European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik has stated that he would welcome medium-term bans on the incineration of re-usable, recyclable  and compostable material across all EU member states.

Janez Potočnik is reported to have told Materials Recycling Week (MRW) that: “Most of them [EU member states with less than 5% landfill] got there by using fiscal policy to gradually raise the cost of landfilling; some of them went so far as to ban landfills, and some are now considering bans on the incineration of certain types of waste…I would welcome such bans in the medium term in all member states, particularly for reusable, recyclable/compostable waste streams. It certainly won’t happen overnight, but there should be no doubt about the direction we need to take.”

Milestones of the  European Commission’s September 2011 Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe include: “By 2020 EHS [Environmentally Harmful Subsidies] will be phased out….”;  “By 2020 a major shift from taxation of labour towards environmental taxation…”; and that “By 2020, waste is managed as a resource. Waste generated per capita is in absolute decline. Recycling and re-use of waste are economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of functional markets for secondary raw materials. More materials, including materials having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials, are recycled. Waste legislation is fully implemented… Energy recovery is limited to non recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated and high quality recycling is ensured.”

This was followed up in May 2012 with the European Parliament resolution of 24 May 2012 on a Resource-efficient Europe, including Action 33 which: “Calls on the Commission to streamline the waste acquis, taking into account the waste hierarchy and the need to bring residual waste close to zero; calls on the Commission, therefore, to make proposals by 2014 with a view to gradually introducing a general ban on waste landfill at European level and for the phasing-out, by the end of this decade, of incineration of recyclable and compostable waste; this should be accompanied by appropriate transition measures including the further development of common standards based on life-cycle thinking; calls on the Commission to revise the 2020 recycling targets of the Waste Framework Directive; is of the opinion that a landfill tax – as has already been introduced by some Member States – could also help achieve the above ends.”

Achieving the milestones would mean that by 2020 there would be less waste arisings, far less residual waste, and that incineration would be limited to non-recyclable non-compostable material. It also points towards increased recycling targets, an end to incinerator subsidies (as they are environmentally harmful) and the introduction of incineration taxes (as part of a move towards an increase in environmental taxes).

According to the European Commission’s 5 December 2012 European Resource Efficiency Platform Recommendations for short-term priorities, under the theme of “Specific incentives for reducing waste (targets, pricing, fiscal, eliminating residual waste)” it was stated that: “It  should be investigated whether it would be useful to extend landfill and incineration taxes or bans (especially of recyclable and bio-degradable waste)”. According to the document, “the identification – through Member States’ reporting – and phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies were seen as a clear priority;”.

Indeed, “Abolishing environmentally harmful subsidies and tax-breaks that waste public money on obsolete practices” is part of the 17 December 2012 Manifesto for a Resource-efficient Europe adopted by Janez Potočnik and other members of the European Resource Efficiency Platform.

The 22 November 2012 ‘First recommendations to Sherpas’ from Working Group III of the European Resource Efficiency Platform included discussions of the prospect for “Member States to introduce waste charging, taxes on landfilling and incineration of waste, and encourage recycling and re-use, ensuring that all major groups of users contribute adequately” and a “CO2 tax on non-ETS sectors” (which would presumably include the incineration of plastics as that involves the release of fossil CO2 but is not part of the European Union Emission Trading Scheme).

Meanwhile, the First Report of Working Group I stated that the Working Group showed support for: “The introduction of landfill and incineration taxes or bans (especially of recyclable and bio-degradable waste) that are properly enforced”. The report also notes that the view was expressed that: “EU subsidies should be linked to resource efficiency criteria, without creating a new level of conditionality that could hamper access for the poorest regions. In particular, no more incinerators should be built with EU funding, especially cohesion funds.”

Appendix 6 of the November 2012 Impact Assessment to The Commission proposal for a new general Union Environment Action Programme to 2020:  identifies incineration subsidies as a barrier to the implementation of the waste hierarchy: “Concerning the application of market-based instruments aiming at creating the economic conditions to support the waste hierarchy, the main challenges are related to: …In some MS [member states], presence of harmful subsidies (e.g. to support incineration);…”

As UKWIN reported in September 2012, Janez Potočnik has also stated that: “…There are two major objectives we need to pursue. Obviously, landfill rates must go down as quickly as possible, but it is also important to switch from energy recovery to increased recycling. Plastic recycling rates are far too low across Europe with an average of just 24 per cent. Today, even in countries with high recovery rates, there is simply not enough plastic available for recycling because most of it goes to energy recovery. A dominance of energy recovery over recycling is not acceptable in the medium-term…”

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