One year to go: Are EU countries ready to turn waste into opportunity?

From plastic pollution to food waste, we’re about to find out whether EU governments are serious about recycling and reducing waste.

Within a year from now, by July 2020, all 28 member states will have to incorporate into national legislation the most ambitious set of measures ever agreed by the European Union to boost recycling and cut waste.

The laws, which entered into force last year, include mandatory separate collection of household waste – paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, hazardous waste and organic waste – as well as a ban on incineration and burying of waste collected for recycling and  schemes to make producers pay for the collection and recycling of their products.

The EU also recommends the introduction of non-binding measures and economic incentives to boost waste prevention. These include landfill and incineration taxes, as well as schemes to boost the reuse of packaging and to ensure consumers are refunded a small fee once they return a container for recycling.

The measures span three major EU directives: The Waste Framework Directive, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the Landfill Directive. As of July 2021, governments will also have to turn into law measures addressing single-use plastic items as part of the Single-Use Plastics Directive, which entered into force last week. These include, but are not limited to, a ground-breaking ban on polluting items such as straws and plates.

Governments need a legislative push to help them achieve revised recycling targets (see Box 1), according NGOs.

“Measures like mandatory separate collection can truly improve recycling operations and infrastructure while saving businesses money and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs,” said Piotr Barczak of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Recent recycling rates seem to suggest that governments could do with some help. While some are world leaders have already adopted ambitious recycling laws, half of EU countries are at risk of missing the current target of 50% by 2020.

The poor implementation of laws and incentives is a reason why some countries still struggle with waste management, but NGOs point out that it’s necessary to tackle the problem at the source. With 487kg of waste per person generated in 2017, Europe has made little to no progress in reducing waste recently.

Only 30% of EU household waste was recycled in 2017, while 17% was composted, 28% incinerated and 24% buried in dumpsites (Eurostat 2019)

Barczak said that Europe is not prepared to deal properly with all the waste it generates annually. “Valuable resources still end up in dumpsites and incinerators. And since China stopped taking in the scrap we can’t recycle, it’s become clear that what we really need is a reduction in waste generation. The most effective way to deal with waste is to not create it in the first place. ,” he told META.

The EEB, alongside other Brussels-based NGOs such as Zero Waste Europe, have launched an investigation into the level of national implementation of Europe’s new waste laws. They’re also calling on EU governments to go beyond the minimum requirements set by the EU and come up with binding targets for reuse and prevention.

A timeline for the national implementation of the EU’s new targets and laws. Read more here:

They hope to boost the profile of national citizen groups that have helped secure the adoption of the laws in Brussels and that now want to help public authorities ensure their countries reap the full economic and environmental benefits.