Europe aims for zero waste

Published on Thursday, 24 May 2018

The European Parliament has given its definitive approval to the long-awaited European Circular Economy Package. This raft of directives will transform current regulations on refuse, landfilling, packaging, vehicles at the end of their life, used batteries and accumulators and WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment).

This series of measures concerning the collection and disposal of urban refuse follows the so-called “waste hierarchy.” While the long-term strategy is to persuade companies to make products using new, entirely reusable materials that generate no waste, the short- and medium-term objective is to manage waste more responsibly.

The alternative to what the waste management hierarchy describes as “prevention and reuse” is to reuse materials in other forms – recycling or transformation through composting (which produces fertilisers), anaerobic digestion (producing biogas that can be transformed into energy) or integrating the two processes.

In line with this, the new legislation requires that at least 55% of urban and domestic waste must be recycled. This target will rise to 60% in 2030 and 65% in 2035. Furthermore, 65% of packaging materials must be recycled by 2025 and 70% by 2030. Individual targets will then be fixed for specific packaging materials like paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, metal and wood.  

As for landfill sites, the EU’s package limits the amount of urban waste to be disposed in them to a maximum of 10% by 2035. In Italy, of the 497 kg of waste generated per person in 2016, 27.64% ended up in landfills, 50.55% was recycled or composted and 21.81% was incinerated.  

The current scenario in Europe is by no means uniform – in 2014 Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent no waste whatsoever to landfill sites, while Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Latvia and Malta buried over three quarters of their urban refuse.  

There are also important developments in the field of organic waste – as of 2025, the entire European Union will have to implement the collection of differentiated waste to be sent for composting. Selective collection of textiles and dangerous materials in domestic waste, like paints, pesticides, oils and solvents will also be obligatory.

The package also combats food waste, requesting member states to reduce this by 30% before 2025 and 50% by 2030. It includes measures to incentivise the collection of unsold food products and their safe redistribution.

The legislation will improve the environment, with an average reduction in equivalent CO2 emissions of 617 million tonnes. Moreover, according to the lead MEP on the Package, Simona Bonafè, “It will have a positive impact on employment, with at least 500,000 additional jobs (the Commission predicts a million). The circular economy could provide a boost for the Eurozone economy – the European Parliament estimates GDP growth of up to 7% by 2035. We have to understand that waste should not be seen as a costly problem to be solved, but as an opportunity.”

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