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Blog November 2022 Updated January 2023

Why Recyclers are Worrying About the EU Green Deal

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Conor Dowd Product Marketing Manager

On the surface, you would think the EU Green Deal should benefit the recycling sector. Scratch a little deeper, however, and you’ll find the legislation also gives rise to some dangers for the European recycling industry. As the industry gets to grips with the global implications, we ask whether the EU’s Green Deal is good deal for recyclers?

What is the EU Green Deal?

Launched in December 2019, the EU Green Deal is a comprehensive programme covering all areas of the European Union’s economy. It seeks to stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss, cut pollution and create a circular economy by 2050.

The circular economy is a good thing, isn’t it?

The circular economy is one of the main building blocks of the EU Green Deal. Under this economic model, raw materials are never thrown away but instead, reused or recycled.

In theory, that’s good news for recyclers, and clearly recycling is an integral part of the EU’s Circular Economy Package. Currently, EU-wide recycling targets stipulate that:

Recycling is set for growth

As well as promoting high-quality recycling, the EU also wants to broaden the variety of recycled materials to include not only paper, metals, glass, plastics, textiles, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), but also construction waste, food, water, and nutrients.

Indeed, the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) picked out some highlights from the European Commission’s proposals that will have big repercussions for the sector.

Under the Green Deal programme "EU companies should benefit from a robust and integrated single market for secondary raw materials and by-products."

If necessary, the Commission may yet go further to promote recycling and could consider “legal requirements to boost the market of secondary raw materials with mandatory recycled content (for instance for packaging, vehicles, construction materials and batteries)."

To simplify waste management for citizens and ensure cleaner secondary materials for businesses, the Commission will propose an EU model for separate waste collection. Not only that, but the Commission will also develop “requirements to ensure that all packaging in the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030."

The recycling industry, it seems, is set for growth but not everything in the EU Green Deal has been welcomed by the recycling industry…

Why are recyclers worried about the EU Green Deal?

Waste shipments is the simple answer.

Under the revised regulation on waste shipments, waste exports to non-OECD countries would be restricted and only allowed if third countries (those outside of the EU) are willing to receive certain waste types. That could mean that every shipment would need to be permitted before it was sent to South-East Asian countries for example.

Waste shipments to OECD countries, such as Turkey, would be monitored and could be suspended if they generate serious environmental problems in the country of destination.

All EU companies that currently export, would need to undertake an audit of facilities in the destination country showing that they manage this waste in an environmentally sound manner.

Could the proposals ultimately restrict recycling?

The European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) believes it might. It states that 80% of its paper and metal recycling companies expect a reduction in turnover under the new proposals.

Along with EuRIC, BIR has also warned that the proposals will effectively mean materials can only be traded within EU nations. Paper Division general delegate, Manuel Dominguez, warns there is “a risk of creating a captive market within the European countries” and this would inevitably lead to lower prices within the EU.

But European Commission executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, defended the proposals, saying: “To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crisis, we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad.

“Our new rules to govern waste shipments will boost the circular economy and ensure that waste exports do not harm the environment or human health elsewhere.”

Targets may provide a solution

As a possible solution, EuRIC has urged European decisionmakers to introduce mandatory targets for recycled materials in new products. It believes this would go some way to preventing the damage caused by 27 million tonnes of recycled material that would no longer be shipped out of Europe to export destinations.

While EuRIC does not oppose restrictions on exporting problematic materials such as mixed plastics, it warned that “indiscriminate restrictions will suppress demand for high-value recycled materials such as metals and paper.”

Secretary general of EuRIC, Emmanuel Katrakis, added: “If MEPs want to ensure waste is recycled in Europe, they must enshrine binding targets for the use of recycled materials in intermediate products such as metals, paper, and plastics. If export prohibitions go ahead, high-value materials destined for recycling will instead pile up in landfill or end up incinerated.”

He added that these proposed rules could mean that virgin raw materials, and the additional pollution that would entail, could end up being cheaper and easier to trade than recycled materials because they would not be subject to the same restrictions.

And that would be big deal for everyone involved in the recycling sector.

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