‘Waste must be allowed to cross borders’

European MP Jan Huitema, member of the Dutch liberal VVD party, in Europe part of the ALDE group, has set himself the task of improving European waste policy. ‘We must ensure that waste streams generate economic value and entrepreneurs have the opportunity to innovate.’

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MEP Jan Huitema (VVD):

‘Waste must be allowed to cross borders’

European MP Jan Huitema, member of the Dutch liberal VVD party, in Europe part of the ALDE group, has set himself the task of improving European waste policy. ‘We must ensure that waste streams generate economic value and entrepreneurs have the opportunity to innovate.’

By Joop Hazenberg  Translation by Derek Middleton  ©copyright

Our appointment with MEP Jan Huitema had to be rescheduled several times due to the political uproar surrounding the abolition of the milk quota. In September thousands of angry dairy farmers brought Brussels to a standstill and Huitema, who was in favour of ending the milk quota, did not have his mind on waste matters.

Well acquainted

A few weeks later the air had cleared and we were able to sit down and discuss Huitema’s ideas and his party’s vision on European waste policy. He may be one of the youngest Dutch MEPs, but he is certainly well acquainted with the Brussels scene. When he took his seat in July 2014 he had already worked for many years in the European Parliament as a policy advisor.

MEP Jan Huitema (ALDE group)

Reclaiming waste

He is as enthusiastic about waste policy as he is when talking and writing about the agricultural sector. His election slogan was Boer Zoekt Stem! (Farmer Seeks Vote!) a play on the title of the popular Dutch television programme Boer Zoekt Vrouw (Farmer Seeks Wife). ‘I’m utterly convinced that things should be different. The expected growth of the global economy and the global population over the next few decades could increase the demand for raw materials by as much as three times. We have to produce more with less. Waste is extremely important as a source of raw materials for other products and we must get better at reclaiming these raw materials – with innovations and new technologies.’

Ambitious proposal

The European Commission thinks the same way and has announced that it will publish an ambitious proposal for a circular economy strategy at the end of this year. In July 2014 the previous Commission had presented a similar package of measures and tighter regulations, including the Landfill Directive and several recycling targets, but Vice-President Frans Timmermans withdrew this package at the end of 2014 because it was ‘not the full circle’.

Exporting waste expertise

Jan Huitema is looking forward to the new circular economy package. ‘According to TNO, this economy can generate 7.3 billion euros of extra economic growth and 54,000 jobs – in the Netherlands alone. And that’s not including exporting our waste expertise to other countries in Europe. Many member states can learn from frontrunners like us, for example from our cascade techniques.’

Who is Jan Huitema?
Jan Huitema was born in 1984 and grew up near Sneek in the province of Friesland (in the north of the Netherlands). After graduating from Wageningen University he worked as a  policy advisor in the European Parliament for Holger Krahmer and Jan Mulder. In this capacity he concentrated on issues in the fields of agriculture, environment, climate and energy. He was one of the three VVD candidates elected to the European Parliament in May 2014 and he took his seat in July 2014. He also runs a dairy farm in Makkinga, Friesland. The VVD is part of the ALDE group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) in the European Parliament. Huitema is a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and a deputy member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

Big differences in Europe

However, he is quick to point out that the differences in waste management practice across Europe are large. ‘It will be tricky to get everyone to pull their weight. The Netherlands landfills just three per cent of its waste; Romania landfills ninety per cent. We also see that the existing rules are not always properly observed. I want to see a careful approach to introducing new rules. Let’s first see how effective the existing legislation is in achieving its objectives.’

Pilot projects

Huitema hopes that Timmermans’s package will allow plenty of room for innovation. ‘We need a policy that permits the use of pilot projects to test new techniques and practices. For example, it is now very difficult to have wastes treated in another country. This is important for Dutch waste companies because they are experts in treating specific wastes, but the Waste Shipment Regulation does not allow these wastes to be transported.’

VVD waste plan

The VVD recently published a six-step plan to improve waste policy, both in the Netherlands and in Europe. ‘The plan was made in The Hague,’ says Huitema, ‘but it is entirely in tune with what we are doing here in Brussels: ensuring that waste streams have more economic value and that national and European legislation give entrepreneurs enough freedom to innovate.’

MCPD Directive

Huitema is not content to sit back and wait; he is also taking action. For the last few months he has been the shadow rapporteur for the Medium Combustion Plants Directive (MCPD), which aims to reduce emissions from incinerators and smaller power plants. This directive requires member states to use the best available techniques in these plants to limit emissions of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates. For Huitema it was important to create a level playing field for these facilities, but many member states and the European Parliament wanted to introduce numerous exceptions into the draft text of the directive. ‘I am very wary of member states creating loopholes in the law so that they can sidestep the rules.’ Exceptions are possible in specific circumstances, but an emissions ceiling has been agreed that must not be exceeded.

Emission standards for biomass and biogas

In the negotiations with the Council and the Commission Huitema pushed hard for emission standards for biomass and biogas. ‘The draft directive contained nothing about this, but we need specific derogations for thermal treatment of biomass. It took a lot of negotiation, but I was able to get these standards inserted into the text.’ The MCPD Directive was adopted by the European Parliament at the beginning of October. It is now up to the member states to implement the directive over the next few years.

Farm wastes

Jan Huitema is also a farmer and is keen to point out that the Dutch agricultural sector is one of the best in the world. But what about the treatment of agricultural wastes and the impact on drinking water? Huitema the politician sees opportunities in a revision of the Nitrates Directive and the Groundwater Directive. In response to written questions from Huitema the Commission has stated that it is preparing a revision of these directives. He would prefer the 1991 Nitrates Directive to be ‘thrown out’ because the Groundwater Directive already contains standards for nitrate concentrations in water.

More room

Huitema wants the Netherlands to given more room to tackle the manure problem, which is something the directives expressly forbid. ‘Innovate techniques for extracting nutrients from animal manure as a substitute for chemical fertilisers have been lying on the shelf for years, but they cannot be developed because the status of chemical fertilisers is set in stone. This is counterproductive.’

Jan Huitema (MEP ALDE group):"Waste is extremely important as a source of raw materials for other products."
Jan Huitema (MEP ALDE group):"Many member states can learn from frontrunners like the Netherlands."
Jan Huitema (MEP ALDE group):"We need a policy that permits the use of pilot projects to test new techniques and practices."
Jan Huitema (MEP ALDE group):"We see that existing rules are not always properly observed."

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.