By Steve Eminton
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, EnvironmentCommissioner Janez Potonik has confirmed to letsrecycle.com.
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 altogether.
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 Potonik said that 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 that the package is likely to heavilyinfluence future local authority waste management policies whichwould eventuallyhave to take on board the higher municipal waste recycling targetsproposed by the Commission.
Commissioner Potonik 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 that this meant the proposed package will be developed with these factors in mind.
We are clearly coming with the proposals in the direction, which is basically our joint direction, with Member States and the European Parliament.
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 Potonik would not be drawn on whether a recycling rate of 70% or 80% might be set as a target but confirmed that 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 its much better to use and again use the very same materials, than to dig deeper, 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 that 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, as you mentioned yourself, they need to be fed with waste for many decades and in a way we could be locked in’
– Commissioner Potocnik
“It can be part of a balanced waste management policy particularly where high coefficients 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.
Thats 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.
However, the Commissioner added a warning against over-investment in incineration and said that exporting RDF if it is not seen as a long term option. We should avoid over investment in incineration to the extent that it inhibits progress to further recycling and waste reduction because once built, as you mentioned yourself, they need to be fed with waste for many decades and in a way we could be locked in. And exporting waste, which you also mentioned, can be acceptable of course if it avoids such over investment in the short term and if the time is used to develop more environmentally optimal systems in the longer term.
However, making clear that exports of waste to the Continent for incineration are legal, Commissioner Potonik said: I should also point out that shipments of waste from energy recovery are perfectly possible under European law and may play a useful role in making more efficient use of incineration capacity available in Europe which, to be honest, is unevenly spread. Some Member States have over capacity and others have no capacity at all. But we all have to work with the objective of reducing waste generation and increasing recycling and reuse, so that ultimately there will be less to burn because the whole philosophy of approach is that we should design the products that they should be recycled and reused as much as possible.
Commingling and TEEP
The Commissioner also reflected on the collection debate involving commingling and noted that this is not an issue which is present in other Member States. He also remarked that he was not surprised that it was an issue in the UK: In each country you have something which becomes an issue so that I am not surprised by anything any more!
He said: I can try to clarify even though that I have to admit this is not an issue that is present in other Member States. Commingled collection is a tricky issue, but a lot depends on local circumstances. Under EU legislation you can do it if separate collection systems are not technically, environmentally, economically, practicable and appropriate to meet the necessary high quality standards for the relevant recycling sectors although some commingling is clearly undesirable. For example, it is hard to see how you would get high quality recycling from wet biowaste mixed with a dry paper waste. In any case the Waste Framework Directive sets out an obligation to have in place a separate collection for at least, paper, metal, plastic and glass at a certain date and the same directive also recommends separate collection of biowaste with a view to composting and digestion of biowaste. Thats the legal requirements.
The rest of the process and introduction of the measures is down to Member States who can consider their own circumstances, he added.
THIS IS THE SECOND OF TWO ARTICLES FORMING AN INTERVIEW WITH JANEZ POTOCNIK BY STEVE EMINTON, CLICK HERE FOR ARTICLE ONE