EU Waste Law Implementation

The Commission has called on Member States to make further efforts to properly implement and enforce EU waste legislation. The Commission’s position is outlined in its latest progress report on the implementation of the EU’s Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste.

According to the report published on 19 January 2011, although recycling rates have improved and landfill waste has decreased, there has been an increase in volumes waste generated in the EU. Proper implementation and enforcement of existing EU waste law also remains a serious problem with major differences between the Member States.

Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling 

In 2005 the Commission adopted a Thematic Strategy which identified EU’s long term objectives and key actions to be taken on the prevention and recycling of waste. The Strategy is one of the seven thematic strategies programmed by the 6th Environmental Action Plan.

The long term objectives set out by the Strategy are to transform the EU into a “recycling society” seeking to avoid waste and use waste as a resource. This would contribute to a better recycling, less waste going to landfills and more compost and energy recovery from waste. Overall this could lead to significant environmental, economic and social benefits, as EU waste policy has the potential to contribute to reducing the overall negative environmental impact of resource use and increasing the resource efficiency of the European economy.
In order to achieve these objectives the Strategy identifies key measures to modernize the existing legal framework and to promote waste prevention, recycling and re-use. 

Five years after the adoption of the Strategy, the Commission published a Communication, accompanied by a Staff Working Document, reviewing the progress made towards achieving these long term objectives.

Progress on the Thematic Strategy’s key actions

The Commission’s report assesses the state of implementation of the seven key actions identified by the Strategy.

1. A renewed emphasis on full implementation and enforcement of existing EU waste legislation

Proper implementation and enforcement of the existing EU waste legislation at national level is one of the main priorities in order to achieve waste and recycling targets.

Despite all measures, proper implementation in Member States has still not yet been achieved, waste representing on average 20% of all environmental infringement cases.
The Commission states that a proactive verification procedure and an early warning system on compliance with key EU targets will be developed based on national waste management plans.

2. Simplification and modernisation of existing legislation

The Commission has taken actions to make EU waste legislation more cost-effective in order to provide the basis of sustainable growth.
Changes have been made to the Waste Shipment Regulation and the Waste Framework Directive, and further changes will be made to the Directive on electronic waste.

3. Introducing life-cycle thinking in waste policy

As the environmental impact of many resources is often linked to the use phase, the final phases of the life cycle should also be taken into account by the EU policies and legislation. A life-cycle approach looks at environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of a product, from extraction of resources through to their disposal.
The new Waste Framework Directive introduces a binding waste hierarchy defining the order of priority for treating waste: the list starts with prevention, followed by re-use, recycling and other recovery operations, and disposal such as landfill should be used only as the last resort.

The Commission will use the life-cycle approach when assessing the national waste management plans and will publish guidance documents on how to use this tool in waste policies.
There has also been a simplification of concepts such as “waste”, “by-products”, “end-of-waste criteria”, “energy recovery”, in order to encourage a life-cycle thinking and the Eco-design Directive applies life-cycle approach when establishing eco-design measures to improve the environmental performance of products.

4. Promotion of more ambitious waste prevention policies

As regards Member States’ obligation to develop publicly available waste prevention programmes, the Waste Framework Directive has introduced new provisions aiming to maximise prevention efforts.
The Commission will publish prevention guidelines and best practice examples in the future.

The Commission also highlights other measures that could improve waste prevention such as the Batteries Directive, the Directive on the management of extractive waste and the Industrial Emission and Eco-design Directive.

5. Better knowledge and information

Continuous efforts should be made in order to improve the knowledge-base and new indicators are needed to measure the progress towards a recycling society. Better information and forecasts of life-cycle based environmental and health impacts of the waste policies should be developed, notably by providing a specific platform on life-cycle thinking hosted by the Joint Research Centre.
The Commission will launch further exercises on waste legislation aimed at improving the quality of national reporting on waste.

6. Development of common reference standards for recycling

In 2006 a reference document on the best available techniques for the Waste Treatments Industries was published.
The Commission considers minimum standards for recycling activities and recycled materials should be set across the EU, particularly for bio-waste derived products, in order to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market for recycling.

7. Further elaboration of the EU’s recycling policy

Different collection and recycling targets at EU level have been set: a 85% reuse target, recycling and recovery targets of the Directive on end-of-life vehicles, a 50% target for the recycling of municipal waste comprising at least paper, metal, plastic and glass and a 70% target for construction and demolition waste. The Batteries Directive includes collection and recycling targets for all batteries types and the Landfill directive sets targets for biodegradable waste going to landfills.
A 2010 Communication on bio-waste management in the EU proposes further action and the production of a guideline on bio-waste prevention and on applying life-cycling thinking to bio-waste management.

Progress towards the long-term objectives

In its report the Commission also provides results and statistics on the total annual waste generation, municipal solid waste generation, quantitative waste prevention, hazardous waste, manufacturing waste, waste from mining and quarrying, waste from other economic sectors, re-use, waste recycling, energy recovery from waste and waste sent to landfill.  The report shows that in most Member States overall waste generation seems to be increasing or stabilising. Municipal waste generation has stabilised at 524 kg per year per person, although household consumption has increased by around 16%.

Overall the recycling numbers are positive, however, large implementation an enforcement differences persist between Member States. Some have gone beyond the minimum European recycling or landfill diversion targets, others do not manage to respect EU requirements.

The Report notes that the best performing Member States have created better conditions for the recycling markets by introducing legal and economic instruments such as landfill bans, applying taxes and applying the producer responsibility concept to various waste streams.

Improved waste management also reduces negative environmental and health impacts due to emissions to air, soil and water as well as greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal.
Many sub-standard landfills and incinerators have been closed which has led to significant reduction of water, soil and air pollution.
Recycling also provides new economic opportunities and it contributes to increasing the supply of valuable raw materials required for the EU economy.

International Aspects

Over the past years, in the EU there has been increased import of raw materials and semi manufactured materials, as well as increased export of waste which can be transformed into secondary raw materials.
The Commission tries to promote sound waste management through the Environment and Natural Resources Thematic Programme and the Raw Materials Initiative where recycling policies play an important role. The Commission will also try to ensure better enforcement of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation.

Future trends in waste generation and treatment

The Commission considers that without additional waste prevention policies, waste generation is expected to increase by 7% from 2008 to 2020.With full implementation of the existing EU legislation, however, the Commission predicts that recycling would increase by 9% and landfilling would decrease by 10%. Increased prevention and recycling could also lead to additional GHG emission reduction.
The Commission concludes that unless additional measures are taken at EU level, differences in implementation and enforcement are expected to continue persist between Member States.

The Commission outlines what changes it considers should be made in order to achieve a better progress:
• Besides improvement in the knowledge-base and the implementation and enforcement of existing EU waste legislation, as already mentioned, other actions must be taken like promoting the optimal combination of economic and legal instruments. Materials that have negative environment and health impacts over their entire life cycle should be better targeted.
• Better prevention of illegal exports of waste should be ensured, and waste exported to third countries should be treated in high standard facilities.
• Develop markets of secondary raw materials in the EU, and thus improving the resource-efficiency of the EU economy.
• Stakeholder participation and raising public awareness should be encouraged, as well as use of structural and cohesion funds.
• The Commission will make further proposals in 2012 in order to further consolidate EU’s waste policies and move towards an EU resource efficient recycling society.