EU Parliament votes to strengthen landfill law

MEPs back mandatory 2002 deadline to cut biodegradable waste landfilling

The European Parliament yesterday voted to significantly strengthen the draft EU directive on the landfill of waste. Members backed targets proposed by the European Commission to cut the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfills - setting the Parliament on a collision course with EU environment ministers.

MEPs voted to limit the amount of biodegradable waste taken to landfills to 75% of 1993 levels by 2002, 50% by 2005, and 25% by 2010 - the same targets proposed by the European Commission. The Parliament also voted to make the earliest target mandatory, proposing to delete the words "as far as possible" suggested by the Commission.

EU environment ministers want considerably weaker targets. Last December, they informally agreed that countries should have to cut the proportion of biodegradable waste being landfilled to 75% of 1995 levels by 2006, 50% by 2009 and 35% by 2016 (ENDS Daily 17 December 1997).

MEPs also tightened requirements for member states to monitor and report to the European Commission on the amount of waste going to landfills and the proportion of this that is biodegradable.

A controversial addition to the Commission's proposal which was narrowly voted through would give the Commission the power to propose economic instruments, such as a landfill tax. The amendment is unlikely to be approved by the Council. Though waste taxes are already applied in some EU countries, several governments oppose giving the EU more powers over tax policies.

The directive's liability provisions have been significantly strengthened. The Commission proposed that landfill operators should be responsible for monitoring gaseous and liquid emissions from landfills for as long as competent authorities think that they pose a hazard. Under the Parliament's amendment, this would be for at least 30 years after closure and operators would remain liable for any damage caused by the landfill indefinitely.

Although the Parliament was not officially responding to the changes agreed by EU ministers in December, it has nonetheless addressed some of them. For instance, ministers wanted an exemption from the directive's provisions for underground landfills. The Parliament was unhappy at such a blanket exemption and has introduced a requirement for a technical committee to set strict criteria for waste that could be accepted in underground landfills.

Surprisingly, the Parliament has supported a change proposed by ministers that would exempt some forms of inert waste from a requirement that all waste sent to landfills should be pre-treated.

UK Socialist MEP David Bowe, who was instrumental in ensuring that the Commission's first attempt at a landfill directive was rejected by the Parliament, told ENDS Daily today that he feels MEPs and ministers are now closer on the issue than ever before. Unless ministers completely ignore the changes wanted by the Parliament, he said, the directive could be finalised by the end of the UK presidency in June.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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