Towards Sustainable Waste Management

The facts Total waste generation in OECD Europe grew 10 % between 1990 and 1995. The waste management of municipal waste in the EU consists of landfilling (73 %) and incineration (17 %). Waste hierarchy should remain the basis of EU waste policies Waste hierarchy: waste prevention before material recycling before energy recovery before waste incineration before landfill The waste legislation is currently being revised in the European Union: landfill directive (1999) and waste incineration directive (2000) will set up EU-wide minimum environmental standards for these forms of waste disposal (including co-incineration of waste). They are good steps to the right direction, even if the level of environmental ambition of the proposals is sometimes modest from the Green perspective. The Greens do not endorse the following statement in the UNICE’s introductory paper for this seminar: “Many examples can be given where waste prevention measures result in higher consumption of energy or other resources”. The fact is that the prevention of waste reduces the potential release of toxic substances and the use of renewable and non-renewable resources and materials. “Integration” means looking at the general picture In order to compare different waste treatment options, one must look at the overall picture. There have been, for example, many studies in the past few years comparing the emissions of greenhouse gases of different waste treatment options with some results pushing for more waste incineration. Optimising the emissions of CO2 in the light of implementing the Kyoto protocol is surely important, but one must not forget that the waste treatment options also have other detrimental environmental effects (release of pollutants into the atmosphere and water, contamination of soils by chemical substances etc.). This is why it is so important to have a look at the general picture (life-cycle approach).

“Integration” is also possible in other ways. The Greens/EFA Group has, for example, tabled amendments in the second reading of the waste incineration Directive, asking to: a. include the principles of waste hierarchy into this Directive on waste incineration, to avoid future national overcapacities in waste incineration, as this is already the case today in some Member States b. make the link between the waste incineration legislation and air/water legislation These amendments have been adopted and will go to conciliation. But so far, neither the European Commission, nor the Council has recognised the need for such links. The European Parliament is waiting for many important EU legislative proposals in the field of waste As it has proven so far very difficult to implement the principle of waste hierarchy, the European Commission should finally come forward with proposals for EU legislation on waste streams. It is worrying to see that some of these proposals have been continuously postponed, although they have been announced already years ago. In this context, the Greens insist on the principle of full producer responsibility. The proposals include – next to a Communication on waste prevention – inter alia EU measures on: – electrical and electronic waste (WEEE / electroscrap directive) – packaging waste (revision of existing directive) – construction and demolition waste – sewage sludge – batteries and accumulators (revision of existing directive) – PVC The Directive on End-of-life Vehicles is the first legislative act to promote the principle of producer responsibility. Targets and timetables need to be developed in the field of waste In addition, we need to set up quantitative targets and timetables for waste policies in the context of the 6th Environment Action Programme. Possible indicators could deal with aspects, such as: – the amount of waste generated in the EU with the aim of decoupling waste generation from GDP growth (the amount of waste is still growing in the EU) – the release of hazardous substances by waste treatment options – the emission of greenhouse gases The EU’s waste policy needs to be further improved, especially regarding the use of diversified instruments (economic and regulatory measures, voluntary agreement as a complement to legislation), without giving up its cornerstones, such as the waste hierarchy and producer responsibility. As an overall goal, consumption should be minimised.

Unicef multi-stakeholder seminar “Moving Towards Sustainable Resources and Waste Management” Brussels, 28th March 2000