Legislators vote in favor of five-step waste hierarchy

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Waste, Waste management, European union, Recycling, Eu

EU legislators yesterday voted in favour of proposals to introduce
a controversial five-stage hierarchy of priority for the bloc's
waste management policy.

However due to the governments concerns about the additional cost to their industry the proposals would be unlikely to be passed by the governments of the EU once they reach the European Council, expected some time in the second half of this year. The EU's packagers -- supported by the food industry and other sectors -- have been lobbying against the proposals for the past year, claiming that they would be too costly to industry and provide no further benefit to the environment. Industry wants the status quo to remain in place. Manufacturers are also against a proposal to introduce sanctions against companies for the first time if they do not follow the regulations. The proposals to revise the EU Waste Directive would establish a five-stage hierarchy that gives priority to prevention, recycling and reuse over landfills and incineration. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also set binding targets for waste prevention for the first time. The system would require food processors and others to pay for impact studies justifying their use of particular types of packaging if they do not fall in line with the hierarchy. André Riche, a press officer for the Parliament, said it was "highly unlikely" that the Council would vote in favour of establishing the hierarchal system. The European Commission had originally proposed establishing a management system based on life cycle analysis of waste. Life cycle analysis involves an examination of the environmental and economic effects of a product at every stage of its existence, from production to disposal and beyond. In an interview with FoodProductionDaily.com Riche said the Council and the Parliament will now have to work out compromises to the legislation. Since there is no time limit set during the first stages of legislation, such a process could delay any changes. He also pointed out that a main aim of the legislation is to clarify and define terms within the current EU waste regulation. "Many terms were unclear in the 1975 framework directive,"​ he said. "This led to many court cases."​ The proposed revision to the EU's waste management policy would give preferential treatment to reusable packaging, such as bottles, over recyclable materials. The system is an attempt to push industry to use more environmental-friendly materials, with the eventually aim of cutting down on the amount of waste ending up in landfills. The proposals were approved by 651 for, 19 against and 16 abstentions. They also adopted proposals by MEP Johannes Blokland on a "thematic strategy" for waste. MEPs said the strategy would give rise to other, more specific, measures in future. Opinions differed among MEPs as to how binding the hierarchy should be, according to Riche. They agreed in the end that derogations from the order of priorities should only be allowed on the basis of established, publicly available scientific criteria. MEPs were also divided over whether incineration should be regarded as a form of disposal or a recovery operation. The Commission initially proposed that it should be categorised as recovery, provided it meets a certain energy efficiency standard. In the end a majority of MEPs rejected the idea that incineration should be regarded as recovery. MEPs also want member states to draw up national prevention programmes within 18 months of the entry-into-force of the directive. The aim of the proposall would be to stabilise waste production at the level reached in 2008 by 2012. Reduction targets to be reached by 2020 would have to be laid down by 2010. MEPs also voted in favour of targets for re-use and recycling. By 2020, 50 per cent of municipal solid waste and 70 per cent of waste from construction, demolition, industry and manufacturing must be re-used or recycled. In principle any waste must, wherever possible, at least be recovered. The proposals also tighten up rules on landfill disposal. The "thematic strategy" introduced by Blokland would ban paper, glass, textiles, plastic and metal from landfills by 2015. Separate waste collection systems for these categories would have to be set. By 2020, recyclable waste would also be banned from landfill sites. The proposals also introduce:

  • a "polluter-pays principle";

  • a "proximity principle", requiring that waste for disposal should be processed in one of the "nearest appropriate installations", regardless of national frontiers;

  • a new article on traceability and control of hazardous waste;

  • a ban on mixing different categories of hazardous waste; hazardous compounds should be separated from all waste streams before they enter the recovery chain;

  • a call for legislation to be proposed to define which secondary products are no longer deemed to be waste;

  • new articles on biowaste and catering waste;

  • new articles on permits, especially for hazardous waste, and on sanctions;

  • the creation of a consultation forum on waste management.

In November the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), joined nine other industry organizations in a joint appeal to legislators, calling on them to consider a waste hierarchy system as a "guiding principle" rather than a prescriptive regulatory system set out under EU law. Julian Carroll, managing director of Europen, has previously said says if such emphasis is put on one waste management method over another, manufacturers could end up paying hundreds of thousands of euros each to justify keeping one particular type of packaging for individual brands. Europen is the bloc's industry association for packagers. Carroll estimated that processors and packagers could end up spending about €100,000 on each brand to justify the environmental benefits of using a recyclable plastic for their product rather than a reusable bottle. "This proposal is a big threat to industry,"​ Carroll had said to FoodProductionDaily.com in November. He also noted that the system does not take into account the growing use of biodegradable packaging, which can be returned to landfill. Europen says waste management policy needs to be flexible enough to take account of local factors, such as the nature and composition of the waste streams, the availability of recovery facilities, the feasibility of using different recovery measures, public support, as well as geographic, demographic, economic and environmental conditions. "Local authorities -- and hence consumers -- would face higher costs if prevented from choosing the optimal waste management solution in their particular local circumstances,"​ the association argues. Other organisations supporting Europen's position include the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE), European Brands Association (AIM), Beverage Can Makers in Europe (BCME), European Federation of Bottled Water (EFBW), EuroCommerce, European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO), PlasticsEurope and the European Soft Drinks Industry (UNESDA). Around 500kg of waste is produced per person per year in Europe. The amount is increasing faster than gross domestic product and less than a third of it is recycled, according to official statistics. In September 2005, the European Commission proposed an overhaul of the 1975 directive, largely in order to lay down rules on recycling and to require member states to draw up binding national programmes for cutting waste production. EU members generate 1.3bn tonnes of waste a year, an amount that has been growing by up to 10 per cent annually since the 1990s. In some member states, up to 90 per cent of municipal waste goes to landfill sites. In the EU about 33 per cent f waste is recycled or composted, according to figures from Eurostat. According to European Commission figures there are major differences between the member states in output of packaging waste. Finland and Greece generate less than 100 kg per inhabitant, while Ireland and France generate more than 200 kg. In terms of packaging per unit of gross domestic product, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden have the lowest and Portugal, Italy and Spain the highest per capita packaging waste generation levels. The figures might be skewed by different interpretations of packaging waste, the Commission noted. A study by the Nordic Council has shown that some of the differences are due to different interpretations of the packaging definition and due to different data collection methods. Mintel reports that for the three month period to November 2006 the word "recyclable" was the leading claim in new food launches, slightly ahead of the "natural" claim. This is an improvement on its position in the same period in 2005, when 'recyclable' only featured on 3.3 per cent of new products compared to 7.7 per cent during the latest measurement period, and 'natural' was the leading claim on 10.3 per cent of proudcts. The word "natural" appeared on 7.1 per cent of new products in the three month period to November.

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