Ministers say 2030 recycling goals too high
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Recycling targets tabled by the outgoing European Commission are too ambitious, according to the majority of member states.
The ‘circular economy’ package of proposals put forward in July included a goal of recycling 70% of municipal waste by 2030, and 80% recycling goals for packaging and wood waste, as well as 90% goals for ferrous metal, aluminium and glass.
At an environment ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, many poorer member states criticised the Commission for basing the level of ambition on the experience of countries that have made the most progress on recycling. This approach was acknowledged by environment commissioner Janez Potocnik.
Hungary said the approach was “not fair”, adding that the costs involved in meeting the proposed goals would not be commensurate with the benefits. The Czech Republic said the 70% municipal recycling goal was too high given some member states will not even meet their 2020 goal. Indicative goals should be considered, it added.
A longer timeframe for meeting the goals will be necessary for Slovakia to lend its support.
The high level of ambition was also questioned by richer member states, including Austria, Germany, Ireland and Finland.
“New quantitative targets should not be so far from reality that they do not seem achievable in spite of efforts,” Germany said.
The cost and environmental impact of recycling will be higher in countries with more dispersed populations, Finland said.
The Netherlands and Sweden supported the level of ambition. Denmark welcomed the strategy as a “good extension” of its own waste management plans, but noted that the level of ambition was “very, very high”.
A number of member states called for better product policy, including through the Ecodesign Directive, to prevent waste. The UK, Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Belgium, Greece, Slovakia and France called for more action here, with many stating that the Commission's proposal was too focused on waste management rather than prevention.
The Netherlands and Austria called for a greater emphasis on high-value recycling. Member states including Lithuania, the UK and Cyprus warned that very high recycling targets could lower the quality of recycled products.
“The market doesn’t want low-quality recycling,” the UK said, adding that some of the recycling that may have to be done to hit high targets could also be carbon-intensive.
Some member states also called for more to be done on reuse, with Denmark arguing that “some member states reuse packaging and don’t get any recognition for their efforts”. Finland and Ireland suggested a combined target for reuse and recycling. Finland also wants policies to support biofuel production from waste.
On food waste, where the Commission has suggested a 30% aspirational goal, member states were divided. A number said it was impossible to set a goal until a clear definition of food waste is agreed, while a lack of data on current food waste disposal would also be a problem for some. But France and Sweden both backed an ambitious target here.