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Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste

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This strategy sets out guidelines and describes measures aimed at reducing the pressure on the environment caused by waste production and management. The main thrust of the strategy is on amending the legislation to improve implementation, and on preventing waste and promoting effective recycling.

ACT

Commission Communication of 21 December 2005 "Taking sustainable use of resources forward: A Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste" [COM(2005) 666 - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This strategy sets out guidelines for European Union (EU) action and describes the ways in which waste management can be improved.

The aim of the strategy is to reduce the negative impact on the environment that is caused by waste throughout its life-span, from production to disposal, via recycling. This approach means that every item of waste is seen not only as a source of pollution to be reduced, but also as a potential resource to be exploited.

The objectives of the Community legislation preceding the adoption of this strategy still apply, namely limiting waste, and promoting the re-use, recycling and recovery of waste. These objectives are integrated into the approach based on environmental impact and on the life-cycle of resources.

Improving the general legal framework

The strategy provides for existing legislation to be simplified. This will mainly be done by merging the framework Directive on waste with the Hazardous Waste Directive and the Waste Oil Directive by removing any overlap between the framework Directive on waste and the IPPC Directive (for example regarding the award of permits) as well as by consolidating the three Directives on waste from the titanium dioxide industry.

Some concepts will be clarified:

  • the proposal for a framework Directive which accompanies the strategy (see Related Acts below) provides for environmental criteria to be drawn up to determine when waste ceases to be considered waste. These criteria will be fixed for certain types of waste where the current definition creates legal uncertainty and administrative costs;
  • a new definition of recovery and disposal activities is proposed in order to promote best environmental practice. To this end, efficiency levels will be introduced to distinguish recovery operations from disposal activities;
  • a definition of recycling is inserted into the proposal for a Framework Directive on waste.

Preventing the negative impact of waste

The strategy aims to limit waste production, but it does not include an overall waste-prevention target because these do not necessarily lead to improvements in the environment. Certain techniques used to reduce the volume of waste are actually more polluting than others, even if using them means greater reductions in volume.

The main focus of the strategy for preventing waste production is on reducing the environmental impact of waste and products that will become waste. In order to be effective, this impact must be reduced at every stage of a resource's life-span. Applying the instruments set up under existing Community legislation, such as disseminating best available techniques or eco-design of products, is therefore an important factor in achieving this.

The strategy also offers a coordinated framework for specific national actions. Under the new proposal for a framework Directive on waste, the Member States are therefore required to develop programmes to prevent waste production. These programmes include specific prevention targets to be implemented at the most appropriate level and which must be made public.

Life-cycle thinking requires an improving knowledge of the impact of resource use on waste generation and management, as well as more systematic forecasting and modelling.

This approach complements that in the IPPC Directive, the Directive on integrated product policy and the Strategy on the use of natural resources. It will help reduce pressure on the environment (depletion and pollution) at every stage of the resource life-cycle, covering the production, collection, use and final disposal of resources.

Promoting the recycling of waste

The strategy aims to promote the recycling sector in order to reintroduce waste into the economic cycle in the form of quality products, while at the same time minimising the negative environmental impact of doing so.

Recycling targets could in the long run be set at appropriate levels, taking account of the characteristics of each material and the range of options for recycling it.

Recycling could be encouraged by amending the regulatory framework, in particular to include the option of introducing efficiency criteria for recovery operations as well as criteria for distinguishing waste and products, criteria which would lead to minimum quality standards and which would facilitate the dissemination of best practice in Europe.

The strategy provides for other measures, such as the exchange of information on national disposal taxes as well as, eventually, measures which would supplement the market mechanisms should these prove inadequate in increasing recycling levels.

The strategy places particular emphasis on biodegradable waste, two-thirds of which must be redirected to be disposed of using methods other than landfill as is required under Directive 1999/31/EC. The strategy provides, in particular, for the Commission to adopt guidelines, for Member States to adopt management strategies, and for this matter to be included in revision of the IPPC Directive and the Directive on the use of sewage sludge in agriculture.

Background

All material placed on the market is destined to become waste at one time or another, and every production process generates some form of waste. At present, 49% of EU municipal waste is disposed of through landfill, 18% is incinerated and 33% is recycled or composted.

Despite progress made in recycling and incineration, the amount of landfilled waste has not decreased because waste production continues to increase. What is more, some substances are particularly dangerous and polluting and pose serious risks to the environment and health when removed from the economic circuit.

This strategy will open up new waste management possibilities in order to reduce the amount of landfilled waste, recover more compost and energy from waste, and improve the quantity and quality of recycling. The main benefits expected are increased efficiency and better cost-effectiveness due to the emphasis placed on environmental impact, a reduction in costs and obstacles to recycling, and a reduction in pollution caused by waste, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy on waste prevention and recycling is one of the seven thematic strategies set out in the Sixth Action Programme for the Environment adopted in 2002.

RELATED ACTS

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 December 2005 on waste [COM(2005) 677 - Not published in the Official Journal].
The aim of this proposal is to revise the framework Directive on waste. The proposal integrates the contents of the Hazardous Waste Directive and the Waste Oil Directive into the new Directive. It also introduces an environmental objective and clarifies certain concepts (recovery, end of waste). It introduces procedures that will facilitate the development of minimum quality standards. It also obliges the Member States to draw up national waste-prevention programmes.

Commission Communication of 27 May 2003 "Towards a thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste" [COM(2003) 301 - Official Journal C 76, 25 March 2004].
The Commission lays the foundations for a European strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste and, on the basis of progress already made, describes the possible strategic options on which it wishes to initiate a debate.

Last updated: 31.01.2006

See also

Further information is available on the website of the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General.

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