected on the role of incineration, refuse derived fuel exports from the UK and the TEEP/commingling debate.
Asked about the exports of refused derived fuel from the UK and whether it could actually be an advantage for the UK not having many incinerators because they would need to be fed for many years, he said incineration had to be looked at “in a holistic way”.
‘We should avoid over investment in incineration to the extent that it inhibits progress to further recycling and waste reduction because once built they need to be fed with waste for many decades and in a way we could be locked in.
“It can be part of a balanced waste management policy particularly where high co-efficients of energy recovery are achieved, but it needs to be done carefully, because it can result, for example, in pollution emissions into the air, surface water and ground water posing potentially significant risk to human health and the environment.
“That’s the first thing one has to have in mind. The second is that properly executed incineration with energy recovery, heat and electricity from targeting only the fraction of waste which cannot be recycled in line with the orientation given to us by the Council and Parliament, can form part of an advanced waste strategy, especially to divert non-recyclable waste from being disposed of in landfill fields.”