Transition to a circular economy at stake

Uncertainty among EU countries on waste proposals threatens transition to a circular economy. Ongoing investigation by NGOs exposes divide and doublespeak among EU countries on waste law proposals.
Thorben Wengert,

In May, an investigation by the EEB, Zero Waste Europe and Friends of the Earth Europe revealed which countries are sabotaging the transition to a circular economy.

As we continue to monitor the negotiations on the EU waste proposals, the EEB shows that a number of countries are shying away from their commitment to a stronger and more resource-efficient economy.

EU Policymakers and NGOs, along with a large number of industries, agree that moving to a circular economy – where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled – is the best solution for the planet and for business.

But the EU Council’s position, agreed in May behind closed doors by member states led by the Maltese Presidency, is currently significantly less ambitious than that presented by the European Commission and Parliament.

If a regressive position is to prevail in the negotiations, plans to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the coming years will most likely stall.

Leaders and laggards

Recent leaks from Council meetings and insights into national developments expose divide and doublespeak among EU countries.

Romania, despite claiming a supportive stance, backed a weak position on waste prevention and asked the Council for time derogations for recycling targets.

At home, the country is moving forward with plans to postpone the introduction of a landfill tax and build three expensive incinerators – which imply a greater amount of valuable resources will be burnt or buried rather than reused or recycled.

Even less ambitious was Poland’s latest position on recycling, as made clear in a recent meeting of environment ministers. Government officials, who in May refused to share their position with NGOs, called for a 50% recycling target by 2030. To put this into perspective, the existing target is 50% by 2020.

On the bright side, Germany recently affirmed it will support a 65% recycling target as proposed by the European Commission, despite having previously dodged the question. This means that there is now strong support for higher recycling targets in many EU countries, particularly ones with high populations – something that the next Presidency needs to take into account.

Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia remain the most regressive countries opposing most of the proposals.

These are followed by the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Portugal and Luxembourg, which reject higher ambition on waste prevention despite backing higher recycling rates.  Germany also fits in this category, having confirmed its opposition to waste prevention proposals – a priority in the circular economy.

Ireland, Slovenia, Croatia and the UK refused to share their position with NGOs in May, and appear to have remained silent in recent discussions.

Leaders in the negotiations remain, as NGOs announced last month, Greece, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. These governments are calling for stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.

Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the EEB, said:

“The EU Council chaired by the Maltese Presidency was supposed to represent the interest of the European people on the waste front. Instead it raised uncertainty over the future of the circular economy in Europe.”

He added:

“It won’t be hard for the Estonian Presidency to do better than the Maltese on the waste package. We expect them to be more resolute and listen to NGOs, businesses and policymakers calling for stronger waste laws for our future generations.”



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