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How is the EU tackling waste management

Pollution concept. Garbage pile in trash dump or landfill.

Copyright: vchalup / Fotolia

Citizens are contacting the European Parliament to enquire about what the EU is doing to reduce, recycle and reuse waste. Environmental policy is one of the policy areas most supported by European Union’s (EU) citizens, who recognise that environmental problems go beyond national and regional borders and can only be resolved through concerted action at EU and international level.

European environment policy has evolved significantly since the 1970s, when the European Union and its Member States introduced laws to ensure the careful use of natural resources, to minimise adverse environmental impacts of production and consumption, and to protect biodiversity and natural habitats.

The European Parliament has consistently called for policies in line with the hierarchy of waste prevention and management options, and moving towards a more circular economy.

Legal background

Based on Title XX of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, EU environmental policy covers aspects as preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment, protecting human health, prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources, promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change.

The European Union’s waste management policy is built mainly on overarching directives, and legal acts applying to specific waste streams, policy strategies, legal acts on specific installations, and implementing acts defining when specific materials leave the waste regime after treatment.

There are three legal acts setting the general framework for the European Union’s waste management policy:

Council Directive 1999/31/EC on landfill of waste aims to prevent, or reduce as much as possible, any negative impact from landfilling on surface water, groundwater, soil, air or human health by introducing stringent technical requirements.

Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 on shipments of waste lays down rules for controlling waste shipments in order to improve environmental protection, and incorporates the provisions of the Basel Convention and the revision of the OECD’s 2001 decision on the control of transboundary movements of wastes destined for recovery operations in EU law.

Directive 2008/98/EC on waste establishes a legal framework for treating waste in the EU and is designed to protect the environment and human health by emphasising the importance of proper waste management, recovery and recycling techniques to reduce pressure on resources and improve their use.

Main waste-related strategies

The 2005 thematic strategy on waste (COM/2005/0666 final) sets objectives and outlines the means by which the EU can move towards improved waste management, simplifies and clarifies the current legal framework, in line with the EU’s better regulation objectives, lays down the approach the Commission will take to achieve better regulation in EU waste law, builds on existing legislation and extensive stakeholder consultation, and identifies full and effective implementation by Member States as a condition for making progress towards the goals set.

The 2011 Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe (COM/2011/0571 final) is the flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Roadmap provides a framework explaining how policies interrelate and build on each other. It is a first step towards designing a coherent action framework that cuts across different policy areas and sectors. Its objective is to provide a stable perspective for transforming the economy.

In the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ of 2013 the Union set itself the objective of becoming a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020, with a set of policies and actions aimed at making it a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy and safeguarding the Union’s citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and well-being.

Circular Economy

On 2 December 2015, the European Commission adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy, which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.

The Circular Economy Package consists of an EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. The annex to the action plan sets out the timeline for the completion of the actions.

The revised legislative proposal on waste sets clear targets for reduction of waste and establishes a long-term path for waste management and recycling.

An overview on Circular Economy is available in the Commission Press release of 2 December 2015 and in the Circular Economy Package: questions & answers. Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) voted on Tuesday 24 January 2017, to amend a European Commission proposal on waste management, the so-called waste package. ENVI Committee MEPs advocate the boosting of recycling, the cutting of landfilling and the reduction of food waste. Further information on the committee meeting and the vote is available on EuroparlTV and in the Press release of 24 January 2017 of the European Parliament.

On 9 February 2017, the ENVI Committee adopted a report on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste. On 14 March 2017, the plenary amended the Commission’s proposal and was referred back to the committee responsible for interinstitutional negotiations. The European Parliament press release of 14 March 2017 provides details on Parliament’s position. Further information is available in the Procedure files: 2015/0272(COD), 2015/0274(COD), 2015/0275(COD) and 2015/0276(COD) on resource efficiency. Circular economy package.

European Parliamentary questions

The Members of the European Parliament regularly address questions to the European Commission on specific, local and topical aspects of waste management and the circular economy.

Further information

The briefings of the European Parliamentary Research Service on Understanding waste streams: Treatment of specific waste, on Understanding waste management: Policy challenges and opportunities, and on Circular economy package: Four legislative proposals on waste, the Fact Sheets of the European Parliament on Resource efficiency and waste as well as the EU webpage on Environment and the European Commission webpage on EU Waste Policy provide further reading on waste and waste management. On 22 February 2017, the European Parliamentary Research Service published an animated infographic on the Circular Economy. An overview of the policies, strategies and the legalisation applicable to waste and waste management is available on the European Commission’s webpage on Waste.


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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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