Dr Coffey was speaking earlier today in front of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Committee, which followed on from the committee’s roundtable discussion in November.
The Committee met to discuss the impact of Brexit for the UK’s trade in waste, including what a ‘no deal’ outcome could mean.
Currently the recycling targets, which are set by the European Commission, include a common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste, 75% of packaging waste and a landfill to maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030. All targets are based on weight. A review of the targets is in process and is likely to be finalised soon.
When quizzed on plans post-Brexit, Coffey explained that she is hopeful of a divergence from this strategy, explaining that the current system can lead to “perverse incentives”.
She confirmed that the withdrawal bill and the subsequent legislation resulting from that is all the UK needs to do in terms of legislative change, however she is hoping for a change in how the targets are measured soon.
“With regards to future direction, the whole recycling target is focused on weight and I believe that can lead to perverse incentives for what we tackle and approach. We have an opportunity to almost reset our approach to recycling and focus more on resource efficiency and the circular economy as opposed to simply the weight.”
Dr Coffey later commented that it still “amazes” her as to the amount of recycling which is due to things like grass picked up from homes and heavier glass which counts toward the UK’s recycling targets. “So we now have the opportunity to thing afresh and change overall direction fully maximise our resources,” she added.
In January last year, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted in favour of proposed amendments to the EU Circular Economy Package supporting an increase of the recycling target up to 70% by 2030.
The amendments, which were tabled by the Italian MEP Simona Bonafè, needed the backing of European ministers.
Included in the amendments were proposals to increase the proposed target for recycling – which was originally proposed at 65% by 2030 by the European Commission in December 2015. MEPs argued that these amendments would ‘accelerate the switch to a circular economy’.
However, at a meeting in Brussels last month it seemed Europe was set for a 55% rate by 2025, increasing to 60% by 2030.
Coffey had previously said a 65% target was “too high” in a letter written in 2016 to the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh.
Regardless of the approach, the minister reiterated that the outcome is the same regardless of how the targets are measured.
She was quizzed by Lord Krebs on the challenges faced from a divergence from the policy and what plans she had to combat this.
“The UK wouldn’t completely abandon the weight system but at the moment we are very focused on this. The main thing we all want to achieve is the circular economy approach of reduce and reuse as opposed to simply thinking about weight. I would like to focus on what’s intrinsic and not just heavy glass.”
The committee next meets in a private meeting on January 31.