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IP/08/1879

Brussels, 3 December 2008

Environment: Commission launches debate on the management of bio-waste in the EU

The European Commission today presented a discussion paper on the management of bio-waste in the European Union. Bio-waste – biodegradable garden, kitchen and food waste – accounts for around one third of municipal waste and has major potential impacts on the environment. When disposed of in landfill sites, it emits methane – a powerful greenhouse gas which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide and a major contributor to climate change. While waste management in the EU is governed by a substantial body of regulation, there may be room for further improvement in the area of bio-waste, which offers potential advantages as a source of renewable energy and recycled materials. Today's Green Paper explores options and opportunities in bio-waste management in the European Union and will contribute to the assessment of the need for legislative action. It addresses in particular the best level for action – EU, national or local – and asks stakeholders for evidence supporting their respective views.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The EU needs to become a resource-efficient, recycling society and bio-waste offers great opportunities. Once our resources become waste we must find ways to recycle them. Energy recovered from bio-waste in the form of biogas or thermal energy will help in the fight against climate change, and quality compost can contribute greatly to healthy soil and biodiversity. We need to work with stakeholders to ensure that the waste management options we choose bring the greatest benefits to our environment."

Main elements of the Green Paper

The Green Paper includes an overview of the current bio-waste management practices in the EU, and looks at the benefits and drawbacks of these methods, taking into account environmental, economic and social issues.

The Paper also looks at the impact of the existing regulatory measures. Bio-waste management is already subject to a number of EU and national legislative measures including obligatory diversion from landfills (Landfill Directive), encouragement of recycling (new Waste Framework Directive), incineration and composting (Incineration Directive, IPPC Directive, and Animal By-Products Regulation) and product standards and requirements (Organic Farming Regulation, the EU Ecolabel requirements for compost, national standards). The Commission is also working on additional measures including end-of-waste criteria for compost and guidelines for bio-waste management.

The Green Paper will also consider the need for new legislation which could help direct more bio-waste towards recycling and energy recovery. The Paper is intended to stimulate a debate among stakeholders and help the Commission assess the need for additional EU action. The next step will be an impact assessment of a possible legislative proposal, which will be carried out in 2009. A legislative proposal, if justified by the impact assessment, could be adopted in 2010.

The views of all stakeholders, including the public, are invited. The consultation will remain open until 15th March 2009.

The issue of bio-waste in the EU

Economic growth in the European Union has led to increasing amounts of waste, causing loss of materials and energy and environmental damage. Each year the EU is estimated to produce between 75 and 100 million tonnes of food and garden waste.

The main threat from bio-waste is the methane generated in landfill sites. The EU's Landfill Directive[1] was introduced to address this, setting strict guidelines for their management. However, landfill is still the most common method for disposing of municipal waste in the enlarged EU.

Options for bio-waste management include collection schemes to separate bio-waste followed by composting or anaerobic digestion, biological treatment of bio-waste, and incineration with high or low energy recovery. The environmental and economic benefits of different treatment methods depend on local conditions such as population density, climate and infrastructure. Member States have vastly diverging national policies for bio-waste management, ranging from little action in some Member States to ambitious policies in others. More efforts are needed to ensure that less goes to landfills and there is a high level of energy recovery and recycling.

To participate in the consultation and for further details visit:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/compost/index.htm


[1] Council Directive 99/31/EC


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