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ClientEarth Communications

6th November 2020

Pollution
Wildlife & habitats
Plastics

Wasting time: EU countries are missing legal deadlines on circular economy

The waste mountain

We throw away our waste, put some of it in the recycling bin, leave it to be collected and expect it to be sorted in a waste facility – that’s how waste management works, right?

It turns out it’s not that easy. Europe generates large amounts of waste including food, construction, packaging, transport, electronics, batteries… the list goes on.

Instead of cutting down on waste and keeping products and materials in use following a circular model, current production and consumption patterns too often follow a linear make-use-dispose model.

In 2018, only 47% of EU household’s waste was recycled or composted. Most of it piles up in landfills or is incinerated.

This leads to huge environmental and health costs. Landfills leak toxic chemicals into our air, soil, and water. Burning our waste releases vast amounts of CO2 and poses considerable risks to the health and environment of nearby communities as well as the broader public by releasing toxic substances such as heavy metals and dioxins.

An historic stand against throwaway culture

In 2018, the European Union came out with a set of laws which many hailed as the world’s most ambitious to boost recycling and cut waste. The three pieces of legislation, reforming the Waste Framework Directive, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the Landfill Directive, would:

  • Prevent packaging waste
  • Make it easier to sort and collect different materials for recycling
  • Reduce food waste
  • Introduce financial incentives to boost the reuse of packaging
  • Ban the incineration and landfilling of waste collected for recycling
  • Set higher targets for recycling
  • Make producers pay more for the collection and recycling of cans and bottles.

ClientEarth lawyer Tatiana Luján said: “If correctly implemented, these laws truly have the potential to stop the most wasteful practices. They will finally force producers to internalise detrimental environmental costs that they have passed on to the environment, taxpayers and people’s health.”

Last year, the EU continued to champion plans for the transition to a circular economy, with new legislation on single use plastics and an action plan on the circular economy.

No time to waste

But as is the case with any legislation coming out of EU institutions, the key is how EU countries put them into national law.

EU Member States were legally obliged to 'transpose' the EU waste laws by 5 July 2020. But according to a new report by ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Ecoteca, most EU countries have missed the July deadline.

The report analyses the actions taken by 16 governments, which are all falling short of their obligations to adopt the new laws even though it is estimated that a more circular economy could reduce costs and create a value of over €500 billion a year by 2030, the equivalent of €2,400 per EU household every year.

Luján, who co-wrote the report, said: “Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, governments across Europe were dragging their feet on the implementation of these critical measures to reduce waste – a reckless move for the environment and for our health.

“With the current situation likely to lead to an increase in all sorts of waste, governments cannot bury their heads in the sand. By not moving forward with a more circular model, we are losing out on massive environmental and economic benefits – and digging ourselves deeper into the rubbish heap.”

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