- The European Commission released a report showing half of the European Union (EU) member countries are at risk of missing their 2020 recycling targets. EU legislation requires that at least 50% of municipal waste be recycled or reused by 2020. That was recently updated to 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035.
- The 14 countries at risk of missing the original 2020 goal are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
- The commission identified "serious gaps and challenges that must be swiftly addressed" with policy changes, and said, without drastic changes, some of the countries likely won't even reach the 50% goal by 2025. The commission offered overall actions as well as country-specific blueprints for progress, including improved extended producer responsibility (EPR) plans, measures such as taxes to discourage landfilling and incineration, encouraging municipal infrastructure and service cooperation, and improving municipal data reporting.
The commission said the EU's legislation is prompting considerable waste and recycling improvements, but more must be done to boost waste diversion and promote a circular economy. "Full implementation of that legislation is crucial ... if the EU is to reap the environmental and economic benefits of the circular economy and compete in a world of increasingly scarce resources," the report says.
The commission broke down where countries are missing the mark by material, such as fiber and metal. It also examined recycling issues that prove tricky or are considered important for boosting waste diversion, such as packaging and electronic scrap recycling. The legislation that contains the revised recyclable material recovery rates also introduced a new packaging recycling goal: 65% by 2025 and 70% by 2030.
Getting EU members to comply with the newly passed standards likely will prove to be an uphill battle, considering half of the 28 countries aren't currently on track to meet the short-term goals. But the European Commission is serious about waste diversion, as evidenced by its promise to visit member states at risk of not meeting the goals to engage stakeholders on high-level circular economy concepts. The commission also vowed ongoing technical assistance and EU funds, with the caveat that it is up to each individual country to update policies and intensify on-the-ground action.
European countries are generally viewed as being ahead of the United States in implementing circular economy concepts — and are often more open to EPR systems for packaging — though this report illustrates that the advancements are not across the board.
A couple of suggested actions from which both entities could potentially benefit is by encouraging municipal infrastructure and service collaboration to make recycling programs more scalable, and by standardizing recycling programs to boost compliance. Achieving nationwide or union-wide recycling goals is challenging when municipalities have such different programs and varying degrees of resources at their disposal.