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Tuesday July 17, 2007

Establishing a new framework

 Each year in Europe (EU-15) we produce approximately 2 billion tonnes of waste, with the UK alone generating 335 million tonnes.  According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the amount of waste generated in 2020 could be 45% higher than it was in 1995.  Most (67%) of this waste is disposed of through landfill or incineration, both of which have significant environmental impacts and cause air, water and soil pollution as well as the discharge of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and / or methane (CH4) into the atmosphere.

Since 1975, the main driver for waste policies in EU Member States has been the Waste Framework Directive (75/442/EEC as amended).  The Waste Framework Directive (WFD) is known as an umbrella Directive, that is to say it lays out the definition of what is waste and the general requirements which Member States must adopt.  It also means that the Directive will be taken into account when developing other Regulatory tools such as the proposed Thematic Strategy on Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.  In December 2005 the Commission proposed revisions to the WFD and in February 2007, the revised Directive had its first reading in the European Parliament. 

The requirements imposed by the new WFD will form the basis of waste policy across the EU for at least the next 20 years so it is essential that it provides a platform which is both environmentally and economically sustainable.  The establishment of a revised waste hierarchy is a fundamental step within the new Directive.  Building on the previous hierarchy the new 5 tier version seeks to link the hierarchy with the environmental objectives of the WFD.  Whilst introducing the hierarchy, the European Parliament suggested that Member States could defer from the hierarchy if they can provide sufficient life cycle assessment to show overall environmental benefit.  However whilst the Commission agrees with the new hierarchy in general, it does not agree with the deference criteria so further negotiations are taking place.  Other key discussions are taking place on the positioning of Incineration with energy recovery, as some member states including the UK, want to see such processes on a par with recycling and composting.

The WFD itself talks about waste philosophy within the 5 tier hierarchy but it does not generally refer to specific wastes which are the feature of sister directives – the Landfill Directive being the most widely known sister Directive.  However, following years of inaction by many Member States, the European Parliament has tabled a new amendment to the WFD calling for a Directive laying down specific measures for the management of biowaste – namely a Directive, should be presented by 31 December 2008.  A similar Directive was proposed in 2001 but further action was not taken, so it is hoped that the renewed interest in this area will result in a mandatory Directive.  Such a Directive could require Member States to implement source separation policies for biowastes, diversion targets, as well as providing direction on quality standards for compost.

Quality standards are paramount to ensuring the development of biowaste management systems which are sustainable whilst ensuring the protection of the soil and environment.  The UK is one of a number of Member States which has introduced such standards.  Launched in March, the new Compost Quality Protocol combines compost quality – proven by certification to BSI PAS100 – with market destination information.  If a composter can show they meet all the criteria then the compost will cease to be a waste. 

The Compost Quality Protocol applies to source separated material only and the Environment Agency has published a strict list of feedstocks.  With regards to plastic, only plastics which have been independently certified to EN 13432 or its accepted equivalents in Germany (DIN V 54900) or the USA (ASTM D6400) are permitted or EN 14995 (a sister standard to EN 13432).  The Environment Agency has also issued a statement stating its reasons for not allowing oxo-degradable plastics.