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EU landfills or incinerates 60% of its municipal waste: "Must do better!" says FoE
The European Union currently landfills and incinerates 60% of municipal waste. Valuable materials which could be recycled or re-used are being thrown away as rubbish, contributing to demand for more raw materials, says a Friends of the Earth report, released today. The study concludes if the EU is to move to a zero-waste Europe, higher recycling targets need to be accompanied with targets for reuse and waste prevention.
As part of its Europe 2020 strategy, the European Union has prioritised a "resource efficient Europe" as one of its seven flagship initiatives intended to boost growth and jobs in a time of economic crisis and rapid natural resource depletion.
Yet the EU's insufficient waste policies continue to allow valuable materials to be unnecessarily incinerated and sent to landfill, as this report shows. Europe's reliance on materials from outside its borders is not sustainable. This report explores three different commodities - lithium, aluminium and cotton - to exemplify how our linear consumption patterns (extraction, manufacture, use and disposal) not only have major social, economic and environmental impacts, but also represent a missed opportunity for job creation and global resource security.
"It does not have to be this way," argues the report. "For example, aluminium can be recycled continuously without losing its valuable qualities.
"Legally-binding targets for high collection rates for the whole of the EU could be met through appropriate investment in recycling infrastructure that enables almost zero waste and widespread recycling to reduce consumption levels.
"Lithium is used in batteries for electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops, electric vehicles and energy storage devices and, unlike aluminium, it has extremely low collection rates across Europe. Legal standards and state support could enforce much higher collection rates and ensure the design and manufacture of electronic goods that are not built to require endless upgrades and replacement and do not contain multiple hazardous materials.
"Cotton is a widely used textile that has major cradle-to-grave impacts, including the depletion of local water supplies. Recycling, reuse and, most importantly, reduced consumption can radically reduce the amount of cotton ending up in European landfill sites or being incinerated.
"As the largest net importer of natural resources per capita, Europe requires integrated solutions to reduce consumption. Sustainable resource efficiency measures are necessary to ensure that European countries avoid being trapped using technologies, processes and structures that increase dependency on raw materials, including metals extracted through destructive mining practices, crops requiring high pesticide inputs, and land and water grabbing.
"The EU has recently expressed a political commitment to measure the land, materials, water and carbon used across the supply chain to meet our current consumption levels. However, little has been done at the political level to ensure this policy will be introduced and implemented across the EU."
The EU's response so far to the need to increase resource use efficiency has been the establishment of a 50% target for the recycling of all key materials in household waste (plastic, metal, paper and glass) by weight by 2020.
This statutory target is an important development in achieving improved household waste recycling rates but it is a generic target and does not address specific commodities or even sector-based goals, but FoE argues that higher targets and new policy measures to encourage the reuse of materials and reduction of wasteful consumption are needed to drastically improve existing legislation.
14th February 2013