ISWA President, David Newman explains why in spite of the ambitious recycling and landfill diversion targets, the Commission has left the door open for countries to choose not to implement separate collections of biowaste with its recently adopted EU Circular Economy Package.

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ISWA President, David Newman explains why in spite of the ambitious recycling and landfill diversion targets, the Commission has left the door open for countries to choose not to implement separate collections of biowaste with its recently adopted EU Circular Economy Package…

It seems banal to write about the European Commission’s Circular Economy package issued December 2nd, because so many comments have been transmitted from all the associations, national and European, involved in the sector. What to add to those?

Well, who hasn’t yet commented is interesting to note.

So far no comment from the European Composting Network. Yet the lack of specific targets and obligations for separate collection of biowaste is actually the really contentious issue of the whole waste package.

While the Directive gives targets for reducing landfilling, to 10% of MSW by 2030, and similarly ambitious targets of 65% recycling in the same timeframe, the organic fraction is not subject to similar targets. It “should” be separately collected. Good. But subject to the local circumstances- the revised article 22 says it all. In other words, if you want to, collect organics separately, otherwise say it is not feasible and justify not collecting it. Not good.

We can have the debate in mature waste management systems, like Denmark, about whether the recovery of energy for district heating is preferable over the recovery of energy from biogas for heating or electricity.

There the infrastructure for district heating exists, and whilst burning very wet food waste has little logic, within a mass balance containing a lot of plastics and paper, it might be the best way to use resources within existing investments and plants. At least we can reason here within a series of known boundaries.

But in other nations where neither an advanced energy recovery infrastructure exists and landfill is 60%+ the disposal option, a lack of obligatory targets for foodwaste is opening the doors to MBT and landfilling of foodwaste post – treatment. This option reduces the need for separate collection of foodwaste and dry recyclables.

Whilst keeping collection costs down it transfers the costs to intermediate treatment and a disposal system with little added value in recovery. Southern Italy, Spain, France and others, are among such cases. And the attempt to sell “compost” from MBT plants to farmers has failed miserably or been outlawed widely within the EU.

So I was expecting a stronger reaction from the association representing the composting industry because the lack of targets, for the single largest waste fraction, is, as Ray Georgson of the UK Resource Association has commented, not the EC’s “finest hour”.

Finally, no comments so far read from the governments of the eastern European countries. Maybe they have not yet been posted in English so I have not been able to read them. My apologies.

But the apparent silence would be explicable- their lobbying of the EC to lengthen the time in which they have to achieve their targets is a success for them. As is the weakened language on biowaste collection and a reduced target for landfill diversion from zero to 10% by 2030.

They should be happy. They can continue for the next 15 years with only slow, incremental increases in recycling and reduced landfill use, meaning that they will effectively ignore the targets totally. 15 years is beyond any politician’s electoral perspective.

Frankly, most polticians won’t be even minimally concerned about these objectives in countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, the Baltics states and so on. No change in these countries is probable. And as I have written recently, these countries face depopulation, making the achievement of any target a lottery.

Yet at what price to Europe’s environment and at what price in terms of climate changing emissions?

It means Europe has accepted de facto different standards for different regions. Maybe this is common sense and reflects reality; but it is certainly a set back for our industry in the east of the Union and for the environment in general.

David Newman is President of the International Solid Waste Association