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New EU municipal waste targets set to eliminate landfill

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, has announced that a revised target for municipal waste will aim to remove all landfill sites across the European Union (EU).

Speaking during the 16th European Forum on Eco-Innovation, as part of Hannover Messe, Potočnik said the revised targets, to be announced in June, will be an important step in moving towards a ‘circular economy’. Current targets from the 2008 Waste Framework Directive aim for 50 percent of all waste to be recycled by 2020.

“Some countries and regions, especially Germany, are already overshooting that target,” he said. “Some countries and regions have reached over 70 percent, so it is possible. It is important to combine waste and recycle, we need to move to a stage where we recycle everything.”

Figures released last year by the European statistical agency, Eurostat, show that there is still a large gap between countries like Germany and the rest of the EU. Thirty seven percent of the average 503 kilogrammes of waste each European generates ends up in landfill, 25 percent is recycled and 15 percent composted with the remainder incinerated. Romania, Bulgaria and Malta sent nearly all their municipal waste to landfills in 2011.

To combat this and discuss ways of how to go beyond waste management, the forum examined possibilities for cities to adopt a smart approach to eco-innovation inspired by the principles of the ‘circular economy’.

Delegates from across Europe, including municipal governments, small businesses and non-governmental organisations, heard how the environment and economics can work together to achieve common goals.

“The economy and the environment are part of the same coin, it’s time we stopped flipping that coin,” said Potočnik. “If you first design a product in a way that you can recycle it and that can be recycled whole, then of course we can dream of a future where landfill sites would not be needed. We are not yet there.”

During the forum small businesses and city governments showcased a range of eco-innovations that can assist cities to become part of a circular economy and help them meet the targets for municipal waste treatment.

One example came from Vienna which is now the EU city with the highest electrical and electronic equipment repair quota.

In his home city, Sepp Eisenriegler, founded a repair and service centre (RUSZ) for consumer goods. It not only repairs products that would ordinarily be thrown away but provides training for the long-term unemployed, advises of low-income households to prevent energy poverty, and campaigns against ‘planned obsolescence’ (products designed with a limited useful life).

“We buy products we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like,” Eisenriegler said. “More material consumption does not make mankind or individuals happier. A circular economy is definitely viable as it fits into the capitalistic market economy.”