Circular advice to Brussels

What should the top priority be in Commissioner Frans Timmermans's circular economy package? The Dutch Waste Management Association put this question to Dutch and European players in the waste industry. Top of the European wish list were 'better implementation of existing legislation' and 'additional landfill bans'. The most popular measure among the Dutch waste companies is 'compulsory percentages of secondary raw materials in new products'.

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Circular economy in Europe: towards 'more ambition'

Circular advice to Brussels

What should the top priority be in Commissioner Frans Timmermans’s circular economy package? The Dutch Waste Management Association put this question to Dutch and European players in the waste industry. Top of the European wish list were 'better implementation of existing legislation' and 'additional landfill bans'. The most popular measure among the Dutch waste companies is 'compulsory percentages of secondary raw materials in new products'.
 
By Michel Robles  Translation by Derek Middleton   ©copyright

It is an exciting time for European waste policy. Is the European Union really going to put its weight behind the circular economy? After many years of negotiation, the previous European Commission proposed an exhaustive package of measures in 2014. Its aims included 70% recycling of household waste and 80% recycling of packaging waste in 2030, as well as a ban on landfilling of recyclable waste in 2025. Nevertheless, the new European Commissioner Frans Timmermans withdrew the proposal at the end of last year. He promised to come with a ‘more ambitious’ package before the end of this year. Civil servants and stakeholders will therefore have to put their thinking caps on again.

The Dutch Waste Management Association (DWMA) felt it was a good time to review the field. It put a list of eleven measures to four stakeholder organisations in Brussels and several Dutch waste companies. The key question was 'What do you think the top 3 measures in the new package should be?'

Emmanuel Katrakis, secretary general of the European Recycling Industries' Confederation (EuRIC), puts strong market incentives at the top of his list, such as 'a greater focus on designing reusable products' (ecodesign) and an 'active role for government as a launching customer through green procurement'. In addition, Katrakis wants to see better implementation of existing legislation, additional landfill bans and the introduction of green taxes. 'Setting the conditions for a recycling-oriented market is a key prerequisite for a circular economy,' he says. 'It’s all about finding the right combinations of push and pull measures to facilitate the shift from a linear to a circular economy. The previous package was good, but it focused mostly on waste treatment. More emphasis is now needed on stimulating the use of secondary raw materials and recyclates.'


 

Measures in a new European circular economy package?
For this article the following eleven measures were presented to four European stakeholder organisations and a number of Dutch waste companies. The key question was 'What do you think the top 3 measures in the new package should be?'

  1. Higher quantitative recycling targets
  2. Better implementation of existing legislation
  3. Introduce additional landfill bans
  4. Greater focus on designing reusable products
  5. Active role for government as a launching customer
  6. Introduce European minimum standards
  7. Clear definitions and uniform reporting methods
  8. Ban on exporting secondary materials outside Europe
  9. Abolish import and export restrictions within Europe
  10. Make use of the European Investment Fund
  11. Compulsory percentages of secondary materials in new products

Varying timetables

Katrakis argues for promoting ecodesign at the beginning of the chain. ‘Ecodesign requires close cooperation between manufacturers and recyclers. One can think of setting up platforms where the various parties can talk and come up with practical solutions, like design for recycling or handbooks for recycling complex materials.’ Katrakis admits that manufacturers may not be keen on revealing to recyclers all the details of their manufacturing processes. 'Formats will need to be found where that is not necessary. The European Commission should play an intermediary role in this process.'

As far as better implementation of the legislation goes, Katrakis points out that in order to be competitive, recycling companies need predictability and lightened administrative burdens. Clear end-of-waste criteria on a material-by-material basis, among other things, may contribute to that. In the end, however, better enforcement is the key, he says. 'We do not want any recyclable material to be incinerated, but without enforcement recycling will not get off the ground. Currently many member states are not meeting the recycling targets to the same degree. Recycling will obviously benefit if they can be brought into line.' Another important aspect is phasing out landfill through additional bans and/or landfill taxes. 'For all such measures we may have to work with different timetables for different member states, but different targets will not be a good thing.'

Stefanie Siebert, director of the European Compost Network, agrees with this last point. Her top 3 reflects the problems facing the composting sector. Besides better implementation of existing rules, Siebert chooses more ambitious recycling targets and harmonised European minimum standards for her top 3. 'The old package, however good, lacked concrete targets for the separate collection of biowaste. If it was up to us, that should be 50%. We must also complete the end-of-waste process for organic waste so that our materials can finally be used as products. The new member states in particular need some leeway to allow them to invest in things like separate collection and quality control. The member states must realise that separate collection and good quality recyclates can be profitable.'

The Dutch waste industry’s top 3 measures

  1. Compulsory percentages of secondary materials in new products
  2. Better implementation of existing legislation
  3. Higher quantitative recycling targets and introduce additional landfill bans

 

Dutch companies put compulsory percentages of secondary materials in new products at the top of their list

Recycling quality

Director Ella Stengler of the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) takes a slightly different approach. She fully agrees that material recovery is crucial to a clean circular economy, but at the same time she wants to stress two points: 'First, both industry and consumers will continue to need affordable energy, while energy from non-recyclable waste will allow Europe to become less dependent on fossil fuel from abroad. Modern waste-to-energy plants meet both these requirements.' Second, according to Stengler the old package was based on recycling data reported by member states, which often simply recorded the amount of waste collected for recycling or the input into recycling facilities. 'However, the proportion that comes out of the recycling facility in the form of marketable recyclates is something different. In short: input minus discards is the true, reliable figure needed for future evidence-based legislation.' The quality of recycling – she calls it 'quality recycling' – is Stengler’s own topic in her top 3, along with 'better implementation' and 'additional landfill bans'. Stengler also argues that the measures should not be allowed to lead to different targets in the various member states, but that they may be implemented according to different timetables, as was done in the Landfill Directive of 1999.

Dutch waste companies' priorities
The DWMA also sent the list of possible measures for a new package to various senior executives and experts in the Dutch waste industry. Dutch companies appear to put compulsory percentages of secondary materials in new products at the top of their list. Klaas van den Berg of Orgaworld mentioned biofuel blending as an example. 'An obligation has an effect on prices and provides market certainty,' he says. Heijo Scharff of Afvalzorg supports the measure, but sees a flaw. 'It will generate a mountain of red tape. A realistic minimum percentage will have to be set for every product. Moreover, this will have to be monitored and enforced.'

In second place was better implementation of existing legislation. 'There is much low hanging fruit to be picked, especially in the member states that are lagging behind,' says Roland Amoureus of Van Gansewinkel Groep. 'The European Union should ensure that existing legislation is better implemented by the member states. There are too many reports of targets not being met,' adds Jan Thewissen of Shanks.

In joint third place are higher quantitative recycling targets and additional landfill bans. Wim de Jong of Twence explains why: 'Practice in the Netherlands and elsewhere has shown that a landfill tax – in combination with landfill bans – leads to a definite increase in the amount of material that is recycled.' De Jong believes this would go well with the introduction of European minimum standards. 'Many raw materials would then be removed from waste streams and kept in the recycling loop.'

Product design

Two action points the parties are united on are the need to achieve and optimise what has already been agreed, and to progressively cut back landfill volumes. But that is old school. In addition to this, FEAD Secretary General Nadine de Greef opts for new policies. She wants to push for change, partly in response to the hesitancy of some manufacturing industries, which she claims 'are still reluctant to make the initial investments'. De Greef argues for active stimulation of the market. On the one hand she too calls for binding 'push' measures, such as clearly harmonised targets. 'The progress being made should be checked every five years against interim objectives as an early warning system,' she explains. On the other hand there is a need for demand-creating 'pull' measures, such as ecolabelling, compulsory recyclate percentages for selected products and, above all, stimulating 'green' public procurement. 'Public procurement accounts for some 19% of European GDP, which offers an enormous potential market for innovative products.'

De Greef's top 3 also includes investment and innovation policy for raw materials management as well as improved product design. 'Existing EU funds can be used more efficiently by tying them more closely into waste management programmes which are in line with the waste hierarchy. For example, make member states use funds in a way that demonstrably stimulates the circular economy.' To improve product design, De Greef suggests selecting a number of product groups for pilot projects on raw materials efficiency, durability, recyclability and avoiding toxic materials. 'Eighty per cent of the environmental impact of products is determined at their design stage. This is an excellent opportunity for European Commission when developing the new circular economy package.'

How the EU member states treat their municipal solid waste (2013)

Better implementation of existing legislation would reduce the differences in performance

Emmanuel Katrakis (European Recycling Industries' Confederation):"It's all about finding the right combination of push and pull measures."
Stefanie Siebert (European Compost Network ECN):"The member states must realise that separate collection and good quality recyclates can be profitable."
Ella Stengler (Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants):"Energy from non-recyclable waste will allow Europe to become less dependent on fossil fuel."
Nadine De Greef (FEAD):"Eighty per cent of the environmental impact of products is determined at their design stage."
Klaas van den Berg (Orgaworld):"Compulsory percentages of secondary materials in products provides market certainty."
Jan Thewissen (Shanks):"The European Union should ensure that existing legislation is better implemented by the member states."
Roland Amoureus (Van Gansewinkel Groep):"There is much low hanging fruit to be picked, especially in the member states that are lagging behind."

Vision DWMA

The Dutch Waste Management Association is squarely behind full implementation of and compliance with existing European waste legislation and the harmonisation of environmental, public health and quality issues within the European Union. The aim should be to cut back large-scale landfilling of waste in Europe. The EU must challenge member states to increase efforts on waste prevention, closed-loop recycling, and materials and energy recovery. The DWMA supports legislation that stimulates ecodesign to minimise the loss of materials and energy from production and consumption chains. The DWMA argues for legislation that stimulates or prescribes the use of secondary raw materials and fuels. Government can lead by example by adopting sustainable procurement practices.