Unice pushes for new style EU waste policy

Employers association in bid for greater flexibility over definitions, waste hierarchy

European employers' association Unice today pushed for greater flexibility in EU waste management policy making, calling on the European Commission to adopt a philosophy of "integrated resource and waste management" (IRWM).

Current policies drive industry to use the cheapest waste management options and stifle improvements in waste management practices, the association said during a seminar held in Brussels to publicise the IRWM concept. IRWM, in contrast, would enable flexibility and innovation as well as encouraging "the highest resource utilisation and the lowest environmental impact".

Unice's chief complaints over the EU's current approach to waste management are its "rigid" waste definition and the waste hierarchy, which favours prevention followed by recycling, energy recovery and, lastly, disposal.

The association claims that even prevention is not always the best environmental option and that energy recovery can be environmentally preferable to material recycling. It says that IRWM, in contrast, can identify the most sustainable treatment option based on resource use, environmental impacts, and social, technical and economic implications, taking into account local conditions.

Speaking at the seminar, the Commission's environment directorate chief Jim Currie said Unice's criticism was not justified. He said EU policy "allows for a range of options...and one specific route is never imposed." In particular, he said, "there are neither quantified targets nor prescriptive obligations concerning prevention of waste, which is...left to the discretion" of member states. The current waste hierarchy definition should not be altered unless something "demonstrably better" is available, he said.

Unice's pleas for more flexibility in EU waste management policies echo recent calls by packaging companies for the EU to ditch higher recycling targets and instead focus on reducing landfilling of waste. Unice has also been highly critical of the Commission's proposals for revision of the 1994 packaging directive (ENDS Daily 26 January).

Follow Up:
Unice, tel: +32 2 237 65 11; a Unice position paper on IRWM will soon be published here.

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