EuRIC makes its presence felt

Although EuRIC is just eighteen months old, it is already an influential partner in the realisation of the EU’s ambitions for the circular economy. Policymakers in Brussels acknowledge the key role the confederation has to play in stimulating high quality recycling of materials and closing the loop of product lifecycles. The Dutch Waste Management Association recently joined EuRIC.

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Dutch Waste Management Association joins the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation

EuRIC makes its presence felt

Although EuRIC is just eighteen months old, it is already an influential partner in the realisation of the EU’s ambitions for the circular economy. Policymakers in Brussels acknowledge the key role the confederation has to play in stimulating high quality recycling of materials and closing the loop of product lifecycles. The Dutch Waste Management Association recently joined EuRIC.

Author: Pieter van den Brand  Translation: Derek Middleton  ©copyright

At EuRIC’s annual conference held in March 2016 – with the confident title ‘Recycling business at the heart of the circular economy’ – Daniel Calleja Crespo, the European Commission’s director-general of the Environment, put the recycling confederation in the spotlight as a ‘crucial partner for realising the circular economy’. EuRIC vice-president Ian Hetherington was delighted: ‘Recycling is an indispensable part of the circular economy. The recycling industry can provide valuable expertise and ideas to make the circular economy work in practice, which is just what the European institutions need. Our goal in founding EuRIC was to have an influential voice, and we see that our position is widely acknowledged.’

EuRIC is the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (photo: EuRIC)

Important partner

Crespo and his policymakers at the DGs for Environment and GROW (Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs) are the key dialogue partners for EuRIC. GROW is the ‘super DG’ tasked with developing detailed plans for the circular economy. EuRIC is also holding intensive discussions with the political groups in the European Parliament. The Circular Economy Package, which the European Commission published at the end of last year, has two main elements. In addition to the recycling targets to be achieved by 2030 for household waste (60%), packaging waste (65%) and other wastes, the Commission’s action plan ‘Closing the Loop’ sets out product lifecycle measures on product and material reuse and closed-loop recycling, with quality standards. 

EuRIC: broad membership, broad focus
The European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) was founded at the end of 2014 by three European federations of paper and ferrous and non-ferrous metal recyclers. The membership consists of more than 5500 companies, which recycle about 150 million tonnes of waste each year, employ 300,000 people and have a combined annual turnover of 95 million euros. Other materials will also be represented, says EuRIC general secretary Emmanuel Katrakis. ‘At the moment we are expanding to include glass, and to articulate a clear European standpoint on this topic we have brought together three industry associations of glass recyclers from Spain, Germany and France.’ Plastic is also on the agenda. ‘Among our members are companies that recycle different materials at the same time, such as electronic waste that contains both metals and plastics,’ says Katrakis. ‘That’s why I am pleased that the Dutch Waste Management Association has joined us. In the Netherlands there is considerable experience of recycling various materials, especially plastic packaging. All this expertise can now be made available to the rest of Europe through the Brussels networks.

Market incentives needed 

According to Hetherington the Circular Economy Package lacks really substantive measures. ‘From an environmental point of view, recycled raw materials are perfectly good substitutes for primary materials. Scientific studies show that using secondary raw materials, whether paper, metal or plastic, can reduce emissions and energy use by up to 75%. These environmental gains should be reflected in the price, but this does not happen at the moment, so we need market incentives, such as greener taxes and sustainable public procurement.’ EuRIC is arguing, among other things, for greener taxes by scrapping VAT on secondary raw materials and introducing a mandatory percentage of recyclate in certain products, such as packaging. ‘Countries both in and outside the EU have already successfully introduced such measures. If we did this across the whole of Europe, we could really make a difference,’ says Hetherington.

Conflicting rules

An important issue, says Hetherington, is getting rid of conflicting regulations. ‘Luckily it seems that the Commission wants to relax controls on cross-border movements of raw materials within the EU. Our companies have to deal with red tape and differing definitions on a daily basis. The current rules are complex and lack clarity on what is waste and what is not. A fundamental revision of the legislation is desperately needed. There is a lot of confusion in the industry about the purpose of all these different rules and directives.’ According to Hetherington, recycled raw materials must no longer be classified as waste, but should be legally recognised as products. ‘Otherwise the circular economy will never get off the ground. Most of these materials present no public health risk at all and can be used directly in the manufacture of new products.’

EuRIC was founded at the end of 2014 by three European federations of paper and metal recyclers (photo: EuRIC)

Better implementation

Nevertheless, the existing legislation has its positive aspects as well, argues Hetherington. He believes that to take advantage of the good points in the Waste Framework Directive the member states must implement the directive better, and that the European Commission should put more the pressure on the member states to do so. ‘Much remains to be done to prevent valuable raw materials ending up in landfills. Countries that implement the measures proposed in the Framework Directive, such as landfill bans for food and green waste and unsorted household waste and the compulsory separate collection of waste, achieve good recycling rates. Just as important is that all member states introduce equivalent legislation so that we have a level playing field across the European market.’ 

Promoting ecodesign
The European Commission’s action plan Closing the Loop aims to stimulate the design of reusable products and create demand for products and materials made from recovered raw materials. The European recycling industry has a key role to play in achieving these ambitions in numerous value chains, for example by helping to design products that can be recycled more simply and effectively. ‘Ecodesign is explicitly mentioned in the action plan as an important instrument,’ says EuRIC general secretary Emmanuel Katrakis, who works on this subject almost every day, ‘but we still have much to learn about the practicalities.’ Katrakis hopes that over the next few months a clearer picture will emerge of the implications for actual products. He mentions electronics as an example. ‘We know that many environmental benefits can be gained in this industry. For one thing, the batteries of mobile phones are not always readily accessible, which makes it much harder to dismantle and then recycle them.’ This makes other links in the product life cycle, such as the manufacturers, equally important. ‘Ecodesign kicks in at the very start of the process of making a product. We depend on the engagement of manufacturers to support the transition to the circular economy. We want to sit down with industry to identify specific conditions and preferences regarding product reparability, recyclability and recycled content. We can get off to a good start by exchanging information.’

Membership of EuRIC

The Dutch Waste Management Association recently joined EuRIC. ‘This strengthens our position in Brussels on recycling and materials reuse. It opens up a more specialised and wider spectrum of opportunities than we already had via other organisations,’ says Florens Slob, chair of the Recycling and Collection Section of the DWMA. The goal of a circular economy and the increasing focus on recycling will, he believes, open up a new playing field for secondary raw materials in Europe. ‘We must not underestimate this. It will affect traditional raw materials industries and involve things like ecodesign. Joining EuRIC allows us to establish a broad front for mobilising expertise in recycling and the use of secondary raw materials to support the transition to the circular economy. It will give our sector a broader presence in Europe, not only in the field of environmental protection and waste treatment, but also in raw materials recycling and even product design. After all, the focus has to be on recycling and producing high quality and economically attractive reusable materials.’

Quality above quantity

Slob notes that in general the prices of recycled materials can compete with those of new materials, although the current low prices of raw materials are not helpful. ‘Price is important, but we must concentrate above all on quality. EU legislation should also put more emphasis on the quality of recycling than on the quantity of materials recycled. The current prices of raw materials make it very tempting for manufacturers to buy primary raw materials, which is why we must work to ensure that the quality of secondary raw materials is at least as good as the equivalent primary materials.’ To boost the market for secondary raw materials, Slob proposes stimulating the use of recycled materials. ‘Options include making their use compulsory and making manufacturers pay for environmental impacts. Personally, I would go for a carbon tax. This would encourage recycling because it almost always has a positive carbon footprint.’

Ian Hetherington (vice-president EuRIC):"The recycling industry can provide valuable expertise and ideas to make the circular economy work in practice."
Florens Slob (chair of the Recycling and Collection Section of the DWMA):"Joining EuRIC allows us to establish a broad front."
Emmanuel Katrakis (general secretary EuRIC):"I am pleased that the DWMA has joined our confederation. In the Netherlands there is considerable experience of recycling various materials."

Vision DWMA

The DWMA has recently joined EuRIC, the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation. By working together the two organisations can better represent the interests of recycling companies in Europe. EuRiC is a dynamic and growing European recycling industry platform which works closely with European policymakers to support and accelerate the transition to a circular economy. This is entirely in line with the aims of the DWMA and the key role we see for recycling in this transition.