"Low-waste" future for Europe envisaged

EEB urges Commission to provide strong leadership to drive dematerialisation of the economy

The European Commission must provide strong leadership if the EU is to achieve a real decoupling of economic growth from waste generation, green NGO federation the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said today. Industry calls for "decentralisation" of policy making should be resisted, the group said. "The problem is not over-regulation," it went on, but is "the lack of incentives and driving forces to create wealth with less waste.

In a paper setting out "ten key issues" for the future of EU waste policy, EEB defends the bloc's waste hierarchy (ENDS Daily 3 April 2000) which prioritises prevention over recycling over recovery over disposal. Responding to growing industry calls for greater flexibility (ENDS Daily 28 March 2000), EEB claims this would in practice lead to promotion of "dirty industries instead of eco-innovation".

EEB acknowledges some shortcomings in the hierarchy but says these can be overcome through minor refinements. Agreement needs to be reached as to where techniques such as chemical recycling, energy recovery with high energy efficiency rates and composting should be slotted in, the paper says. Clear definitions are also needed for general processes, including waste prevention, reuse, recycling and energy recovery.

The paper calls for comprehensive quantitative targets for the use of specific waste management methods. These would act as "complementary drivers" towards systematic implementation of the hierarchy across the EU, says EEB. Its proposed targets include 20% waste prevention by 2010, 50% recycling and composting of all waste, and a 40% reduction in waste to disposal by 2010.

Producer responsibility for end-of-life products should be extended, EEB argues. "Broad support" for the concept is evident, it says, calling on the EU to expand from current initiatives on scrap cars and electroscrap to cover also packaging, building and construction materials, furniture, carpets, lamps, vegetable oils and fats, plastic foils, mattresses and paint.

Eventually the EU should develop a material stream approach to waste management, which could alleviate any market distortions resulting from producer responsibility. Targets for collection and recycling rates for specific material streams could act in tandem with producer responsibility policies, such as a target for all waste paper as well as a more specific one for waste packaging paper. EEB recommends that the Commission rank waste streams as a first step.

Follow Up:
EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090, and strategy paper.

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