Philip Simpson of ReFood reflects on the EU’s recently announced Circular Economy Package, and offers some views on how best to tackle the waste management challenge presented by food waste.
After months of deliberation and industry speculation, in December the European Commission voted in favour of adopting a new Circular Economy Package – an EU-wide initiative to help all member states make the transition to a resource efficient economy. The package of measures is designed to close the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, extracting the maximum value from all raw materials, products and waste.
The Circular Economy Package sets out an action plan, timetable and three common legislative EU targets that should be achieved by 2030. The targets will require 65% of all municipal waste to be recycled, no more than 10% of waste sent to landfill and 75% of packaging waste to be recycled.
While the measures have been broadly welcomed as an important and positive step towards resource efficiency, there has also been some criticism. On the one hand ministers from some countries, including the UK, have said the legislative targets are too high, yet on the other, there is concern from many in the waste management industry that the re-use and recycling targets for municipal waste have actually been watered down by 5% from earlier proposed versions of the report.
Lamenting the loss of legally-binding targets
As a leading UK food waste recycler, at ReFood we believe the introduction of this clear legislative action on waste and recycling is very positive. However, we are disappointed to see that waste reduction targets have already been lowered. What’s more, our biggest area of frustration surrounds the removal of legally-binding targets when it comes to cutting food waste. The previous version of the Circular Economy report included a target for cutting food waste by 30% by 2025, which would be aligned to the Sustainable Development Goal recently agreed by the UN and as MP Kerry McCarthy has commented, this now means there is no indication as to how this vital UN goal will be achieved at European level.
We are also frustrated to see there has been a relaxation in landfill targets, as we have been a strong campaigner in this area for a number of years. The new proposal includes a binding target to reduce landfill of municipal waste to a maximum of 10% by 2030. However, in a previous version, the target was only 5% and there was a ban on sending recyclable and compostable waste to landfill, which is no longer included.
The need for more immediate action
The Circular Economy Package is a step in the right direction and eventually will be a catalyst for change in the UK. However, the new Directives won’t become law for a few years yet, the legislative package will need to be considered by the European Council and Parliament and this process may take between one and three years. Even when they come into force, the new Waste and Landfill Directives will need to be transposed into UK law, which is also a time consuming process.
Rather than wait for EU legislation, the UK Government needs to make the commitment to take action now, particularly when it comes to reducing food waste and banning it from landfill. There are already three countries in the UK that have proven that you don’t need legally binding targets from Europe in order to implement regulation in this area, England just needs to follow their lead.
The benefits, as outlined in our Vision 2020 roadmap to eradicating food waste to landfill document, are clear and substantial. Alongside reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 27m tonnes, there could be potential savings of more than £12bn for homeowners and £2bn by UK PLC. What’s more, by recycling such a valuable resource, we could generate more than 1.1TWh of renewable energy and return more than 1.3m tonnes of valuable nutrients to the soil.
Despite its weakened targets, the Circular Economy Package is indeed a huge step in the right direction for a more sustainable society. However it needs the solid backing of UK Government to implement legislative and behavioural changes in order to meet these goals. Like other member states, the UK has missed EU legislative requirements before, such as those for air pollution reduction, and we need clear and decisive action to ensure that these waste and landfill targets are met. What’s more, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal, further action needs to be taken to reduce and recycle food waste in this country, realising its value as a renewable energy source, rather than sending it to landfill.