Did you know that the European Union (EU) has the most advanced waste legislation in the world? The Community devised its Waste Directive and Circular Economy Package which it uses to drive the transition to a new model that enables it to enhance its global competitiveness, sustainable economic growth and job creation.

Waste management has got better in recent years, yet it remains the case that valuable reusable materials such as paper, plastic, glass, metal and wood are still being squandered and thrown away. What is the plan for improvement?
Streamlined urban waste management and all plastics have to be recyclable

Waste collected in urban areas accounts for between 7% and 10% of the total waste generated throughout the EU. On average, each European produces about 500 kilos of waste per year and only 40% of it is reused or recycled.

To improve the latter figure, the European Union legislated that by 2020 half of municipal waste should be reused or recycled. Within the next five years, by 2025, member states will be required to get the figure up to 55%. The pressure will rise over the decade: by 2030, it will be 60% and by 2035, 65%.

Plus it will not be long before the separate collection of other more specific types of waste kicks off. In 2022, collection will start for household waste considered hazardous, the following year in 2023 for biological waste, and then in 2025 for textiles.

As for plastics, the implementation of a specific strategy adopted in 2018 set the requirement that all plastic packaging on the EU market will have to be recyclable by 2030. As for packaging, 65% of packaging waste will need to be recycled by 2025. This will go up to 70% by 2030.

At present the EU only recycles 30% of plastics, a figure that makes it a world leader but can and should be increased. Plus an estimated 95% of the value of plastic packaging material is lost to the economy after a very short first use.

The economy is harmed, but most of all the environment is too. It is estimated that plastic production and incineration emits around 400 million tonnes of CO2 worldwide, pollution that could be cut by upgrading the recycling process.

The plan to recycle other materials

Aside from municipal rubbish and plastics, the Community is also addressing other challenges. Electrical and electronic devices (computers, TVs, mobile phones and household appliances) generate one of the largest waste streams in the EU. Their materials are sometimes hazardous inasmuch as they can lead to environmental and health damage if not properly handled. So the EU is backing mechanisms allowing the public to take their electrical and electronic devices for recycling or reuse free of charge, while manufacturers are required to swap hazardous materials (lead, mercury, cadmium) for safer alternatives.

In lockstep, the EU has a Batteries Directive which sets out guidelines for their proper collection and recycling and suitable labelling. It also directly bans the sale of certain types of battery packs or compels their producers to manage the battery pack waste they place on the market. That’s because each year the EU receives about 800,000 tons of car battery packs, 190,000 tons of industrial battery packs and 160,000 tons of batteries.

Finally, another type of waste which is in the European Union spotlight is Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW), which accounts for 30% of the total waste generated in the area. A lot of this discarded material could be reused but the fact is that much of it ends up being dumped in landfills. As a result, a CDW protocol was published which specifies that all member states should increase reuse, recycling and other material recovery up to at least 70%.
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