Post-corona green economy: Focus on waste management

Sustainability Dialogue: Green. Circular. Sustainable.
European Waste management companies are calling to safeguard new approaches of waste handling outlined in the European Green Deal as part of a post-corona green economy recovery.

After the European Green Deal was first put forward by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in December 2019, the European Parliament has agreed in January to adopt the Deal. In early May, a coalition of three European waste management trade associations have called on the European Commission to ‘safeguard’ the waste management provisions outlined in the Green Deal and its associated Circular Economy Action Plan as part of a post-coronavirus green economic recovery.

In an open letter, FEAD (European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services), EuRIC (European Recycling Industries Confederation) and CEWEP (Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants) claim that ‘the post-crisis offers a momentum to make the EU Green Deal a motor of Europe’s economic recovery’.

With attention looking ahead to how to rebuild the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the associations are keen to ensure that EU policy on sustainability and resource use are not watered down as part of any European recovery strategy.
Reflecting on the Circular Economy Action Plan, unveiled in March outlining policies designed to advance the circular economy and make products easier to reuse, repair and recycle, the joint letter states ‘ambition’ should remain and ‘it is instrumental to direct a significant part of massive public investments expected through the European Recovery Fund towards circular industrial value chains and infrastructures needed to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050.’

The letter states the need to:

  • Lay down measures to stimulate the demand for secondary raw materials in products through the use of recycled content and green public procurement, incentivising rewarding value chains that reduce carbon emissions and energy use to bridge circular economy and climate policy;
  • Speed up work on eco-design to ensure that future products will last longer and be easier to recycle when reaching end-of-life;
  • Enhance investment certainty by providing the necessary financial support for countries lagging behind current municipal recycling targets and consider setting up targets for industrial and commercial waste;
  • Continue to strengthen the internal market and speed up the creation of a well-functioning EU market for secondary raw materials, pushed forward by simplified EU-wide waste shipment procedures and end-of-waste criteria; and
  • Resume a fact-based discussion on the proper treatment of residual waste, which cannot be recycled, through energy recovery or final disposal.

The letter also asks the European Commission to ‘prevent the leakage of waste streams suitable for recycling or recovery to large-scale landfills’, implement existing recycling and landfilling targets for municipal waste and setting more ambitious measures for other waste streams to be recycled and recovered.

However, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), a European Network aiming to phase out waste from society, expressed some reservations about the demands set out by the coalition. Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Coordinator Janek Vahk stated in response to the coalition’s demand on EU-wide waste shipment procedures and end-of-waste criteria: “ZWE’s position is that no waste should ever be shipped, either for disposal or recycling, without having its journey and the relevant actors involved made publicly available. No shipment should be allowed if full traceability is not enforced. “Moreover, to serve a genuine circular economy, the EU should apply to its waste shipment procedures, the same guidelines it has for waste management, e.g the waste hierarchy. There should be a division of shipments according to the type of management it is destined for. Such classification would, therefore, lead to progressive shipment procedures, prioritising and facilitating shipments for reuse and recycling rather than shipments for energy recovery and other types of disposal.”