good-for-economy

Recycling economy within the European Union

Recycling economy within the European Union

Human society has experienced a fast evolution in the last two decades, which has led people to change their consumption behavior following an upward trend. Thus, there has been a bigger demand for goods and services that gradually resulted in a sharp increase of economic welfare among European states.

In relationship with the linear economy, whose model is to extract (resource) – to produce (product) – to dispose (waste), consumption growth has always been likely to generate a progressively increased amount of waste resulting from human activities. In this context, the European Commission (EC) identified the necessity of a greater concern regarding compulsory regulations, mainly for waste prevention, but also to ensure the proper control of waste streams, especially by recycling, in order to prevent spreading of negative effects on the environment and human health.

Thus, in 2008 was adopted the Waste Framework Directive (WFD), each Member State being obliged to transpose it to national law. The preamble of this Directive summarizes previously existing regulations, directives, decisions and communications of the European institutions regarding the waste sector which EC integrated within WFD. So, the rules of good practices covering all aspects resorted from the previous experience on the waste prevention and management within Member States are subscribed to a consolidated act, within a global framework.

WFD underlying principles are represented by respecting the waste hierarchy and extended producer responsibility, principles designed to foster the transition of the entire European community area towards a recycling society and towards a zero waste economy.

The principle of waste hierarchy establishes the phased structure to be followed from planning stage of the product’s life cycle. Thus, planning a product must first consider the efficient use of raw materials in order to prevent unnecessary waste, design of product with multiple reuse capacities, using as many recyclable components as possible, capitalization of non-recyclable items, aiming the final purpose of dispose zero quantities of waste.

WFD sets out the meaning of each action of the hierarchy in generic terms, while establishing, in a general framework, a set of policy objectives and real recycling targets to be achieved by Member States within the waste sector. We further present the actions required for an efficient waste management:

  • In terms of waste prevention, WFD stipulates the need for Member States to develop National Waste Prevention Plans until 12th December 2013, either as part of the National Waste Management Plans or as separate documents. At the same time, the Member States have the task of defining eco-design policies for products, developing measures to amend the current consumption patterns in Europe and setting targets for waste prevention in 2020, actions which must consider the best available practices in force.
  • Regarding the reuse and recycling, it is necessary to adopt appropriate measures to promote the reuse of products while implementing high quality recycling processes. For the recycling activities were also imposed a series of targets with deadlines that Member States should comply with as follows:
  1. introduction of separate collection systems for at least paper, metal, plastic and glass by 2015;
  2. preparation for reuse and recycling, at least for paper, metal, plastic and glass from households and from other sources, shall be increased to a minimum of 50% of the total by 2020 given that in 2008 some states recycled less than 5% of this category;
  3. preparation for reuse, recycling and other recovery actions of non-hazardous waste material from construction and demolition waste, shall be increased to a minimum of 70% by weight in 2020, in 2008 some states registering 5% recycled quantities from this category.
  • Capitalization of waste must be carried out only after the waste is separately collected and is not mixed with other wastes or materials with different properties, where this is technically, economically and environmentally possible;
  • Disposal must be carried out only after the waste was classified as belonging to an improper category for the other stages of the waste hierarchy.

The principle of extended producer responsibility is the environmental policy whereby producer liability is extended beyond the stage of the product life cycle. Thus, according to this principle, Member States may adopt legislative or non-legislative measures to ensure that any natural or legal person who professionally develops, manufactures, processes, treats, sells or imports products, accept their return as well as the waste that remains after using those products, while leading the subsequent management of waste and financial responsibility for such activities.

This principle also acts as a major tool to support the implementation of waste hierarchy and is intended to help Member States to rally on strands which will lead to performing the leap towards recycling societies and economies which will produce zero waste quantities.

EC introduced the principle of extended producer responsibility as a policy approach for four specific waste streams covered by the same number of Directive, namely: i) Directive 2000/53/EC on end of life vehicles; ii) the new Directive 2012/19/EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment; iii) Directive 2006/66/EC on batteries; iv) Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste.

All the Member States have established extended producer responsibility schemes for waste streams that subscribe to the four Directives mentioned above, but a large part of them have also applied the same principle to other existing wastes. If countries such as Romania, United Kingdom, Czech Republic limited only to the rules imposed by EU Directives, in contrast Belgium, Austria, France, Estonia are role models in terms of voluntary compliance, implementing the obligation of taking over the responsibility for other waste streams, some of them with a high risk impact on the environment and human health (tires, oils, medical waste, agricultural waste, graphic paper).

Noting this voluntary compliance of the majority of EU countries, in the future is most likely that the rules operating within their national law to constitute the basis for EC to developing new European Directives that would regulate the waste streams in a greater extent. The norms imposed by the European institutions have demonstrated that they are the most feasible methods for Member States to meet performant targets in recycling.

Waste streams that are subject to the principle of extended producer responsibility as mandatory resorting either from EU Directives (green), either from voluntary compliance of EU Member States (blue)

MS

Batteries WEEE Packaging End of life vehicles Tires Graphic paper Oils Medical waste Agricultural waste
Belgium

x

x x x x x x x

x

Austria

x

x x x x x x x
France

x

x x x x x x

x

Romania

x

x x x

Bulgaria

x x x x x
Hungary

x

x x x

x

Germany

x

x x

x

x

x

United kingdom

x x x

x

Estonia

x

x x x x x x

x

Czech Republic x x x x

Source: Development of Guidance on Extended Producer Responsibility, European Commission document

A major step towards converting the Member States into active recycling societies is represented by the  implementation of waste hierarchy principles, especially the one of extended producer responsibility. Thus, with the transposition of the WFD and the other Directives covering specific waste streams into national laws, governments are obliged to concern themselves more intensely by stimulating rethinking and redesign actions for products and services to assure an extended life, with the possibility of multiple re-uses, thus preventing the generation of unnecessary waste. At the same time, these principles help to encouraging the use of recyclable materials and to implementing high quality technologies for recycling.

On the other hand, the highest percentage of waste sent to recycling is achieved through the requirement resorting from the extended producer responsibility principle, especially for those waste streams for which the Directive impose regulations in all Member States (mainly packaging, batteries, WEEE, end of life vehicles). Given the rallying of EU policy towards sustainable development, the future can only bring an import of best practices from those EU countries which voluntarily complied with the principle of responsibility for several waste streams (end of life vehicles, graphic paper, oil, medical waste, agricultural waste), the best example being the one of Belgium which covers the most extended list of wastes.

Also as an obligation resorting from WFD, as mentioned above, is the development of National Waste Prevention Plans, documents drawn up by Member States covering policy objectives, not only at declarative level, but especially real measures through which to stimulate a rethinking of the whole process of a product design so the subassemblies component can start a new life cycle either through reuse or recycle.

Even if WFD stipulated 12 December 2013 as deadline for drafting the prevention plans, Romania is one of the states that didn’t comply, at the time of mid-2015 the procedure being in the initial stage of public procurement.

Other Member States, such as Belgium, Germany, England, France, Hungary, Poland and a further 15 (http://scp.eionet.europa.eu/facts/WPP) have already adopted national waste prevention plans which propose, in addition to compliance with European regulations within the waste sector, real actions to change the mentality of people towards a greater awareness of what means the importance of environmental protection, as well as practical measures to stimulating the respect of waste hierarchy. The majority of states have proposed the use of financial incentives approximately to the same course of action as follows:

    1. progressive taxes from year to year for waste disposal;
    2. increasing recycling targets, especially for those waste streams covered by producer responsibility;
    3. financial incentives to local authorities to create new integrated waste management facilities;
    4. funding for research and development to design products with a longer life and from which to result a small amount of waste;
    5. loan funds to stimulate the design of new integrated waste management capacities.

Romania, as EU Member State, fulfilled its legislative obligations regarding the transposition of all directives that stipulate the principle of extended producer responsibility by specific laws, and also of WFD by Law 211/2011 regarding waste which introduced the waste hierarchy principle into national legislation for the first time. However, even if the principle of producer responsibility registers good performances proved by recycled volume being close to targets set for specific waste streams, total recycled or recovered quantities of waste within our country is ranking the last among EU states. Environmental Report 2013 recorded that over 90% of households waste is landfilled, the recycling rate reaching only 7%, far away from the EU 28 average of almost 40%.

This situation appears to be partially due to a permissive application of legal provisions, given that even the coercive organs of the state represented by environmental agencies and environmental guard create the impression of low degree of concern in relation to obligations assumed.

Law 132/2010 on selective waste collection within public institutions may be a particularly suggestive example regarding the relaxed observance of legal norms on waste selective collection. This law establishes the obligation of all state’s authorities to increase recycling and recovery of waste, along with raising the level of information and awareness by educating public officials, employees and citizens with regard to the selective collection and waste management of paper, cardboard, metal, plastic and glass.

Beyond the declaratively objectives, the law stipulates as real measures the development of action plans for selective collection and implementation of selective collection systems by placing three containers, colored and engraved with the name of materials for which are intended, in every office / site, storey, as well as at the entrance of public institutions.

With all these regulations, the practical experience is coming to support the idea of low compliance by the fact that some public institutions at central and local level are lagging behind with the measures aimed to implementing this normative act. The majority of waste prevention plans from other Member States mentioned above, stipulate that public authorities must take the role of lead actor on what means selective collection and recycling, constituting the model to follow for both private sector and entire society.

The lack of an active concern from the public sector in terms of compliance with the regulations within waste sector and launching of information campaigns in order to spread the importance of selective collection and recycling, are leading to a low interest among the population as well for an efficient waste management from the very begining in households. The population is insufficient informed about the advantages and importance of selective waste collection and recycling, and in a few cases when waste streams are separated at source, the sanitation operator does not have the tools for a distinct transportation and storage. Thus, by mixing all households waste, the quality of recyclable items is deteriorated, so that the operator must carry out a preliminary cleansing, before the waste is selected in sorting stations. Thus, a duplication of labor is performed that results in a low return from recycling process for economic operator.

In the same context, another obstacle is the lack of an adequate infrastructure favoring the integrated waste management process since taking over from source to sending waste to recycling or recovery.

Given those circumstances, Romania is still moving towards a recycling society, but with hesitant steps. However, the preocupation of EC to harmonize the best practices from waste sector around the European Community could represent the main driver of real actions to improve the situation of compliance with the waste hierarchy in Romania.

Consequently, Romania will face an increased pressure for a stricter application of waste law which will need to be balanced with rising awareness of society for the topic and development of appropriate infrastructure for an efficient waste management. EU operational programs 2014-2020 could become the main instruments through which these shortcomings could be financed and turn into performance. The Large Infrastructure Operational Programme may address the infrastructure deficiencies, by further developing the projects under SOP Environment 2007-2013 or by implementing new projects. Human Capital Operational Programme and Administrative Capacity Operational Programme may be the mainly instruments in terms of raising awareness actions and changing the mentality of the population, both being designed also for strengthening the principle of sustainable development among population.

 

 

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply