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Preparation for a strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste
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.
Commission Communication of 27 May 2003 entitled "Towards a thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste" [COM(2003) 301 - Official Journal C 76 of 25 March 2004]
1. Waste management is a major environmental problem that requires establishing an overall coherent policy on preventing and recycling waste. Such a policy should be based on an assessment of the current situation in the European Union (EU), including waste trends and measures already taken, and on a contribution from the stakeholders to the waste management process and from public decision makers with regard to the possible options.
2. Human activity generates waste in a number of ways. All material placed on the market will one day become waste; every production process generates waste; even waste recovery processes generate "residual" waste that is impossible to recover and should therefore be taken into account. This is why an efficient policy should be an overall process that should cover the entire life of the resource, from the time when it is extracted, via its use as a product, to the moment when it becomes waste.
3. According to information published by the European Environment Agency (AEE), the total volume of waste generated in the EU is on the increase and amounts to about 3.5 tonnes of waste per capita and per year in the Europe of the Fifteen. However, it is difficult to accurately assess waste trends because of the lack of data on waste streams (of which the five main ones are mining and quarrying waste, manufacturing waste, construction and demolition waste, solid municipal waste, and agricultural and forestry waste) and on waste treatment (the choice between recycling, landfill and other processing methods varies considerably between Member States and types of wastes).
4. Progress has been made in particular through Community legislation. The main acts are the Waste Framework Directive, the Hazardous Waste Directive and the Waste Shipment Regulation. These acts have served as the basis for adopting sets of specific rules that have made it possible to reduce the impact of waste treatment on the environment (IPPC Directive, Landfill Directive, Incineration Directive) and of particular waste streams (waste oils, PCBs/PCTs, batteries and accumulators, packaging, end-of-life vehicle, and waste electrical and electronic products).
5. However, there are a number of gaps in Community waste policy, for instance in implementing the legislation and in waste prevention (reducing their quantity and hazardousness). Another lacuna is the lack of a comprehensive and harmonised approach to recycling.
6. In order to be able to work out an optimum waste management strategy covering the overall framework and practical implementing measures, the Commission has launched a process of very broad consultation among all stakeholders on the essential measures and instruments needed to promote waste prevention and recycling. The objective was not to recommend the use of any particular instrument but to launch a debate on the potential role and efficiency of the different options within the context of an overall thematic strategy.
7. With regard to waste prevention, the Commission has asked and has received contributions on the following:
- exchange of information and experience and dissemination of best practices in national incentive schemes;
- the role which the future chemicals policy (REACH)could play in reducing the hazardousness of chemical waste;
- ways and means for economic operators to compile and implement waste prevention plans;
- the waste prevention potential of the Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC Directive).
Consultation on these waste prevention issues has been completed.
8. With regard to waste recycling, the Commission has asked for and obtained comments on:
- fixing more efficient recycling targets, for instance targets focused on material rather than end-of-life products, EU rather than national targets, general targets applicable to major waste streams such as solid municipal waste;
- the use of economic market-based instruments to control recycling costs such as coordinated landfill taxes, tradable certificates and charging schemes;
- the possibility of making producers responsible for recycling, taking account of the fact that this principle is not appropriate for all waste streams;
- measures enabling the adoption of homogenous rules on recycling.
Consultation on these recycling issues has been completed.
9. Moreover, the Commission has asked stakeholders for their views on a number of additional measures including the following:
- measures designed to improve the current legal framework (definition of waste and recovery and landfill operations);
- measures designed to foster demand for recycled material;
- teaching and training programmes on waste prevention and recycling.
Consultation on these questions concerning additional measures has been completed.
10. As one of the seven thematic strategies mentioned in the sixth environmental action programme, the strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste should tie in with two other initiatives: also provided for in the sixth framework programme for the environment: integrated product policy and the strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources. Through parallel implementation of the three initiatives it will be possible to focus more clearly on the trade-offs between the management of resources, products and waste and their impact on the environment.
For more information on the follow-up to this consultation, go to the page devoted to resource strategy.