Expectations too high

If an ambitious announcement is made, it is bound to raise high expectations. Now the EU Commission will have to live with the fact that it was unable to fulfil these expectations with its new circular economy package. Nevertheless, the package is not a total failure, quite the contrary.

The Commission has announced in advance that it will consider the varying development of waste management from one member state to the next. Member states with recycling targets for municipal waste below 20 per cent will be given five additional years to meet the new targets. This exception applies to Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. These states are required to notify the Commission at least two years in advance if they want to make use of this provision. They are also required to submit a detailed plan outlining measures to increase rates of recycling and reuse.

Disappointingly, the package does not include a general ban on landfilling. The ban only applies to waste that is collected separately, especially organic waste. Apart from that, landfilling has to be reduced to 10 per cent of the total amount of municipal waste generated. The aforementioned extended period for some member states applies here as well. Generally, the Commission stresses the need to improve collecting and sorting to meet recycling targets.

Since collecting and sorting systems are often financed by extended producer responsibility schemes, the Commission will make a proposal on minimum standards in terms of transparency and cost-effectiveness for these systems. The member states are encouraged to extend schemes to include additional waste streams, such as textiles and furniture. In addition, the Commission wants to eliminate obstacles specifically in waste management, such as lack of administrative capacity, lack of investment, or the insufficient use of economic instruments.

The installation of overcapacities has to be avoided. For that reason, any new investments in the waste sector must be in line with the waste hierarchy. Therefore, additional funding for landfilling will be granted only in exceptional cases. Funding for new facilities for treating residual waste, such as incineration or mechanical biological treatment, will be granted only in limited and well-justified cases, where there is no risk of overcapacity. The Commission plans to spend 5.5 billion euros on waste management from the current funding program.


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