Outrage grows after governments fail to comply with EU anti-waste laws

National governments may be losing momentum in the transition to a less wasteful and more circular economy. Now, Spanish civil society are taking legal action against their government.

In 2018, the EU’s governments and institutions struck a historic agreement introducing what many hailed as the world’s most ambitious set of anti-waste laws – ranging from a ban on the incineration and dumping of separately collected wastes to higher targets for the recycling and reuse of discarded products.

But things have so far not panned out that way. More than two years later, most EU countries have missed the July 2020 deadline for the full transposition into national legislation – these include major economies such as Finland, Spain, Sweden and Poland.

Now, experts warn that the delays may lead to a dangerous backlog of legislative work. “If the countries were delayed, they should already now be taking the next step, not only to transpose what was in the past – from three years ago – but also to take into account the direction of travel of the European Commission, of the whole EU, which is the European Green Deal. And that means mostly focusing on waste prevention,” said the European Environmental Bureau’s Piotr Barczak at an online event last week.

Enough is enough,” say Spanish people

If on one hand governments are lagging behind, on the other hand civil society organisations are wasting no time.

Last month, 16 Spanish NGOs took legal action against their government over lack of compliance with the EU’s anti-waste laws. The coalition sent a formal letter of notice to the European Commission, which is now assessing whether further legal action and sanctions are needed.

Besides its failure to translate the recent EU laws into national legislation, Spain has also recently missed the previous EU recycling target of 50% by 2020, the NGOs said.

Campaigners maintain that legal action could set a precedent for NGOs in other countries, triggering a chain reaction at EU level. In Portugal, NGOs are already considering writing to the European Commission.

The legal action in Spain comes at a time when the government is revising its own national anti-waste law, which is also disappointing, according to campaigners.

The legal documents presented by the  NGOs show that the current text of the national law is not strong enough to support the development of measures needed for the transition to a circular economy. The groups lamented the lack of clear commitment to boost the separate collection of biowaste and packaging or to ban avoidable single-use items.

For those who wonder how Spain got itself in legal trouble over waste management and prevention, a recent investigative report by campaign group Changing Markets may have the answers. The study, called “More Trash More Cash: Who is really behind the plastic crisis in Spain”, revealed how powerful corporations have successfully prevented any attempts to reform the Spanish waste management system for years and are now once again gearing up to derail a meaningful implementation of new EU targets by lobbying in favour of voluntary initiatives instead.