Science & Environment

New EU rules on recycling pose problems for UK councils

rubbish Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The UK may have to curb the amount of rubbish being sent to landfill sites like this one

The UK will have to divert a significant amount of waste away from landfill under new EU proposals on recycling.

The Commission wants to see 70% of municipal rubbish and 80% of packaging recycled by 2030.

They also want a ban on burying recyclable waste in landfill by 2025.

According to the Environment Commissioner, the new targets will create more than half a million jobs across the Union.

The proposals form part of an EU initiative termed the "circular economy", described as an alternative to the traditional approach to resources of make, use and dispose.

Circle of money

Part of the plans would try to reduce the amount of "downcycling" where valuable products are recycled as lower priced materials, such as expensive writing paper coming back as cheaper cardboard.

"If we want to compete we have to get the most out of our resources, and that means recycling them back into productive use, not burying them in landfills as waste," said Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption Sixty percent of plastics will have to be recycled by 2030 under the proposals

"Moving to a circular economy is not only possible, it is profitable, but that does not mean it will happen without the right policies."

"The 2030 targets that we propose are about taking action today to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and exploiting the business and job opportunities it offers."

The new plans build on existing regulations that require councils around the UK to recycle half their waste by 2020.

According to figures published by the government last November, 43.2% of waste in England was being recycled in 2012/13

These figures have grown rapidly over the past decade but the rate of growth seems to have stalled since 2010.

Some observers believe that going beyond the 2020 target will be a significant challenge.

"The new 70% target is extremely ambitious for the UK given the momentum behind the current 2020 goal of 50% recycling has flat lined, and meeting it will require strategic leadership and coordination," said Nigel Mattravers from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) welcomed the moves as "ambitions and far-reaching," and argued that the UK could actually meet the new targets.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption The EU proposals are for food waste to be cut by 30% by 2030

"We should be able to do it," said Steve Lee, chief executive of CIWM.

"Wales is already on course and Scotland and Northern Ireland have strong plans to do so. England should be no different but much clearer and co-ordinated policy and communications from the government, plus support for local authorities who are vital to this task, will be needed."

The plans will need to be debated by members of the European parliament and by governments before they come into force.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggested that the UK sees the extra costs involved in the plans as a critical factor.

"We think the Commission's proposals may have underplayed the potential costs to business, householders and local authorities and will want to consider the impacts fully before we respond.

"While we support efforts to reduce waste, we need to ensure that any new legislation would meet our priorities to protect the environment, incentivise growth and avoid unnecessary burdens."

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

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