The European Union may be looking for ways to reintroduce its “circular economy” proposals which would increase the focus on recycling and zero-waste systems, especially for plastics.
The policy was dropped from the work program of the new European Commission that took office Nov. 1, but various materials sectors were unhappy and proposals are now being redrafted for release.
Speaking in Brussels March 5, at a 2015 European Circular Economy Conference, the European Union's environment, maritime affairs and fisheries commissioner Karmenu Vella, said that binding measures to curb excessive waste would be introduced.
This would include “a new legislative proposal on waste targets,” which will be “more country sensitive,” giving member states leeway in implementation, but still maintain EU goals on recycling.
Further regulations relating to recycling, re-use and product life cycles, would be introduced, subject to an agreed “roadmap for further action.”
“Continuously advancing waste management remains a priority,” Vella told the conference. “Waste is not managed as well as it could be,” he said. “In 2012 total waste production in the EU amounted to 2.5 billion [metric tons]. From this total only a limited share of 36 percent was effectively recycled.
“The largest share, 37 percent, was simply sent for disposal. Losing this material means that significant growth and competitiveness potential is not being exploited through the development of a recycling industry in the EU.”
The plastics industry was singled out in this regard by Vella, who stressed how it can cause maritime environmental problems, a key part of his job's focus.
“Too much plastic waste, which could be recycled, and be a valuable resource, ends up as micro-plastics in our seas. Repair and re-use schemes should be advanced,” he said.
But some industry figures have said that it is unfair of the commission to single the plastics industry out in this way.
Karl-H Foerster, executive director of PlasticsEurope, the association of plastics manufacturers, said the industry was a keen supporter of the circular economy.
“Plastics are too valuable to end up in landfills,” he said.
He argued that plastics can contribute to a more resource efficient Europe. The industry, he said, has already established its own initiatives to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is landfilled, covering seven EU member states, Switzerland and Norway.
He also called for the circular economy proposals to be flexible on how it achieved its goals.
Foerster said: “While most plastics can technically be recycled, recycling is not always the eco-efficient solution. Recycling plastics beyond an optimum level will result in higher costs and little environmental benefits. This is why we should look at efficient energy-from-waste. Using plastics that cannot be sustainably recycled as a secondary energy source expand the diversity of the EU's energy supply, improves energy security and helps mitigate climate change while saving fossil fuels.”