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Brussels, 21 December 2005

New waste strategy: Making Europe a recycling society

The European Commission today proposed a new strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste. This long-term strategy aims to help Europe become a recycling society that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource. It will draw on the knowledge that the thematic strategy on resources, also adopted today, will generate. As a first step, the Commission proposes revising the 1975 Waste Framework Directive to set recycling standards and to include an obligation for Member States to develop national waste prevention programmes. This revision will also merge, streamline and clarify legislation, contributing to better regulation. The waste and resources strategies are two of the seven 'thematic' strategies required under the 6th Environment Action Programme (2002-2012).

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Waste volume has been disproportionately increasing outpacing even economic growth. Waste generation, disposal and recycling are of concern to all of us: individuals, companies and public authorities. Now is the time to modernise our approach and to promote more and better recycling. Our strategy does precisely that.

More waste than ever

EU environment legislation has helped improve the way we dispose waste and recycle specific waste streams, such as municipal waste, packaging, cars and electric and electronic equipment. Waste management has moved a long way from being a dirty, polluting business. High standards exist for landfills and incinerators. Industry now seeks to make a profit from waste instead of dumping it.

However, waste generation in the EU is estimated at more than 1.3 billion tonnes per year and is increasing at rates comparable to economic growth. For example, both GDP and municipal waste grew by 19% between 1995 and 2003. One consequence of this growth is that despite large increases in recycling, landfill - the environmentally most problematic way to get rid of waste - is only reducing slowly.

Waste policy must contribute to improving the way we use resources

What is needed now is to modernise and widen EU waste policy in the light of new knowledge. Companies and public authorities need to take a life-cycle approach that does not only look at pollution caused by waste. It must also take account of how waste policies can most efficiently reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the use of resources through preventing, recycling and recovering wastes.

To move towards this objective EU waste law must create the right regulatory environment for recycling activities to develop.

Measures proposed by the strategy

The strategy comes as a package. It includes a legislative proposal to modernise the 1975 Waste Framework Directive.

The main elements of the proposed revision of the Waste Framework Directive are:

  • Focussing waste policy on improving the way we use resources;
  • Mandatory national waste prevention programmes, which take account of the variety of national, regional and local conditions, to be finalised three years after the entry into force of the directive;
  • Improving the recycling market by setting environmental standards that specify under which conditions certain recycled wastes are no longer considered waste;
  • Simplifying waste legislation by clarifying definitions, streamlining provisions and integrating the directives on hazardous waste (91/689/EEC) and on waste oils (75/439/EEC), the latter with a focus on collection rather than on regeneration that is no longer justified from an environmental point of view.

Further measures are programmed for the next five years to promote recycling and create a better regulatory environment for recycling activities. An Impact Assessment accompanies the strategy.

Thematic Strategies

The other five thematic strategies the Commission is developing under the EU’s 6th Environment Action Programme cover air pollution (presented on 21 Sept. 2005) and marine environment (20 Oct. 2005) as well as soils, pesticides and the urban environment, which are upcoming.

Thematic strategies represent a modern way of decision-making. They are based on extensive research and consultation with stakeholders, address the issues in a holistic way that takes into account links with other problems and policy areas, and promote Better Regulation.
See MEMO/05/496 for more details on this Strategy.
The full strategy is available at
A video news release on the strategies on resources and waste is available to television stations and networks free of charge at:

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