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Under new rules, governments will have to achieve waste management targets by 2020. Greens call the agreement weak
The European Parliament has adopted binding targets for the recycling of waste that the European Union's 27 member states will have to include in their national plans or face legal action by Brussels.
Under the rules agreed by the Strasbourg plenary on Tuesday (17 June), national governments will have to "take the necessary measures" designed to achieve a concrete set of waste management targets by 2020.
These include the re-use and recycling of 50 percent of waste materials such as paper, metal and glass from households and similar waste streams, as well as 70 percent of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste.
The European Commission praised the result of the vote.
"This legislation marks a shift in thinking about waste from an unwanted burden to a valued resource and helps to make Europe a recycling society," said environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.
But the Greens in the EU assembly said that the deal was too weak, expressing doubts that the adopted wording would force national authorities to meet the targets and criticising the lack of binding rules for manufacturing and industrial waste, as well as for waste prevention.
"The final compromise does not have a legally binding target for waste reduction. A study on waste prevention is no alternative to stabilisation measures. The continuous growth in waste is unsustainable and without this measure it will continue to grow," said Jill Evans, MEP from Plaid Cymru party in Wales.
But British Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson, charged with leading talks with member states on the matter, said the sheer fact that concrete targets had been accepted despite strong opposition in some capitals was a victory for MEPs.
"The Council [representing national governments] is getting increasingly difficult to negotiate with. As the recession bites, it realises that this legislation is going to cost money and it is reluctant to accept parliament's amendments."
For his part, commissioner Dimas was clear about the EU executive's role in pressing for the green waste goals to be fulfilled. "If these targets are not met in 2020, the commission can take member states to court for non-compliance with the requirements of the directive," he said.
The new rules will oblige member states to develop national waste management and prevention plans five years after entry into force of the new directive. If analysis shows that it is needed, the EU executive is also due to set waste prevention objectives for 2020 by the end of 2014.
According to Brussels estimates, Europe generates around 1.8 billion tonnes of waste, meaning an average of 3.5 tonnes per person, mainly from households, commercial enterprises such as shops or restaurants, industry, agriculture and construction and demolition projects.