Global Economics

EU Eyes Waste Reduction Targets


The European Parliament will vote on a legally binding target for reducing waste, but differences with the European Commission are likely

EU states could end up facing a new environmental task as the European Parliament for the first time seeks a legally binding target for reducing waste.

The plenary is to vote on Tuesday (13 February) on a report tabled by the Parliament's environment committee, which calls for waste production to be stabilised by 2012 at 2008 levels.

"The volume of waste is increasing", British conservative MEP Caroline Jackson, who is in charge of the dossier, told EUobserver, underlining that "we need to shift our policy towards re-use and recycling".

Around 500 kilograms of waste is annually produced by a single European, with huge differences among member states when it comes to their recycling habits.

In general, 49 percent of EU municipal waste is sent to landfill sites and 33 percent recycled or composted. However, EU states at the least green end of the spectrum send 90 percent of their waste to landfill and only 10 percent is recycled.

Mrs Jackson's paper suggests reducing pressure on landfill sites advocating a five-step approach to waste treatment from the most to the least environmentally-sound. On a green scale, prevention of waste is best followed by its re-use, recycling, and energy recovery while landfills are a last resort.

However, if favoured by a majority, MEPs are likely to clash with the European Commission over the text.

"Each member states faces a different situation", a commission spokesperson told EUobserver, underlining it would be "difficult to set up one common cap on waste production".

In addition, Brussels "does not want the existing five stage waste hierarchy to be carved in stone". Instead, it favours a so-called concept of life-cycle thinking, which gives some room for manoeuvre when choosing an option of waste management.

"We look at a product's life-cycle and then determine how to limit its waste potential at each stage", a commission spokesperson said.

The Parliament's environment committee gave its blessing to Mrs Jackson's report last November, with 48 votes in favour, 6 against and 2 abstentions. Although the British MEP did not want to forecast the result in the plenary, she did say she is "rather optimistic" about the vote.

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