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EU Plans IW News 3. December 2015

Getting away from a throw away society

The European Commission wants to end the throw-away society and turn Europe into a circular economy. Yet, the planned regulations could go too far in certain aspects. The new targets are also less ambitious than planned by the previous commission.

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Germany is responsible for the fourth largest amount of waste within the European Union: With 617 kilos per head annually the Germans produce much more rubbish than the average EU citizen who generates 481 kilos. However, Germany is EU frontrunner when it comes to recycling – almost two thirds of German household waste is being recycled or composted. The rest is being incinerated with parts of the heat being used for energy recovery. Standards for preventing and treating waste meanwhile still differ substantially among EU member states: On average around one third of the waste is still deposited on landfills and a further quarter is being burnt, instead of regaining valuable resources for the economy, through which dependencies from foreign raw materials could be reduced.

The Cologne Institute for Economic Research takes therefore the view that the most recent proposal by the European Commission makes sense, since it finally takes the full product life cycle into account. At the end of the day it is important to avoid waste at all stages of the value chain. Up to 80 percent of the environmental effects of a product can already be specified during the design phase. This is the reason why the Commission wants companies to consider waste avoidance more already during the development of a product, the so-called eco-design.

To date the eco-design directive only focuses on energy efficiency and excludes reparability, durability and recycling of products. Yet, it is useful to include such parameters in these regulations. Such specifications should, however, only determine efficiency goals but not specific product requirements or else competition for the best technologies and materials is unnecessarily being constrained. The currently more or less well-functioning instrument should not be paralysed by adding more aspects. It is also essential that the European Union accelerates the implementation process of their eco-design measures in future. Otherwise outdated standards are used and the companies incur unnecessary additional costs.

In comparison to a previous proposal the new recycling and landfilling targets are clearly less ambitious but considerably more realistic for some member states: Until 2030 the recycling quota shall be increased to 65 per cent and the landfill target shall be reduced to 10 percent. To reach this goal it is vital that countries such as Rumania, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Greece, Slovakia or Cyprus, in which more than three quarters of their municipal wastes is still dumped, are going to seriously implement the planned new EU regulation. The Commission wants to give these countries more time for this. Since these countries have to build a complete new system for waste treatment this is the way to go.

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