Brussels ends 2016 with a flurry of positive activity

Written by: Lydia Heida | Published:

The EU is making progress when it comes to the recycling of plastic and glass. Also, steps are being taken to address one of the largest waste streams in member states: construction and demolition. However, the Union is still penny-pinching on the funding of recycling projects.

Recently, the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) announced that a record amount of glass had been collected in 2014: over 11.6 million tons, of which most was recycled. However, around 26% of glass bottles and jars are still ending up in landfills. Austria and Denmark are recycling less glass, despite the fact these countries are consuming more. And the basics of glass recycling still needs to be implemented in countries such as Romania, Cyprus, Slovakia and Greece.

In the meantime, the plastics industry can only dream of reaching such high recycling rates as those for glass. Hence, three plastic industry organisations – Plastics Recyclers Europe, EuPC and PRE – have launched a Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform.

They are convinced that urgent action is needed in order to reach anywhere near the 55% plastic packaging “preparing for re-use and recycling” target by 2025, as proposed in the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package.

The new platform will focus on improving the recyclability of flexible and rigid packaging, the quality standards for sorted plastics and the harmonisation of test methods for recycled plastic.

Also, the mechanical recycling of plastic needs to be improved, as well as conversion technologies. New technologies to convert non-mechanically recyclable plastics should be developed. And end-use markets for recycled plastics need to be created.

Ecodesign Directive

In November, the European Commission announced plans to include six extra products in its Ecodesign Directive to boost resource efficiency.

These products vary from solar panels and electric kettles to lifts and refrigerated containers.

“We want to explore how to improve recyclability, durability and reparability of products,” stated EU vice-president Frans Timmermans. The Directive already covers dozens of products, including washing machines, televisions and tumble dryers, and will be revised as part of the Circular Economy Package.

Construction & demolition

The European Commission has also developed a new protocol to deal with construction and demolition waste, as this is the largest, still increasing, volume of waste in the EU. As such, it is a pity that the protocol only consists of non-binding guidelines as a proposal to the industry.

Going through the 52-page protocol, it quickly becomes clear that a lot of work needs to be done in this area. Around 50% of construction and demolition waste is currently recycled in the EU, with only a few member states achieving higher rates.

However, a 70% recycling target for this type of waste by 2020 is set in the Waste Framework Directive. To reach this target, some major hurdles need to be overcome regarding the quality of recycled materials and the potential health risk for workers, among others, who use them.

Interestingly, the scope of this protocol excludes the design phase of building materials, which might have something to do with the sheer amount of work that is already needed to recycle more of this waste.

That’s LIFE

It has been a busy time for the European Commission, which has also approved an investment of €222.7 million in green and low-carbon projects, with the money coming from its LIFE programme for the Environment and Climate Action.

The Commission claims that this “illustrates its commitment to its flagship Circular Economy Package”, as “a significant number of funded projects are focused on the transition to a more circular economy”.

However, of the 144 projects receiving the money, only 56 fall into the category ‘environment and resource efficiency’; of these, 29 are clearly dedicated to recycling. That is not much, so
it is worrying that this should be seen as illustrative of the Commission’s commitment to
the circular economy.

Any projects in the UK?

None of these recycling projects will be realised in the UK; 20 of them will occur in Spain and Italy. In Italy, a pilot line will be constructed to produce high-quality, lightweight components from recycled low-purity aluminium and eco-magnesium alloy. In Spain, an innovative process will be developed to recycle polyester textile waste generated during shoe manufacturing – the first to recycle textile waste that contains glue and other materials.

As the other 27 projects are equally interesting, it is worthwhile keeping track of them and seeing what they have in store, as most of them are fit to implement on a larger EU scale.

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