David Newman, managing director of BBIA and president of the World Biogas Association, looks at what may – and may not – make the cut when it comes to the Circular Economy Package and urges a decision to be made sooner, rather then later!
As I wrote a few weeks ago in the CIWM Journal, the negotiation around the various directives contained in the Circular Economy Package in the European Union are reaching crunch time.
In March there have been two important developments. The first was the plenary vote of the European Parliament which adopted by majority a series of amendments to the text proposed by the Commission in December 2015. As we know, these changes increased recycling targets, made biowaste collection obligatory, increased packaging recovery targets, and strengthened the text on EPR programmes.
One leading British industry trade group described these proposals to me as “bonkers”. That they did demonstrates the divisions within our industry between those wanting higher recycling targets to drive forward collection services and above all biowaste recovery, and those wanting to prioritise thermal treatment over recovery of materials, and simplify the collection systems.
On 21 March the Council published its own text – for those who don’t understand the process, the “trialogue” consists of the Commission (the administration), the Parliament (elected MEPs) and the Council (which represents the executive governments of the EU 28 nations). Agreement is needed from all three bodies for a directive to be accepted into European law.
On EPR the Council text is less strict than both the Commission’s and the Parliament’s proposal which said that the fee should be set “on the basis of the real end-of-life cost” of products. The Council text proposes that the fee should take “into account” products’ reusability and repairability and deletes the obligation to cover all costs, but inserts a description of the costs that should be covered. This follows heavy lobbying from the producers associations afraid of the extra burden of financial and legal responsibility for recovering their materials and products put onto the EU market.
Stronger EPR Guidelines?
On the other hand, environmental NGOs have been pushing for stronger guidelines for EPR, which currently vary widely from one country to another. Fees paid by producers often depend on the product’s weight, rather than its recyclability, giving an advantage to single use, lighter packaging. While the Parliament stated that local authorities and NGOs should be involved in EPR schemes implementation through a dedicated platform, the Council’s proposal only mentions “relevant stakeholders”.
The Commission proposal proposed a maximum of 10% of all waste (and only treated waste) could be destined to landfill across Europe by 2030. The new text from the Council proposes weakening these targets allowing longer times and greater landfill use to those countries unable to meet the target. The new Maltese proposal (Malta holds the Council Presidency until July) changes the conditions under which non complying countries are given more time to abide by the landfill cap.
In a previous version, countries which recycled less than 20 percent of their municipal waste in 2013 or put more than 60 percent into landfills could claim an additional delay. Those conditions have been eliminated in the new text, which sets a new alternative cap for any country that is unable to meet the 10 percent target. Instead, by 2030, they would have to reduce the amount of waste put into landfills to 50 percent of the waste generated in 2013.
This is a serious weakening of the ambition to eliminate landfills in the EU and is a clear reflection of the pressure being put on the Council by the southern and eastern European states where landfill still dominates waste treatment and clearly will do so for decades to come.
The new text also elminates the obligation to collect biowaste separately reintroducing the TEEP criteria which the parliament wanted to eliminate and which was in the original Commission text. The fear of those in favour of obligatory collection (the AD and compost industry obviously) is that by applying TEEP countries and cities can find reasons to continue landfilling or incinerating these streams.
Biowaste: A Missed Opportunity?
As I have written before, given that biowaste is the largest single waste stream, not collecting it separately is, in my humble opinion, a missed opportunity for growth of collection services, new treatment facilities, energy/heat production and the meeting of national GHG reduction targets.
Further the Council text calls for a lowering of recycling targets back to 75% from the 80% proposed by the Parliament for packaging waste (metals, glass and paper). This frankly is a reasonable reflection of the possible, because one calculation made by Expra (the European Association of Packaging EPR schemes) demonstrated that higher recycling targets required more waste to be recycled than actually was put onto the market- this due to process losses and contamination. Moreover, given statistical uncertainty in all the reporting, the difference between 75 and 80 % in some countries is a matter of opinion rather than of hard data.
Article 17 in the introductory preamble of the new draft also tackles the question of reporting again. Recycling should be measured, it says, “ based on the input to the recycling operation”. However, a derogation to this allows countries to report recycling rates “on the basis of the output of any sorting operation”. Reading article 17a, I get the shivers- it allows for continuing non comparability of reporting and for all sorts of statistical “creative accounting”.
Now we enter the final phases of negotiation in Brussels where this text will be subject to the trialogue process. The document which exits from that discussion then has to go back to the EU Parliament for approval. The Maltese Presidency hopes to close the discussion by the summer, and personally I hope so too – 18 months is too long to agree to a recycling target and really the time has to come to terminate the continual to and fro and get on with it. As another two years will go by before the individual European nations transcribe the new Waste Framework Directive into national laws, enough is enough!