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EU puts recycling on the agenda at Paris climate talks

  • 2015. december 01. 01:00
  • Csilla
Under proposed new law, European countries must recycle 65% of their trash, 75% of their product packaging and slash landfill dumping

Europe has put recycling on the agenda of the Paris climate talks with a raft of new waste targets to cut emissions, with its environment commissioner calling on other countries to follow the EU’s lead.

Under the new goals, by 2030 European countries will have to recycle 65% of their municipal rubbish and 75% of their product packaging, as well as reducing landfill dumping to a maximum of 10% of overall waste disposal. The targets, some of which are binding, are expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4% within 15 years.

On Thursday, the bloc’s environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella will call on delegates in Paris to match the EU.

“The world will need many individual measures like these, whose cumulative effect will be far greater than their individual impact,” Vella will say, according to a prepared speech seen by the Guardian.

The commissioner singles out the potential of waste reuse to curb carbon-intensive production processes, adding that “more cuts will come by reducing methane emissions from landfills.”

By expanding the use of eco-labels, “we [will] bring about savings that exceed the annual primary energy consumption of Italy,” he will say. “This translates into reduced greenhouse gas emissions of 340m tonnes of CO2 equivalent, more than 7% of total EU emissions in 2010, for example, and close to €500 saved each year for the average household.”

However, most of the new goals are diminutions of a previous package that the commission’s vice-president, Frans Timmermans , had promised to make “more ambitious”.

Marine litter and food waste targets were dropped, as was an indicative goal to improve resource efficiency by 30%. Several member states were given a bonus five years to meet the headline benchmarks.

An analysis by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), based on commission figures, indicates that the revised package will add more than 100m extra tonnes of greenhouse gases to the bloc’s tally, compared to previous estimates.

“Lowering the recycling targets compared to last year’s proposal means that more waste will be sent to landfill or incineration plants,” said Stéphane Arditi, the EEB’s waste and products policy manager. “This is a missed opportunity because recycling creates more jobs and causes fewer emissions than either landfill or incineration.”

In a press launch, Timmermans defended the proposal’s bona fides, arguing that it contained a €650m funding pledge and better reflected realities on the ground.

While Austria recycles around two-thirds of its trash - and the UK is flatlining on 45% - Romania currently has a waste reuse rate of just 4.5%.

“We could have set a 100% target, which is even more ambitious, but what would that have meant in the real world?” Timmermans asked.

He insisted that the commission could raise the targets if states overperformed, and flagged potential laws for products with “built-in-obsolescence”, that tend to break down a month after a warranty’s end.

“There are always two extreme groups criticising these proposals,” said Jyrki Katainen, another commission vice-president. “The first group says we are not doing enough. The second says that we are doing too much but our message is that there is plenty of room in the middle for moderate substantive results”.

The response from industry was largely positive with the employers confederation BusinessEurope applauding the EU’s revised approach as “a good step to support business in this long-term transition agenda”.

Shortly before the original proposal was put into review in 2014, the group had called for it to be scrapped and repackaged as an “economic piece of legislation,” in a letter to Timmermans, seen by the Guardian.

The package also received a warm response from the Aldersgate Group and Eurochambres, which called on the European parliament to show “pragmatism”.

But the draft law will face its first major test next year when it is put before the European parliament, which has the power to block or amend it.

In a sign of parliament’s mood on the issue, the Labour MEP Seb Dance called the package “hugely disappointing”.

“It is inevitable that MEPs from all sides will be looking to table amendments to increase the ambition level,” he said.

A commission study of the original 2014 proposal found that its implementation would create 2m new jobs and save €600bn a year by 2030. Friends of the Earth have questioned whether the new proposal would do the same.

“We were promised a more ambitious package, but the only ambition shown here has been for watering down targets,” added the Liberal MEP Catherine Bearder . “Robust targets, including for marine litter and food waste, must be reinstated.”

But not all lawmakers agreed. Julie Girling , the Conservatives’ environmental lead, said that she was glad that the package had been published after a year of delays.

“It is a key file and needs to be ambitious but balanced so that we can tackle the transition to a more sustainable future, tackling climate change and energy needs whilst stimulating EU jobs and economic growth,” she told the Guardian. “It is now time to get to work on this.”